October 8, 2011

First impressions of living in London

It's been about two and a half weeks since I moved here. I am still not home (it won't feel like home until I have internet access in my apartment), but I look forward to settling in. Here, in no particular order, are some thoughts:

1. Just before leaving Norway, I noticed that I was using the word "practical" too much. I described everything as convenient and useful. Now that I live in London, my new over-used word is "ridiculous." No water pressure in the shower if my flatmate is doing the dishes downstairs? Ridiculous. Purely decorative balconies, with no doors from the house? Ridiculous. It takes 14 days for Virgin Media to connect me to the internet? Ridiculous. I can't buy one beer; I have to buy six? Ridi. no, practical.

2. I like British friendliness to strangers (let's shorten it to FTS). Norwegian FTS doesn't exist in cities. French FTS doesn't exist at all. American FTS goes way too far (There is no way the sales assistants at department stores like my outfits that much). British FTS is all about small talk.

3. Small talk, contrary to popular belief, does not necessarily revolve around the weather. The important question is how you got to where the small talk took place. Did you take a bus or a train? How delayed was the London underground today? (Apparently, this last week was historically bad, tube-delay-wise.)

4. The London School of Economics and Political Science (let's shorten that to LSE) wasn't joking when it described itself as "international" and "diverse". I don't think I've met any English students so far. I've met plenty of Norwegians though.

6. There doesn't seem to be ANY connection between what the weather is like and what the English Londoners are wearing.

7. Although I like to believe you can do anything in London, being spontaneous is a lot harder here than in a tiny city like Oslo. It takes you two hours to get anywhere, and once you're there, so are thousands of other people.

8. I think I will start speaking British English with an American accent. Queue is a distinct word, more specific than line. Flat is shorter than apartment. As long as we aren't sharing rooms, I live with my flatmate, not my roommate. Our flat isn't flat though; it has stairs.

9. Most of the advertisements on the underground are for books or cultural events. I like this. And I like that I see so many people on public transport reading novels.

10. I also like that no matter where you go, there will be a pub serving fish and chips and an assortment of beers on tap. I am writing this at my new local pub, surrounded by families, couples, the pub's dog, and a few people like me, with laptops and coffee.

Posted by Julie at 6:19 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 23, 2011

Quick update

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I have just moved to London for a one-year Master of Science in Economic History at LSE. School starts in about a week. My wrist is completely healthy, and my new laptop has plenty of half-finished blog posts. I am in the process of moving for the fourth time in two months.

Posted by Julie at 12:29 AM | TrackBack

August 7, 2011

Writing soon

A quick update on the wrist situation: I had an operation about a month ago. It wasn't tendinitis, but a ganglion. I feel much better now - and I'm writing this with both hands! - but I am still not quite well enough to write full time. I will be back soon. Very soon.

If you can read Norwegian, check out my dad's blog post about all of this.

Posted by Julie at 12:50 PM | TrackBack

June 6, 2011

Not writing

I'm not writing. No blogging, no Twitter, no E24. I have tendinitis, a repetitive strain injury, in my right hand. My physiotherapist says it's probably De Quervain syndrome. I just know that I have a bump on my right wrist, and writing (typing or by hand), as well as using a mouse or trackpad, hurts - and keeps hurting for days.

I can read. I can dance. But I can't write. I am slowly typing this with my left hand. For almost as long as I can remember, writing has been my all-purpose solution - my work, my fun, my therapy. Without it, I don't feel like myself - but I will be back.

Posted by Julie at 6:21 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

April 21, 2011

I can't take my eyes off of you... 'til I find somebody new

Closer opens with Natalie Portman and Jude Law in slow motion, to the sound of Damien Rice. You would think the scene were designed specifically to appeal to my senses - well, mine and most girls my age in 2004.

I saw this movie twice in the movie theater back then, and I bought Damien Rice's album O because of this scene. Most of my friends found the movie depressing. My boss voiced vague concerns about my mental health* when I played O at work. But I don't feel depressed when I hear sad music or see a sad story about four more or less messed up people. If you're feeling blue and for some ridiculous reason want to drag yourself even further down, watch a romantic comedy. Wonder why your life doesn't look like that. If you want to be feel better, seek catharsis. I find sad movies somewhat comforting in their brutal honesty - and in the way they remind me that at least I'm not a character in Closer.

And so, seven years and another Damien Rice album later, I'm still fascinated and impressed by how complex Closer manages to be, even though it's just four characters interacting in a handful of scenes over a period of four years. The trailer tagline is "If you believe in love at first sight, you never stop looking." It's about dating, cheating, hurting people, but actually it's about how even when we're trying to be confident, rational and responsible, emotions and impulses can lead us to make decisions we know are stupid and hurtful.

Of course I identify with Natalie Portman's character because she's the one who plays a 24-year-old girl. But she's also the one who tells her possessive, complicated writer boyfriend, when he's just announced that although he loves her, he's leaving her for someone he just helplessly fell in love with:

"Oh, as if you had no choice?!?! There's a moment, there's always a moment: I can do this, I can give into this, or I can resist it. And I don't know when your moment was, but I bet you there was one."

To her, the only way to leave is by saying: I don't love you anymore. Good-bye. And if you still love someone, you don't leave. Which means that while she seems to submit completely and love unconditionally, it's with the knowledge that she has absolute unbreakable rules about how things are supposed to work. Like in her job as a stripper, she gives everything, up until a certain irrevocable limit.

And I think that's the point of this story, which so many of my friends found pointless: How much control do we really have over our emotions? When do we stop acting rationally? When does the game suddenly become too real? Or as Roger Ebert writes in a review you really shouldn't read until after you've seen the film:

There is the sense that their trusts and betrayals are not fundamentally important to them; "You've ruined my life," one says, and then is told, "You'll get over it."

Yes, unless, fatally, true love does strike at just that point when all the lies have made it impossible. Is there anything more pathetic than a lover who realizes he (or she) really is in love, after all the trust has been lost, all the bridges burnt and all the reconciliations used up?

(Vaguely) related post: Love means not leaving

* I'm doing very well, thank you. If you're not as happy as I am, here are 11 ways to feel better.

Posted by Julie at 12:47 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

April 17, 2011

The world is enough

Tim Minchin's poem "Storm" is brilliant, and really doesn't require a comment from me. Here's a quote:

Does the idea that there might be knowledge frighten you?
Does the idea that an afternoon on Wiki-fucking-pedia might enlighten you, frighten you?
Does the notion that there might not be a supernatural so blow your hippie noodle that you'd rather just stand in the fog of your inability to google?
Isn't this enough?
Just this world?
Just this beautiful, complex, wonderfully unfathomable natural world? How does it so fail to hold our attention that we have to diminish it with the invention of cheap man-made myths and monsters?
- Tim Minchin, Storm

... and I've published the full animated video below.

 minchin_storm 
(Image via Atheist Etiquette)

Posted by Julie at 1:37 PM | TrackBack

April 11, 2011

To all my champagne people...

"We have a champagne relationship, protected from a lot of the everyday wear and tear that other couples go through. We are free to do as we wish, but at the same time we know we love each other and that whenever we meet, it's fantastic."
- Victora Bugge Øye, interviewed by the magazine D2 about her long-distance relationship (my translation)

If my life were to be retold in film, and to realistically portray the big emotional moments, it would have to include scenes like this: I sit on my couch, staring, shocked, at an e-mail. My cell phone beeps just as I am waking up, and I start the day with a little dance of joy when I read the text I just got. I log onto Google talk in the middle of the night when I can't sleep without a few lines of encouragement from the other side of the world. I hide behind a tree in the center of Oslo to cry and scream into my cell phone. On opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, my best friend and I each open a bottle of Sam Adams and toast each other via Skype.

Has anyone done that yet: Made a film where the protagonist is always physically alone, only shown interacting with characters through videochat, Facebook, e-mail, blogging, phone calls etc.? Because some of the most important characters in the story of my life have been people who are hardly ever there in the geographical sense. But they are always there in the sense that matters: there for me.

I fill my long-distance friends in on my life in great big heaps of information. Sometimes just composing a response to "So, what is new with you?" can be a way of clearing my own head, making sense of my priorities.  There is no time to waste on everyday small complaints, but for the real problems I prefer to go to my long-distance people, the ones who do not have to deal with my life every day.

Perhaps I just want someone to accept my side of things. Long-distance friend won't say "Really, that guy?" when I describe a crush, because they've never met him. Long-distance friends won't let a secret about me slip out when they talk to my co-workers or family members. Long-distance friends won't notice if I skip past the boring or embarrasing details of a story. And yet, long-distance friends manage - again and again - to call me out on it when I'm not being completely honest with them or myself. Because they've been listening.

Distance has a way of focusing the attention within a friendship. There is no need to involve anyone else, to introduce friends to friends, boyfriends to families, no need to struggle with integrating the person I am when I talk to Friend A with the person I am when I talk to Friend B. Instead of going to parties with groups of other people, we interact in one long two-person conversation.

When people say online communication is impersonal, I don't understand what they mean. On the contrary, it can be immensely personal, if it works like this: I think of you, and I tell you so immediately. I don't have to wait until I see you to let you know I had a thought you should know about. You are directly connected to my thoughts.

That being said, sometimes I need a hug. And sometimes I need a hug from someone specific, someone who lives too far away.

And maybe I do idolize my long-distance loves because I don't have to deal with them on a regular basis. Whenever we see each other, it's a cause for celebration, for champagne. Like at most events involving champagne, we gloss over the imperfections and pretend there won't be a tomorrow. But maybe that's a good thing. Sometimes it's best to view life as a series of beautiful moments. That's what my (roommate who happens to be a) therapist says.  

Knowing you are loved - even from a distance - can be enormously comforting whenever your geographically close life feels less than great. Drinking water alone is easier when you know there will be someone to drink champagne with someday soon.

The photo was taken in Paris, by Julie Balise. We drank champagne on the last day we lived in the same country.

Posted by Julie at 1:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 6, 2011

Meme

I like question-and-answer memes because I like answering questions about myself (embarrassing, but true. I also like filling in questionaires.) But I also like memes because when I go back and read the archives, the answers are like a little piece of frozen time, with tiny details of my life that I would never specifically blog about. So even though a meme is not really "serious" enough for my blog (eh, whatever), here's one:

1. Make a list of 5 things that are in your bag: (these are the first five things I find)
- red leather gloves
- the latest issue of argument
- dance shoes
- black shoe shine
- red nail polish

2. What is the significance of your journal name?
This website is run by my own rules, according to Julie, which is my name. It was the working title when my dad first set up this site ages ago, and the fact that it shows up top of peoples' alphabetized blog rolls is nice.

3. What is one item of clothing you wish you could always wear?
Nothing. I mean, I crave variety.

4. What do you plan to do after this meme?
Go test a coffee shop while editing a book.

5. What are you listening to right now?
Ella Fitzgerald

6. Who was the last person you hugged?
One of my dance partners, as we said good-bye on the subway after dance class.

7. What was the last thing you downloaded?
A draft of the book I'm editing.

8. What did you do today?
Not much so far. Blogged.

9. What was the last game you played?
The game of Life, with my family last Sunday.

10. What websites do you always visit when you go online?
Gmail. E24. Facebook. Also Twitter, via Tweetdeck.

11. What irritates you nearly on a daily basis?
Moziers/slow walkers. Actually, make that slowness in communication/transportation in general, including buses, walking, internet access and people who don't answer their phones.

12. If you could afford to go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
South Africa, as the only reason I'm not there now is that I can't afford it.

13. What did you want to be when you were a kid?
Age 4: A witch, or a librarian. Then I found out that so many librarians are witches, and changed my career plans. 
Age 6: An actess.
Age 8: An actress first, then an author of children's books.
Age 10: A writer 
Age 12: A writer.

14. Ever had a weird dream? What was it about?
I have a lot of weird dreams. I find them entertaining, but then I tend to forget them.

15. What are you doing this weekend?
Learning the Lindy Hop. 

16. If you could play any musical instrument, which one would you play?
Piano.

17. What's the one thing you need the most now?
A solution to a problem that I'm not going to blog about.

18. If you could have one superpower, what kind of power would you choose?
Time travel.

19. What was the last thing you ate?
Wasa crackers with cream cheese and pesto.

20. A feature that you like about yourself.
My hands.

Posted by Julie at 12:08 PM | TrackBack

Not leaving

You may well wonder why I wanted Boris at all, a man who tells his still-wife that he's shacking up with his new squeeze for "practical reasons", as if this shocking new arrangement is simply a matter of New York real estate. I wondered why I wanted him myself. Had Boris left me after two years or even ten, the damage would have been considerably less. Thirty years is a long time, and a marriage acquires an ingrown, almost incestuous quality, with complex rhythms of feeling, dialogue and associations. We had come to the point where listening to a story or anecdote at a dinner party would simultaniously prompt the same thought in our two heads, and it was simply a matter of which one of us would articulate it first. Our memories had also begun to mingle. Boris would swear up and down that he was the one who came upon the great blue heron standing on the doorstep of the house we rented in Maine, and I am just as certain that I saw the enormous bird alone and told him about it. There is no answer to the riddle, no documentation - just the flimsy, shifting tissue of remembering and imagining. One of us had listened to the other tell the story, had seen in his or her mind the encounter with the bird, and had created a memory from the mental images that accompanied the heard narrative. Inside and outside are easily confused. You and I. Boris and Mia.
- From The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt.

Siri Hustvedt's The Summer Without Men starts with Boris leaving Mia, and follows Mia's summer of interacting only with women. It's about mothers and daughters, old friends, new friends, and the cruelty of teenage girls. And it's about what happens when your Most Important Person over the last thirty years just leaves.

I haven't known anyone for thirty years, for obvious reasons. But as always, Hustvedt's characters seem so real that I find myself relating to them anyway. I told my mom - who's known my dad since they were seventeen - the story of the heron, and she could relate.

And I can certainly understand the feeling of losing part of yourself when you lose an Important Person. Or rather, feeling like you can't let that person go, because even if you never see them again, your personalities are so entwined that they will always be with you - in your memories, your associations, your tastes, in the way your mind works.

In another book I recently read, love was defined like this: "Love means not leaving." Maybe it is that simple.

More posts about Hustvedt's books:

Image: icanread

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March 25, 2011

3 quotes

IMAG0003

I photographed this in London, March 2011.

Posted by Julie at 2:40 PM | TrackBack

March 20, 2011

How to be successful and know everything about the universe

I never trust anyone who's more excited about success than about doing the thing they want to be successful at.

 

I'm working on a blog post that has veered into "Can I really publish this or is it too personal?"-territory. So while I figure that one out, enjoy XKCD.

And don't worry about me. I feel like this guy.

(Original image links here and here)

Posted by Julie at 1:44 PM | TrackBack

February 15, 2011

Extremely hot

I thought this was a sweet PostSecret. But realistically, the person receiving these coffee messages is either being completely oblivious or just politely ignoring them.

Posted by Julie at 12:18 PM | TrackBack

February 3, 2011

Lost

My back-up hard drive stopped working today. It won't turn on, and I don't know yet if the data on it was lost. Naturally, it's a back-up hard drive, so anything important on it is also somewhere else. But that's not the point.

The point is that I feel lost.

This was supposed to be the little box where my photos from Paris and my journal entries from the university years are safe, even if (ok, probably when) my beloved laptop gives up on me. And then the back-up died first. That which was supposed to keep me safe, turned out to be weak.

When I was a little girl, my dad showed me a picture book about what happened to people who didn't back up their files. They were eaten by monsters.

This was probably not a children's story, but a brochure designed to sell back-up software. I still grew up to be something of a digital hoarder. I once saved a text message for three years, transferring it from phone to phone. My digital music collection is obsessively organized, even though I usually just use Spotify. When a friend dropped his laptop on the floor, I asked him: "You had back-up right?" He told me that was the worst possible thing to say, and I felt quilty about if for weeks.

Now this loss, mere months after losing my RSS archive Bloglines, has made me paranoid. Are our files never safe? Between the cloud, where I am at the mercy of companies located on the other side of the world, and local storage, where technology just randomly dies, should I just learn to live archiveless? It's not like I want a physical archive.

And what if my laptop chooses this week to break down for ever?

If I were suddenly without files, would I be ok?

All the decent Paris photos are on Facebook. My best writing is published or e-mailed to someone. Most of my music is available either on Spotify or on some torrent site. I would mourn some of my favorite photographs and a few specific journal entries and writing experiments. And when the sheer inconvenience and missed deadlines blew over, I would be fine.

When I looked through the journal entries just two days ago, I found old documents that I have deleted from their original place on my laptop. Forgotten details of events that made such an impact on me that I wrote short story-ish accounts of them. Texts I liked enough to cut and paste from other blogs. Collages of party photos. Digital memories.

I don't need them, but I'm glad I looked through them. And just like I want to be able to read my journals from grade school (those notebooks are in a cardboard box in my parents' attic), I want to be able to read today's unbloggable personal writing ten years from now. Call me a hoarder, but at least I mainly hoard words.

So developers who want to make something upscale and sophisticated: Don't make me an app. I want the digital file version of those super secret bank vaults where they store treasure in the movies. I want to be able to tell someone: guard these files for generations; my great-great-grandchildren should be able to look at these photos and read these words.

Images: 1 and 2

Posted by Julie at 9:35 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 2, 2011

Bilingual infatuation

My Twitter followers want me to define love. Ok, here goes.

Last night, I posted a list of words missing from the English language, and one of them was "forelsket".

I woke up this morning to a list of @mentions on Twitter about the difference between the English "in love" and the Norwegian "forelsket".

Seriously, Twitter? You think I know the answer to that one? Well, I'll try.

This works in any language

In my head, "forelsket" is how you feel between just having a crush on someone and actually realizing you are in love with them.

I guess if I were to use both my languages to describe how love evolves, it would be something like this: I like someone in general (conveniently, same word in both languages), I have a crush (which at least one friend of mine has directly translated into English as "ha et knus"), I feel "forelsket", I fall in love. This doesn't necessarily happen in that order, but on a scale of not-serious to very-serious, that's how it works.

Is forelsket the same as infatuated? Not really. Infatuated implies silliness, irrationality and superficiality. "Forelskelse" is hardly rational, but it's not as stupid/crazy as infatuation. If I ever describe myself as infatuated, it's because I know I'm completely stupid and out-of-character, and that this insane crush will blow over any minute. On the other hand, I can be forelsket for a frightening amount of time.

When I listen to friends who only speak English or watch movies in English, and someone says "I think I'm in love", I think: "No dear, you're forelsket. You just don't have that word in your vocabulary, poor thing." I guess forelsket is that giddy, excited feeling that's telling you someone is very interesting. Forelskelse is when you have a theory that you might be able to fall in love with someone, but you just don't know them well enough to tell yet.

Privately, I think that all the words I know, in English, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, French, German, Dutch, Khmer, Thai, Italian, Spanish*, are all one big vocabulary. Sometimes I can use all my words, sometimes only a few, depending on who I'm talking to.

I also appreciate the British verb "fancy" and the American "hooking up" (I interpret it as an intentionally ambivalent way of saying "Something physical happened, but I'm not going to give you any details."). I think the Norwegian "kjæreste" is more serious than the English "boyfriend/girlfriend". Saying "I love you" in English is nowhere near as big a deal as saying it in Norwegian.

Even when no one else agrees with my definitions (or even understands me at all), speaking two languages fluently gives me twice as many ways to think about everything. There are some feelings I can only express in English and some I can only express in Norwegian, but in my own thoughts, I can sort out my emotions using my whole vocabulary.

Related posts: Love in any language and I want to live in English

* I only speak two languages fluently, but I do know words in all of these languages. And the list looked cool.

Image: Premshree Pillai, Creative Commons

Posted by Julie at 1:54 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 31, 2010

Greatest hits 2010

My favorite blog posts, and some other stuff I wrote in 2010.

Blog posts in English:

The Fur trilogy starts here My opinions on fur, from fashion to ethics to business.

Love in any language Why Norwegian is sometimes better than English

I want to live in English Why English is usually better than Norwegian

You’re a kitty! The law of cat proximity works with any furry animal.

South Africa through taxi windows "If we want to get to a time when black and white doesn't matter, we need a hell of a lot of taxis."

Why I don’t want to read anything written for women If men don't care, why should I?

Bloggposter på norsk:

Eplesett! Reaksjoner på iTingen Alle jeg følger på Twitter latterliggjorde iPaden da den ble lansert. Og jeg lærte at hvis jeg blogger om Apple, får jeg flere lesere.

Verdien av Precious Se denne filmen!

Jeg vil ta master i verdensvitenskap! Tverrfaglighet FTW.

Generasjon Facebook – endelig en bok om meg!  I like to think I'm like everyone else, but I guess that makes me unique.

7 “uskrevne regler” for nettavisers forsider Hvordan lage nettavisforsider

iPensum – Jeg skriver om Apple, for å gi bloggen flere lesere Hvorfor vi skriver så mye Apple? Fordi dere bryr dere så innmarri. Men jeg skal slutte nå.

Investering i estetisk kapital Det nærmeste jeg har kommet å starte min egen blogg-meme. Nerding om hvor mye tid jeg bruker på mitt eget utseende.

Hva skjedde med de norske bloggerne? De er på Twitter.

Tekster jeg skrev utenfor bloggen:

LES DENNE BLOGGPOSTEN! Hvordan klikkhoreri fungerer Hvorfor vi nettjournalister horer ut nyhetene, skrevet for argument

Intelligente nyheter i illusjonenes tid Bak kulissene i Dagsrevyen, med Christian Borch, for argument

Kritikk av gode hensikter Bistandskritikk for argument

Sør-Afrika gjennom taxivinduer En busstur gjennom Western Cape er en reise gjennom apartheidgeografi, basert på blogging, oversatt for argument.

Papirstøtte Kommentar om mediestøtte, skrevet for Minerva

Sommer i E24 – media, mat og mac Sommervikariatet i E24 oppsummert med 3 m-er.

Foredrag:

Journalist i sosiale medier For Østlendingen, Edda Media

Hvorfor lærere bør blogge (og forslag til hvordan) For NKS Nettstudier

Photo credit: ashlee

Posted by Julie at 11:44 AM | TrackBack

December 28, 2010

Is foie gras ok after all?

In Why foie gras is not unethical, food site Serious Eats investigates the conditions at American foie gras farms. According to their research, ducks are fine with being force-fed so their livers grow to ten percent of their total body weight (there's a video of the process, called gavage, in the article). The life of a foie gras duck is - apparently - more comfortable than the life of an average chicken.

So why does foie gras have a bad reputation? J. Kenzi Lopez-Alt writes:

"In large part, it's because foie gras is an easy target. There are only three foie farms in the country, and none of them have the money or government clout to defend themselves the way that the chicken or beef industry does. It's a food product that is marketed directly at the affluent, and the rich are always an easy target. As an occasional delicacy, it's also a food that's relatively easy for most people to give up.

Personally, I find this kind of protesting abhorrent. If you are going to protest anything, it should be the industrial production of eggs, where chickens are routinely kept in cages so small that they can't even turn around for an entire year. The problem, of course, is that you tell people to stop eating cheap eggs, and nobody will listen."

It's the same point I tried to make about fur last year: The debate is confusing, boycotting something you would never buy anyway is useless, and (assuming you're ok with animals being killed by human beings at all) it should be possible to produce these products ethically.

I love the taste of foie gras, but are French farms as gentle as the American ones? Can I believe the information in this article? Or is the real story here that I should avoid eggs (at least in the US)?

Photo: ulterior epicure (Creative Commons)

Posted by Julie at 3:02 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 26, 2010

Stuff to read

Looking around the internet for interesting articles and blog posts, now that you're on Christmas vacation and finally have time to read? Here are some suggestions.

True story: I survived a crazy childhood I like Sarah Von's True Story series, where she posts interviews of people with interesting experiences on her blog.  I recommend the one about the ex-stripper and the one about the ex-drug addict too.

Charm offensive by Paul Carr - How British men pulled off the most brilliant PR coup the world has ever seen.

The real cost of free by Cory Doctorow - "Those who say that they can control copies are wrong, and they will not profit by their strategy. They should be entitled to ruin their own lives, businesses and careers, but not if they're going to take down the rest of society in the process."

A holiday message about being an atheist by Ricky Gervais - "You can have your own opinions, but you can't have your own facts."

How the rise of e-readers takes the fun out of giving books by Leah McLaren. I still want to do a whole blog post on this one, but in the meantime, just read it.

The real "stuff white people like" from Gizmodo. "How are whites, blacks, Asians, whoever different from everybody else? What tastes, interests, and concepts define an ethnicity? Is there any way to make fun of other races in public and get away with it? These are big questions, and here's how we answered them."

What we can learn from procrastination - You put off reading this article when I first tweeted about it. Now you have time!

Picture source

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December 20, 2010

Christmas music countdown: 12 “new” Christmas songs

I have come to a sad (no, not really sad) conclusion: It's almost impossible for me to blog twice a day when I have a life, but don't have a good way of scheduling automatic publishing. Luckily, the Wall Street Journal has blogged about Christmas music too. Here's their list of 12 relatively new (defined as less than 50 year old) Christmas songs.

It kind of bugs me that they included Last Christmas. That song is just irritating. But I guess I shouldn't complain when I'm this slow at updating.

Posted by Julie at 12:50 PM | TrackBack

December 15, 2010

Christmas music countdown: Why I don't want anything for Christmas (and I'm probably not getting you anything either)

I have no interest in spending any time, money or energy on Christmas gifts this year.

Usually I really enjoy it. I've never understood people who find Christmas stressful. Hosting parties, giving gifts or preparing turkey isn't work, unless you're getting paid for it. If it feels like slave labor, stop.

So this year, I'm stopping. The gift thing, that is.

No, I have not turned into a Grinch. I LOVE giving gifts. I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes from knowing that I figured out what you wanted - even better if I figured it out before you really knew yourself - and got it for you. If I love you, and I make you happy, that means I won! I mean, don't we all feel that way?

The problem is, this is less fun at Christmas, because you're expecting it. And because you'll give me stuff which I may enjoy, but which I I could easily have done without. Our money could be put to better use in some other way.

Christmas gifts make no economic sense. You spend money on something someone else doesn't want, and you get something you don't want in return.

I must have been about ten when I first thought about this. My family had recently moved from one apartment in the US to a much, much smaller one in Norway, and I realized that I owned too much. I wanted space for Christmas. "Everyone just gives each other STUFF, with no regard to what they're supposed to do with it," I thought.

To be honest though, I wanted some stuff too. I was ten, with no budget of my own. Whenever I wanted something, I would hint and hope until the next gift-recieving opportunity (September or December). Gifts were my main source of income.

These days, I work for a living. And I try to save as much of that money as possible for a future when I potentially won't be working, because I'll be at grad school or travelling or just being an unemployed journalist. I don't want to take my savings and convert them into candles, soap and Christmas ornaments. Or into something I might love, something special because it came from someone special, something so special that I have to take it with me wherever I move, which means I can never just leave, because I love too many THINGS, and they won't fit into my suitcase.

There are plenty of traditional Christmas songs that in all seriousness claim that gift-receiving (yes, only receiving. I've never given Santa anything) is the point of Christmas. Santa Claus is coming to town, for one.

Here's the original Santa Baby by Eartha Kitt, plus a remix. This Christmas song, about a woman's wish list including an apartment, a car and a fur coat, is actually not the most materialistic, over-the-top disgusting Christmas song ever. This is. ("On the 8th day of Christmas my baby gave to me: a pair of Chloe shades and diamond belly ring. (...) How I love him for his generosity." Ugh.)

No, out of all the songs about Santa and gift-giving, Santa Baby is my favorite. Because it's a joke. Flirting with Santa Claus so that he will get you jewellery is so disgusting that it's funny.

I tend to prefer the songs that suggest partying is the point of Christmas. And I don't mean eggnog, Jingle Bell Rock and mistle-toe as an excuse for drunken hook-ups. I mean spending time with friends.

This philosophy led my friends to pool our gift-giving budgets and go out to dinner together last year instead of exchanging gifts. We're doing the same thing this year. I love it.

Because really, all I want for Christmas is you. If you want to give me something, give me memories. I can take them with me even if I want to travel with just a carry-on. Take me out to dinner. Or sit down on a couch with me, (possibly open a bottle of wine) and give your full attention to our conversation for a few hours. Or invite me over and introduce me to your favorite movie.

Or give me a list of your favorite books and enough Amazon dollars to choose one of them for my Kindle.

Or give me money. I will think of you gratefully when your contribution becomes 5% of my plane ticket to Cape Town, or half of a book I want to read. Or a tiny little fraction of tuition at grad school. And because I'm more relaxed and less poor, when we're out windowshopping and you look at some item for longer than necessary, I will get it for you. And I will feel like I won.

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December 14, 2010

Christmas Music Countdown: Silence

Continue reading for music videos

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December 12, 2010

Christmas music countdown: What are you doing New Year's Eve?

I have no idea what my answer to that question is, and last year that would have been a serious source of stress. This year, I hope to somehow combine friends and champagne. And follow my rules for a successful New Year's celebration.

Here's four versions of today's song on Spotify and one on Youtube.

Image source

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December 11, 2010

Christmas music countdown

Not much time for blogging today; I am sorting books again. Here is last year´s Christmas post for the 11th. And this is the song of the day on Spotify.

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December 10, 2010

Christmas music countdown: Let it snow!

This version of this song always makes me want to dance. Fortunately, that's exactly what I'm going to do tonight. Which is why this post is short. No time to blog - I'm going dancing!

Posted by Julie at 4:30 PM | TrackBack

December 9, 2010

Christmas Music Countdown: Blue Christmas

Here's "Blue Christmas" by A Fine Frenzy, who released a five-song "Christmas LP" last year.

And here's the whole LP as a YouTube playlist

Posted by Julie at 5:25 PM | TrackBack

December 8, 2010

Have yourself a merry little Christmas countdown

Have yourself a merry, little Christmas just might be my favorite Christmas song. Because if you're happy, a sad song won't make you sad. And if you're sad, you don't want someone telling you this is "the most wonderful time of the year."

I blogged about Christmas depression last year. Apparently, it just isn't true that there are more suicides at Christmas. But if you're feeling depressed - or just not-that-merry - statistics won't help. So here's Tori Amos' version of this song:

Also check out my post 11 ways to feel better. I've tried them all.

This post is dedicated to my good friend Aina, who also loves Tori Amos, and who is also doing a Christmas music countdown this year.

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December 7, 2010

Christmas music countdown: Scary Christmas

Exactly one year ago, the Christmas countdown was Carol of the Bells and the rest of the Home Alone soundtrack. I blogged about how this movie probably contributed to my lifelong fear of burglars, and my recurring nightmare that someone would climb in through my bedroom window.

Then I casually mentioned that when a burglar finally did climb in through my bedroom window, it was almost a let-down. There was no soundtrack, for one thing.

That post got some people very worried, so I thought I should tell you the whole story this time. Here goes:

In 2008, I went to a big summer party. The kind that involves sitting around at picnic tables in someone's enormous back yard, drinking wine and having long, conversations that seem to flow from topic to topic effortlessly until it seems like you've turned the minds of everyone around the table inside out and explored all the random associations and interesting opinions and funny stories you can find there. By the time you reach that stage, it is much too late for anyone to go home, so the house is filled with overnight guests, and I was one of them.

So technically, when I woke up in the middle of the night to find a man halfway through the bedroom window, it wasn't MY bedroom window. It was the window in the room where I happened to sleep one night. Which in retrospect probably made the experience less scary overall; I didn't have to sleep in that room the night after. But anyway, less than an hour after going to sleep, I woke up to find a man climbing through the window. He was wearing a white linen shirt and carrying pink, plastic gloves. And he had definitely not been one of the party guests.

We stared at each other for a couple of seconds, both frozen in surprise. Then he said: "I think I'm in the wrong house."

"Yes, I think you are," I answered. He climbed out again.

And I started to drift back to sleep. I wonder what would have happened if I had just dozed off again. Maybe I would have woken up to a much emptier house. Or maybe nothing would have happened, and I would have believed for the rest of my life that this was yet another nightmare about burglars.

Fortunately, some small part of my brain was awake, sober and sensible enough to realize that this was not a dream. I got up, borrowed a bathrobe and walked around the house, checking all the rooms, making sure all the windows and doors were closed and locked. And then I made my way to the front porch, where my father and some other party guests were sleeping on mattresses. The man in white linen was standing over them, still holding the gloves.

When he saw me, he said: "Um... I'm the neighbor."

"No, you're not," I said, and then he started to run.

I woke my dad, and we ran after him.

If you had peered over the fence and into the back yard of this house at around 4:30 AM that night, you would have seen me running around in a white bathrobe, chasing a man in white linen pants and a white linen shirt, around white picnic tables with opened wine bottles and plastic glasses.  Behind me, still more or less asleep, my father followed. The chase probably lasted for less than a minute, before whoever-he-was succeeded (on his second attempt) to jump the fence.

My dad and I just stood there for a while, waking up. I'm very glad he was there, not because I was scared at the time, but because I know that the intruder was really there. Whoever he was.

If not for the gloves, I would have assumed he was a drunk guest at someone else's party, and that he literally did not know what he was doing. I mean, who breaks into houses wearing something that needs to be ironed? We didn't hear about any similar break-ins in the area. But the lying, the gloves, the fact that he didn't leave, the fact that he attempted to enter the house through a room that was always empty, except for that one night - it all seems like a badly planned, but still planned attempt to break in.

Which means that I can cross that off my list of experiences: I have chased away an intruder. And I've had a recurring nightmare come true. And I'm fine.

I haven't had that nightmare since.

Illustration source

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December 6, 2010

Christmas music countdown: The Christmas Price Index

This year, your true love will pay a lot more for turtledoves.

Golden rings are up 30% this year

2009 gave us an increase in the price of French hens, a decline in the price of a partridge in a pear tree, and a discussion on whether or not ladies dancing would accept a lower wage. I am (obviously?) referring to the 2009 Christmas Price Index.

Today's Christmas countdown music is The 12 Days of Christmas. Each year PNC Wealth Management calculates how much all of the gifts that "my true love gave to me" would cost with today's prices. Then they compare that to the cost of twelve days of Christmas the year before.

This year, well, you can see it for yourself here. After a year of working for a business website, getting economic data presented in pop-up book form is... well... weird. And they present this as though inflation is always a bad thing. Look past all that, or maybe watch the Bloomberg interview instead of the cartoonish website.

The total cost of Christmas is up 9,2% since 2009. This is the largest price increase since 2003, and the second largest since the index began 27 years ago.

The price of gold hit an all-time this year and might reach a new record high about now. That means all those golden rings will cost a true love 30% more than in 2009.

The milkmaids represent the minimum wage, which did not increase this year. However, lords a-leaping and ladies dancing were playing catch-up after 2009, according to the index. The ladies dancing and lords a-leaping have seen a 300% increase in their fees over the past 27 years. Strangely enough, female dancers' wages were up 15% in 2009 and then an additional 15% this year. (Last year Norwegian economist Harald Magnus Andreassen wondered how dancing ladies could possibly be that expensive in the 2009 job market)

Of course the factors in the cost of Christmas are kind of random. Dancers' wages and the cost of birds are probably not the best indicators of how the American economy is doing. Still, since the index started, the price of the goods in the index have decreased relative to the price of services - especially the cost of entertainment. That sounds familiar (and it's been happening in the Norwegian music business too). And this year, the jump in the price of French hens is primarily feed costs, according to PNC's James Dunigan. Which again makes sense.

Posted by Julie at 10:48 PM | TrackBack

December 5, 2010

Christmas music countdown: Jingle Bells

The easiest way to make me feel like it's Christmas is to play me a jazz song involving sleigh rides and snow. Strangely enough, most of my favorite Christmas songs are about winter and parties, not Christmas specifically.

Posted by Julie at 5:16 PM | TrackBack

Book list

Have you read more than 6 of these books? The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here. Instructions: Copy this into your notes. Bold those books you’ve read in their entirety, italicise the ones you started but didn’t finish or read an excerpt. Tag other book nerds.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zifon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens 
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson 
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno - Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (reading it right now)
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factoy - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Book nerds! What have you read?

Posted by Julie at 5:04 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 4, 2010

Christmas music countdown: Stink, stank, stunk

"You have all the tender sweetness of a seasick crocodile, Mr. Grinch. Given the choice between the two of you, I'd take the seasick crocodile."

The original How the Grinch stole Christmas is the best Christmas movie. Here are five things that make it great.

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December 3, 2010

Christmas music countdown: All I want for Christmas is…

Love Actually

YouTube won't let me embed it, but here is the scene with that song.

It's a perfect example of how songs I actually don't like, can become songs I kind of love, just because of context. More on that here and here.

Posted by Julie at 4:01 PM | TrackBack

December 2, 2010

Christmas music countdown: White Christmas

Christmas song of the day: White Christmas

The word of the day yesterday was palingenesis. This has nothing to do with American politics. It means rebirth. Like renaissance, or what I'm doing with this repeat of last year's blog series.

Posted by Julie at 12:37 PM | TrackBack

November 23, 2010

Impulsive concentration

"(W)hen that kind of focus springs to life - when interest becomes visceral, when caring becomes palpable, when you're so focused on something that the rest of the world melts away - the learning that results tends to be rich and sticky and sweet. The kind that you carry with you throughout your life. The kind that becomes a part of you. The kind that turns, soon enough, into wisdom.

It's a kind of learning, though, that can't be forced - because it relies for its initial spark on something that is as ineffable as it is intense. Interest has a way of sneaking up on you: One day, you're a normal person, caring about normal things like sports and music and movies - and the next a Beatles song comes on the radio, and suddenly you're someone who cares not just about sports and music and movies, but also about the melodic range of the sitar. Even if you don't want, necessarily, to be somebody who cares about the melodic range of the sitar. Interests are often liberating; occasionally, they're embarrassing. Either way, you can't control them. They, in fact, control you."

Quote from Megan Garber in Attention vs. distraction - What that big New York Times story leaves out

And here's that big New York Times story: Growing up digital, wired for distraction I couldn't bring myself to read the whole thing, because I am so sick of being told that my ability to multi-task is a bad thing, and that I can't concentrate because I'm under 25. (I'm blogging this in between editing photos, updating E24, and keeping up with Twitter, and I think I'm doing ok).

Garber sums up the counter-argument perfectly here:

"(T)he digital era is bringing a new kind of empowerment not just to interest, but to aversion. The web is a space whose very abundance of information - and whose very informational infrastructure - trains our attention to follow our interests."

(That's why online headlines have to be straightforward.)

Related posts:

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October 13, 2010

Suit up!

To quote Barney Stinson: "Suit's are awesome."

Wednesday October 13th is International Suit Up Day, celebrating the show How I met your mother, the character Barney Stinson, and the outfit The Suit.

Although I'm generally sceptical of any "it's so unfair that women can't do this" whining, I agree with this Norwegian blogger about the following:

"The man's suit is a genius concept. It does men many favors and simplifies their lives. (...) While there are ugly and unfashionable suits, it's a fact that all men can look f*cking good in a suit. Men are more manly, more male in suits (...) Long-sleeved shirts, a blazer and trousers hide bad skin, scars, sweat, hair, fat and any other body issues. Suits turn boys into men, while still flattering older men." (My translation)

I recommend the whole post if you read Norwegian. In summary: Men have this go-to outfit that says "I'm professional and serious, and it's totally a coincidence that I look hot at the same time." Women simply don't have an equivalent.

What do we wear when men wear suits? Sure, we can wear suits, and look cool:

6a00e54ee9b9ef883301310f9402e0970c-800wi

... but it will be inevitably be described as "women wearing menswear", possibly because it's "trendy" (Note to fashion journalists: It's not a trend if it's been around for a century.).

Or we can wear fitted dresses, recommended by the Financial Times... but they can easily cross the line into too dressy or too fitted.

Women often end up looking like they either put too much effort into their appearance, or not enough. Pencil skirts and heels are more secretary than boss, while an actual suit can end up looking like a costume.

But hey, Suit Up Day is not about complaining. In a world according to Julie, it would be about all the men I meet wearing suits for just one day. That would be great...

In the meantime, I can put on a blazer and watch How I met your mother. Videos below...

How to suit up:

Barney Stinson's best catchphrase:

And of course, the suit song:

Posted by Julie at 12:05 AM | TrackBack

October 12, 2010

My desktop, my world

"The reality of life today means that you can't always be there, and in fact you have to take that idea of that working space with you. Probably what's going to happen in the future is that the desk becomes more a state of mind than an actual physical place." - Alice Twemlow, design critic.

My Desk, to use the capitalization and idea presented in this video, is the laptop I'm blogging this from. It's a Toshiba Equium A100-299 to be precise, which I bought after some deliberation in the winter of 2007. It is the only computer I have chosen and bought myself (after growing up working on my dad's cast-offs and technical experiments), and I'm reluctant to upgrade or replace it because it is just right. The keyboard never makes my wrists tired. The Firefox browser is full of extras like Readability, Feedly and TreeStyle. My blog platform, Windows Live Writer (the only good part of Windows Live IMO), includes locally stored blog post drafts and an archive of potential illustrations. TweetDeck looks better on this screen than the bigger one at work or the smaller one in my purse. I use the photographs I'm kind of proud of as desktop backgrounds. I've really settled down with this computer.

I love the idea of working from anywhere, and my netbook, Evernote and Gmail make that possible. Changing the scenery (moving from my apartment to a café or from one side of the university library to the other) usually helps me beat writer's block or three-quarter curse.

However, the actual look of the physical workspace has never mattered to me that much. At work, the only real personalization of my desk is coincidental and functional: my big green Boston Globe mug, my Kindle, my notebook of daily to-do lists, all scattered around at random. The computer however, has to feel right, and the process of logging on to everything in the "right" order and arranging the programs I work with in their "right" places on my screens has become a routine I won't mess with.

A friend who trained to be a chef in France taught me the importance of mise en place, literally "putting in place" your ingredients and tools before getting to work. The phrase comes from French kitchens, but setting up your workspace matters, whether you're chopping onions, sharpening pencils or upgrading Firefox add-ons.

Related post: Multi-tasking and concentration

Desk - Music and Sound Design from Aaron Trinder Film:Motion:Music on Vimeo.

Posted by Julie at 4:29 PM | TrackBack

September 6, 2010

Overheard in the newsroom

I love Overheard in the Newsroom. Deeply. Here are a few favorites:

Reporter: “When I’m plagiarized by the competition, I’ll know I finally made it.” (I've made it. )

Copy chief: “You know that there are no points for making the headline more interesting than the story, right?” (What? But that's my job description!)

Managing editor to reporter who keeps asking questions: “The internet is RIGHT THERE.” (I both love and hate it when co-workers ask me before they ask Google. I send links like this a lot.)

Editor: “You’ve done a lot today, pretend like you’re doing something important until you leave.” (This sounds familiar, along the lines of "Julie, go get yourself a cup of coffee, now!")

Five-year-old boy to reporter interviewing people at snow cone stand: “You’re gonna need a bigger notebook if you’re gonna write a whole story.” (Aww... But I am extremely picky about my notebooks. They are just the right size, thank you very much.)

Photographer, while eating cake during budget meeting: “A life without cake is a life that is sad and empty.” (My newsroom seems to follow this philosophy.)

Copy editor: “If I got paid for every comma I fix, I’d be set for life.” (I fix my co-workers' comma- and spelling-mistakes in secret. There, I've said it.)

Illustration via nongenderous

Updated: I found an archive of favorite Overheards that I completely forgot I had saved. Here they are...

News Reporter to colleague: “I don’t believe in anything,” she said, then paused. “I believe in coffee.”

...

J-School student: “Each of these little failures makes me feel more and more like a journalist.”

...

Photographer to Producer: “Our computers are so slow I could drive to Google and get the information faster.”

...

Reporter to Copy Editor: “I’d take the ‘journalism’ out of it and just start looking at jobs.com.”

...

Co-worker to spouse over the phone: “When am I going to be able to come home? Is never a time?”

...

Copy editor: ‘One of these days, we’re all going to snap. They won’t say we’re going postal. They’ll say we’re going journalist.”

...

Reporter: “There’s something wrong when I see ‘Newspaper reporter killed’ in a headline and my first thought is ‘Sweet. Job opening.’ ”

...

City Editor after sneezing: “Goodness, I’m allergic to deadline.”

...

Reporter: “I always tell editors: ‘I can only be in two places at once.’ ”

Posted by Julie at 8:02 PM | TrackBack

September 5, 2010

A finalist in the race of life

Speaking of realizing one's own mortality, I am fascinated by Christopher Hitchens' series of articles about cancer. In part one, he writes:

The alien had colonized a bit of my lung as well as quite a bit of my lymph node. And its original base of operations was located—had been located for quite some time—in my esophagus. My father had died, and very swiftly, too, of cancer of the esophagus. He was 79. I am 61. In whatever kind of a “race” life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist. (...) I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read—if not indeed write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity. Of course my book hit the best-seller list on the day that I received the grimmest of news bulletins, and for that matter the last flight I took as a healthy-feeling person (to a fine, big audience at the Chicago Book Fair) was the one that made me a million-miler on United Airlines, with a lifetime of free upgrades to look forward to. But irony is my business and I just can’t see any ironies here: would it be less poignant to get cancer on the day that my memoirs were remaindered as a box-office turkey, or that I was bounced from a coach-class flight and left on the tarmac? To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?

In the second part, atheist Hitchens answers those who are praying for him:

The absorbing fact about being mortally sick is that you spend a good deal of time preparing yourself to die with some modicum of stoicism (and provision for loved ones), while being simultaneously and highly interested in the business of survival. This is a distinctly bizarre way of “living”—lawyers in the morning and doctors in the afternoon—and means that one has to exist even more than usual in a double frame of mind. The same is true, it seems, of those who pray for me. (...) Praying for what? As with many of the Catholics who essentially pray for me to see the light as much as to get better, they were very honest. Salvation was the main point. “We are, to be sure, concerned for your health, too, but that is a very secondary consideration. ‘For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his own soul?’ [Matthew 16:26.]” (...) what if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating.

This is an ongoing series, which I will definitely be following.

Related blog posts:

Posted by Julie at 11:21 AM | TrackBack

August 29, 2010

Six months left

"In March I found out that I had six months to live," Sarah Hitchin wrote in The Guardian in May 2007. As far as I know, the spring of 2007 was her last.

Strangely enough, I blogged about what I would have done if the spring of 2007 were my last. Back then, I concluded that I would like to continue as if nothing were wrong, meaning that I would be studying, even if there would be no exams: "I would gladly choose the stress of preparing for the future over the stress of not having one".

Sarah's description of her situation is strangely funny, and very down to earth. She didn't feel instantly wise. Three hours after being given six months to live, she was "bored with it" and wanted to drink some wine. The tragedy of leaving her partner behind is described in everyday details: "I must make sure he knows how to turn on the dishwasher before I go."

Just like me, Sarah worried about not having time to see the movies she wanted to: "I find myself thinking, "Oh, I must watch that film before I go", as if I am going away for six months and then I will be back." But of course my worry was hypothetical; hers was very real.

Since writing about my hypothetical death, I've used the idea of "six months left" as a way to check on myself. I've asked myself "Would I quit this job if there were only six months left?" "Would I drop out of school?" "Would I stay friends with these people?" If the answer to "Would I drastically change my life if there were six months left of it?" is "Oh, YES!" then, maybe I should change it, just in case.

And right now, I would stop saving money and use all of it to get my faraway friends to Oslo. I would give more compliments, because telling people they're great is more important than worrying that they will feel weird about it. Beyond that I wouldn't change a thing.

I guess that means I'm happy.

Image source: icanread

Posted by Julie at 4:19 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 19, 2010

It's (almost) Moose Cap Friday!

Tomorrow is Moose Cap Friday!

In the photo on the right, runway model Patricia van der Vliet demonstrates the Sacred Moose Cap Greeting behind the scenes at the Anna Sui Fall Ready-to-Wear show 2010. I see this as proof that Moose Cap is now high fashion.

From Vogue to my own little magazine: The latest issue of argument, where I've been an editor for the past year, was released just a few days ago. And there is a girl with Moose antlers on the cover.

Believe it or not, this was not my decision. Our cover illustration is artwork by Linda Soh Trengereid. You can see more of her Moose Cap art here.

But what is Moose Cap? It is a sacred tradition that began in the 1200s in the woods of Rondane. Or in the Oslo pub Café Sara one summer night back in 2008. Since then, every third Friday of the month is Moose Cap Friday.

In this interview my friends and I explain Moose Cap to the magazine The Monthly Moose. They have no affiliation with Moose Cap Friday, but since the name was so similar, they decided they needed to do a story about us.

MooseNovember09_109We celebrate with Moose Cap food (Moose meat obviously, but also Moose-shaped pasta), Moose Cap t-shirts (tm), politically incorrect jokes, and well, parties. And somehow, thanks to Moose Cap Magic even the founders of this tradition do not always understand, strange and exciting things tend to happen on Moose Cap Fridays.

Although wearing a t-shirt or Moose Cap is strongly encouraged, the most important thing is to honor the Moose, honor your friends and celebrate.

Oh, and you should join the Facebook group of course.

 

P. S. Moose Cap Magic means you will never be hungover the day after Moose Cap Friday. Seriously. Enjoy.

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August 9, 2010

Why I'm a journalist

1. "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known." - Carl Sagan

2. "Your job is to run around experiencing interesting things and then to tell us about what you learned in a way that makes it extra interesting." (That's how a friend described my job after I suggested we talk about his life for once.)

3. It's amazing how much you can learn just by asking people to tell you. It's unbelievable what you can experience just by asking if you can watch.

4. Journalism is academic research, only efficient.

5. I can be a total nerd about new topics every day.

6. My journalism teachers at Oslo University College told me it's the best profession in the world.

7. Being short and shy can make my job easier. To quote Joan Didion: "My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests."

8. "Research", is a great all-purpose excuse for many slightly suspicious activities.

9. "It is just pure, unadulterated therapy. You can never get away from that therapy if it's what you need to stay sane." - Daniel M. Harrison

10. "Few professions let you be as childish - or as evil - as you can be in journalism" - Johann D. Sundberg (my editor)

A work in constant progress, written as an ever-changing answer to Daniel M. Harrison.

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July 26, 2010

The secret city underneath Paris

To go underground and discover what lies buried beneath Paris, read this.

And then I'll tell you why I wanted you to do so...

I read The Lizard, the Catacombs, and the Clock: The Story of Paris’s Most Secret Underground Society because it was tweeted by Roger Ebert, so it was probably interesting. I had no idea what to expect, except that it would be about Paris and mysteries. Half way through I realized that I didn't even know if what I was reading was true. Was it journalism with literary influences or a short story meant to read like a feature article? It was published in a literary magazine, so was this fiction or non-fiction? I didn't care. I felt like I was reading a short novel. I wanted it to be a longer novel. I wanted someone to make it into a movie. I was imagining the trailer, with smoke drifting around Parisian street corners as members of a secret society emerge from potholes at 5 in the morning, holding hands. The layers of secrecy and confusion of art and reality reminded me of Siri Hustvedt's parallell universe. The journalist didn't know if the sources could be trusted, and as a reader, I didn't know if I could trust my narrator, but I was happy to go along with it all. I wanted to be tricked into believing that if I had just known the right people or taken the right wrong turn in the metro system, I would have discovered a dark and dusty Narnia. I wanted to believe - not know, believe - that there are people who secretly maintain the city of Paris from within.

"I have reached a dead end. Lanso’s secrets are tantalizing, but I can neither confirm nor deny them. UX’s deepest riddles cannot be Googled. The question I ask is, Do I believe them? And then I ask, Do I want to believe them? And then I know my answer."

Image: Zoriah, Creative Commons

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July 25, 2010

I am a constant gamer

I just started subscribing to the Monday Note, a weekly e-mail newsletter about media and tech business. The first note in my inbox was about me. Or at least people like me, the "digital natives" between 18 and 24 who have more or less grown up online.

A French survey presents our habits. One of the key findings is that we are "constant gamers", modeling our real-life interactions on computer games. We don't trust brands, and see them as the enemy to defeat as we use all available tools to find the best deals online. Some brands, including Apple of course, "have gained access to a unique status of blind trustfulness", but overall we have little respect for authority.

“It mainly results from a generation gap in which management is still in the hands of people who don’t have a clue on how Digital Natives think”, says Edouard Le Marechal, who engineered the survey.

If he means "management is still in the hands of people who rely on surveys to understand how people in their early twenties work", then he is certainly correct.

Here are a few more interesting descriptions of my age group, quoted from Frédéric Filloux, who writes The Monday Note:

This isn't a survey I would focus on too much - it's just about a hundred or so French kids - but I can identify with the findings I've quoted above. I know many of my friends don't trust "the media", by which they mean major newspapers, but look to Facebook and Wikipedia for information and news about what's really going on. I would switch "Facebook friends of 200 or so" to "Twitter feeds of 600 or so" as my third level group, but I appreciate that someone is finally acknowledging that (duh!) we do know the difference between best friends and friends on Facebook.

Image via nongenderous

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July 10, 2010

Why I don't want to read anything written for women

HegnarOnline, one of the Norwegian business newssites I don't work for, recently launched a "Women's" section on their site.

No, I don't see the point of a special selection of business and finance news stories specifically for girls. I checked out the women's section of this site, and it made me feel insulted. I don't go to a business/finance news site for fashion tips. Not when it's Fall couture season at style.com. And if a woman is interesting enough to be interviewed by a newspaper, men and women should be reading about her.

Trying to sell me media for women sends me the message that all the other media is for men. So since I'm a girl, I can play around in the women's section of business journalism, reading about hairdressers, sushi restaurants and cosmetics companies. That way, the men can be left alone with their technology, stock markets and of course any stories about men making lots of money. No woman would ever want to read about that.

This doesn't make me feel special. I just feel left out.

I enjoy looking through Vogue, because they write about fashion. Not "stuff women are supposed to like", but fashion, for those who like that. I'll also read The Frisky occasionally. It's a blog marketed toward women, but they have a loyal following of male readers who give their perspectives in the comments, and the writers actively encourage men and women to join the discussion.

Despite claiming otherwise, many for-profit websites written specifically for women, are actually just like traditional women's magazines, writes Emily Gould for Slate:

"Glossies make money by exploiting women's insecurities. The editorial content creates ego-wounds ("Do you smell bad? Why isn't he into you?") that advertisers handily salve by offering up makeup and scented tampons. (...) Instead of mimicking the old directly anxiety-making model—for example, by posting weight-loss tips and photos of impossibly thin models like a traditional women's magazine—Jezebel and the Slate and Salon "lady-blogs" post a critique of a rail-thin model's physique, explaining how her attractiveness hurts women. The end result is the same as the old formula—women's insecurities sell ads."

This just reminds me why I don't want to read anything that's "for women" at all. If no man wants to read it, how can it possibly be good enough for me?

When HegnarOnline quoted a story I wrote today, it was on the boys' front page. Hmmm...

Image: PostSecret

Related posts:

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July 7, 2010

Library fantasies

With one exception (the glasses) the photo below could basically be me in my living room. The more books in a room, the happier I am. But lately I've been spending my free time packing my books into boxes. I'm moving soon, and it is highly unlikely that I will have room for my entire library in my next home. Sigh. In between sorting books into labeled cardboard boxes (Books I Absolutely Must Put On Shelf In Smaller Apartment, Books I Will Reluctantly Relocate To Parents' Attic, Utterly Useless PoliSci Textbooks Whose Pages Can Be Used To Wrap Coffee Cups, Books I Stole From Dad Years Ago, Books I Really Should Return To Ex/Acquintance/That Guy/Despicable Creature Who Absolutely Does Not Deserve Them, Books I Should Just Carry Around In Purses Until I've Read Them Again etc.), I've edited a magazine article about BookCrossing. It's by Marit Letnes, will be published in the next issue of argument, and (spoiler!) contains paragraphs like:

"Books are special objects, carriers of culture, not to be thrown away lightly. Destruction of books is often taboo, as if they have a spirit. They are not like other commodities: They should be given, not just sold."

Hardly the right sentences for me to be repeating over and over in my head when I should be thinking about letting go of my books.

So I fantasize about libraries. So does @nongenderous apparently. Her tumblr is full of library pictures. Read/dream on...

I love the feeling of promise that comes with a library.

Aahh... No comment necessary. I could live here.

 

I could live here too, although it is a little too church-like. Who is the monk-like guy above the door? Where is this?

El Ateneo in Buenos Aires, a bookstore in a theater.

Nice. I have no idea where this is either.

 

Neil Gaiman's bookshelves. See more from his collection here.

 

The University of Copenhagen. One should consider the inspirational value of the university library when choosing a university.  (Photo by Bo Madsen, I think)

Oh... wow. Biblioteca Joanina, at the University of Coimbra. Too bad I can't read Portugese. (My own university library wasn't ugly, but I probably should have gone to Copenhagen or Coimbra.)

In the process of moving, this is a more realistic idea of what my library looks like.

(All images via nongenderous. Original locations and photographers are usually lost on tumblr, but if you know where the photos are from, please let me know so I can credit and link appropriately. And visit the libraries of course.)

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July 4, 2010

American links for the 4th of July

It's Independence Day! I don't have any 4th of July traditions that can be transferred to Norway (I doubt there will fireworks or lobster today), but I might buy myself some Ben&Jerry's.

Suggested soundtrack: Scarlet's Walk, Tori Amos' album about America. According to Neil Gaiman: "The CD's about America -- it's a story that's also a journey, that begins in LA and crosses the country, slowly heading east." It's on Spotify. This is also the album with one of Tori Amos' most well-known songs, A Sorta Fairytale, with a weird and wonderful music video.

Suggested reading:

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June 6, 2010

Facebook - Should I worry?

As a journalist, should I be particularly worried about Facebook?

So far, I've been pretty relaxed about Facebook. I still stand by what I wrote in May 2007 (Facebook does not change our relationships or social networks; it just makes them visible to others and to ourselves) and what I wrote in September 2007 (if you don't want the world to know about all the stupid stuff you do, just don't do stupid stuff). I still say that Twitter and blogging have changed my lifestyle much more than Facebook.

Even so, I've been following at least some of the seemingly endless Facebook debates for the past few years, and lately, I've been less relaxed.

Facebook has been constantly changing their rules for who sees what on your profile since they started. Today, you can still maintain some degree of control, but given Facebook's track record, we can't really assume that will last.

This is probably not good for people in general, but for me personally, it's not a problem. Again, I'm not worried about people discovering that (gasp!) I drink alcohol or (shock!) attend costume parties or (eek!) have bad hair days. Basically my rule is that no matter how many layers of password protection and "friends only" I can supposedly hide behind, I'm never going to publish anything online that my parents and my boss shouldn't see. And if I ever reach that uncomfortable level of celebrity status where strangers really do care about my bad hair days, I'll have much bigger problems than Facebook.

Copyright is a whole other story. I would like to make a living out of writing. And while I'm nowhere near being a great photographer, selling pictures is often part of selling journalism. Am I crazy to be uploading my own photographs to a site that clearly tells me that anything I give them becomes their property?

I feel horribly pretentious writing this, so let me just clearify: I don't truly believe that snapshots of my friends making Moose antlers with their hands behind their heads will someday be worth any amount of money. I highly doubt that any of the photos I currently have up on Facebook can be considered works of art or good photojournalism.

No wait, actually, some of them are decent. Not fantastic, but definitely publishable. So when I read this week that in Norway, journalists can publish other peoples' Facebook photos to illustrate news stories without asking, I was not happy.

Am I crazy to worry that this could be a slippery slope? Am I going against all my information-wants-to-be-free ideals? If so, is that just part of graduating college and turning into a conservative grown-up?

Or am I just being sensible? I'm not currently using Flickr, but if I were, it would be under an attribution/non-commercial license. I don't need to make money from my work, but I don't want other people to make money from my work without at least giving me some credit. That's why I stopped automatically publishing all my blog posts to Facebook - I want some degree of control, not over who sees what, but who legally owns what. After all, I have no idea what Facebook might do next. On this blog on the other hand, if the privacy policy changes, I will let myself know.

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June 2, 2010

The best friend contract

I don't know if these are the particular rules I would put in my Best Friend Contract, but they're probably decent guidelines. I get a little worried about promising to keep in touch "constantly" - I imagine 20 daily texts and endless Facebook wall posts. But overall, I think I could sign this with a couple of people, and that's a nice thing. Anyway, when I found this on icanread, I had that thought that I have sometimes: "It might be nice if there were clear-cut rules for how to treat people we care about. I think a lot of conflicts have to do with friends not agreeing on what the rules are."

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May 31, 2010

Geeks vs. nerds

XKCD thinks the distinction between geek and nerd is that a geek is someone unusually into something and nerds are (often awkward) math, science and computer geeks. I guess my own definition is slightly different: Geeks are unusually into things, but identifying as a geek without indicating what this interest is, generally means you understand everything on XKCD. A nerd is kind of like an intellectual or academic geek, whose interests, although not necessarily as obsessive as a geek's, are the kind of interests that would make you "good at school": reading, writing, math, science or really any kind of academic field. I generally feel more nerdy than geeky, because I don't tend to obsess over specifics. But I do realize that having a gut-feeling-based way of distinguishing the two categories probably means I belong in both.

And socially awkward people are dorks. Or just socially awkward people.

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May 28, 2010

No comments for Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry explains why he recently closed comments on his blog:

"I don’t know about you, but my eyes are already trained only to read the top half of a web page these days. Rather as a Victorian would not look below the waist, I do not let my eyes have even a second’s contact with the revolting Have Your Say or Comments section of a BBC site, a YouTube page or any blog or tech forum. The lower half of web pages is very like the lower half of the body — full of all kinds of noxious evil smelling poison. I suppose it has to be expelled somewhere, but you will forgive me for not wanting to be close by when it happens. It is a pity, a real pity, that the furious few pollute the atmosphere and obstruct the pipelines that might otherwise allow the reciprocal possibilities of the world of User Generated Content that Web 2.0 promised all those years ago. Lord knows I don’t want the Comment pages on my site to be filled with nothing but sycophantic agreement and loving worship. The truth is I would like them to be open, honest and free. There are thousands of people with valid and interesting points of disagreement with me on any number of subjects, with objections to Apple, their corporate style, their approach to hardware, firmware and software and their whole philosophy , but they are drowned out by the fundies and the freaks. One hurtful, mean-spirited, vicious or intemperate comment ruins everything. Absolutely everything. You cannot say to someone about to take a bath, ‘it’s only a small turd in there, the rest of the water is crystal clear’ — one turd spoils the whole bath. So I would rather have no comment at all. Call me weak, call me pusillanimous, call me craven, call me anything, only don’t do it here."

Anything Fry writes is an interesting read, and this blog post, about Apple, was no exception. I laughed at the paragraph and wanted to quote it. Copy. Paste.

Then I got a little worried.

Twitterer and self-proclaimed geek Fry is claiming that one stupid blog comment is enough to ruin "absolutely everything". I think internet-based debate and commentary gets enough of a bad rep from technophobes and those people who don't read blogs, without ammunition from Fry. He is blogging and tweeting for 1.5 million followers. He knows that Web 2.0 is far from ruined, even if he personally can't be bothered to moderate right now.

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May 19, 2010

Fashion lessons from childhood fiction

  1. Don’t be afraid of super high shoes. (Cruella de Vil)
  2. It’s not enough just to be pretty. (Jane Eyre)
  3. Well-tailored jackets and tiny Victorian-style boots go with everything. (Mary Poppins)
  4. There’s no shame in being different, bright jackets are awesome and you really need to stop judging people entirely by their clothing, even though judging people entirely by their clothing leads to completely accurate assumptions. Actually, every single item in your closet would look better surrounded by Parisian scenery... and judging people by their clothing is more accepted in Paris. (Madeline)

Via Jennifer Wright's series Fashion lessons from childhood fiction

Oh, and by the way, some related posts:

(And yes, this was written as procrastination/break in the middle of writing a six page feature article on South African education. Yay, feature writing exams again!)

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May 6, 2010

South Africa through taxi windows

"So if you're ever feeling down, grab your purse and take a taxi to the darker side of town." - The Wombats

This is a Cape Town minibus taxi. During our first week here, my six Norwegian journalist friends and I referred to this cross between a bus service and a shared taxi service as "the crazy-taxis". If one of us separated from the group, we worried that our lone Norwegian friend would sacrifice their own safety to save 100 rand and hop on a crowded minibus rather than calling a cab. We envisioned speeding and theft, or worse.

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On Monday I celebrated World Press Freedom Day by interviewing a teacher at a high school in the township of Khayelitsha - definitely violating guidelines from the South African Department of Education and possibly risking my own safety in the process. I travelled by minibus taxi by myself, and felt safe the whole way. Some time between that first nervous week and yesterday, the white vans making their way between cities and townships have become normal to me. They have also turned into a symbol of the physical and social distance between people in this country.

Yesterday's journey started in Stellenbosch. This ridiculously cozy university town seems to consist solely of oak trees and student-friendly café-bars. Populated mainly by squirrels and undergrads, it feels strangely like a sleepy New England town. Unlike towns in New England, but just like most other South African towns, Stellenbosch has a township, a residential area originally designed specifically for "non-whites" during the apartheid era. Khayamandi seems to creep up on Stellenbosch from through a hole in the surrounding wineries' vines. It's described in Wikipedia as a "suburb". But it's not a leafy, wealthy, calm suburb. It's a township, "originally built to house exclusively black migrant male labourers employed on the farms in the Stellenbosch area".


View Larger Map

My hosts for the week are a group of five European students at the Stellenbosch university. They live in a friendly two-story house, complete with braai, swimming pool and a heavy locked gate, in the Stellenbosch area called Die Boord. Being Norwegian, my friend Tonje and I think nothing of walking 30 minutes to get to the town center's selection of coffee shops and restaurants, where the croissants amandes are just like in France and the hamburgers are just like in the US.

On the way, we are stopped by a woman who says: "I just want to warn you girls. This road is not safe. The guys walk here to get to the train station and the taxi rank. We had a mugging here just this morning."

The woman is white, and "the guys" are black of course. Her statement suggests that for a black guy, mugging a white girl is a routine part of the morning commute. We want to dismiss her as yet another paranoid white South African, or even just a non-Norwegian non-pedestrian, the kind of person who drives to her own mailbox. But she has a concrete example to support her paranoia. We walk anyway. We don't have a car, and Stellenbosch has no metre-based private cabs and no local bus service.

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Either because of perceived distance or perceived danger, the white people of Stellenbosch seem to only travel by car. If I ask for directions on foot, they respond with the South African expression of inconvenience and exasperation. "Ach!", they say, "It's so far!" regardless of the actual distance. For longer distances, I have to specify that I don't have my own car - I am a young, poor student staying here for just a few weeks - and people say: "Ach, how will you get here then?"

It's a good question. If I believe the most paranoid of safety warnings, walking or taking the trains is asking to be mugged. People tell me that if I insist on moving around the country without bullet-proof windows, I should at least leave my camera in the hotel safe. This is obviously advice a journalist must ignore. Some of the people I've asked for directions just tell me to avoid townships all together.

Other people give me the opposite advice. I know people who have lived here for years and never had any first-hand experience of crime. Tonje walks alone and takes trains. Many of the people I interview - black and white, in townships and suburbs - tell me to take a minibus taxi to meet them, and don't add any safety warnings to their directions. "You're safer in townships than I am," one young man from Khayelitsha told me, "If you get mugged, the police care."

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So one day I took a minibus taxi by myself. I needed to get from central Cape Town to the Site C taxi rank in Khayelitsha to meet the organization Equal Education. The man who gave me directions told me I would be met at the taxi rank, and that although I knew the way, walking alone to the EE headquarters around the corner was out of the question. I don't know if he was seriously worried that I would get mugged, or if he just wanted to make sure it didn't happen on his watch.

I walked through Cape Town central station - about as nice a place as its Oslo counterpart, which isn't saying much. I felt apprehensive, but relieved to not be moving in a group of seven Norwegian students. Knowing that I would be spending 12 rand and 50 cents to get to my destination (instead of 350 rand, the fare quoted to me by the cab drivers I had called the day before), was also a comforting thought. As I scanned the signs at the taxi rank, searching for "Site C", a young man whistled at me and stage-whispered "Nice" in my direction. My guard was up, and I think I flinched. But then I remembered what it was like to travel by metro in Paris. In that supposedly safe city, one man followed me on a journey that involved changing metro trains twice, keeping up a running commentary on my every movement in whispered French. Men on the metro would sit down next to me and inch closer and closer until I stood up and moved to the other side of the train. On street corners, it seemed perfectly normal to hear guys calling out to girls for attention, yelling lines that could be categorized somewhere between flirtation and outright harassment. But I never felt seriously scared in Paris; I was always surrounded by normal people in addition to the metro-harassers.

And here in South Africa, I am always surrounded by normal people too. The people in taxis are normal. They listen to mp3-players, call friends and read newspapers as they commute. They pass their payment for this commute from the back of the van to the driver in front, helping each other get correct change back. Some of them sleep, some of them small-talk. In this carpool system crossing the Cape Flats, I'm the weird one.

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Khayelitsha is between Cape Town and Stellenbosch, so I assumed that having taken taxis from Cape Town, I would be able to take taxis from Stellenbosch. Wrong. Officially, Stellenbosch doesn't have a mini-bus taxi service at all. If my sources are correct, the taxi drivers here drive without a taxi registration, and the "taxi rank" is just a parking lot. Officially, these drivers are just giving a few friends and neighbors a ride in their vans. The carpooling system seems to be functioning much like bus service in rural Norway: locals just know where and when the taxis go, and SA-noobs like myself are helpless. Despite my experience with Cape Town taxis, figuring out how to take one from Stellenbosch prompted much use of "ach".

So on Monday, I called a friend of Tonje's, and he proved the general friendliness of South Africans by meeting me, walking me to a traffic circle, waiting for an hour and yelling "KHAYELITSHA?" at a taxi with the correct license plate (starts with CA means it's likely to go back and forth from Khayelitsha; starts with CL means it's likely to stay in the Stellenbosch area).

"Get in, my friend!" yelled the taxi driver, and I was on my way. Although I could barely understand my driver's English, he seemed friendly enough. I find it hard to believe that he may be one of the striking taxi drivers who threw stones at cars and buses just a month ago. I met a girl here who told me her hair was short because she had to have stitches in her head after an angry taxi-driver threw a brick through a bus window. The drivers seem to have earned a bad reputation, but their service is needed in a country where public transport is limited.

"So, do you know Khayelitsha well?" the young man sitting next to me on the way back to Stellenbosch wanted to know.

I told him that I had been to both the Harare and Site C areas, but: "I would probably get lost if I just took a walk here. And then I would so obviously be a tourist, as if I were carrying a big sign saying 'I'm lost and stupid; please rob me.'" The entire bus laughed at this joke. I wondered if it was funny because it was true, or if it was funny because it reflected the stereotypical view tourists have of Khayelitsha.

The first time I met Equal Education, we crammed too many people into a tiny little private car to drive to an event, rather than get a taxi. I was perched on a stranger's lap, my head against the car's ceiling, driving through Site C, when our driver said: "Ok, guys, if the police stop us because we have too many people in here, we'll tell them you were a stupid tourist, walking alone with your big camera around your neck, and we had to rescue you."

I wouldn't be surprised if people from Khayelitsha did just that. Everyone I've met has been helpful: giving me directions, walking with me part of the way, waiting with me so I wouldn't have to stand around waiting for a taxi alone, translating information from Xhosa to English. One woman met another Norwegian and me in Cape Town, walked with us to the station, took a taxi with us into Khayelitsha, walked with us to three different locations, showed us her own house and found us a taxi to take back to the city. In what was perhaps an excessive show of friendliness, one of my helpers suggested we get married.

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But even at its best, travelling here without a car is inconvenient. I would get one if I were staying, but I am lucky: I can afford one. For those who can't, the last taxis leave central Cape Town around 9:30 pm, according to a woman who helped me navigate Cape Town central station two weeks ago. That's so early that she can't go to the theater in the city without spending the night there. In the morning, a commute into town can start at 5 to avoid traffic. Our hospital guide got up at 4 to meet us at 7:30.

Some Khayelitsha parents send their children to schools in richer parts of the Cape Town area, spending thousands of rand a year on tuition and hundreds of rand a month on taxi fare. I spoke to a fifteen-year-old girl - the same age as my sister - who gets up at 4 AM to take a taxi to a school in the suburb Claremont. She worries that her cell phone will be stolen on the way home every day.

The layout of central city and distant township was designed to keep people apart, and it still does. Although the journey can be as short as 20 minutes, going from Stellenbosch to Khayelitsha to have dinner or a beer just doesn't seem like an option. I don't know if it ever will be, or if being able to do so will matter.

Equal Education spends a large part of their budget on taxis, transporting school children from their schools to youth groups and other events.When he drove me home after such an event, founding member Joey Hasson explained the South African school system and his organization's transport worries. We parked next to my hostel in the wealthy Tamboerskloof suburb. He said: "If we want to get to a time when black and white doesn't matter, we need a hell of a lot of taxis."

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All photos taken by me, through the windows of minibus taxis.

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April 20, 2010

Elgephant? Elemoose? An update from Cape Town

(Belated) Happy Moose Cap Friday from Cape Town!  (What's Moose Cap Friday? The answer is right here!)

The elgephant image is photographed by Tonje Olsrud, my Norwegian friend studying at Stellenbosch University, who came to meet me in Cape Town this weekend. At the Saturday morning market at Woodstock, Cape Town, I ate butternut quiche for breakfast and spent the day trying South African designer dresses, sipping the best espresso I've had on this continent and photographing antlers. I spent most of Friday driving from Cape Town to Cape Point, via penguins, baboons, elands (the closest South Africa gets to Meese) and the Cape of Good Hope.

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Today it feels like the weekend was a month ago. Along with six other journalism students, I'm here to write a feature story, not to photograph animals and taste local food. Since the weekend's sightseeing and market-shopping, we've moved to Zebra Crossing Hostel to get cheap beds, free wireless internet and an even shorter walking distance to Long Street, where we mainly buy cell phone airtime and sandwiches. Our fantastic first week and a half of sightseeing is over. This strange new environment is like a cross between a newsroom and summer camp.

This post is dedicated to the fantastic Aina. Happy birthday! Wish you were celebrating it here!

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April 12, 2010

Economists don’t know everything

"The big lesson in economics from Keynes is that we know less than we think we do, and that there is a vast difference between the output of economic models and the actual behaviour of individuals.

"Our basis of knowledge for estimating the yield 10 years hence of a railway, a copper mine, a textile factory, the goodwill of a patent medicine, an Atlantic liner, a building in the City of London amounts to little and sometimes to nothing," Keynes wrote. He was unimpressed by the argument that decisions were "the outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities".

This, though, is where mainstream economics has ended up. It is possible to construct beautifully precise models if you start from the assumption that rational economic agents with perfect information are operating in free markets that always return to equilibrium. But since none of these assumptions holds true in the real world, this is a classic case of "rubbish in, rubbish out".

Even more worryingly, there has been no room in this view of the world for the heterodox. The prestigious economics journals have been cleansed of all but the purveyors of highly technical algebra. Economic history has been removed from the syllabus, because those who yearn for economics to be a hard science believe the past can teach them nothing. Truly, the lunatics have taken over the asylum."

- From "Rescuing economics from its own crisis" by Larry Elliot in The Guardian

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March 18, 2010

What's your tribe?

Exactitudes is fascinating. Ari Versluis and Ellie Uyttenbroek have taken on-the-street style photography a step further by collecting photos of people who dress alike. They've given each photo collection, or tribe, a name. And Norwegian D2 asks in this article's title: "What tribe do you belong to?"

In 1999, I looked kind of like these girls. My braces had just come off, but I had the pony-tail and the dark, fitted, denim jacket. In early 2008, I was a girl living in the seventh - literally a member of the filles du septieme tribe. I guess I did look like these girls - on a bad day. That came out kind of harsh. What I mean is, if two Dutch photographers had stopped me on the street while I was wearing jeans, an open cardigan, a plain top and minimal accessories and make-up, it would be the result of an early-morning class rather than a conscious style choice or an attempt to look like I have "the style of a tabloid actress". In late 2008, early 2009, I guess I kind of looked like these girls,only less Asian and with a cheaper bag. And now I don't know.

Which one are you?

(Parts of this is reposted from December 2008, but I rediscovered Exactitudes the other day, realized they had a new website and that I needed to update my links, and then spent a little too much time looking around at the tribes.It's even more fun now that they've added audio commentary.)

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March 4, 2010

I want to live in English

For every language you learn, you live another life. Apparently people who live in Czech say that. I think I want to live in English now.

Most Norwegians understand English, but worldwide practically no one understands Norwegian. This makes Norwegian an inside joke I share with a selection of the people I know.

Growing up, Norwegian was the language I used with the three people who knew me best, the people with whom I barely needed spoken words to communicate with at all. Even though I talked non-stop (still do) in both languages, my parents and my sister could usually understand my face and tone of voice well enough regardless of vocabulary. My mom could tell how happy I was by the way I opened the front door when I came home in the afternoon. So Norwegian was our somewhat unneccessary secret code. American friends thought Norwegian was an angry language, because they only heard it when my parents yelled at me. I preferred English, but my parents insisted I speak Norwegian, because I would need it someday.

These days, communicating in Norwegian is my job. Since moving back to Norway two years ago, I have studied and worked in Norwegian full time. I consider both Norwegian and English first languages, meaning I'm completely bilingual.

Despite all that, after giving Norwegian a serious try, I have realized something:

English is just better. I'm better in English. I like other people better in English.

I'm more open and heartfelt and honest in English. Norwegians are so direct it borders on insensitivity, both in culture and in language. We won't tell you to have a nice day unless we ourselves would really feel happier if you did. We won't say "I love you" to people we just like. We won't thank you if we don't feel genuinely grateful. Any expression of sentiment in Norwegian feels like I'm exposing some secret part of my mind, usually only accessible to Norwegians when we're drunk.

In English I'm more polite, although I might come off as relatively rude due to Norwegian bad habits. It feels easier to be sincere and emotional in English without feeling like I'm crossing the line into inappropriate. I'm more outgoing and animated, especially when I meet Americans. If I'm in a room full of Norwegians and one American, I might look like I'm giving the American much more attention, smiling and gesticulating more.

If I swear, it's in Norwegian. If I ever swear in English, I'm just pretending. The one exception is if I say skitt (the Norwegian word for dirt, the sk is pronounced sh) when I really want to swear in secret and I'm in Norway. (Swearing in French doesn't work at all.) This might be because I used to be American, and as a child I had no reason to swear. 

Privately, I think that all the words I know, in English, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, French, German, Dutch, Khmer, Thai, Italian, Spanish, are all one big vocabulary. Sometimes I can use all my words, sometimes only a few, depending on who I'm talking to. Most of my close friends here in Norway are people who are also fluent in English. I don’t specifically search for bilingual people to befriend, but it’s obvious why it works for us: We have a shared vocabulary, and we often mix up our two languages in conversations.

But despite the fact that most Norwegians speak English, they don't speak the whole English language. English has more words than Norwegian. So I think in English with an occasional Norwegian expression, not vice versa. And when I speak English, the connection between what I think and what I say is less complicated. So in English I'm more honest, more polite and I swear less.

And you know that scene in Love Actually about American girls who love British men because they speak British? I know American girls like that, but it wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration to say that English in general - British, American, Australian, Canadian, any version of perfectly pronounced, flawless, this-is-clearly-your-first-language English - works for me. Hearing someone speak English really well just makes me relax. Compared to hearing Norwegians speak English as a second language, it's like hearing a singer with perfect pitch and realizing I've been listening to off-key music for years.

When I go through old notebooks and crumpled-up napkins at the bottom of my purse, I find quotes from novels I've read in English. Paragraphs I had to write down, because they made me shiver a little bit, because they were so well-written. Sometimes they become blog posts. I never feel that way about Norwegian.

Just listen to Stephen Fry talk about anything. Even when he's making fun of the very topic of language, I just love it.

Sure, there are plenty of wonderful things you can say in Norwegian as well. You can say koselig, nydelig, jeg er glad i deg. And as a journalist, I love the intricacies and possibilities of the Norwegian language. But I love the English language more. Half the time when I'm writing in Norwegian, I am quietly wishing that I could write the same text in English.

So what do I do with this? Move? Try to find writing work in English? I don't know.

Image: icanread

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Love in any language

We have different words because we have differents concepts, but sometimes I wonder if we have different concepts because we have different words. This is especially true when it comes to ideas that are hard to define. Take love for example.

Americans say I love you for all sorts of reasons to many different people in their lives. It’s the same verb for loving ice cream and loving the person you’re married to. Norwegians have two completely different ways of expressing love.

We say Jeg er glad i deg to close friends and family. This sentence means more to me than the English I love you normally does, but it's still not that one specific you're-the-one kind of I love you that people make a big deal about saying or not saying. Because for Norwegians that’s a sentence we expect to only say to a very few people during our lives, maybe just one. The Norwegian words for that are almost taboo; even writing them out without a specific person in mind feels wrong. When I was ten, an American wanted to learn how to say I love you in as many languages as possible, but I refused to teach the Norwegian version.

The difference between the two isn't as simple as one being romantic and the other platonic. Jeg er glad i deg can be romantic, only less so. And because Norwegians are more direct in their way of using language than English-speaking people usually are, we don't say Jeg er glad i deg to just anyone. Except for teenagers who (used to? I'm older now) finish texts with the abbreviation GID. But this Norwegian, less scary version of I love you is closer to I am fond of you, which I would barely take as a compliment in English. Glad means happy, just like in English, so I suppose there is an element of Your existence makes me happy. We can also be glad i things, but I seldom use the term for anyone or anything I'm not at least a little bit emotional about. I like (liker) my furniture, but I love (glad i) my apartment.

Even after years and years of living among Americans who use I love you as a general greeting with people they just like, it still feels weird to me. I have to stop myself from flinching when I hear an American finish an angry-sounding phone call to a family member with an angry I love you and I automatically translate it in my head. But speaking two languages fluently gives me twice as many ways to think about everything. There are some feelings I can only express in English and some I can only express in Norwegian, but in my own thoughts, I can sort out my emotions using my whole vocabulary. And I'm glad I can.

...

Inspired by Even in English, A Language Gap, in which Jennifer Percy writes for the New York Times:

"He speaks Serbo-Croatian, German and English. Two languages separate us.

I don’t speak German but I’ve said “ich liebe dich” plenty of times and it never does feel like a contract the way saying “I love you” feels like a contract. He, too, has said ich liebe dich to me. When we first started dating, this should have been a comfort to me, but it wasn’t. German sounded strange and ich liebe dich sounded ugly to my ear compared to “I love you.” It bounced off of me, it didn’t stay, didn’t embed itself like “I love you.”

I once tried saying “volim te” — “I love you” in Serbo-Croatian — and he didn’t respond. I asked if I’d said it right and he said I had. Then he repeated it quietly.

That’s the one, I thought: volim te. That’s the “I love you” that works for me, the one that is honest."

Image: xkcd

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March 2, 2010

Norwegian media - Free, but dependent

I'm spending the first part of this week writing up to ten pages on how the Norwegian government is supposed to afford journalists in the future. Norway subsidizes its media, or should I say part of its media, mainly the media that provides daily news on paper. The media that I think is dying. News sites get no government funding or tax breaks, and the current system of funding provides very little incentive for experimenting with more efficient, modern ways of delivering news.

Writing about this for school means I will probably have to use my own earlier writings as academic references. That makes me feel old and silly, but I have been writing about Norwegian press subsidies for as long as I have been writing journalism at all - which I admit is not that long. My first feature article, back in early 2008, was about the Norwegian system of government-supported journalism. My American journalism professor at The American University of Paris sent me back to Oslo so I could explain to him how Norwegian newspapers could be government-funded and still be an independent fourth estate.

I wrote about how Norwegian journalists considered themselves loyal mouthpieces for politicians up until the 1970s, about the controversy (or should I say controversial lack of controversy in many cases) surrounding the current press subsidy system and about the general Norwegian mentality of trusting the government to provide solutions to everything. After a week of interviewing editors and media experts, I had learned most of the things that would later be on the syllabus of the course for which I'm currently writing an exam.

But I never got around to publishing the article, until now. So here it is, complete with the footnotes I added to further explain Norwegian weirdness to Americans:

Norwegian Media - Free, but dependent (pdf)

Image: Madewell

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February 4, 2010

Wise words from unexpected sources

Let's face it, often when you quote Shakespeare, you enjoy implying that you read Shakespeare. Even if the real source of your Shakespeare quote is Quotes of the Day. But sometimes the quotes that make me think "I hope my younger sister and eventually my kids read this and live by it," come from unexpected sources. Here - from the world of fashion and celebrity websites - are three life lessons:

1.

"I didn't get into this to be a role model. So I'm sorry if I'm influencing your kids in a way that you don't like, but I can't be responsible for their actions." - Taylor Momsen

You are not responsible for the well-being of everyone who looks up to you (especially not if you are a sixteen-year-old celebrity). The people that you look up to may make really stupid decisions. Ultimately, you should be making your choices (and judging other people) action per action, rather than choosing a role model and following them blindly.

2.

"The same 'fashion' magazines that offer advice about pleasing men might decide that fashion isn't for overweight people, but it's Tanya Gold's fault for believing it, and if she really wanted to have fun with clothes she could." - Tavi Gevinson (responding to "Why I hate fashion" by Tanya Gold)

If you don't like the rules, change them instead of refusing to play. Don't let your issues stop you from enjoying life.

3.

"When you do something great and somebody says 'I like that', you should look at them and say: 'Thank you, I worked very hard on it, and I know it's great.'" - Lady Gaga

Be proud of your work. Obviously.

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January 26, 2010

Fur issues, part 3: Organic, fair-trade, free range coats

I'm surprised the Norwegian fur industry hasn't gotten its act together by now.   

Let's examine the evidence:

1. Norway is a rich country, but Norwegians claim to be down to earth and sensible. So Norwegians love politically correct, expensive status symbols.

2. A Norwegian writer recently used this country's winter weather as evidence that God's world-creating talent is grossly overrated. You would think we were willing to buy anything that could keep us warm.

3. Free range meat, eggs and dairy are sold in many Norwegian supermarkets. This indicates that plenty of Norwegians care about animal rights, but are still ok with killing animals so human beings can be happier.

4. Vegan footwear exists. Marketing fashion as politically correct seems to work.

5. I count Norwegian tap water among my favorite drinks. I miss it when I'm outside the country. But selling Norwegian bottled water to people in Norway who own sinks, turned out to be a successful business plan. We will clearly pay money for anything.

In all seriousness, why does the fur industry not attempt to capitalize on the consumer demand for "ethical" luxury?

After a dissapointing fall season for the fur industry, the unusually cold winter has driven Norwegian fur sales up, leading to more debate about animal cruelty. In this VG article, a spokesperson for Pelsinform says fur farmers who mistreat their animals are a far greater threat to the industry than animal rights activists or fur boycotts are. I think that's true.

As I've tried to explain before, killing animals for fur isn't basicly any worse than killing them for meat. But if the fur industry really is crueller than the meat industry, then of course they shouldn't be allowed to get away with it.

My advice: Make sure the animals are treated well until they die as peacefully and painlessly as possible. And then make sure consumers know about that.

This is Part 3, in which I give the fur industry some marketing advice. You should also read

Photo: .jowo. CreativeCommons

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January 25, 2010

Too busy to write, so I’ll teach you how to read

Long-time readers may know what this picture means: I am literally buried in word-related work. Except now, in 2010, there are fewer books and more computer files to be read, written, edited, sent and uploaded. So the buried part is not so literal anymore.

While I write a news article, a media commentary column, a movie review and a summary of a book chapter, you can read How to win at reading academic articles from the blog An Improbable Fiction.

Like the author of that post, I spent my time at university struggling with the dual burdens of popularity and belief that I could take on extra courses. But I managed, because I can (usually) read and understand things pretty quickly. You can too! There are many, many techniques for doing so, but today, I'm recommending a combination of reading and note-taking described here.

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January 24, 2010

Fur issues part 2: Attempting to make sense

A response to comments on:

Eva writes that last week's post about fur didn't address the issue of animal cruelty in the fur industry enough. I actually barely addressed it at all.

That fur is wrong because it hurts animals is the foundation for the whole fur debate. It's the basic assumption underlying all the confusion in my head (which Martine called "witty" in her comment).

However there is the difference between "Fur is wrong because animals die" and "Fur is wrong because the fur industry mistreats animals and then they die".

The first sentence makes logical sense, but I disagree with it. I happen to think that killing animals for food is ok. (I had a tuna sandwich today.) So I have to think that killing animals for clothing is ok. (I wore leather boots while I ate the sandwich.)

The second sentence does not make sense. Animal cruelty is wrong. Fur in itself is not automatically wrong because of this.

I don't know that much about the issue of animal cruelty in the fur industry. Also (and this is actually the important part): I don't know that much about animal cruelty in the meat/fish/egg/dairy industries either, not to mention all the other industries I support each day. And that's why I've worn fur a handful of times. Because being anti-fur would be hypocritical. It would mean arbitrarily "boycotting" something that I have never bought anyway, while continuing to support industries that may or may not be just as bad.

My conclusion in part 1 was that, given that fur is one of the many reasons human beings kills other species, and given my insufficient knowledge of the amount of harm I was inflicting on other living creatures, to be against fur I should also be against meat, fish and leather (definitely, because animals have to die for me to have this), plus silk, eggs, dairy and probably a lot of fruits and vegetables (probably, because animals are very likely to die so that I can have these things). And I don't want to be naked and hungry.

I'm not saying "I simply don't want to care about animals." I'm saying that as long as I'm not a vegan, I have no reason to be against fur in itself. It would be like saying "Minks deserve to live, but fish don't."

Being ok with fur doesn't mean I can't be against specific animal cruelty. And yes, the idea that the fur industry does a lot of cruel things is one of the reasons I have never particularly wanted fur. In part one, I wrote: "I had never seriously considered buying a fur coat in the same way I've never seriously considered buying a pair of Prada pumps or a Burberry trench coat: I don't have that kind of money." However, I have wanted Prada pumps and a Burberry trench coat.

Full disclosure: I have never bought any real fur. I have worn (daily for two seasons) a coat with a fur collar, which my grandmother had worn decades earlier. The collar was supposedly wolf, but I honestly don't know. That coat had a rabbit fur lining, which I removed and never wore. I have also borrowed mink scarves and collars for specific occasions, including a costume party, from family members. The other women in my family wear fur. I was given a rabbit fur vest, which I returned after wearing twice.

Related links:

This is Part 2, in which I make a more serious attempt to discuss fashion as if it were a topic in ethics class. Continue to:

(Images by The Sartorialist)

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January 18, 2010

Fur issues

I've been thinking about fur lately. It's one of those trains of thought that simply will not go away, as if my mind were saying: "Write this down! Sort this out! Get to the bottom of this!" over and over and over. Especially after my mom showed up at my door with a rabbit fur vest for me.

Rabbit. My mother informed me yesterday that "We don't eat rabbit," because we used to have a live one. But that didn't stop her from buying rabbit fur the week before. And when she gave it to me, we had the following conversation:

"What's this, Mom?"

"It's rabbit."

"It's RABBIT!?"

"It's rabbit!!! :-)" (Yes, you could hear the smiley at the end of her spoken sentence.)

"But Mom, it's rabbit."

"Well, just tell people it's mink."

Sweden_074

Now, with a few notable exceptions, I usually think my mom has good taste and style. Plus, the vest fits, it's warm, and I recently added "It's cold outside," to my list of all-purpose excuses. (The list also includes "At least I don't smoke." and "I was living in Lier when I did that.") But since I'm a nerd who sees over-analyzing as a hobby, my brain won't stop internally debating how to feel about this recent addition to my closet. So far, I have come to the following conclusions:

1. Wearing fur sends a message. It says: "I'm ok with the fact that what I am wearing used to be alive." But so does wearing leather and silk.

2. In many cases, fur also sends the message: "I spent A LOT of money on something that makes me look box-shaped." (This vest doesn't; the opossum coat my mom tried to make me borrow, does.)

3. Fur is expensive. So is foie gras, another luxury item associated with animal cruelty. "Sacrificing" the things you can't actually afford, is not sacrificing. I'm not going to earn any karma points by pretending that I don't have a car because of the environment. I don't have a car, because I don't need one and I can't afford one. I rarely eat fois gras, because I can only rarely afford it. I had never seriously considered buying a fur coat in the same way I've never seriously considered buying a pair of Prada pumps or a Burberry trench coat: I don't have that kind of money.

4. I've heard people argue that wearing fur, even vintage fur from the 30s, is an indirect support of today's fur industry, because it keeps the look of fur in fashion. These same people suggested wearing realistic-looking faux fur. How does that not keep the fur look in fashion? People who claim to have made up their minds are clearly just as confused as me. "Don't get me started on fur. It makes me so angry," one friend warned when I mentioned my difficult gift. I glanced at her new suede coat and changed the subject.

5.  Faux fur is not as warm. And it either looks nothing like fur or exactly like fur, and I think either one is screapy*. It is simply not an alternative in my opinion.

6. I've worn fur before (right), so I fail already.

7. Ideally, I would know the costs I inflict on the world whenever I choose to consume anything. How happy was the hen who laid these eggs? Exactly how did this turkey die? What are the working conditions of the people who made this cheap t-shirt? Was this imported fruit transported in the best way possible for the environment? Given that I don't know these answers, I am probably making the wrong decisions all the time, leading to uneccessary suffering. Who says that dying to become a fur vest is worse than dying to become Christmas dinner?

After reviewing this evidence, it seemed I had two choices, if I wanted my own actions to make sense. I could wear the fur. Or I could give up a whole bunch of my favorite things: all my boots, my preferred breakfast, my kimono, the only pyjamas I really like, traditional Thanksgiving - did I mention bacon?

So I wore it just long enough to realize a drawback I had forgotten: Rabbits shed their hair. So did my new vest. I will be returning it.

* Screapy: From scary and creepy. Something so stupid and off-putting that it kind of scares you. It's in Urban Dictionary now, but I made it up before I started this blog. I should mention that I was living in Lier at the time.

This is Part 1, in which an ethical dilemma turns up literally on my doorstep, in the form of a white rabbit fur vest. Continue to:

Posted by Julie at 11:52 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

January 15, 2010

Book review: The Big Questions

In The Big Questions, Steven E. Landsburg uses math, economics and physics to discuss questions of philosophy, especially morality and ethics.

That sounds a lot more serious than the book turned out to be. In fact, Landsburg ends the book by saying that most of it was written "not to make any particular point but because it seemed to fit and I think it's interesting."

It's a good introduction to some basic econ, math and physics, and to Landsburg's own beliefs and guidelines on life (including the reasoning behind them). Many of the examples and anecdotes were old news to me, because I have already taken courses in math, physics, economics and philosophy. But it's well-written, entertaining and easy to read.

Favorites:

* If more people really and truly believed in the religions they claim to follow, they would behave differently. For example, why don't we have more suicide bombers? Landsburg concludes that hardly anyone is actually religious:

"If religious belief were as widespread as people claim it is, there should be millions upon millions of voluntary martyrs. (...) Believers in hell should commit fewer crimes; believers in heaven should take more risks; believers in one religion should interact in predictable ways with believers in another; believers in God should have a powerful interest in the alternatives. Those implications are testable. I am moderately confident that carefully gathered statistics would refute the hypothesis that religious beliefs are widely or deeply held."

* If you want to write, study something you love and write about it. Do not take writing classes:

"If your writing is murky, it's usually because your thinking is murky, too. The cure for that is not a series of writing exercises; it's to master your subject matter. (...) Prose flows easily when you understand what you're saying. If you're struggling to 'craft' your prose, you're probably confused."

* The Economist's Golden Rule: Don't leave the world worse off than you found it OR Don't spend valuable time and energy in non-productive ways. It follows that you should not steal, counterfeit or be an Olympic athlete:

"If you bake a cupcake, the world has one more cupcake. (...) But if you win an Olympic gold medal, the world will not have one more Olympic gold medalist. It will just have you instead of someone else."

Right:

 Made by Kuidaore http://brandoesq.blogspot.com/

Wrong:

 

(Cupcake by Kuidaore)

Posted by Julie at 2:52 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 7, 2010

In need of another vacation

I am exhausted, so I will let another writer update you on my life post-Christmas:

"I do hope the festivities were kind to you, Best Beloveds. I myself spent the duration lying on the sofa and sincerely hoping that someone would shoot me through the forehead. I find there's nothing quite as effective as Christmas for bringing out all those especially rampant viruses – the ones The Body of the self-employed person saves for rapid deployment as soon as a proper holiday is declared. This is, quite simply, revenge upon The Mind for the rest of the year's truncated nights, double-booked evenings, hair-tearing afternoons and rewrite-and-email-haunted mornings."

- AL Kennedy, blogging about writing for The Guardian

To use Kennedy's phrases and capitalization: my Body took a vacation, or should I say, went on strike, as soon as my Mind decided to take time off after handing in The Research Paper.

Since time “persists merely as a consequence of the events taking place in it” and I didn't do anything during the holidays, my Mind believes that no time has passed since December 17th. This means that there has been no Christmas vacation.

As a result of this injustice, my Mind is threatening to go on strike. So, if this blog becomes quiet for a few more days than I would like, it's because I have temporarily stopped thinking.

Posted by Julie at 9:31 PM | TrackBack

January 2, 2010

2009 according to Julie

isurvived2009shirt

Warning: This is a completely subjective memoir of the year that was. It's written off the top of my head. My head, so it's going to be self-centered.

First the soundtrack:

Not necessarily the best songs of the year, but the ones that will remind me of 2009 for years to come. There are plenty of older songs that fit that description too, but these songs were released 2009 or late 2008.

Then my life:

2009 was the first year I was a full-time journalist. That is, I went to journalism school and survived on various part-time jobs as a journalist and editor. I was no longer a receptionist, tour guide or pointe shoe salesgirl. I was a journalist. That's probably a milestone.

If I had been told a year ago that 2009 would lead me to court rooms, a strip club, a pscychologist's office, the make-up and rehearsal rooms of the Norwegian Opera House and more concerts than I've attended during the rest of my life combined, I would not have believed it. While 2009 was happening, I kept thinking "2008 was so much more interesting," but looking back over the past 12 months, a lot happened. Nothing as big as moving to Paris and back again or drinking coke in the Cambodian jungle, but a lot of smaller dramas.

2009 was a year of extremes. I stayed up all night and slept all day, and then I got a job that started at 6 AM. I worked constantly and then spent a month doing nearly nothing. I forgot to eat some days and wanted to do nothing but cook on other days. I have been very sad and very happy this year. I have been very efficient and very lazy. I have been very stressed and very relaxed. I have felt invisible and I have been recognized by strangers. In a way, 2008 was the year things happened, and 2009 was the year when the consequences caught up with me, good and bad. And I finish this year feeling better about everything. I don't think I have been all around happier at the end of a year for as long as I can remember.

Current events:

In the world as in my own life, 2009 was very much about dealing with the consequences of 2008: The financial crisis continued, the same talk of climate change was repeated in Copenhagen, and Obama became president and eventually won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Besides that I will probably remember the riots in Oslo in January. (Or more precisely, I will remember waking up to five missed calls from my very worried mom. I attended the demo on January 8th, then spent the rest of the night in a basement rock pub oblivious to the broken windows and tear gas above me.)

The Khmer Rouge was on trial, but the story was so buried in other stuff that even I forgot to stay up-to-date on what was going on.

In less violent news, e-books kept popping up in both the news I read and the news I wrote. In February I touched a Kindle for the first time. In May my first article at my journalism internship was about the upcoming release of big-screen e-book-readers. And this Christmas, Amazon sold more e-books than paper books.

Meanwhile print media suffered, particularly the Boston Globe. While I studied the dwindling circulation figures on this side of the Atlantic, it seemed friends in Boston could judge the sad state of print media by the number of crying editors each week. But was it really that sad? I optimistically blogged about the future of journalism (English translation below), earning a somewhat unfair reputation as the only Norwegian journalism student who wants to work online.

Everyone talked about Twitter this year. Many of them specifically to tell me that they were not on Twitter and did not see the point. I found Twitter useful. It helped me get a job, find stories to write, discuss stories I was writing and brag about stories I had written. In other words, I used it as a journalism tool. It's hard to explain to sceptics why and in what way I think Twitter means something, but I think it does. (Meanwhile everything you need to know about Facebook is still available right here, and still true.)

One hash tag I ended up using a lot was #krevsvar. It started as an outcry over one court ruling on online privacy. Then it turned into a general campaign to "demand answers" (or krev svar in Norwegian) from my country's politicians about IT politics, particularly piracy vs. privacy. I followed the story through the late spring and summer, and in the fall I attempted to summarize it all for non-IT-geeks.

IT politics ended up mattering very little for Norway's general election this year. Overall, I think we'll remember this election as kind of a boring one, no? I remember being more pumped about Cory Doctorow being in Oslo on the day of the election. Not that I don't care about political debates, but what were we really debating this time around? I argued that our political labels were outdated, coming relatively clean about my own politics in the process. But I still enjoyed the fact that general elections make political geekiness almost universally acceptable conversation. Until one sports-obsessed person pointed out that for every game, soccer fans reach the same level of excitement I get every fourth year when I wait for election results. (If you can relate to that, you might want to check out a soccer blog called The DA. Apparently, I might write for them sometime. How hilarious is that?)

End of the decade:

My earliest memory of the 2000s is my parents dancing. I don't remember the beginning of the 1990s. I talked to some friends who are only like two years older than me, and they mentioned the 90s as their defining decade: Although they have obviously moved on, the fashion, music and general pop culture of the 90s is the norm they started out with. I was only 13 when the new milennium began, and so I don't really feel like I can say anything about the 00s compared to any other time. As far as following culture, politics and fashion, I have really only known this one decade (and I don't even know the name of the new one). Before that, I was a child. But now I feel nearly old, because I find the following thought scary:

Some blog posts I wrote in 2009:

Welcome to 2010 everyone!

Image sources: ArtyDandy, ModelsAreSmart and xkcd

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December 17, 2009

Technical difficulties

I am experiencing technical difficulties. Meaning:

Which is why the Christmas countdown needs to take a break. I will probably still blog most of the Christmas posts I have planned, but I am just not able to follow the schedule right now. It is technically impossible with my current brain and computer situation.

Read and listen to the Christmas count-down up to the 14th + bonus reader suggestions here.

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December 12, 2009

What are you doing New Year's Eve?

We're halfway to Christmas Eve! Maybe it's much too early in the game, but I thought I'd ask you just the same: What are you doing New Year's Eve?

New Year's Eve can be so stressful. While Christmas Eve is all about tradition, New Year's Eve needs to be planned year-by-year. Everyone gets their expectations up, and then dashes them by getting drunk and sentimental. A boring party on any other night is easily forgotten, but a boring New Year's Eve party will be remembered as a major FAIL. And an actual failed party - the kind where more than one guest cries - will somehow manage to make the whole year seem like a FAIL.

The key to a good party is good people. My dream New Year's Eve involves being surrounded by my favorite people - the kind it would be ok to get drunk and sentimental with - and drinking champagne while wearing an awesome outfit. Luckily, that is my actual plan this year, and it has been since January 2nd 2009. I see no way this can go wrong. My expectations are rising day by day. I'm almost more excited about this party than I am about Christmas. I clearly need to calm down, because if this party fails, it will mean that I leave this decade - the first one I can remember in its entirety - with a FAIL.

So here are the rules for a successful New Year's:

  1. Make a plan and stick with it. Commit to celebrating New Year's with specific people, and then don't bail on them. Making some elaborate party-hopping plan or improvising four hours before the end of the year will not work out.
  2. Drink real champagne before midnight. It's good; don't share it with five drunk strangers in the park just because it's midnight. That's what cheap bubbles are for.
  3. Don't drink too many bubbles. And don't drink too much of anything that will make you sleepy, like red wine. Don't start the new year by going to sleep immediately after midnight. New Year's is an excuse for staying up all night.
  4. Wear your nicest outfit. No matter what you end up doing, you should look good doing it. There will be so many photos.
  5. Make some sort of plan for January 1st that allows for hang-overs, without being completely boring. I prefer waking up in the beginning of a new year thinking "It's time to meet last nights' people, do the dishes and watch a movie" as apposed to "I survived last night and live to see another year. Now what?" Make sure there is food available.

I'm blogging about Christmas music every day until the 24th.

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December 11, 2009

Wonderlaaaand...

Which particular Christmas recording have I listened to more than any other? It just might be this one:

The reason for this is that popular culture-wise, my parents are like young children. Not that their tastes are childish, but just like toddlers, they will watch or listen to the same thing repeatedly. Growing up, I got the impression that my parents watched Four Weddings and a Funeral every night, and played The Roches' Christmas album We Three Kings on a continuous loop every December. Why do you think we had to impose The Love Actually Rule? Not because of me.

Most of the album is not in Brooklynese, but Winter Wonderland is. I don't think I fully understood that this was a joke until I had already heard the song 50 million times. So many of the live versions of Winter Wonderland that I grew up with (read: my parents' friends singing at Christmas parties) were in variations of Brooklynese or Boston English anyway, so I assumed it was normal.

Around the same time I got the linguistic joke, I realized that Winter Wonderland isn't about Christmas at all. It's about hooking up or romance (interpret as you will) in a cold climate. Something Bostonians, New Yorkers and Norwegians can all relate to, which might be why it's so popular.

More Christmas music according to Julie

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December 9, 2009

Barack Obama, and other awkward party guests

If President Obama really had to get a gift postmarked Scandinavia this month, he would probably, on the whole, have preferred the Olympics. At least at the Olympics the judges wait till after the race to give you the gold medal. They don’t force it on you while you’re still waiting for the bus to take you to the stadium.

We can take it as a sign of what a lucky fellow our President is that winning the Nobel Peace Prize has been widely counted a bad break for him.

- Hendrick Hertzberg in The New Yorker, October 2009

I'm still a political geek. I stayed up until 1:30 AM watching a documentary on Barack Obama's election campaign last night.

When the Peace Prize was announced, my first reaction was that whoever put my FP Morning Brief together had made a serious journalistic error. But I didn't get all that worked up about silly Norway, thorbjorning the President just so he would pay us a visit. I didn't really get excited about the visit either. Honestly, as long as I don't get to meet someone, there is no practical difference between being separated by the wall of City Hall (+ security) and being separated by the Atlantic Ocean. It was still pretty unlikely that I would run into Barack at the coffee shop.

And so I'm actually surprised at myself by how annoyed I am as Obama cancels event after event here in Oslo. I would like to think that it's the journalist in me fuming at the fact that there will be time for exactly one question from the Norwegian media. But honestly, the journalist and the election geek sides of me are pretty calm compared to my inner party hostess.

It's like when you invite someone to a dinner party, and you kind of get the impression that the invitation is a slightly awkward surprise, but they still accept right away. So you think everything's fine and that all awkwardness can be avoided if you just set a place for them at your table and make a serious effort in the kitchen. Until they show up late, pick at their food and refuse wine, avoid talking with your other guests, keep their eyes and hands on their cell phones and disappear just as the party is about to get going, often effectively killing everyone else's party mood. Wouldn't it have been more polite to just decline the invitation?

“The American president is acting like an elephant in a porcelain shop,” said Norwegian public-relations expert Rune Morck-Wergeland. Yes, that is awkward.

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December 2, 2009

Am I really dreaming of a white Christmas?

Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" is generally assumed to be the best selling single of all time. So if I'm going to put together a Christmas-music-themed countdown-to-Christmas blog post series, I should include this classic.

Why though? It's not all that catchy. It borders on sad. I don't actually dislike it, the way I dislike say, "Last Christmas".* It's just that the message seems to be: Christmas was fun once, but now it's not. Or is it about racism? Global warming? It's not bad, but I can't really relate.

So I did some research. Meaning, I looked this up on Wikipedia. And it turns out, Irving Berlin's original version of the song explained why the singer was not experiencing a white Christmas: this takes place in Beverly Hills, in California.

The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.

There's never been such a day
in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it's December the twenty-fourth,
And I am longing to be up North

That makes so much more sense to me! I spent one Christmas in Sydney, Australia, and it doesn't feel like Christmas when Santa wears shorts.

*I really wish "Last Christmas" were called "Last Easter" or "Last Summer" or "Last Weekend" so that it wouldn't be recognized as a "Christmas" hit, and I wouldn't have to hear it every time I go to a coffee shop or enter a store in December.

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December 1, 2009

December!!! (again)

That's a very cute PostSecret, although I can't relate.

My month of Christmas music began just fifteen minutes after the official start of December, as I was leaving a research interview just after midnight. I started with Tori Amos' version of "Have yourself a merry little Christmas." That's one of my favorite Christmas songs, and she's my favorite artist, so I obviously like her version. And it was fitting for a solitary walk to the bus on a quiet Monday night in Oslo.

As I write this, I am listening to her "Midwinter Graces" album for the first time - and I think I love it already, which really shouldn't surprise anyone.

I like starting traditions. Someone suggested to me the other day that I am living a kind of "Groundhog Year", in which I repeat the same actions every twelve months. Not true! But I have decided to do like last year and promise that...

... this blog will be updated every day of December.

Consider it a combined advent and countdown to the end of the decade.

Listen to Tori Amos' "Have yourself a merry little Christmas" on YouTube. "Midwinter Graces" is available on Spotify.

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November 30, 2009

How to tell how stressed you really are

 

Doing household chores 
(See more Funny Graphs)

Not only are my dishes done, but the only thing I want to do these days is prepare food for lots of people. There was the Moose dinner, and Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving the sequel - in which I tried to get rid of leftovers and only succeeded in creating more leftovers. And now I find myself searching for reasons to invite people over for dinner. Or breakfast. Or cake. Or fois gras and champagne! (Stop, Julie, stop.)

Maybe I got used to having my Moose Cap Weekend guests around, maybe it's an early start to that Christmasy feeling, or maybe it's some kind of biological turning-into-a-grown-up-who-magically-enjoys-chores thing.

Or maybe it's that I have a research project to finish by December 17th, and a deadline right now.

Remember last year's "You know you're writing a thesis if..."?

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November 28, 2009

A not-very-brobdingnagian collection of quotes

"I’ve been spending far too much time at the computer over the past week. (…) But at what point does this really become a problem? When you’re walking down the street and wondering what graphics card they’re using to get the resolution so high? When you chant “ctrl+z” under your breath after telling an inappropriate Holocaust joke in front of your Polish and German friends? When you start hovering near power points instead of looking for somewhere that sells a decent cappuccino? (Trust me—you’re not going to find one. It’s Prague.)" - The Large Frog

"Some men set out to climb Mount Everest. Ammon Shea set out to read the Oxford English Dictionary full time, from cover to cover. Or rather covers to covers, his recent job as a furniture mover providing handy preparation for hoisting its 20 hefty volumes. And why did Shea fix his sights on this Brobdingnagian challenge - because it was there? "I have read the OED," he says, "so that you don't have to."" - Amanda Heller, "Short Takes", Boston Globe, August 24, 2008, quoted in the dictionary.com entry for brobdingnagian, word of the day here on accordingtojulie.com on Wednesday.

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This post is not about pants

For a couple of years, I was in a drama group where we all wore black to class. The idea was that we would be in uniform, and that if we put on gloves and masks, we could be invisible on stage. This was back in the late nineties, during the last BSE (Bare-Stomach-Era). Long sweaters and high-waisted pants were impossible to find, and our strict drama teacher was always yelling at us to cover our stomachs because we were going to distract the audience. I was so ridiculously short that the cropped sweaters covered me anyway, but the taller girls opted for thick black tights which could be pulled up over their belly-buttons, and then short turtle-necks. This "outfit" was comfortable and worked under costumes, but looked ridiculous. But we were in our early teens; we felt (and probably were) ridiculous-looking at all times anyway.

I was the youngest and smallest in the class, and slightly in awe of the older girls, even when they were dressed like three-year-olds. So I vividly remember the horror we all experienced when one of the girls forgot what she wasn't wearing, and walked out of class and down to the public library - in just her tights! She came back mortified, telling her horrific tale of wondering why everyone was staring, and then realizing that she wasn't wearing pants! She was essentially wearing ribbed long underwear with attached feet, the kind with two thick seams in the back (and not in a good way).

Now we know that this girl was actually just starting the no-pants trend, which I am still fighting a decade later. I mean, look at this supposedly "fashion" photo, which I can't remember where I found:

I don't like leggings (or jeggings), but this girl has gone beyond that. She is wearing thick ribbed tights. Perhaps the cape-like thing with the printed cigarette-holding hand is actually her skirt? (The other girl looks awkward too, put I'm willing to call her sweater a dress, so she's ok.)

I found this photo lying around in my unfinished blog post drafts. I probably saved it to use as an illustration for a fashion rant. But my brain is in mushy post-Thanksgiving I-love-and-am-thankful-for-everyone mode, so I can't rant. I'll just share another pants-free memory with you...

I was at a club with some friends, when a girl we didn't know came up to us. To my friend - who happens to be an honest person - she said: "Seriously, how do I look?"

The unknown girl was wearing a T-shirt and black tights, the thin nylon kind. The kind that showed off her polka-dotted underpants to everyone at the club. So my friend said: "Since you ask, you kind of look like you forgot your skirt."

The girl looked extremely offended, and said: "I just wondered if I looked tired or not."

Leggings are not pants. Tights are not leggings. That does not mean that tights are pants.

More "Style according to Julie"

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November 25, 2009

Contributing to society before 7AM - and bragging about it

bragging in the morning with comments

How? Why? I'll tell you later.

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November 22, 2009

Blogging and democracy (fashion edition)

I read a number of fashion/style blogs last week*, but I also read about fashion blogging, because that lets me think about journalism and clothes at the same time.

The New York Times wrote about fashion blogging, commenting on what most of us already know (right?): The journalists and editors who were once gate-keepers of clothing knowledge are now commentators sharing the spotlight with independent bloggers, celebrity twitterers and well, everyone else.

But does this mean anything? Because to quote (and translate) Kristian Landsgård in the next issue of argument (available January 14th for Norwegian readers): "We're exchanging one judge of taste and opinion (the newspaper editor) for another (the pro blogger)".

Landsgård is talking about politics, but it's the same with fashion. Maybe even more so. Because when bloggers are scoring front row seats, backstage passes and free designer clothes, it's hard to see the crucial difference between a blogger and a journalist. Sure, these bloggers may be "ordinary people" in the sense that they have no education in fashion or journalism, but that's hardly a reason to love them, is it?

I obviously cheer for bloggers, but let's not exaggerate this revolution.

The real revolution is not in who is doing the writing, but in the possibilities of online publication itself: speed and details. Sure, I can read a journalist's opinion of a new collection or a front row blogger's opinion, but I love that I can go to Style.com and see photos of every outfit right away and make up my own opinion first.

(In fact, I would like more details, more close-up shots of the bags and shoes, and more info on things like fabric choices, since that can be hard to see on photos. Thanks!)

Oh, by the way:

* And then I realized I had hit some kind of all-time low when I sent an e-mail to my dad specifying that he should wear a purple bow-tie this season.

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November 19, 2009

The three-quarter curse

“I so badly want it to turn out good, but nothing seems sufficient, every sentence is wrung out of me like blood from a stone, and every time I decide on yet another part that I’ll have to leave out, it hurts.” - Hanne Melgård Watkins on her own writing.

Welcome to feature journalism.

The affliction Hanne is going through has been described to me by an experienced writer as “the three-quarter curse”: You are three quarters into being done with an article, and you find yourself hiding under your desk, wondering why you ever wanted to write anything, ever.

EVERY journalist goes through this apparently, and the only consolation is that: You will finish. And it will be worth it. I mean, logically, if writing were not worth the three-quarter curse, there would be no writers, since this happens to everyone. 

P. S. I couldn't bring myself to post this photo, but it does illustrate the point. I would say that I didn't post it because it wasn't CreativeCommons-licensed, but the truth is I'm just terrified of snakes.

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November 16, 2009

The polka-dotted jumpsuit

I can't believe I wore this...

scan0001

... to a party.

This is my mom in 1991. And this is me, in 2009...

185 Ugh. 80s parties.

It was fun though. Apparently my outfit distracted people from their conversations because it was just so... 80s. So over-the-top, polka-dotted, shoulder-padded and well, a jumpsuit.

To be fair, jumpsuits are back (Why?!?!). And this one is comfortable. And I like polka-dots. In moderation.

However, there was no moderation in the 80s. Which is kind of the only thing I respect about 80s fashion. It was crazy, but at least it wasn't as boring as 90s fashion. The 80s had bad taste, but the 90s had no taste.

Anyway, thank you Cecilie, for the photos. And thank you mom, for lending me the jumpsuit, shoes and pearl necklace - and for letting me wear whatever I wanted back in 1991.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extra photo, in which I look terrified. Scared of my own outfit:

186

  

 

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November 14, 2009

This week: Not quite magazines

Reza_004

I have discovered - and begun obsessively reading - a new blog this week: Yes and Yes by Sarah Von.

In one post she laments the stupidity of women's magazines: ("I could really do without another quiz to determine if he's into me (note to self: if you have to take a quiz to find out, the answer is no) or instructions on how to look thin while having sex.").

Sure, I've read that particular complaint before, and the obvious solution is to not read Cosmopolitan. But clearly, there is some part of me that wants to flip through glossy magazines that are not about international politics or the future of the media. I crave a break from all my different brands of geekiness. I always reach for Cosmo, Elle etc. if someone places one in front of me for free - and then I am always, always very disappointed. At best bored, at worst angry.

Luckily, the internet exists. This week I have read, noticed and remembered a lot of things that could very well have been in Cosmo. But if each of them were, they would have been the smartest, funniest thing in there.

Via Maggwire, you can browse articles from over 10 000 different magazines (in English), instead of committing to one or two from the newsstand. You may ask whether this site really gives us anything we didn't already have - the articles were already out there on the net before Maggwire, after all. But this site supposedly remembers your reading habits and makes recommendations accordingly. I say supposedly, because I only just found Maggwire on Thursday. There is an immediate benefit though, much like the one you can get from reading an actual magazine: you might learn things you didn't know you didn't know. I doubt that I would ever have Googled the words that got me to this podcast about newborns' accents. I found that because it was on Maggwire's front page of "popular articles".

While current magazine are turning into websites, photos from past magazines show up in books. For example, you could buy Dogs in Vogue, if you want a collection of fashion photos from Vogue magazine, with dogs. Like the ones in this post.

In general, blogs like Yes and Yes are my slightly funnier, weirder, smarter alternative to paper-based make-up/travel/parties/friends/shoes chit-chat. This week Yes and Yes taught me Five productivity tricks. I especially need to apply trick number one to my life:

"The First 10 Minutes" Trick
When I get home from work, the temptation to kick off my boots, eat a bowl of cereal and sit down in front a Hulu is nearly insurmountable. However! I (try) to force myself to spend the first ten minutes of my time at home doing something productive. Maybe that's paying bills, putting a load of laundry in, catching up on emails or changing the litter box. Regardless of what I do, those first ten minutes of my time away from work set the tone for the rest of my evening, and I find it a lot easier to keep doing stuff if I start off in that mind set.

Another alternative to a "Women's Magazine" is The Frisky. Unlike personal blogs that I read regularly, I probably skip about 5/6 of the posts on this online mag/group blog. But when I need a fifteen minute break from whatever geekiness I'm working on that day, there's always something kinda-interesting-without-being-too-serious on their front page. For example, a list of things that should be illegal. Here's a shorter list with the proposed laws I particularly agree with:

It should be illegal ...

  1. ... to wear tights as pants.
  2. ... to take longer than five minutes to prepare a drink at Starbucks. 
  3. ... to touch a pregnant woman's belly without her permission.
  4. ... for men to assume that by virtue of being female you a) want a relationship and b) want it with them.
  5. ... for men to wear spandex to yoga class and then proudly show off their boners.
  6. ... to call a size 8 (American sizes, so roughly 38 in Norway) woman "plus-size."
  7. ... to speak only as a "we" once you're a part of a couple.

I disagree with The Frisky on some legal issues. It should be legal ...

  1. ... to talk on your cell phone on public transportation. 
  2. ... to wear full makeup and heels to go to brunch on Sunday morning.

The Frisky also alerted me to something someone at at least one of my Halloween parties should have worn: the knife ring. Scary jewellery by Renee Andriole.

I firmly believe that paper is a horrible way to deliver current hard news. And potentially anything paper can do, the internet can do better. But I still think people will be reading magazines for entertainment, photos and timeless articles for a long time. I still buy magazines and subscribe to weeklies. I mean, this post starts with a photo from the July 2009 issue of French Vogue, which I'm glad I bought. I liked it enough to photograph some of the photos, so I would have them when I lost the paper magazine.

Thing is, though, if I'm going to spend money on a stack of pages, they better not be filled with articles I've already read. And seriously, I had read every "Women's Magazine" article by the time I started high school. It's like they're on a loop, and they just add new illustrations. Blogs win.

There are more links and tips in the "This Week" section of According To Julie

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November 13, 2009

Life is interesting

Remember I told you to remind yourself that the world is an interesting place? Watch this.

I found it on Yes and Yes, where the comment was: "Doesn't this make you want to hug life?"

"Inspirational" videos can be so annoying. But as I watched this, with gray November skies outside and my brain going "Coffee... Coffee...", I thought: "Oh yeah, you're right. Everyday life is kind of interesting, isn't it?"

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November 11, 2009

Blogging - What's the point?

I was going to call this "Why you should blog - even if you have no readers", but then again, I do have readers. I mean, my aunt prints out some of my Norwegian-language posts so my grandparents can read them.

Seriously, I know that there are people out there who don't know me at all, but who are still reading, for whatever reason. And I blog for them as much as I blog for my friends. But mainly, I blog for myself.

I've been blogging since June 2005. When I started, people asked me: "Do you have time for this?" and I thought "Time? Blogging isn't time-consuming!" Since then, I've used this site as an (incomplete) digital archive of things I've been thinking about anyway. I think pretty much everything I've put here needed to be written. Rather than bookmarking interesting news articles, writing out the lyrics of a song I obsessed over in a journal (yes, I was once a fourteen-year-old girl) or simply talking about the same thing with every person I met, I could store my thoughts online. And as an added bonus, sometimes someone cared about it.

Continue reading for some examples of why I blog, and what blogging did to me.

I guess the more interesting question is: Why are you reading this?

I have blogged in order to...

And sometimes people cared...

I didn't plan for these reactions to happen. And while I'm far, far from being the kind of blogger who achieves money or fame from blogging, I can definitely say that blogging has changed my life.

In the winter edition of the Norwegian magazine argument, there will be an article by Kristian Landsgård about political blogging - and it's pointlessness. Kristian has been using his blog to test out ideas and thoughts that may or may not end up in his magazine article. And as we were discussing his work, we couldn't escape the irony: a political blogger arguing that political blogging is pointless? So why is he doing it? And this got me thinking about what the point of www.accordingtojulie.com really is.

So that's why I'm still blogging. Why are you still reading?

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Somewhere in the hills of Ireland is a Prada bag

I wanted to add a Youtube clip of the Tori Amos song Ode to my clothes to my post about what clothes I want to hand down to someone in the future. And then I came across a video of an elementary school chorus performing the song.

I love the idea of a school teacher teaching kids the lyrics to a rare Tori track. And then I found out that these kids actually know plenty of Tori songs. Awww...

nobody knows things like my clothes
my telephone-life in the back of my jeans
nobody knows how I feel today

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November 8, 2009

Hand-me-downs

What from your closet will you pass down to your daughter?

This is a dress which I think my grandmother made for herself in the early 60s. I actually don't know the story of this dress, but it was definitely hand-made, and I found it in the attic of my grandparents' house. It's modeled by my little sister here, in my kitchen which is probably as old as the dress. You can just glimpse the hand-me-down coffee cups on top of the espresso machine in the background.

Although the kitchen is due for some updating, I really hope the dress survives the parties I'm taking it to these days, so that I can show it to my daughter/niece/much younger friend sometime in the future. I think it's interesting how this dress just might work for the next generation, while my modern mass-produced clothes can barely stay together for a few seasons.

Given how much I enjoy my red, white and blue vintage dress, I hope some future girl will enjoy some of my favorite stuff. I'm generally careful with my clothes and accessories, so chances are good that someone will be able to wear them - or at least look at them and shake their heads over "2000s fashion" - years from now. I really hope my daughter likes...

 

... the dress my mom made for me this summer.

... skirts my mom made for me, like this one. I would hand down the top too, but I have almost worn it to death already, so that's not an option.

... my white jean strapless dress from French Connection, which I want to wear all the time these days - and my recipe for cookies.

... my bunad. My favorite outfit of all.

 

... my t-strap dancing shoes, my pearls, my grandmother's bracelet - and possibly my mother's lacy skirt and mink shawl, although they might get handed down to one of my nieces.

 

.... my polka-dotted skirt and my white trench coat, if they survive.

I've already saved my Miss Sixty jeans from junior high for this very purpose. Everyone had the same jeans back then, so they really tell the story of being fifteen in Lier in the very early 2000s. I've also saved the grey corduroy jeans I added lace and navy-blue stitching to a couple of years after the Miss Sixty's. I wish I still had my jean jacket with the embroidered butterfly "shoulder tattoo" from early high school, but I left that on a bus stop. I still have my bright pink jean jacket though. And there are white Buffalo platforms in my mom's closet - a fashion crime which must be shown to future generations. If we don't know history, we are doomed to repeat it. For the same reasons, I am saving that polka-dotted jumpsuit my mom wore in 1991. After all, I'm glad she's kept it so far.

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November 7, 2009

Bounce-Back

OR Alternatives to Ben&Jerry's OR How to stop yourself from murdering a man OR 11 ways to feel better

Remember that "traditional box of post-break-up Ben&Jerry's" I mentioned? Don't do that. Here is a list of things you can do that actually help if you want to feel better.

By the way, I'm deliberately posting this at a time when I don't need to follow my own advice: I am just really happy, with or without the tips below. But I have been editing this post for a long time, and everything on this list has been tested.

Listen to the right music. If you're like me, having the wrong song play in shuffle mode when you're already feeling bad can ruin your evening. Have your own version of a joyous playlist ready. The songs on the list should not remind you of whatever the Problem is, and they should probably not be happy love songs. In fact, you might want to include something really angry in there, just to get those feelings out of your system. It's kind of like when you have a song going through your head, and the only way to get it out is to actually listen to it. Alternatively, listen to something you've never heard before, either without lyrics or with lyrics you can't understand.

Curl your hair. If your hair is straight, use velcro rollers in damp hair with mousse and really strong styling spray (or L'Oreal StudioLine Indestructable Gel with so-called "Style Memorizing Effect For Bounce-Back Style"). Wear the rollers while you follow one of the next tips on the list, and then take them out to look like this:

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Actually, this picture was taken the morning after I used velcro rollers. Bounce-back style indeed.

I find it hard not to smile when I look like this. I don't know if straightening your natural curls will have the same effect, but maybe it's just the drastic change. And it's not as cliché as cutting your hair short, like girls who desperately need a change always do in the movies.

Watch Hard Candy. A man brings an under-age girl he met in a chat room, back to his apartment and has a few drinks with her. He then wakes up to find that she's drugged him and now he's tied to a table, naked from the waist down except for a bag of ice, and she's standing over him saying she wants to do some "preventive maintenance". The plot can also be summed up by this photo. Important: if you're a guy, don't watch this. It is Not Safe For Life.

If you're not THAT angry, and you'd rather just laugh, watch Hot Fuzz. It is really, really, really, really funny. As in I laugh hysterically every time I see it. And added bonus: the only couple who are happily in love are decapitated. (I don't condone violence BTW. When someone stamped on my foot on purpose in a club, while wearing stilettoes, I hid in a coat room rather than punch her. And three minutes of No Country for Old Men left me rubbing my throat for about a week to check if I was still breathing and not being strangled by the chain between someone's handcuffs. But this is a good time for a violent revenge fantasy. Just make sure your visual entertainment is violent, NOT your real-life actions.)

Plan a party. Everyone says keep busy, and this is a good way to do so. Plus, it gives you a reason to clean your apartment, wear something that makes you look amazing and surround yourself with friends. Which brings me to the next tip:

Surround yourself with people who know you're amazing. It's an obvious one, but it should be on the list. Make sure you have a few allies in this party-planning process. People who know that you can't handle negative stress or not having enough guests. People who will not ask you where your date is or randomly not show up or leave laughably early to go home with their boyfriends. If you have pets or younger siblings who look up to you, hang out with them more than usual. Little creatures who think you invented being awesome are exactly what you need right now.

Make new friends superficial coffee-drinking buddies. The best part about these new people is that when they ask you how you're doing, they don't want an honest, detailed answer. Find a brand new acquaintance who thinks your life is perfect. Force yourself to keep up that illusion for as long as you can. It's not fake, it's therapy: Smiling and focusing on the positive is good for you. You can always share your deep, dark secrets when you've known them for a few months.

Dress really, really well. At times like this, you should at least make sure you look great. Dress up just a little more than necessary for any occasion. Enjoy the compliments. Notice the stares. (Also, there is always designer lingerie on sale somewhere. This is the right time to buy some. The Problem has no idea what he's missing.) If you feel ugly, follow these tips.

Be rude. If you're angry, be angry. If you're sad, be sad. How upset you are is up to you. It is not up to anyone else, or to any unwritten rules. You can (and should) pretend to be ok some of the time, for your own sake, to distract yourself. But don't officially tell people who are supposed to care that you're ok until you are. Because they will believe you too soon. And never, ever pretend to be ok for the sake of the person or people who hurt you. Forgive them for your own sake, not for theirs.

Go to concerts. And to the movies, and the opera, and the theater and restaurants. Experience! Remind yourself that the world is an interesting place to be.

Flee the country. Ideally, if you're the right age, go to Ufton. You'll be surrounded by cheerful, British theater people who hug you. A lot. And you'll learn new things and make new friends and one day, you'll just realize you're over him. At least, in my experience. But seriously, travel. It could be a long weekend visiting a friend who lives an hour away by train or actually moving to another continent. I don't think I've ever regretted going somewhere else.  

If none of these work, and it's been longer than say, a month, go to your doctor. Life is not supposed to be this hard.

P.S. If a break-up is the issue, there are more specific tips for that here.

Posted by Julie at 5:03 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

October 16, 2009

Moose Cap Friday

It's Friday! Moose Cap Friday! Happy Moose Cap Friday!

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Huh? I've been wishing you all happy Moose Cap Friday for months now, and if you don't know me in real life, that must be confusing. If you care. (You should.)

Moose Cap is a monthly tradition which my friends and I have been celebrating since July 16th 2008. The third Friday of every month is Moose Cap Friday, a cause for celebration. If we host big parties, we try to plan them on Moose Cap Friday, because that Friday is already reserved for friends and parties. If I haven't been able to meet Aina on Moose Cap, we've at least sent each other self-portraits where we do the Moose Cap greeting. And on the sixteenth day of the seventh month, we got together and ate a great Moose dinner - even though July is not Moose season for other Norwegians.

I have friends who think this tradition is annoying. Ok, other peoples' inside jokes can be a pain. That's why I'm re-publishing an interview of the founders of Moose Cap (that would be Aina, Eivind and myself). It's not an inside joke - it's a serious tradition. Spread the word, spread the tradition, and as we say in the interview: "honor the Moose, honor your friends and celebrate."

...

THE MOOSE CAP DAY - by Hanne Melgård Watkins

Originally published in the September 2009 issue of The Monthly Moose:

The Moose. National animal of Norway, and the emblem of the monthly magazine you now have between your hands. These diverse areas are not the only two in which the moose is in use: If you like mooses (meese?), the list of possible paraphernalia is as good as endless. The humble moose is depicted on everything from underwear to postcards; there’s moose sausage and moose –skin vests; moose-branded brandy and antlers to be bought for walls and mantelpieces. Given that the antlers are a moose’s most striking feature, it is not surprising that among the many moose souvenirs available the Moose Cap is perhaps the most popular. Did you know, though, that there exists a separate tradition for the Moose Cap? A tradition not based on selling funny headwear to tourists, but instead on respecting an ancient time when the moose was a highly esteemed animal here in Norway, imbued with magical properties? Our Monthly Moose reporter Hanne M. Watkins contacted the co-founders of this tradition here in Oslo:  Julie R. Andersen, Aina Skjønnsfjell and Eivind Blackstad Hackett.

Moose Cap founder Aina demonstrating an alternative Moose Cap greeting. 

Could you tell us briefly how this tradition came about?

The story of Moose Cap Friday began in the 13th century,  when a community in Rondane considered Meese to be sacred animals. For these people, the punishment for killing a Moose was death. One day, Lars and Jon were hunting in the woods and Lars accidentally killed a Moose. This was obviously a tragedy for the two friends, but Jon came up with a brilliant plan. He removed the antlers on the dead Moose and placed them on his own head, thus creating the first Moose Cap. He said: "The sacred Moose did not die. I was killed - tragically - but the Moose took my place." Since the people believed - rightly so - that the Moose had infinite powers, it made sense to them that this Moose could take Jon's place in the community and speak the language. Today we celebrate Jon's genius idea, and the powers of the Moose, both represented by the Moose Cap.

And does this mean you have to wear a Moose Cap every day?

No! Moose Cap Friday is every third Friday of every month, and that is when we celebrate. While not required, it is however, strongly encouraged to wear a Moose Cap or other paraphernalia, such as for example the Moose Shirt (tm) during this celebration. Still, the most important thing is to honor the Moose, honor your friends and celebrate.

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How do you follow the Moose on other days?

There's the Moose Cap greeting - making Moose antlers with your hands. In the name of good fun, it is common for followers to share the belief that any topic could be subject to comedy and jokes. So we encourage a certain degree of un-pc-ness. The Moose is not an uptight animal, so why should we be? Also, on the 16th day of the seventh month we eat Moose. This is the greatest annual celebration for followers of the Moose. We ourselves discovered the powers of the Moose for the first time on July 16th 2008, at Café Sara.

Moose Cap Founder Julie demonstrating the greeting.Eat moose? What about the capital punishment?

The tradition has evolved. There is always the matter of ingesting the awesome power of Moose. We are working on a new "I can't believe it's not Moose" for vegetarians, and Moose-shaped pasta from IKEA is a great alternative or side dish. However, being vegetarian is so politically correct. The straight-up truth is that it Moose tastes f***ing awesome.

So just to recap (haha), when does this mean the next Moose Cap Friday is?

September 18th 2009. And the next one after that is October 16th.

Thank you for sharing this special story with us!

Now that you’ve read about this little known but important tradition of Norway, let all your friends know! Then you can go forth and acquire Moose Caps together, thus carrying the tradition onwards into the future. Hope to see you next Moose Cap Friday, wearing your antlers high and proud!

...

Posted by Julie at 9:11 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

October 15, 2009

Exams make me feel like this...

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This is Giselle (played by Christine Thomassen) dying on stage at the Oslo Opera House. The last show was tonight, and I was lucky enough to see it twice: Once from the audience, once from backstage. I'm writing a story on professional ballet for my feature journalism class, and I obviously had a great time researching it. Now that it's almost time to turn it in (along with a paper on New Journalism and New New Journalism), I kind of feel the way Giselle looks in this photo.

It's nothing serious, just a lack of concentration and a weird mix of too much inspiration and not enough inspiration at once. You know how sometimes, no matter how many times you edit a sentence, it just doesn't capture what you're trying to say? I feel like that, but with a whole feature story.

However, tomorrow at 11 AM it will all be over. And then it will be Moose Cap Friday. And I thought I would celebrate by explaining what that means.

Tomorrow.

For now, a few more photos from the ballet story...

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The Norwegian National Ballet

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Cristiane Sá & Christopher Kettner

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Pas de deux by Valentino Zucchetti & Chihiro Nomura

(All photos by Julie R. Andersen)

Posted by Julie at 9:48 PM | TrackBack

October 13, 2009

Playing dress-up

If I could have a second skin, I'd probably dress up in you. - Belle & Sebastian

"When did you become like this?" My mom asks me. She is referring to a series of photos like the one below, taken by Hanne Melgård Watkins on our hiking (er... walking and wine-drinking) weekend trip.

"Just look at the way you're walking," my mother says, "In your head, you're obviously wearing a skirt and heels. When did you turn into a skirt-and-heels girl?"

She's right about the way I walk. But she should know that I've always been "like this", at least since age three.

I've spent my whole life dressing up in my head. My outfits have always been costumes, even when no one else can see them - like in that photo.

My earliest style choice was that since I was a princess, it would be completely inappropriate for me to wear jeans to day care. I had never seen a princess wearing jeans, and I firmly believed that I should stick with tradition.

Then my grandmother explained to me that I wasn't a princess, because my parents were not royal.

This was quite devastating, but after a short identity crisis and a very scary trip to Salem, I realized that I must be a witch.

And if I was going to be a witch, I was going to be Angelica Huston (left) in Witches. I was terrified of her. Not when she turned into the High Witch - that was just a mask, duh! - but when she was undercover evil, like this.

Since black clothing for four-year-olds was hard to find in 1990, my mother helped me dye some of my outfits. And add silver paint. I guess you could say I went through the goth phase early. If I hadn't gotten that out of my system pre-kindergarten, I might look like this every day now:

While I was playing witch, my mother had just miraculously survived the 70s and 80s (she wore a polka-dotted, shoulder-padded jumpsuit). She basically let me wear whatever I wanted in the 90s (including an apron and a veil for, say, grocery shopping), within the limits of my family's student budget and my life style. My life style was supposed to involve sand boxes and finger paint, but I refused to conform. Still, my outfits had to allow for a certain degree of messiness, so my mother insisted on sensible shoes. Here's where I stopped wearing dresses and skirts for a while. The skirts with sneakers look was not OK. I explained this to my mom - and started wearing pants.

My mother sent me to drama class, so I could wear costumes in a more appropriate setting. At age five, the youngest actors were supposed to play monsters. I hesitated - evil was a good role for me, ugly and furry not so much. Since the five-year-olds had a lot of creative control over their own performance, I decided to be the princess of the monsters, meaning I would wear a dress and rule over all the ugly, furry kids.

And so I began my acting career, which I now remember as a series of characters that I got really into. I was the kind of annoying drama class child who stays in character during intermission and all the way home. And the more spectacular the costume, the better. If I was playing a girl from the country, I designed a cowgirl-inspired skirt and vest. Playing the woman who faints when Dr. Jekyll turns into a monster was an excuse to alter an old cocktail dress to fit a little girl, and then add feathers and pearls and heaps of costume jewellery.

My mom's love of sewing, knitting and jewellery-making was fantastic for me. I didn't realize until later that not all the parents could make butterfly wings and dove's wings, let alone understand that there was a difference, and that a little girl needed to have both of these outfits in her wardrobe. Even now, I need to give my mom credit for coming up with most of my theme party outfits, including what will probably be my 2009 Halloween costume (plus she made me a maid of honor dress I love and want to wear all the time).

But I was never a princess for Halloween. I never had a pink phase. I stopped being a princess when I was four and faced the reality of being the daughter of a business school student, not a king.

And years later, when I worked at the ballet supply store LaDanse, my favorite customers were the little girls who specifically asked for black ballet shoes. I think I'm still more drawn to the dark, mysterious villainwear, rather than the pastel princess costumes. But I have accepted that people will insist on seeing me as "sweet" anyway. I don't think I can look provocative in any way if I try.

Helen Gorden writes in The Guardian that "a lot of dressing up takes place inside the head and not in front of the mirror; choosing a new outfit is about the associations it provokes as well as the way it looks." That is so true.

Even at age four, I knew I couldn't pull off evil the way Angelica Huston could. And I'm not going to try now either. But somehow, the idea of dressing up as a witch to go to kindergarten eventually translated into little black dresses and red lipstick - and no desire to be blond or tan.

And even now, sometimes it helps to step out of my apartment knowing that I'm actually an undercover grand high witch.

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I love acting. It is so much more real than life. - Oscar Wilde

By the way, more posts about the childhood version of Julie:

Posted by Julie at 9:27 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 23, 2009

Deadlines and drama

My life has been crazy these past couple of weeks. "Deadlines and drama" - that basically says it all. I have told people "I'll call you next time I have five minutes", and then literally not had five minutes for days. Which is why I haven't updated.

I have been writing a lot, but for school and argument, not for the blog. In fact, even some of my blogging was not actually blogging. My Norwegian rambling about wanting to go back to college was a school assignment which will be published in argument.

In the New York Times, columnist Maureen Dowd writes that "Blue is the new black". Apparently, women all around the world are getting sadder. We're all "in a funk" to use her expression. Unfortunately, I think she's right about this: Being a young woman can be really, really difficult sometimes.

Not that I think being a man would be all that easy either. In fact, many of my friends seem to have been in some kind of funk lately, but maybe for us it's more about being at that age where our decisions are more important than before. Hard work for little or no cash combined with concerns about what to do with the future - that's life for me and most of my friends. Lately, I have been doing a lot of thinking about what I'm supposed to do with the next part of my life, now that journalism school will be over soon. And that constant feeling of "I should really be working towards my "next big thing" right now" isn't all that up-lifting.

Despite it all, I know I'm happy these days. Because when I'm walking home from school, listening to Camera Obscura's "French Navy", and I have to stop myself from dancing, I know life is basically good.

Posted by Julie at 8:26 PM | TrackBack

September 9, 2009

My sister's confirmation - and some thoughts on photography

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When I learned to write, I stopped drawing. I was clearly never interested in creating art; I just wanted to tell stories. Communicating through written words was so much more efficient than creating images.

I've found out that my single favorite thing about my new camera is that I can show people what I'm seeing, not a washed-out copy of what was there a few seconds after I saw something interesting. When technology works, it removes all the excuses. With a faster, more adjustable camera, the only thing left to worry about is finding something to show people.

And while I'm nowhere near being a photographer, acting as one for my sister's confirmation a couple of weekends ago was fun. Not only does being the photographer allow you to walk around during long dinners and get the best seats at all times. The dramatic traditional Norwegian dresses and the soft light from all the pink candles were a challenge to get right - and good practice.

Confirmations are a big deal in Norway, beyond the religious aspect. Traditionally, the ceremony marks the start of adulthood. In fact, we have secular confirmation ceremonies simply to celebrate the growing-up aspect, without the actual "confirmation" part. My sister's ceremony was religious. It was also the first time she got to wear her bunad, or traditional Norwegian dress. My mom, my sisters and I all have bunads from Valdres, but my bunad is a different style than theirs.

In the photo above, my sister is chasing after me between the church and our family's house on the next island over from the church. We lost our driver, and I got the chance to take even more photos of her - until she decided she was tired of my paparazzi tendencies and wanted to steal my camera.

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The Norwegian mafia

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My sister, Jenny, right after her ceremony.

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She's joined the mafia too.

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On important days, it's easy to forget how beautiful our neighborhood is.

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I have a strange kind of love for this photo. It's just so obvious that my dad made a really terrible suggestion just as I took the picture. My sister is clearly all "Dad, I'm an adult now, and this is my day." My mom is really much prettier than this.

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See? Much prettier.

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Everything in life should be pink.

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From left to right: Me, my mom, Midi the dog and Jenny.

Posted by Julie at 11:23 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

August 25, 2009

How to be a parent for teenagers

Ingar sent me a link to an article called "5 steps to understanding teenage girls". I talked to my mom on the phone a couple of days after reading the article, and we talked about her own parent-frustrations.

My mom isn't frustrated about teenage girls. She's frustrated about their parents - specifically the way other parents talk about their teenagers. When my mom claims teenage girls aren't monsters, parents react either with "You don't know what we're going through. Your daughters follow the rules." or "You have no idea what you're talking about. You think your daughters are following the rules? Puh-lease!"

By the time my youngest sister turns 20, my parents will have spent 15 years of their lives being the parents of teenagers. The article from Ingar and my conversation with my mom both got me thinking: What did my parents do right?

First of all, my parents know better than to listen to the worst advice. For example, when there was some newspaper/magazine debate about reading teenagers' diaries and text messages to check on what they were up to, I told my parents that I would never, ever, forgive them if they invaded my privacy that way. I think I was about fifteen, and I kept a very honest journal. Which they better not have read.

(Shortly after this, my dad set up a blog for me, so he could legitimately read some of my thoughts. Pretty sneaky.)

I've been an ex-teenager for a couple of years now. Looking back, I never felt like my parents were ruining my life. We fought, but I never fundamentally thought of them as enemies. In fact, I would say that my parents and I have had more serious disagreements before I turned 13 and after I turned 20 than during those supposedly difficult teenage years. Which brings me to my most basic tip for being a good parent for teenagers: Stop imagining that those seven years are so very different from all the other years of your lives.

I think that by the time your children become teenagers, they should know the following:

Really, that's it. Start the supposedly awful teenage years with mutual trust and half the job is done.

Beyond that, be consistent and predictable when it comes to rules - and within the ground rules, be flexible and reasonable. I usually knew what to expect from my parents. I also feel like my parents communicated the difference between what was really unacceptable and what was just not recommendable. For example, lying about my age and sneaking into clubs was something I got away with. Taking drugs while at those clubs would not have been ok. I've stayed home from school because I didn't feel like going - with my parents' permission. But not caring about school at all, or cheating on a test, would have gone against their values, which I think would have been different.

The point is that I felt we had a shared understanding about what the limit was. Sometimes I went beyond that line, and crossed over into unacceptable, they-better-not-find-out-about-this territory, but I always knew that was what I was doing. I think that kept me in check a bit; it kept me from going too far.

In the comments to the article, "Former Teenager" wrote:

I was pretty wild from 16-18 (sex with older men, smoking, taking ecstasy at weekends in nightclubs and bunking off school whenever I knew I wouldn't get caught) though had the good sense to keep very schtum about it as my parents were quite strict... although I now realise she knew about the majority of it, worried about it and monitored it quite early on and never believed my lies and ommissions.

Her 'talking' about this stuff with me wouldn't have made a blind bit of difference to my behaviour but knowing where her tolerance levels were absolutely helped keep me in check. I would never have dared get pregnant, fail an exam, need my stomach pumping or get caught playing truant. As a result I got fabulous A level grades, a good degree from a good university and now have an excellent career and an eminently lovely and sensible man, despite my teenage high spirits.

A bit of wildness does teenagers no harm provided parents are there to set firm objectives, maintain order and pick up the pieces every now and then.

In other words, don't underestimate the power of "My parents will be so disappointed in me." That thought has kept me from doing some pretty stupid stuff.

Throughout my teenage years, I perfected my defense for the day when my parents would be really, really disappointed in me. It varied, but followed this basic idea:

Mom, dad, I'm not pregnant. I've never been arrested, I've never taken illegal drugs, and I don't smoke. I've never committed any serious crimes, and my grades are still good. But please, don't try to make me stop __________. Because I probably will continue to do so anyway. And you should be glad that's all I'm doing.

I never needed to say it.

Usually, the blank was filled with some variation of "going to parties with people who do things you don't want me to do". But as it turns out, my parents trusted me to be able to be in a potentially risky environment without putting myself at risk. (Or they just had no idea what I was really up to, but I'm going to assume my parents are smarter than that.)

The point is that if someone wants to for example start smoking, it's really hard to stop them. I've tried and failed repeatedly. When I wanted my friends and family members to stop smoking, I didn't have the resources parents have with their kids. I couldn't lock them in their room, for example. But locking up children is usually frowned upon, even though that's really the only way to forcefully stop someone from breaking the rules.

Which brings me back to mutual trust and shared understanding of rules: I think my parents knew they couldn't stop me, but they relied on me to stop myself. And that was good for me.

I can just hear the other parents saying: "Yeah, but they're not all goody two-shoes like you,", and I could probably write a whole separate blog post to answer that kind of comment. But any parent who thinks I was born "a nice girl" while their own children are actually impossible, simply does not get it.

The point here is that while "My parents don't want me to do this." may deter some teenagers, it isn't really a genuinely good reason not to do something. You need to teach them why drugs/cheating/lying etc. are bad in the long run. If they want to do something, and they can't see for themselves that it's bad for them, then you can't stop them by force. 

And beyond that, remember that your kids are growing up. That's kind of the whole idea of being teenagers: they are no longer children. More and more of their world is separate from your world, and more and more of their problems have nothing to do with you. The plus side: It might not be your fault. The minus side: It might be completely out of your control.

I'll finish this with another comment from below that same article:

I've always thought that if you expect trouble with teenagers, that's what you get. Too many people batten down the hatches and prepare for war with a giant list of 'Don'ts' before anything's even happened.

It's important to like teenagers... my daughter's nearly a year old and people say 'Ah, but wait til she's a teenager', and you know what? I'm really looking forward to it.

I'm well aware, though, that maybe I was lulled into a false sense of security - there was no door slamming and squawking with the three of us in our teens, but I still don't think we were that exceptional. Our parents trusted us not to do anything stupid, we paid them back by not doing anything (too) stupid, and they didn't make a fuss over things that weren't worth it.

- Claudia Conway

Posted by Julie at 12:35 AM | TrackBack

August 23, 2009

Koselig = the meaning of life

During Julie's* stay in Oslo, and again during a conversation with Peter, the list of "signs you know you've been in Norway too long" came up repeatedly. I finally found a really long version of this list. Some of these are really, really funny, some are pretty disturbing (like the first and last one), and they are all true.

*Julie?!?!? Where am I supposed to link to you?

You know you've been in Norway for too long when...

Posted by Julie at 11:24 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 21, 2009

It's a real live Moose!

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Happy Moose Cap Friday to everyone!

This photo is from the Skansen Zoo in Stockholm. Julie and I went to Skansen just to see the Moose. A pilgrimage if you will. And after that, the usual comment to anything else we saw (like all the other animals, bakelser at NK and the night train back to Oslo) was: "Well, that was fun, but not everything can be a Moose."

Posted by Julie at 12:07 PM | TrackBack

August 12, 2009

Cheating with Chanel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago, I saw Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky at a closed viewing before the official release date. There were glasses of cava and bottles of number 5. The idea was that we would talk the film up before the release. I didn't feel like writing a review. Partly because of vacation mode, partly because... meh.

I went in on a slight cava buzz, expecting to crave Coco's clothes and to love Igor's music. Check. Check. Also, she apparently had a great house. But that was it.

I would warn of spoilers, but spoilers require a plot.

The full extent of the plot is revealed on the movie poster: Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky have sex. No, it wasn't porn, but that was really what happened. She is rich and admires his work. He moves into her house with his entire family, including wife, so that he can have a quiet place to compose. In a series of scenes that zoom closely in on their two faces, we get that the two main characters are thinking about each other a lot. One night she goes into his room and takes off her dress. And I think: "No! The clothes are the best part of this movie!"

Not that the whole thing isn't all very pretty. I mean, look at the trailer:

But I would prefer a slide show of Chanel clothes set to a Stravinsky soundtrack. The "plot" only makes the two seem selfish and horrible. His wife is in the next room. So are his children.

After reading Lust in Translation last week, I started thinking about this movie again. The author, Pamela Druckerman, an American living in Paris, went to China, South Africa, Japan and Russia among others to research cheating. According to Druckerman, while the cheated spouse is always hurt, no one is more devastated by infidelity than Americans. The French for example don't cheat any more than the Americans, but if it happens, it's not all that surprising to them. Being cheated on in France doesn't change your world view, or make you question everything your cheating partner has ever done. According to Druckerman, both the Russians and the French are calmer than Americans about the whole issue of lying.

I don't know how I'm "supposed" to react to infidelity, since Lust in Translation doesn't have a chapter on Scandinavia. But Stravinsky's Russian wife calmly, but tragically accepts her fate, and she's the one I sympathise with, at least up to a certain point.

I think the audience is supposed to be on Coco and Igor's side, but I certainly wasn't. The interaction between them doesn't justify the cheating to me.  The characters don't seem to be in love or to inspire each others' work or even to like each other all that much.

It's as if the script writers want us to think: If two attractive geniuses spend enough time together, of course they should have an affair. And since the movie is marketed at fans of both the main characters, of course we'll all sympathise with them. Coco is my heroine already, surely she can do no wrong on screen?

Well, my sympathy did swing back to Chanel for a moment when Igor's wife wrote har a letter saying: "I need him more than you do." Maybe that comment hit too close to home for me, too close to the idea that "strong women" can handle anything, so they better not need anything or anyone.

I know that this film is based on a novel which is based on a true story. So it happened, but that doesn't make it believable to me. There is a difference between realistic and believable. But perhaps reality or the novel has an interpretation of events more sympathetic to Chanel and Stravinsky.

Especially Chanel, who as my friend Martine pointed out after the viewing, could be an interesting character to discuss from a feminist point of view: She provides a house for Stravinsky, she is a successful and really sort of bitchy business woman during the story; she initiates the affair. And most importantly to me, she ends it. I wouldn't mind reading this story as a novel where we actually see what's going on inside this woman's head.

In the meantime, listen to this and browse here instead.

Posted by Julie at 11:33 AM | TrackBack

City of Thieves

I've always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.

I was born an insomniac and that's the way I'll die, wasting thousands of hours along the way, longing for unconsciousness, longing for a rubber mallet to crack me in the head, not so hard, not hard enough to do any damage, just a good wack to put me down for the night. But that night I didn't have the chance. I stared into the blackness until the blackness blurred into gray, until the ceiling above me began to take form and the light from the east dribbled in through the narrow barred window that existed after all.

Only then did I realize that I still had a German knife strapped to my calf.

That was the end of chapter 2* in City of Thieves by David Benioff. The insomniac is imprisoned in Leningrad during the Nazi siege. His crime was looting a dead German soldier. His punishment was supposed to be death, but instead he is sent on a special mission to find 12 eggs so that a Soviet colonel's daughter can have a traditional wedding cake. In a city where people are willing to eat books - or each other - finding eggs is completely impossible. But it's the only way he can survive.

I read ten chapters of this book last night, so I expect to finish it by Friday. It's fast-paced, sad, scary and somehow funny.

*I have added paragraph breaks.

Posted by Julie at 9:58 AM | TrackBack

June 19, 2009

Thoughts after a fashion show

Despite not feeling all that well, I couldn't miss the fashion show from the graduating class of Esmod Oslo on Wednesday. And I'm glad I was there, since my friend Eivind B. Hackett won three awards, including an internship, money and the opportunity to sell his collection at the Oslo department store Steen&Strøm.

Slideshow from backstage and the runway

After attending a catwalk show in ballerina flats, I understand why catwalk models need to be tall. And wear incredible platform heels. Because catwalks are not always easy to see, unless you arrive early or have some good reason for being in the front row.

Speaking of heels, people who walk in them should know how. I won't judge the models at this particular show, because I know some of them were friends of the designers, and had never walked a runway before. But if you're a Top Model contestant for example, meaning you want to be a model, shouldn't you know how to put one foot in front of the other, even if those feet are on platform heels? It's just a matter of practicing.

Anyway, judging from my very, very limited experience, fashion shows work the way "exclusive" clubs do: It seems the inconvenience of the whole experience is supposed to add to the feeling of luxury and exclusivity. It's so incredibly cool that there isn't anywhere to sit, or even stand comfortably, and that the music is too loud to allow for any form of communication. You feel lucky if you're actually able to see the show over taller peoples' heads and shoulders. And it's really hot - actually, maybe they really do that on purpose so people will wear less clothing.

But despite all that, I loved it! Especially the fact that Eivind won a bunch of awards, which I've already blogged about in Norwegian.

Shoes from Prada, top photos from Fashionising, where you can also see catwalk models fall.

Posted by Julie at 4:06 PM | TrackBack

Hurra for Eivind!

Eivind B. Hackett vant Gullnålen-prisen, VOICE-prisen og Steen & Strøms Magasinpris på Esmods Diplomvisning på onsdag.

Det betyr at han nå er ferdig med moteskole og har vunnet jobb. Han fikk praktikantplass i ett år av Voice, og 10 000 kr av Steen & Strøm. I tillegg skal hans kolleksjon, "Villainwear", selges på Steen & Strøm.

Se bildeserie fra motevisningen og artikkel skrevet av min klassevenninne og Oslostudenten-kollega Linn Husby.

P.S. En liten gratulasjon til modell Melina også, siden hun er min tidligere kollega på LaDanse og siden hun var over gjennomsnittet flink til å gå med høye hæler.

Posted by Julie at 9:02 AM | TrackBack

June 14, 2009

The year the media died

"I was a lonely Mad Ave creative type, with some good ideas and a lot of hype, but I knew the picking was ripe the year the media died."

Digital media from the point of view of a mad man.

"As I watched users generate without ad support to carry the freight, no content like MTV could break consumers' love of free."

Posted by Julie at 9:31 PM | TrackBack

June 13, 2009

Rant on technology and manners – the sequel

Flashback:

Part one of this rant was written way back in November 2007, when I was a college student, part-time receptionist and student government representative. I combined these duties with "a combination of secretary, therapist, event planner, student guidance counselor, tutor, mediator and research assistant to everyone I know", and to say that I checked my e-mail "like it was my job" would be an understatement. After ranting, I set up some ground rules for communicating with me, and they actually seemed to work. Or - more likely - writing a rant relieved my stress, and I was able to handle all the e-mails.

 head-ache

Introduction:

"Communication technology can be stressful because it forces us to be perpetually available to anyone who has our contact information. This idea makes people turn their phones off, only check their e-mail during weekdays, and relish the lack of internet connection in their vacation homes. This can be extremely stressful to the people who need to get in touch with them, but sometimes people just need a break, right? As usual, the problem is not e-mail or text messaging in itself, but the fact that our habits and our rules of decent behavior haven't caught up with the changes in technology."

- Julie Andersen (yeah, I'm quoting myself)

The actual rant

These days I am still a college student, but now I'm also a journalist at three papers, section editor of one (and soon to be two, fingers crossed) papers and maid of honor at a wedding less than two months from now. I don't feel all that busy, but I have no free afternoons/evenings this coming week. I'm busy in a good way, doing things I enjoy, but still.

My life works because I live in a world populated by adults who are comfortable with communication technology. Yammer, Twitter, Gmail, Facebook, Skype, my tiny computer, my cell phone and even Escenic (with all its faults) make my life easier.

I love being able to work from anywhere. That doesn't mean that I have to work all the time. The possibility of keeping in touch with old friends through Facebook doesn't mean that I compulsively check the (very annoying btw) Facebook front page. And yes, I do still read books, thank you very much, despite also reading blogs and online news every day.

See I have free will. And discipline. And I know how to make technology work for me.

And I assumed that other people my age in my part of the world did too. I am shocked to find Norwegian twenty-somethings who only check their e-mail every two weeks (oh and answering e-mails is just too much for them), who blame the distractions of the internet for their bad term papers (no, not as a joke, seriously), and who honestly see Facebook as nothing but a source of emotional trauma.

And I think: But you're adults! And you're young! Why do you fail at modern communication?

I know I'm preaching to the converted here. I mean, you, lovely reader, are obviously online, reading an enjoyable blog. You do not fail at life. And I'm not going to provide details to the various stressful situations I'm referring to. I just needed to leave my apartment today, and get some carrot cake and a coffee shop window seat and blog. So I did.

In conclusion:

When technology works, it removes all the excuses. You have to actually end the uncomfortable phone call, rather than hang up and blame it on losing the connection. You have to assume that people who don't call, e-mail, text, google, Facebook-friend or Twitter-follow you really aren't that into you. And you really need to get creative if you want a reason not to make a deadline.

So we're left with our own human faults. Our own lack of concentration, commitment or creativity. Let's just be honest adults about it.

Oh and by the way:

Pictures: MarkyBon CreativeCommons, MarieJo L'Aventure Lingerie, Nemi by Lisa Myhre

Posted by Julie at 2:19 PM | TrackBack

June 2, 2009

Girls aren't stupid, we're just not as lazy as the boys

LiveScience reports that a new review of recent studies finds that girls are not more stupid than boys - even when it comes to math.

I didn't take the time to comment last time, when The Boston Globe presented the idea that women just aren't into math.

Like I've said before: I don't know how mentally different men and women really are.  I just know about my own experiences here.

So let's talk about me for a bit. And the fact that guys are lazy.

New scientific discoveries on female vs. male brains don't make me better or worse at what I do. They don't change my excellent math grades. And they don't change the fact that despite those math grades, I was very aware growing up that I was not good at math. Because I was good at writing, and I was "creative", and at least when I was a kid, we were told we couldn't do it all.

I was good at the kind of things that involved neat handwriting, meticulous note-taking, extensive newspaper- and novel-reading and the ability to memorize text. My great strength all the way through high school was the ability to read something once (fast) and remember it.  Even with that skill, if you factor in all the free time I spent reading useful stuff, being good at school took up a lot of my time.


Math can be much less labor-intensive. Compared to many other subjects - at least the way they are taught at an elementary and up to high school level in Norway - math is less about "plodding through" and less about already having read something, and more about just getting it. It's logic.

I'm not saying that all aspects of mathematics are like this. But in my personal experience (in Norway, let's say grades six up to high school graduation), math works for the lazy, but smart. History doesn't.

As my dad told me the first of a million times he explained why I should be good at math: "If the whole world stopped existing tomorrow, one plus one would still be two. Even if we didn't have a language with which to explain this, even if there were nothing left to count, 1 + 1 = 2 would still be fundamentally true."

Learning new math skills requires existing knowledge of something, obviously. But it doesn't require that you stay updated on current news or know how to spell your vocabulary words correctly - or even legibly. For a smart, but lazy teenager, math class requires that you show up, pay attention and work on math problems as long as the teacher is looking. And even if the teacher hates you, because you're an obnoxious trouble-making bully, if your answers are right, they can't fail you.

I was smart and lazy about math, and smart and hard-working about languages and social studies. So I was good at languages and social studies. One of the smartest guys in my middle school class was smart and lazy about everything, and so he was good at math.

Some Norwegians have worried that Norwegian schools only work for girls (Åsmund B. Gjerde, who was editor-in-chief of argument at the time, was not worried). But for the sake of argument (ugh, pun not intended), let's believe people who say that little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, can sit still and make teachers like them, have legible hand-writing, an attention span that allows them to read a lot, and that's why we all grow up to complain about the lack of guys in our university classes. I think the smart little boys pick up some math skills, even if the snips and snails and puppy-dog tails* keep them from writing A+ short stories or brilliant essays about current events as compared to history.

Does this make sense at all?

* Little boys grow up to be young men, and they are made of "Sighs and leers and crocodile tears". According to Mother Goose.

Oh, and by the way:

Posted by Julie at 11:40 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 21, 2009

Wrap boots

These wrap boots just might be the weirdest footwear I've seen. Probably a tie between these boots (or should I say shoes with stockings?) and my parents' barefoot shoes.

I can't decide if I love them or just think they're weird. I need to try them on!

To add to their weirdness, these are vegan boots. What does that even mean? Vegetarian shoes would not be made from leather (same place meat comes from), so am I to assume that vegan shoes are not made of egg shells or fishskin? I thought we left fishskin shoes behind when WW2 ended, but maybe some disturbing retro trend has started and needs to be stopped by a counter-trend of vegetarian/vegan footwear. Whatever.

These boots are PC in a useful way, too. If I buy a pair, Tom's Shoes will give a pair of shoes (not necessarily vegan wrap* boots) to a child in need. I'm waiting for this kind of charity to show up on Stuff White People Like, but hey, there's nothing wrong with it.

If these shoes work the way I think they do, they could potentially be really comfortable, fit any width of leg and be a light-weight alternative allowing me to comfortably wear boots on sunny spring days. With my luck though, they'll probably fasten with some hideous, itchy contraption and have soles through which I can feel grains of sand.

I need to find out.

P.S. Apparently, we are now taking fashion advices from horses.

* Vegan wrap? Can I get burrito boots instead?

Posted by Julie at 5:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Emergency Sex

That's a book title I felt a little bit weird reading on the subway.

Emergency Sex (and other desperate measures) is the autobiographical story of UN workers Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewait and Andrew Thomson. The three friends, who take turns being narrator, met in Phnom Penh in 1990. They stayed in touch as they worked for the UN in Cambodia, Haiti, Rwanda, Liberia and Bosnia throughout the violent nineties.

"Andrew wanted to bind the wounds of innocent war victims, hoping to find grace. Heidi embraced the freedom-born-of-emergency determined to liberate herself and, in the process, as many women as she could touch. I planned to harness the power of an ascendant America to personally undo the Holocaust. Don't laugh. We were young." - Kenneth Cain, Brooklyn, New York, April 2003

I've always felt that since people have endured so much suffering, and others have had to witness peoples' suffering first-hand, the least I can do is read about it years later without giving up. But unfortunately - perhaps fortunately, as it's probably a sign of sanity - reading novel-length texts about torture, war, fear and despair is simply no fun.

With this book, however, I never considered giving up. It's fast-paced to the point of feeling like it's written for the screen, but more importantly, the characters are real people. It's a true story not just because it's non-fiction, but because it includes the narrators' mistakes, doubts, pre-peacekeeping past, parties - and yes, their hook-ups. They're journal-writers, not feature reporters. The lighthearted anecdotes are a necessary break from the sometimes disgusting descriptions of violence, but they also provide a backdrop that feels realistic to me: You clean up the mess after unspeakable terror by day, but when night falls, you still have crushes, friendships and a need to unwind and lead a kind of life.

Posted by Julie at 12:33 AM | TrackBack

May 16, 2009

Men and mysteries

Yesterday I cut my hair short and wore a tie for the first time.

No, this has nothing to do with writing like a man. And I should point out that I also wore a pink dress and heels. The theme for the Argument release party was gin and ties*.

When I walked in the door, I was greeted by the hostess, also wearing a tie of course, who told me we should form a club for girls who tie their own ties.

And so, the mystery: Why do men act as if getting dressed is difficult for them? Tying a tie is roughly on the same level of difficulty as tying shoelaces. It's not intuitive for most. You have to learn the method. But once you know that, you're set. There's a built-in limit to how good you can be at tying things.

Yet people still wear ties without knowing how to tie them. And movies still have scenes where women help grown men get dressed (A YouTube search to find these scenes failed, but they are out there! Pretty Woman for one). 

Clearly, there are different ways of tying ties. In fact, there is a trend in British school uniforms for clip-ons because they stop kids from trying to tie their ties in a creative way. Yup, this is considered a problem at British schools: boys who tie their ties in a non-standard way in an effort to be individuals. And in the show Skins, boys wear ties as scarves, which I strangely love.

But if you're not trying to rebel against the dress code, simply putting on that one accessory is not all that complicated.

Watch and learn everybody:


Style For Men: How To Tie A Tie - The Full Windsor Knot

Photos: Michael Coté (who can't tie his own tie) and Wade M (Why do men wear ties? See the discussion after Wade M's photo)

* I know! Great party theme, right?!?!

Posted by Julie at 12:23 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 4, 2009

Today weblogs, tomorrow booklogs

"(...) readers will stumble across books through a particularly well-linked quote on page 157, instead of an interesting cover on display at the bookstore."

Author Steven Johnson predicts booklogs, blogs that link to books, in a future with e-books.

Posted by Julie at 8:23 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 3, 2009

Geek alert

I realize I'm in danger of becoming a journalism geek.

The past week was spent writing my take-home exam in journalism. Normally I spend exams wanting to blog about anything other than what I'm writing my exam about. After each political science exam, I avoided anything poli-sci-related for at least 48 hours.

And what do I do when my exam is over this semester? I discuss journalism with my classmates over beer in the park, order a newspaper subscription, catch up on my journalism geek blogs and twitter (tweet? twit?) a journalism-related link.

I blog so much more about journalism than I ever did about international relations. There are many possible reasons for this: Journalism school provides more opportunities for non-boring diary-like blogging. I mean "Today I interviewed the minister of foreign affairs" is so much more entertaining than "Today I sat in the library for nine hours reading about foreign affairs". And since I'm actually acting like a journalist, I feel that I'm qualified to have opinions about journalism. Last year, I was just acting like a college student with some political geekiness.

The most important explanation is that journalism feels so right for me.

Not that there is anything wrong with being a happy nerd. But maybe I should take some steps to make sure I'm not boring. I have friends and readers who aren't journalists after all. And I don't think I should be a journalist/blogger who only writes about journalism/blogging.

I don't want to cross the line separating charming geek from anti-social dork.

But that won't stop me from hitting you with a journalism post right after I publish this little apology for being a geek.

Posted by Julie at 1:59 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 26, 2009

Illegal = global

I never downloaded music illegally at all - until internet radio Pandora became off limits because I didn't live in the US.

The market for illegal mp3 files is global, while the market for legal music is still supposed to be limited by international borders. Why?

Øyvind Solstad at NRK Beta writes (in Norwegian):

One world - not 200 countries.

The music- and film industry seems to think we still cross the Atlantic in steam boats, and that we don't hear about things that happen in the US just because we live in Norway. So they ignore the fact that young people don't think about international borders and where things come from. (...) People don't understand why they can't listen to some songs on Spotify in Norway, but if they drive over the Swedish border and go to an internet café they can. They don't understand why they can't see American music videos on YouTube or shows on Hulu.com. They don't accept that slow bosses in the music- and film industry still haven't come up with a system where an artist can release their music all over the world (Øyvind Solstad, my translation).

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote about this problem for journalism class at the American University of Paris (click "continue reading" for the full article).

A week later, my American friend was trying to buy a song from iTunes. She couldn't, because her laptop was American. I could buy it for her, because my laptop was Norwegian.

We were both in Paris at the time.

That is absolutely ridiculous.

Does piracy kill music – or globalize it?

Julie Andersen – Journalism 2 – April 2008

If music is distributed through the internet, where you live need not matter for what music you can buy. In theory, anyone with an internet connection can have the same access to music. Yet the record industry is still enforcing national borders, in an effort to stop illegal file-sharing. Is a college student who downloads mp3s a greedy thief or an informed activist? Is file-sharing bringing the music industry down, or are record labels and music retailers to blame?

In summer 2006, a copyright bill was drafted in France, requiring music downloads to be compatible with all portable digital music players. Apple sent an e-mail statement to Bloomberg, saying this would result in “state-sponsored piracy”.

Music on CD can be transferred to a computer and then played and distributed in several formats. Mp3-files, one of the most popular formats among illegal downloads, are compatible with most media players. Legal downloads from Apple are only compatible with iPods and the iTunes computer media player.

France amended the draft, so that copyright holders could still set compatibility standards. Had France forced Apple to make its downloads compatible with other music players, iTunes Music Store France would have closed down, regardless of what the artists wanted, according to the BBC.

The music industry likens illegal file-sharing to shoplifting CDs. When you shoplift a CD, you get the same product without paying for it. When you download illegally instead of legally, you might get a better product without paying for it.

Following the shut-down of popular torrent-based file-sharing site Oink on October 23rd 2007, Rob1, a blogger who has worked within the music industry, wrote what his commentators labelled “the bible of file-sharing”. He encouraged music fans to stop buying music from major labels in order to force a change in the way music is distributed. Rob called Oink: “the most complete and most efficient music distribution model the world has ever known” and wrote: “If the music industry had found a way to capitalize on the power, devotion, and innovation of its own fans the way Oink did, it would be thriving right now instead of withering.”

People who download music illegally, claim that they can't afford to fill an iPod at the 99 cents per song rate that iTunes is offering legally, and that if they like a band after listening to their music for free, they will find a way to support them. According to promusic.org's guidelines to online music: “(...) there is no general right or exception that lets you copy before you buy without permission, for the obvious reason that once something is copied it probably won't be bought.” The question is, would it have been bought if it were not copied?

Sara2, a 20-year-old American student at the American University of Paris, says she would never pay 99 cents for the songs she downloads illegally today. She has been downloading music since 1999, but she still buys CDs. She will typically get recommendations from music blogs, download some songs, and then buy the album if she likes the music.

Moving to Paris has made this more difficult. “There is nowhere I can get music here in Paris,” she says “A lot of the stuff I want is obscure - albums you can barely find in the US and definitely not in Paris.”

Natalie3, another 20-year-old American student at AUP, says: “I used to buy albums in high school, but now that I'm in France, I'm not going to spend the equivalent of 20 dollars on a CD. But music keeps me going, so I either stop going, or a friend sends me songs over the internet.” While she does not believe in downloading music through torrents and file-sharing sites, she exchanges zip files of albums with her friends.

She likes to spend money on her favorite band Radiohead, who released their latest album In Rainbows as a download and allowed fans to set their own price. “I think artists can get their music out online legally – MySpace or allowing downloading from your site.” she says, “But the real CD came with stickers.”

Both girls say that allowing fans to download, is good publicity for a band. However, Radiohead could not have sold their album this way if they were controlled by a label, and their music is not available on iTunes.

Sara plans on working in the music industry, and she says: “It's all about politics. An artist can be totally trash, but if they're marketed toward the right demographic, the label will still support them.”

Despite having a friend in the States who was sued for 5000 dollars for file-sharing, Sara is not worried about getting caught. “Should I be?” she asks. In France, privacy laws are much stricter than in the States, and they have generally prevailed over copyright laws. Although AUP has a policy against file-sharing, Ali Rahimi, director of Information Technology Services at AUP, says that the university respects students' privacy. Firewalls on the AUP network make downloading to student's laptops while on the school network difficult, but Sara knows how.

Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails frontman and music producer, admitted to New York Magazine that he was an Oink member and that “If OiNK cost anything, I would certainly have paid, but there isn't the equivalent of that in the retail space right now.” While many file-sharers have agreed with him through blogs and forums, Natalie says: “I don't want the CD to disappear. I believe in album artwork, and I believe in the crisp smell of the CD when you open it for the first time, the sound of the case when you open it, and wondering whether or not there are lyrics. I want that to keep happening.”

1Known online only by his first name.

2Named has been changed.

3Name has been changed.

Posted by Julie at 12:29 PM | TrackBack

April 15, 2009

Back from Boston

Boston Globe_001

When I left Oslo last week, I had a big laptop and a tiny camera. I came back from Boston with a tiny laptop and a big camera. Expect more photos from now on.

I also somehow managed to catch up with a lot of friends, spend a day observing the Boston Globe, see a musical in Boston, return to the MFA, do enough shopping for a year, drink Sam Adams and eat swordfish, hamburgers and ice cream.

I really needed that week back in the States, and now I really need another one.

Photo: Julie Balise

Posted by Julie at 11:44 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 3, 2009

Newspapers die - long live journalists

It's not too late, Julie. My American friend, who shares my name and profession, is a co-op at a large American newspaper with economic difficulties. From her desk at the business section Julie can see the other sections closing down, newspapers in other cities folding and commentators predicting New York Time's bankruptcy by May 2009. Experienced colleagues pat the young journalism major's head: You're entering a dying business. You're young. It's not too late to choose another career.

Meanwhile, back in Norway, we're discussing newspaper death, increased press subsidies and an economic stimulus plan specifically for the media. The financial crisis is making a difficult situation worse, but newspaper economics would be going through a tough period even without that added obstacle. Readers stop subscribing and read online instead. And if we believe figures cited by John Olav Egeland in Dagbladet1, you need ten online readers to achieve the same ad revenue as one paper subscriber.

And still I've chosen to study journalism at Oslo University College. I happen to think journalism isn't dead. Paper producers and printing press companies face an unstable future, but the world will always need good journalists.

I repeat: good journalists. What it takes to be a good journalist, that's what's changing. And I'm starting to wonder if today's journalism students are learning what it takes to be tomorrow's good journalists.

Good journalists understand their own industry. For the newspaper industry, the Internet is a disruptive innovation. The term is from Harvard professor Clayton Christensen. A disruptive innovation makes an existing technology irrelevant. In the blogosphere, editors, economists and media experts from around the world are discussing how to build a sustainable business model for online media.

Young journalists need to be a part of this discussion. Blogosphere and disruptive should be in our vocabulary. We need to be able to discuss press subsidies, RSS subscriptions and micro-payments. There are plenty of other debates too. Online publications with their constant deadlines and updates make debating journalists' new working conditions necessary. The possibility of editing texts after publication blurs the line between journalist and editor. Web layout is an entirely different science compared to paper layout. These debates are not part of the journalism student's curriculum. So we need to teach ourselves about the media economics of tomorrow.

Good journalists think ahead. Christensen uses journalistic language, a sports-based metaphor, to make this point: Don't run to where the ball is, run to where it will be. In “Rett på sak!”2, a text book for first-year journalism students, Veslemøy Kjendsli writes that text on the web should not be long enough to require hitting the “page down” button. In layout class, the lecturer sighs and complains that the internet doesn't have room for good photography. Per H. Baugstø's book “En avis er ment å skulle leses”3 starts by stating that paper newspapers will always exist, because paper is the most comfortable reading and storage format. There seems to be a consensus that online journalism is shallow news with another newspaper as its only source, while paper is for features and opinions.

Today's curriculum writers and lecturers of journalism succeeded under the old system. There's nothing wrong with that. But students who study how to be critical of sources and how to spot weak arguments have no excuse for accepting too much at face value. Many of these authority figures base their views on faulty principles. They assume that screen quality and computer capacity and speed – not to mention people's media habits – will remain unchanged from now on. To use Christensen's words: They don't think the ball is moving any more, so they've stopped running.

Good journalists see challenges as opportunities. My classmates wonder why I want to be an online journalist. Internet publications are so stressful. I disagree. Nothing stresses me more than knowing that the paper edition is printed and that it's too late to make changes. As journalists we should adjust to the internet, not just because the disruptive technology makes it necessary, but because online journalism has more potential than paper journalism.

On the internet the way the text looks will vary by screen size, operating system and browser. The reader can also choose to access the publication via RSS, e-mail or traditional online newspaper, and this will also change the layout. We could say that we're losing control over layout. We could also say that each reader is being given more layout options. Does the reader want just the short summary, or every published story on the subject? Is the text the most important part of the travel feature, or will the reader also download the panorama photograph with links and zoom tools? When we no longer have to worry about the length of columns or the number of pages, that's a good thing.

Good journalists are always writing. If Julie, my fellow students and I give up writing because of changes in techology and economics, well, then the pessimists are right: It's not to late to choose another career. As long as we write well, and we write no matter what, it's not too late to be a journalist.

English translation of Aviser dør - Lenge leve journalister. The Norwegian version was originally published in Journalen, and was the reason for all of this.

1Dagbladet, literally The Daily Magazine, is one of the major daily tabloids in Norway.

2“Straight to the Point!”

3“A Newspaper is Meant to be Read”

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March 6, 2009

It never fails... but I might

streeetch... and then get to work!

Reaching for inspiration... Streeetch... And now, Julie, GET TO WORK!

It never fails: If I have actual journalism to do, all I want to do is blog. Despite the fact that I love what I'm writing right now (as in the column I'm writing, not this blog post), ideas for completely non-related blog posts pop into my head at every moment. So just to let you all know: if there is a blog entry here before 4PM today, that means I fail.

Photo: ad for Marie-Jo L'Aventure

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March 3, 2009

Reuniting with Leo

With a mischevious smile, Inga raised her thumb and began to enumerate the guests, lifting a finger for each: "You and your mysterious Shakespeare heroine; Mamma, Sonia, me; Henry Morris, professor of American Literature, NYU, knew Max a little, recovering after painful divorce from mad Mary. He's a wee bit stiff, but very smart. In fact, I like him a lot. We've had a date." Inga winked at Erik, then thrust up the thumb of her other hand to keep on counting: "My friend Leo Hertzberg..."

For a moment, I stopped paying attention to their conversation: Leo Hertzberg? So Leo is alive...

Inga continued:

"Yet another professor, but a retired one, from art history at Columbia, lives on Greene Street, sees poorly, but he's very interesting and extremely kind. I met him from my friend Lazlo Finkman. I've been reading Pascal to him every week for an hour or so, and then we have tea. His great sadness is that his only child, a boy, died when he was eleven. Matthew's drawings are all over the apartment."

Definitely the same Leo Hertzberg. How does Inga know Lazlo? And more importantly: Is Leo all right?

I rummaged through my purse for my smallest notebook, but realized that I was only doing so to calm myself down. There was no need to make a note of this. I would not forget it.

I haven't heard from Leo in years, and today I realized how worried I have been. I haven't tried to contact him, because I'm not crazy: I know Leo isn't real.

It might just be a novelist's greatest possible achievement: to create characters so believable that the reader desperately wants to call them to make sure they're ok and then to invite them over for wine and conversation. With What I Loved, where I first met Leo and his friends, and now with The Sorrows of an American, which makes me want to call Erik and tell him I'm lonely too, Siri Hustvedt does just that. She creates a complete, alternate world of her characters.

And so today I took a tram through Oslo and ended up in a loft in New York City, preparing for a party with Erik and his sister Inga. And my old friend Leo was on the guest list.

The first and fourth paragraph of this text were written by Siri Hustvedt in The Sorrows of an American. I have copied them, changed one word (Erik was originally I) and included them here to illustrate the experience of stepping into a novel's alternate reality.

Related post for Norwegian readers: Review of The Sorrows of an American

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Who will pay for free news? Link collection

After writing an article in Norwegian about the economics of online news, I have a collection of links. Some were directly quoted and included in the post with the article, some were just used for background information, and some have been provided in the comments to the blog version of the article. They're all interesting (in my opinion) contributions to the discussion of how journalism can survive economically if news is free.

Consider this list a constant work in progress...

English:

Norwegian:

Etter nyhetsreportasjen "Gratis nyheter har en pris" har jeg en samling linker til stoff om nettaviser, presseøkonomi, pressestøtte, avisdød og den generelle debatten om hvem som skal betale for at nyheter er gratis.

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February 26, 2009

Love in a Headscarf

I usually don't enjoy what The Guardian calls chick lit. That stuff is better in the movies, where you can concentrate on the shoes and hair and bags when the storyline becomes too silly. But I might want to read Love in a Headscarf, Shelina Zahra Janmohamed's "chick-lit memoir of her arranged marriage" - just out of curiousity.

Some quotes from the comment thread of The Guardian's article:

What strikes me is the way she describes the process in purely material terms. She 'judges' potential husbands on their looks, time-keeping and financial generocity to herself. No mention of personality, interests or compatibility. Is that what it's about?

Bridget jones didn't claim to speak or represent each and every 30-year old who happened to be single
Nor does Shelina attempt to do the same for Muslim women. It's just a story of how she finds love - why is it that as a minority writer, she suddenly is expected to carry the burden of representing each and every muslim woman in the world?

Those Muslim women living in the West who are making a free choice to act publicly like second-class citizens (in relation to men) must accept that their actions and beliefs are profoundly threatening to Western women, who are still fighting a long battle not to be second-class citizens.

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February 25, 2009

Oh, come on!

Strangest news story I read this morning: the dilemma of selling lingerie in Saudi Arabia. I wouldn't like purchasing lingerie without fitting rooms, or measurements, size based on what a man thinks would fit me. And if I would be uncomfortable with that situation, I can barely imagine how women in Saudi Arabia must feel. This is the kind of news story that just makes me want to say to the whole society who made this bizarre situation possible: Oh come on! Pull yourselves together.

Photo: Ad for MarieJo Lingerie

Update March 27th: Global Post has more on this issue.

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February 10, 2009

General update

1. I have a new job as editor of the Opinion section of Oslostudenten, a monthly newspaper at my university college. The job includes being in charge of foreign correspondents. More on that later.

2. Starting May 4th, I have an internship at Teknisk Ukeblad. They're a weekly tech/IT/business/economics magazine, plus they have a website that doesn't annoy me. I'll be working both online and in print, and I'm looking forward to it.

3. I started taking French classes again. This means I'm spending a couple hours every Wednesday talking about current events with people twice my age. Basically nothing unusual, except it's in French.

4. I renewed my gym membership today. Go me!

5. I haven't slept a full night at night in 2009.

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January 31, 2009

"My problem is simple - I love food"

"Today I have been thinking about my thin friends and why they are thin. Three of them are thin because their husbands left them and they dropped weight likes stones into water.

I ask my husband if he will leave me for a while. He shakes his head. (...) Where does this leave me then?"

- Lucy Cavendish

"My problem is simple - I love food," writes Lucy Cavendish in The Observor. She tells her life story through her weight: An eight-year-old twice the size of her best friend becomes a thin 16-year-old, goes on the pill and gets hips, spends her university years getting fat on a diet of pizza, shrinks without noticing and then finds herself in Manhattan where no one eats and no one cooks, with a boyfriend who sees extra weight as a lack of self-control. They split up, and weight drops off her "like melting lard". And then she marries a man who loves to cook, and she writes paragraphs about the wonderful food they eat together. She is happy, but strangers assume she's pregnant, and her five-year-old asks her:  "Why do you have boobs on your back?" So she goes to Weight Watchers:

"I watch my husband put soft butter and crème fraîche into our mashed potatoes and it makes me want to cry. I see him ladle wine onto Dover sole and then add lashings of butter and I cry some more. I see him rub goose fat all over our roast potatoes and I want to shout "stop, stop, stop" in anguish.

This denial means I'm becoming very boring to live with. I don't want people to come round for dinner. I don't want evenings out in restaurants or lunches in pubs. My husband spends his life dolefully looking at the fridge."

Stories like this bore me, because I've heard so many of them before. And they scare me, because I've heard so many of them before. Friends who stop eating because they're too happy, friends who show up at my apartment with chocolate and potato chips because they're fighting with someone, friends who offer me a kilo of candy because I'm fighting with someone, the traditional box of post-break-up Ben&Jerry's, the chart one of my friends checks off when she remembers to eat, the no-carb no-fat (face it: no-food) diets followed by chips and dip and beer. From my fourteen-year-old sister's classmate who only eats apples to the guy who said to me on a first date at a Chinese restaurant: "Oh, so you're an eater? Cool!" - is the denial Lucy Cavendish describes really the normal way for women to live? When the Weight Watchers people are shocked that she's never been on a diet, is that because everyone actually is?

In October 2007, Jane Shilling wrote in The Times: "I thought it might help to set up a support group for British women who have a normal relationship with food. There must be a couple of you out there." I posted a long comment and thought: "Yes! Sign me up! I may not be British, but I'm feeling lonely over here. I'm sick of discussing my friends' thighs."

Now, as I read Lucy Cavendish's story, it's scary how much of it I can relate to. It's not like I can't tell my life story through food and body image too. The reason I don't is because it's personal. It's not in the part of my mind I let the whole world read.

That doesn't mean it isn't on my mind more than I would like.

My first friend in Paris, Brittany Zale, earned heroine status in my mind when she told me: "I'm going to spend a semester in Paris, and when I go back to the US, I will have gained weight. Anything else would be sad."

So we enjoyed three-course dinners with red wine and had macarons and champagne for lunch. I knew that this was my chance for fois gras, crème brûlée and croissants amandes for second breakfast.  When I returned to Norway in the summer, my mother said: "You gained weight in Paris didn't you? Or maybe I just lost weight." Annoyed, I retaliated by putting on a dress I had bought in high school, going to a party and indulging in chocolate cake and more champagne and red wine. (Picture)

Because I love food, and I don't want that to be a problem.

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January 30, 2009

Joyous playlist

During our last weeks in Paris, Julie and I listened to her "Joyous playlist" on her iPod as we walked back and forth between my basement apartment by Invalides and her host parents' apartment across the street from the Bonne Marchée.

Some people say I listen to depressing music. I once played Damien Rice's "O" at work, and my co-workers seemed worried. I don't think it's depressing. Unless of course, you have something to be depressed about.

So in case you need it, here's a joyous list of songs. It starts with one that will always remind me of sitting on a yoga mat at Invalides, eating strawberries before finals, being happy and knowing that everything is about to change.

Yelle - Amour du sol

The Ditty Bops - Wake up

Django Reinhardt - Minor swing

Jem - Finally woken

Ella Fitzgerald - You're the top (this video is a different version than the one I'm used to, with Nat King Cole and different lyrics)

Eels - Fresh feeling

Ed Harcourt - All of your days will be blessed

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January 13, 2009

You know you're writing a thesis if...

The following list is from the Facebook group "You know you're writing a thesis if...". This is the first time I've looked at an online list like this and been able to say yes to everything. I'm sure my parents, Per Ivar and Elisabeth will know what I mean. Remember Spring 2007? Thanks for everything.

- You spend 12 hours a day at the library.
- You keep a local coffee shop in business.
- You keep a local liquor store in business.
- Doing work for other classes feels like taking a break.
- Doing work for other classes feels like a complete distraction and waste of time.
- The Inter-Library Services people (probably) hate you.
- You’ve written eighty pages.
- You’ve written zero pages.
- You find yourself on Facebook instead of writing your thesis.
- You’ve considered dropping out of school, since you can’t graduate without it.
- You avoid your advisor like the plague.
- You see your advisor three times a week and generally camp outside their office.
- Your eyes no longer focus properly on what you’ve already written and you’re afraid you can no longer read English (or any other language your research is in).
- You have thirty+ books checked out from UT libraries. They're all stacked by your front door so you can easily grab them on your way to the library/coffee shop.
- You constantly stress about how you should be writing or reading more.
- You constantly stress about how you should be writing or reading something, anything at all.
- You’ve taken up smoking to have breaks from writing.
- You make Facebook groups as a form of procrastination.
- You do anything as a form of procrastination.
- Running away to another country has come to sound like a perfectly acceptable excuse not to write the damn thing.
- You dread people asking you what you’re writing your thesis about.
- You can spit out a perfect three-sentence summary of your thesis.
- You have to talk for fifteen minutes to explain the premise of your thesis.
- Finding time to do laundry is getting harder and harder.
- Everyone you encounter comments on how stressed you seem.
- You can answer every question in class as well as the professor (if the class involves your topic area).
- You look like a hobo/drag rat carrying four bags of books, articles, drafts, and a laptop to campus every day.
- You never leave your apartment because everything you need for your thesis is there.
- Everything you own or possess regarding your thesis is in a giant locker at the PCL.
- You’ve changed the premise of your thesis four times this month.
- You can’t remember what life was like before you started your thesis.
- You can’t imagine what life will be like after you finish your thesis.
- You haven’t seen your friends in weeks.
- You spend every night drinking with your friends in an attempt to forget about how you should be writing your thesis.
- Every subject, no matter how unrelated, makes you think of some aspect of your thesis.
- Your parents have no idea what you’re actually writing about.
- Your friends have no idea what you’re actually writing about.
- All you talk about with your other thesis-writing friends is how stressed you are about writing your thesis.
- You love what you’re writing about.
- You have come to hate what you’re writing about.
- You’re not sure what you’re writing about anymore, you just search for random articles involving very specific search terms.

After it's all over: You're terrified of going to grad school because you'd have to write another one!
OR
You don't hesitate to start grad school so you can recycle your thesis.

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January 12, 2009

Novels of 2008

048

Some novels I read and enjoyed in the past year - more info on each one later.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (read it here)

If On a Winter's Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

(Looking at the list, I'm struck by the authors' interesting names. I need to change mine, I think.)

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December 23, 2008

Blogging every day

I have tried to blog every single day this month. Partly because I love traditions, and this was a variation of counting down the days until Christmas. And partly to see if I could do it. I almost succeeded, although I was wrongfully accused of cheating once, and I actually cheated once. And I even got carried away and blogged too much.

My dad blogged every day in January. He wrote he was beginning to understand how journalists feel, but that blogging every day was very time-consuming. My problem was usually that having to blog something - anything - every 24 hours got in the way of writing longer, more complete posts. Ideally, I should blog often and well, but if I have to choose between the two, I would prefer to blog really well. Something interesting a few times a week, rather than rubbish twice a day. On days when I spend a lot of time online, it's easy to just link to something and add a short comment. But days away from my laptop are a nice change, and I don't think I should be encouraging myself to spend even more time online. And although I have no problem with publishing works in progress, sometimes I want to make sure I'm happy with something important, even if that means delaying for a day.

However, I have definitely gotten into a new rhythm. I can't promise anything - blog curse and all that - but after forcing myself to post once a day, I should be able to... no, can't tell you, or I won't do it. That's how the blog curse works.

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December 22, 2008

Christmas traditions

I have a very low threshold for calling something a tradition. If I've done it once and enjoyed it, I'm willing to call it a tradition. (Those lucky enough to know about Moose Cap Friday know exactly what I mean.) Some of my Christmas traditions:

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December 20, 2008

Experiences of 2008

I finished the first semester of journalism school two days ago. I handed in my exam, and then I went to my old job and handed in my keys. Those thirty minutes gave me a wonderful feeling of finishing something and starting something potentially better. It was the feeling you're supposed to have on New Year's Eve. Sadly, there was no champagne.

I suppose this New Year's post should be posted on New Year's Eve, but really - who reads blogs at midnight on December 31st? And this way, if anyone wants to interpret the list below as a meme, they can.

2008 was not only the year I started journalism school, lived in Paris, visited Cambodia and Thailand and met a few people I hope I'll know forever. I did many things this year that I had never done before. 2008 was the year I first...

... swung by jungle vines

... actively celebrated International Senior Citizens' Day

... actively celebrated Moose Cap Friday

... got a full-body oil massage

... drank Fernet Branca

... drank sangria

... drank Coca-Cola

... happily referred to 10 square meters in a basement without a kitchen as "home"

... dated in French

... held a crocodile

... removed my bikini top at a public beach

... spoke words in Khmer

... interviewed two of the men I want to be when I grow up

... ran up and down the Champs Elysées singing along to an IPod

... ate frog

... moved to a city where I did not know a single person

... hid alcohol from grown-ups

... appreciated soup, tofu and veggie burgers

... slept in a mosquito net

... haggled over the price of paperbacks

... climbed 20 meters up a tree and jumped

... planted rice

... dipped my toes in the Seine

and more.

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December 19, 2008

When I was your age, we had paper

Yesterday I left my keys in what was once the office where I worked as a receptionist. The company is relocating, and I will probably never again set foot in that building where I spent about an hour per day on average - and where I admit, many of my best blog posts were written.

Not only does the specific job I once had literally not exist anymore - there is no desk in the reception, no kitchen for making coffee, no fridge full of soda to organize. But for the past week, I have been doing another job for this company, and I don't think anyone will be doing that kind of job by the time I have children.*

I can just picture it:

When I was your age, people used to store information on paper. Today we know how dangerous fire is, not to mention the dangers of misplacing things without being able to search for them. But way back then, in the basement of the office builidng where I worked, years of paper documents accumulated. Many of them started as computer documents, but because of this belief in the power of paper, people printed everything they thought they might some day like to read. That's right, they didn't like to use the computer for reading either. So even unfinished drafts of documents that might some day be important, were printed, read and then filed just in case anyone ever wanted to read them again. Many of these documents were not important at all, but you never know what might be useful, someday.

Then one day the company I worked for moved to a different office, and they decided they did not want to move all that paper. Suddenly, they realized that the basement full of paper was in fact completely useless to them. But even if they didn't want it, they didn't want anyone else to have it either. There might be interesting information somewhere in that basement, and just in case, it should all remain secret. So they decided it should all be shredded - that's how paper is deleted.

And that's how I earned money for Christmas presents, way back in 2008. I deleted things. I couldn't just click on the room and press shred. My job was to open all the metal and plastic folders, and take the paper out and put it in boxes. Then the boxes were moved to where the shredder was, and the folders were all thrown away. It took about a week.

Yes, for a week, this company paid a journalist to look through all their very important, very secret documents and then throw them away.

I was beginning to think that my prediction of the future office basement - without rows of filing cabinets - was too extreme. Today, while I was shopping with my younger sister, my theory was strengthened. She opened a plastic folder and struggled with the metal clasp on the inside. When I showed her how it worked, she said: "So, you just put the paper inside? Wow."

* And then I shudder. Yup, those words still scare me. I'm not quite a grown-up yet.

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December 15, 2008

Anne-Cath. Vestly

The first thing that happened to me today was that I found out that Anne-Cath. Vestly is dead. She was a Norwegian author of children's books. As far as my childhood was concerned, she was the only Norwegian author of children's books.

I grew up making way for ducklings, scared and fascinated by robbers, and best friends with Anne Shirley. I generally preferred my fiction to take me to someplace long ago and far away - there was enough realism in the real world.

Norway, my home country, was long ago and far away. Except for summer (vacation, so not real life) and my parents' memories (long ago, and they were grown-ups), it was far more distant than Prince Edward Island and the Boston Public Garden.

I can't think of any other Norwegian author who meant more to me. Because, even though I didn't think about this at the time, looking back, Vestly's fiction was a window into what growing up "back home" was like.

And I'm glad that I pictured Norway the way she did. I'm glad that in Norway, families with eight children lived in one-room apartments in Oslo and still took care of their mormor* who was afraid of taking the tram through town. And that a little girl who played the violin had no father and a mother who worked as a janitor in their apartment building. And that in the same apartment building, another little girl's father stayed at home studying and eventually defending his doctoral dissertation while her mother worked as a lawyer. Although she caused controversy, Vestly's books never seemed overly political. They just told the truth about how children live and think.

The week before Vestly died, I talked about her with my family. Just this Saturday, some of her characters came up in a conversation with my best friend. Today, friends are grieving for "the end of their childhood" in Facebook statuses. I know we'll all read her books to our children.

Links

Related posts

* Mormor = mother's mother, grandmother

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Exam time

Today is the first day of my three-day take-home exam for journalism school. Of course, today I want to write about everything but journalism, and my concentration has been absurdly bad. So I have decided that I won't blog today unless I do something more productive with my school work first.

This means that if I manage to upload anything substantial before midnight, you can all be proud of me. If not, well, wish me luck.

IM006844

In other news: My coffee machine has been fixed.

(Photo from May 2007, writing my bachelor thesis. The photo was taken on a good day, unlike this one.)

Related posts:

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December 10, 2008

"We love learning. We hate school."

Excerpts from the text to go with the video, A vision of students today by Mark Hanson:

One of the most thoughtful and engaged students I have ever met recently confronted a professor about the nuances of some questions on a multiple choice exam. The professor politely explained to the student that he was “overthinking” the questions. What kind of environment is this in which “overthinking” is a problem?

How did institutions designed for learning become so widely hated by people who love learning?

Texting, web-surfing, and iPods are just new versions of passing notes in class, reading novels under the desk, and surreptitiously listening to Walkmans. They are not the problem. They are just the new forms in which we see it. Fortunately, they allow us to see the problem in a new way, and more clearly than ever, if we are willing to pay attention to what they are really saying.

While most of our classrooms were built under the assumption that information is scarce and hard to find, nearly the entire body of human knowledge now flows through and around these rooms in one form or another, ready to be accessed by laptops, cellphones, and iPods. In short, they tell us that our walls no longer mark the boundaries of our classrooms.

And that’s what has been wrong all along. Some time ago we started taking our walls too seriously – not just the walls of our classrooms, but also the metaphorical walls that we have constructed around our “subjects,” “disciplines,” and “courses."

I wish I couldn't relate to this, but I can. When school doesn't command my full attention, my mind wanders - sometimes so far that I miss information from my teachers that I should have gotten. As I wrote here, "I have this theory that if my brain isn't busy enough, it will start searching for something to do." Maybe it's a sign of the times, maybe it's just me. And yes, many students don't concentrate because they can't be bothered. And many students don't work unless the teacher constantly controls them and watches them, and this controlling involves the lazy students actually showing up for class. But these students don't belong in college at all.

I know that I can learn so much more with an Internet connection, a library card and permission to cut class than I can if I go to school every day. If teachers have to force their students to show up to lectures, isn't that a sign that what's happening in the classroom is less than interesting? It's time for a change.

Posted by Julie at 4:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 9, 2008

Window shopping

You may have pennies in your pocket and not a prospect in the world, and only the corner of a leaky bedroom to go home to; but in your new clothes, you can stand on a street corner, indulging in a private daydream of yourself as Marlene Dietrich. - George Orwell, 1937

There is something to be said for retail therapy. It does not work in the long term, but pretty things have an immediate calming effect.

The one time I actually bought something on a retail therapy shopping trip, it was my one (!) pair of painful shoes, and it was after a disastrous macro economics exam. They made my feet bleed, but they're still shiny and low-cut and go with everything (silver and gold goes with everything!)

The safest and most enjoyable window shopping is after the shops close. I recommend Avenue Montaigne at night. But browser-window shopping is more convenient, and still safe if you keep your credit card in another room. And so... some fashion links.

 

 

 

 

In addition to recommending D2 and The Guardian Fashion here are the style blogs I subscribe to right now:

Posted by Julie at 12:44 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 8, 2008

Tragic

my espresso machine

My espresso machine didn't work this morning.

If you know me at all, you know what that means. In case you don't:

Last time a coffee machine didn't work in my kitchen, I called my parents in a panic, waking them up at what apparently was too early in the morning (too lazy to take care of me in a caffeine crisis!). I completely forgot the existence both of a French press on one of my kitchen shelves and of coffee shops on my way to work. They haven't let me forget that incident, bringing it up whenever they need to prove how high maintenance I am. To be fair (to myself) that coffee machine EXPLODED. No, seriously, it was scary. Suddenly all other appliances in my kitchen switched off and I had hot water and random coffee machine parts all over my kitchen counter.

However, I didn't love that machine. I love this one. When I told friends that I was suddenly moving to Paris about a year ago, they said: "But... your coffee machine..." as if they were saying "... your child..."

And this morning, a morning which for a long list of reasons was not a good one to begin with, I turned on my coffee machine, ground my coffee, flipped the switch and this happened:

zap_downloadingcoffee

Nothing.

Of course I'm only posting this in the hope that once I have, I will wake up tomorrow to a perfectly happy, obedient, working coffee machine. I will realize that nothing is wrong, that it was all my mistake, and that this whole entry is an embarrassment. But I will gladly humiliate myself online for good coffee.

In the meantime, I'm glad I have friends in high places. High places that repair espresso machines.

And just to prove how obvious my love of coffee is, as I write this, my friend Brittany in Washington D.C. posts this photo on my Facebook wall, with the message "This was in the nyt and i automatically thought of you, of course.":

coffeelove

Posted by Julie at 10:11 PM | TrackBack

December 7, 2008

Christmas Wish List 2008


Oppdatering 8. desember: Siden Qvakk først har tatt opp temaet i kommentarfeltet, linker jeg til...

Ønskelister er imidlertid noe jeg lager for folk som vil gi gaver av den tradisjonelle materielle sorten og som ikke vet hva de da bør gi meg.

Posted by Julie at 11:47 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 2, 2008

Nothing is off the record

When everyone is a blogger, nothing you say is off the record. A New York-based Belgian blogger and bartender served a politician, got some information and blogged about it. And then she got fired.

News like this starts complicated internal debates about media ethics in my head, but there is no time for a lengthy discussion right now. When I'm doing journalism for school or any publication that isn't my own blog, these rules apply. Blogging however, is not the same thing as journalism. We do not yet have a common set of rules for what is off the record in blogging. We do have common sense (at least the writers worth reading do).

I think of my blog as a snapshot of the part of my mind I allow people to read. And I think the internet is just like real life. And in real life, when you're talking to strangers, you can't really expect things to be off the record.

Off the record is the exception to the general rule. That's why people promise to keep peoples' secrets - doctors don't talk about their patients, friends don't talk about their friends, employees don't give away their companies' secrets, and I've been asked not to blog about things. How many times have you started a conversation with "This is not a secret. Tell someone else if you want."

And like I wrote here, this isn't new. Information is spread faster and further now, but the same principles apply: don't do stupid stuff, and if you must, don't tell strangers about it. Especially if you're a politician. Because - even within "real" journalism - the public has a right to know.

P.S. If I ever open a bar for journalists, I'll call it "Off the Record". What happens there, stays there.

Posted by Julie at 10:27 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 1, 2008

December!!!

December 1st marks a turning point every year. Before this date, anyone who gives me Christmas candy becomes an instant enemy, I have black coffee weeks rather than buy milk in Christmas-themed cartons, and if I hear a Christmas song, I panic. It's more than just a protest against Christmas products for sale in October - any Christmasy feeling at the wrong time of year must be avoided at all costs.

My first winter in Norway gave me such an intense Christmasy feeling that no other December can ever compete with it. For the first time I could remember, everyone around me was celebrating Christmas in the same traditional Norwegian way. No one wished me Happy Holidays or made me decorate a paper holiday tree. Instead we sang actual religious songs in class, counted down the days of December before school started and spent most of class time preparing for our end of semester Christmas show. And Christmas was gloriously, definitely white, not "green" which really means gray and brown.

These days, we prepare for exams instead of singing for our parents. And if I use up my Christmasy feeling in mid-October, when it starts to feel cold and drunk people start singing Christmas carols at me when I walk home, then there won't be any left by the time I'm falling asleep over my text books and worrying about having time to buy - let alone affording - Christmas gifts in mid-December.

Starting today, I feel Christmasy without any guilt. Let's hope it lasts.

Posted by Julie at 8:37 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 23, 2008

Middlesex

I read Middlesex earlier this fall, and now I think the author Jeffrey Eugenides could tell me any kind of story and I would love it. I won't go into detail when it comes to plot. The Amazon review basically sums up my own thoughts on the book - including the sadness I felt when it was almost over. So here is an excerpt.

Desdemona had found Lefty on our kitchen floor, lying next to his overturned coffee cup. She knelt beside him and pressed her ear to his chest. When she heard no heartbeat, she cried out his name. Her wail echoed off the kitchen's hard surfaces: the toaster, the oven, the refrigerator. Finally she collapsed against his chest. In the silence that followed, however, Desdemona felt a strange emotion rising inside her. It spread in the space between her panic and grief. It was like a gas inflating her. Soon her eyes snapped open as she recognized the emotion: it was happiness. Tears were running down her face, she was already berating God for taking her husband from her, but on the other side of these proper emotions was an altogether improper relief. This was it: the worst thing. For the first time in her life my grandmother had nothing to worry about.

Emotions, in my experience, aren't covered in single words. I don't believe in "sadness", "joy," or "regret." Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I'd like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, "the happiness that attends disaster." Or: "the disappointment of sleeping with one's fantasy." I'd like to show how "intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members" connects with "the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age." I'd like to have a word for "the sadness inspired by failing restaurants" as well as for "the excitement of getting a room with a minibar." I've never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I've entered the story, I need them more than ever. I can't just sit back and watch from a distance anymore. From here on in, everything I'll tell you is colored by subjective experience of being part of events.

From Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, (pages 216-217 in the 2003 Bloomsbury paperback edition)

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November 16, 2008

BuyAnotherCupYouCheapskate

The Dutch Coffee Company café doesn't charge for WiFi, but changes its network name into OrderAnotherCoffeeAlready, BuyAnotherCupYouCheapskate, BuyCoffeeForCuteGirlOverThere? etc.

I would definitely prefer that to the Paris system of disconnecting me after 20 minutes.

Via Freakonomics, Adrants and CyrusFarivar.

 

 

 

Related blog posts

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November 12, 2008

Blogging SO 2004, according to WIRED

How do you make bloggers write about you and link to you? You do like WIRED: tell them that blogging is a waste of time and that they should stop.

Norwegian free magazine Spirit predicted the death of blogging way back in October 2005. Back then, podcasting was the new way to communicate. I argued that this is like saying books are over because of books-on-tape.

People read, even if they also listen to the radio and watch television. I believe this is true both online and off. And I believe that Twitter, Facebook and blogging are three very different ways of communicating, and that you don't have to choose one over the other.

This got me thinking about why and how I blog these days, and whether this will change as I write more for actual publications.

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November 8, 2008

Now what?

election

The election is over. As John Scalzi writes, I finally have my brain back.

The short film I worked on two weeks ago starts with my character having a monologue about the upcoming election: "Seriously, when the US election is over, I don't know what I'm going to talk about or even think about. I have become an election geek. My day hasn't started until I've checked the polls and read every article I can find. I've been late for school because I was reading about the election online." Her voice is gradually drowned out by En Vogue and Salt'n'Pepa's "What a Man" as the main character's love interest enters the scene in slow motion (no, seriously). Thing is, that monologue wasn't in the script. I just started talking and that's what came out of my mouth.

I'm not as bad as the people in this video from The Onion. I wasn't obsessed with the candidates, just the election. The way it all works, all the geekiness behind the politics. Ok, so maybe that's actually worse.


Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

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November 7, 2008

I write like a man

Apparently, this blog was written by a man. The Gender Analyzer thinks so, at least. This site uses a text analyzer to determine who is behind blogs. I tested my  "Julie in English" category, as well as a few single posts. The result was the same every time: I blog like a man.

The Gender Analyzer only guesses the writer's gender correctly 55% of the time, according to their own poll of people who have used the Analyzer. Even so, I'm really curious as to how the gender is guessed. I mean, my blog is written by a woman, but the domain name belongs to a man, and I've quoted and linked to a lot of men. Even so, I can't understand why my "European bitch" essay about American fashion sense was so very male - thanks to the excerpt from Sarah Turnbull's book, that post was written by two women! Perhaps there is something to Anna's theory in the comments of this post - but if communicating like a guy means I don't say "five minutes" when I mean 45, and I don't say "Nothing's wrong" when I mean "It's all your fault.", then fine. (Really, FINE, and by that I don't mean "shut up").

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October 16, 2008

American politics translated

As requested by Julie Balise, here is a pretty direct translation of my article explaining American electoral sociology to Norwegian readers. Until she succeeds at learning Norwegian through Facebook, I promise to blog in English as much as possible.

 

This article was published in Argument 3-2008. It is based on a midterm exam in the subject "American Presidential Elections". The exam question was: "Who will win the Democratic primary elections in Ohio and Texas - and why?" I predicted the results - that's how predictable American politics can be.

I took a break from studying for my midterm in "American Presidential Elections" to read the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. Their website about the American elections was depressing: rumors about Obama using cocaine, and Obama's wife described as the sexiest woman in American politics. Fortunately Aftenposten writes good articles about the elections too, but they don't write much about the candidates' politics. It's not Aftenposten's fault if Norwegians get the idea that American presidential elections are all about rumors, polls, support from the right people, dramatic media coverage, scandal and only the vaguest of political statements. That's the way it is.

The study of American elections involves as much statistics, media studies and sociology as it does political science. Scholars predict election results based on average age and average income in states. This is called "electoral sociology". Norwegian media publish humorous articles on the typical SV (Socialist Left) or Høyre (Right) voter, but this kind of knowledge is essential for the study of American politics. Some demographic "laws" have turned out to be myths. (For example, it's not true that Latin Americans always vote for Hillary Clinton.) Politicians still pay specialists to tell them which groups of people support them and where these people live. Add changes in constituencies and varying election rules from state to state and party to party, and commenting politics in the US turns out to be all about numbers.

Every vote counts

According to Steven Ekovich, professor in Political Science and History at The American University of Paris, Americans choose a President according to these criteria: The individual candidate's personality is the most important, party identification comes second, and political views and issues are third. For Ekovich, who describes himself as a "poll junkie", no day is complete without the newest polls, election results and political commentary. But every vote counts, whether it comes from a political expert or someone who votes by gut feeling and tradition. And most voters in the US belong to the second category.

The importance of personality is not surprising, given the President's political and symbolic power. It explains how important it is for Americans what Obama's pastor thinks, and how common it is for candidates' families to become public figures. American presidents are not just elected representatives; they are symbols of the American people.

Voting like their parents

Isn't party identification an expression of political views? Not necessarily. The ideological differences are not as clear in American politics as they are in European politics. Both the major parties are on the right, and the differences between representatives within each party can be just as important as the differences between the parties. Both the Republican and the Democratic Party are coalitions of local parties and state parties with varying views. Presidential candidates should not provoke the different factions of their own party, and this explains how vague the candidates often are about where they really stand. Because of this, identification with one or the other party is often a result of tradition and demographics.

Over a third of Americans are independents. In other words, they are not party members. Even so, almost all identify with either the Democrats or the Republicans, long before they are old enough to vote. Most vote like their parents. American election scholars talk about "red states" and "blue states", where one party always wins. With only two effective parties, switching to another party is far more dramatic than it is if there are more parties - it means you're going over to "the other side".

Demographic laws

Identification with individual candidates is obviously not as stable as party identification. You can be born into a Democratic family, but you're not born knowing who Barack Obama is. Even so, there's a lot of electoral sociology within parties.

In this year's primary elections there are only minor political differences between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But political views do not decide the election. Style, personality and image do. Here the candidates differ, and this determines who will vote for them.

In general, women, those over 65, those with low income, and people without college degrees, vote for Hillory Clinton rather than Barack Obama. This group has been called "Clinton's coalition". Obama also has a coalition: black, college-educated, rich, but liberal (as in not conservative), and independent. With one exception - Nevada - Obama has won all caucuses.

Between February 5th (Super Tuesday) and March 4th (primary elections in Ohio and Texas), Obama won all primary elections. The media used the word "momentum". Momentum happens when it looks like you're about to win. The more Obama won, the more likely it was that he would win even more. In a political system where there is only one winner - the opposite of our own proportional representation system - cheering for the winner is a good option. Some commentators wrote that talking about momentum was exaggeration - until the primary election in Wisconsin. After Wisconsin, articles where written with headlines like "It's Over" - many people believed Clinton was finished unless she won Ohio and Texas.

Predictable in Ohio and Texas

Wisconsin broke the demographic rules. Women, Americans without college educations, and members of the Democratic party voted for Obama. Among the groups where Obama usually finds support, he was even further ahead of Clinton than before.

The results in Ohio and Texas were no surprise, however. Clinton won Ohio by more than 10 percentage points. In Texas, where primaries are held both by primary and caucus, the results are complicated. Clinton got 50.9% of the votes, against Obama's 47.7%. He still won 99 delegates, while she only won 94.

Demographically Ohio is a Clinton state. Compared to the US as a whole, Ohio is older and poorer, with a lower percentage of women and people with college educations. Obama's coalition is not strong in Ohio. However, there are a lot of students in Ohio, and young voters tend to support Obama. On the other hand, young voters tend to vote less. The rules for the primary in Ohio meant that many Ohio citizens had already voted when Obama won Wisconsin, weakening the impact of momentum. Ohio voted by primary, not caucus, which is also good for Clinton.

Texas was less certain, and the result itself turned out to be uncertain. Compared to the US as a whole, Texas has a lower percentage of white people and black people, and far more Latin Americans. One demographic "law" which has turned out to be a myth, is that Latin Americans vote for Clinton. Texas did well under Bill Clinton, and Clinton has strong ties to Texas, particularly among Latin Americans. On the other hand, even though there are fewer black people in Texas than in the US in general, the percentage is twice as high as in Wisconsin. Demographically Texas is similar to California (which Clinton won by 8 percentage points), but with a larger black population.

The voting rules in Texas are complicated, but they worked to Obama's advantage. The delegates were selected both through primary and caucus. Extra delegates were given to areas with a previous record of high voter turnout. These are the areas where Obama's traditional supporters live. Clinton's Latin American supporters generally live in areas without extra delegates. So Clinton could get more votes, even though Obama "won".

Texas is a Republican state. In Texas the wealthy and educated whites - who would have supported Obama - probably don't vote in the Democratic primary at all. And it will be almost impossible for the Democrats to win Texas in the actual presidential election. Ohio is one of the few states where the choice between a Democratic or a Republican candidate could go either way.

New rules?

Obama has mobilized new voters. He is popular among the young, but he has also gotten older Americans who have never voted before, to register as voters for the first time. That means he has changed the demographics of American voters. The old rules don't necessarily apply. When Americans choose their President, many of these new voters might not vote at all if voting for Obama is not an option.

"To draw a new political map, you need to believe that the demographics have changed," says Ekovich. "Obama does." This is one of the most important differences between him and Clinton. In other words: even when you describe the candidates' political views, you're talking about demographics.

Posted by Julie at 1:04 AM | TrackBack

October 13, 2008

In an alternate universe, I'm American

"I was so nearly an American," writes Stephen Fry. So was I, as everyone knows. Stephen has an American alter-ego he calls Steve. Steve is confident to the point of rudeness, eats jelly, wears jeans and calls his mother "Mom." I can pronounce Julie in English or in Norwegian. The idea of an alternate life - a Julie who moved to the US at age four and never went back to Norway - is fascinating. Whenever I speak American English with real Americans, or find myself saying "we" and meaning "all Americans", I wonder who I could have been.

I've lived two incomplete lives - I was an American child without a future and a Norwegian teenager without a past.

It sounds dramatic, but I thought this idea for the first time when I was still an overly dramatic American little girl. "Julie can be a bit over-dramatic sometimes," my kindergarten teacher wrote on my first report card. I didn't care about report cards. I had an active imagination, and people who didn't play along with the story line in my head, annoyed me. Every now and then, I would go to school and introduce myself as someone completely different - a princess, a witch, my own older sister. I spent at least an hour reading alone in my room every day. No one (except my sister who wasn't allowed in my room during "quiet time") seemed to think this was a problem. I had plenty of friends and prominent positions in several "secret" playground clubs. I was the girl who got the lead in school plays. I took writing classes and acting classes after school, and my short stories were five times as long as the other students'. I was bad at math - I got the answers right, but I was too slow. I didn't care what my friends wore to school, as long as my own outfit was just the way I wanted it to be. I preferred dresses, but my mom made me wear sneakers to school, and sneakers with dresses was a fashion crime to me, so I started wearing jeans. I was a Girl Scout, which meant crafts and sleeping over in the Science Museum. Because I was Norwegian, I couldn't eat candy except for Saturdays, my parents didn't want me to watch TV as much as I wanted to, and I got the day off on May 17th. And I knew I was going to move away from everything and everyone soon.

This American girl didn't grow up. Some time between age ten and eleven, she stopped existing. When I turned 13, I was a Norwegian teenager. I studied my classmates' back pockets and learned that there were at most three acceptable brands of jeans in the world. I was thrilled when fashions changed and wearing skirts was finally "allowed". I was the girl with "too many opinions", the girl with the best grades in the class, serious, professional - elected into the student government every year, despite never running for office. I was really good at math. I still didn't care about report cards, but I worried about seeming like a nerd. I was a walking dictionary, but I didn't know the words to children's songs. I got lost in places where my classmates had grown up. My friends had a shared childhood which I couldn't remember.

At the start of ninth grade, I came back from a summer in the US, with layers in my hair, an unknown brand of jeans and "power bead" bracelets on my wrists. I had gotten a glimpse of American high school, and I desperately wished I knew which clique I should have been in. I didn't fit in at my small town Norwegian school, but I wasn't an outsider either. Because I had grown up in the US, there was a convenient excuse whenever I stepped outside the line. My clothes weren't European designer brands, but they were American. I didn't drink alcohol, but I organized Halloween parties and brought candy corn to class. Of course I was "good at school" - I got a head start by being bilingual. I was never going to do drugs, because that might make it difficult to move back to the US some day. My classmates seemed to accept these excuses. I did too. I had a single explanation for every difficult teenage emotion: I don't really belong here.

As I write this, I'm wearing clothes from France, Sweden and Spain, and shoes from Germany. I'm listening to Swedish music. In Fake Plastic France - the American student community in Paris - I was so European. I didn't wear flip flops, I didn't go running and I would never drink soda with food. I casually paid a small fortune for underwear. I didn't know what beer pong was, and I preferred wine anyway. In journalism class, I argued against the public's right to know the names and addresses of crime suspects, but I impressed my teacher by knowing about Rawls' veil of ignorance. I joked that I wished there were no other Norwegian girls at the American University of Paris. Being the only one would have given me another convenient excuse for weirdness. 

But I know that I'm not me because I'm European or because I'm American or because I'm both. I like my Swedish indie pop, French lingerie, Italian coffee, and American television because my friends do. People don't belong in places. People belong with people. As a Norwegian girl, I've met people who are so important to me I can't imagine a life without them. Dreaming of an alternate reality in which these people don't exist to me, actually hurts. But I still do.

I wonder if over-dramatic Julie would have gotten in to Harvard. If she would have followed American dating rules - if those rules even exist. If she would have been more confident, more ambitious, more naive than me. If she would have had an easier life, a more interesting life. She would have known what to vote in elections. She would have longed for Freia milk chocolate rather than Ben&Jerry's cookie dough ice cream. Her classmates wouldn't have held her responsible when the US went to war. She would idolize Norway, because she only saw it in summer. Her relationship with her grandparents would be uncomplicated, but distant. She wouldn't ski, but she would ride a bike. It would take her longer to learn that race and culture are not uncomplicated outside of elementary school classrooms. She might have worried about being too average rather than too much of an individual.

Moving away from a friend is the least painful way to lose one, and having grown up in the same place as your classmates doesn't mean you'll never be lonely. American Julie might have learned that before I did. But she would have missed out on most of my friendships. It's hard to imagine anything in her alternate reality life making up for that.

For Julie Balise, probably the closest I'll ever get to meeting my American adult self.

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September 7, 2008

This week

Sunday morning. I have a wheaten terrier sleeping with her feet in my lap, and luxury pesto for breakfast. (Both a direct result of a visit to my parents yesterday). My plans for the day: a walk in the woods with my dog and my best friend, and hopefully skyping with another close friend this evening. Life can be so quietly fantastic sometimes.

 

This week...

I watched
Jonas Gahr Støre speaking to students about the UN. Støre is the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs. For International Studies students at the University of Oslo, having a thing for this guy is as required as passing exams and handing in papers on time.
Steven Fry talking about the internet
A video on how men should hug - Glad I'm not a guy.

I read
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (started between Thailand and Cambodia, almost finished now)
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (read the first hundred pages while waiting in line with other Jonas fans - ahead of almost all of them actually)
Hjorthen's example of how statistics can be misinterpreted (in Norwegian)
Futurese - how will we speak English in 1000 years?
Linda Grant on the two populations of the United States
The Clothes Horse on missing friends

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July 24, 2008

Dressed for anything

Anyone who knows Norwegian culture, knows that the social norms are very different in the woods and mountains than they are in the cities. Norwegian skiers and hikers greet and even smalltalk with strangers, but this will never happen on an Oslo street (unless the Norwegians are drunk). The rules of fashion vary too. One of my first blog posts ever was about the "hytte look". After spending a weekend in the woods with my new college class, I wrote about the way Norwegians dress when they head up to mountain cottages. There is an unspoken rule that even if the only "hiking" you do is walking for half an hour on an asphalt road, you should still put on your "hiking outfit" (Like this or this or this, or maybe something like this). 

After a semester with Americans in Paris, and recently entertaining an American Eurail tourist for a long weekend, I've had some interesting Europe vs. US fashion conversations. During one of these conversations, I realized that when Norwegians leave Oslo and head up into the woods, they become Americans - friendly, but badly dressed.

Despite the many "dress like a European" tips in American travel books and websites (an example), I can usually spot the Americans on any European city street. Not only are travellers in general easily recognizable with their philosophy of "in order to be ready for anything on this trip, I must always dress as if I were about to climb Mount Everest, even if I'm just walking down a Norwegian street".  But as my American backpacker friend explained, they don't want to overdress, because then it looks like they care too much.

"So I should make an effort to dress down so that Americans won't think I'm making an effort?" I ask. Maybe I'm too much of a European city girl, but to me, that doesn't make sense. 

There are sensible rules for what to wear in more or less extreme conditions. But often the most important reason for wearing hiking clothes or “travelling” clothes is to show the others that you are above such silly things as fashion, that all you care about is practical matters, and that you are now leaving your superficial, fashion-conscious city life behind and returning to nature. And we all know that high-tech windproof jackets are much more natural than, say, cashmere sweaters.

Coco Chanel once said: "I don't understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little - if only out of politeness. And then, you never know, maybe that's the day she has a date with destiny. And it's best to be as pretty as possible for destiny." When I think of dressing so that I'm ready for anything, I have something more Chanel-ish in mind. She also said: "Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury." So I never buy anything uncomfortable, and that includes never buying anything I think is ugly.

I've wanted to read a chapter of Almost French to both this backpacker and many of the other people who think I "try too hard". Almost French is a highly recommended book about an Australian girl who visits a man (Frédéric) in Paris, and decides to stay with him there. Continue reading for a short version of this chapter, which explains the Paris approach to dressing.

Perhaps my most revealing lesson in French dress standards occurs one Saturday morning soon after moving to Paris. Rushing to the bakery to get a baguette and croissants, I chuck on an old, shapeless jumper and my warmup pants, which I'd rediscovered at the bottom of a wardrobe when we were packing up our place at Levallois. Catching sight of me, Frédéric looks appalled.

"Warmup pants?" He's never seen me wearing them before.

"What's wrong with that? I'm only going to the bakery."

There is a second's pause. Frédéric's eyes implore me. Finally, he manages to speak.

"But it's not nice for the baker!"

(...)

Paris fashion is not about blindly following trends irrespective of whether or not they suit your body shape. It's no coincidence that movements like punk and grunge never really took off here. How unattractive. The French don't dress to make political statements. (...) The essence of French style can be summed up in two words, which linked together are loaded with meaning: bon goût. Good taste.

(...)

It isn't until I interview the fashion designer Inès de la Fressange that I truly understand Frédéric's abhorrence of warmup pants.

(...)

"Do you find that it's, you know, an effort trying to look good all the time?"

(...)

"To stay the whole day neat and impeccable is much more comfortable than looking like you're in your pajamas. You see, these women with tight leggings and huge sweaters, they imagine that because they are a little round it's better if they wear something big. But they just look worse. It is much more comfortable to wear a jacket that is well cut in a nice fabric than it is to look awful."

She pronounces the last word "offal". And suddenly it's quite clear to me that I have spent a good part of my life looking offal. Fifteen minutes with Inès and I've mentally chucked out all my baggy sweaters for those nights in front of the telly. (...) Never wear shorts in Paris, they're only for tourists, she declares. I cringe, recalling how I'd arrived at the airport for that first summer holiday wearing shorts. What was I thinking? "When it's very 'ot, it's better to wear long pants in linen or cotton. You would feel more 'appy, and we would feel more 'appy too." 

And there it is - the explanation for Frédéric's pathological aversion to warmup pants. The simple statement that instantly elucidates why in hotel rooms he'll remove any paintings from the wall that don't meet his approval. (...) "They're ugly. I didn't feel well." (...) He can't help it, you see. The thing is, the French are highly sensitive to aesthetics. Anything unattractive - even something as insignificant as an underdressed tourist - can make them uncomfortable. It spoils the lovely scenery. They become irritable. Unwell, as Frédéric put it.

(...)

Catch me on a good day and I can look soignée and stylish. But on a bad day, racing through the streets with wild hair and flying laces, I must leave a trail of "unwell" Parisians in my wake.

Excerpt from Almost French by Sarah Turnbull

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July 3, 2008

Summer in Oslo, part two: Tourist attractions

Three favorite tourist attractions in Oslo:

1. The Norwegian Folk Museum. I work there because it's a great museum. And since I work there, it's a great museum. This is an open-air history museum - the world's oldest actually. It's basically a collection of historical buildings from different regions in Norway, complete with real Norwegian guides in real Norwegian national costumes (bunad is the Norwegian word). Of course I kind of have to put my steady summer job (I've lost count of how long I've been working there) on this list, but I seriously think this is the one museum you should go to, if you only have time (or cash) for one. After a few hours here, you will have experienced Norway on so many levels. There's a church from the 1200s and several grassy-roofed farmhouses from the 1600s, but you can also see a Norwegian student apartment from the 1980s and a Pakistani-Norwegian apartment from the 2000s. And about half of the visitors to this museum are Norwegians - it's not a tourist trap, it's something Oslo-people enjoy doing every summer. Take the 30 bus to Folkemuseet, and while you're in the area, you can check out the Viking Ships and Kon Tiki, if you have time/money/interest.

2. Vigelandsparken/Frognerparken. This park by Majorstuen metro station goes by two names. Technically, the first refers to the sculpture park by Gustav Vigeland, also known as "the park with all the naked statues", and the second is the rest of the area. Again, this is a good chance to do the touristy things that real Oslo people actually do. As far as I know, Vigelandsparken is a unique art experience. Frognerparken includes a swimming pool, and plenty of those sun-craving, beer-drinking Norwegians I mentioned earlier. Oh, and this is free!

3. The Opera House Sure, you could see an opera or a ballet here. But the building itself is a tourist attraction. It's brand new, it's right by the main train station, and you can walk on the roof and have a picnic there - but you can't drink alcohol or roller-skate. Here's a three-minute video of the whole building process.

See also:

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June 29, 2008

Summer in Oslo

This post is obviously for Peter and for Craig.

Here are four things you need to know about Oslo, especially if you're a student visiting this summer.

1. Whether you are arriving by boat or train (including airport express train ) your very first impression of Oslo is not likely to be amazing. It will get better. With the exception of the new Opera House, get out of that central train station/lower half of Karl Johan street area fast. Go east, west, north, south - it will be a step up from this no matter what.

2. Norwegians never get enough sun. If it's a sunny day, parks will be filled with people getting as much of it as they can. Norwegians believe that being indoors on a sunny day is sinful. I'm sure 80% of the summer activities Oslo-dwellers will recommend happen outdoors, about half of them are variations on the drinking-beer-in-a-park activity. See rule number 3.

3. Alcohol in Norway is tricky. Because of taxes and regulations, it will be more expensive than you are used to, and harder to find. This is not really a problem if you get used to it. Actually, this is really annoying. Beer can be bought in grocery stores until 8 PM on weekdays and 6 PM on Saturdays. Wine and spirits must be bought at "Vinmonopolet" (literally, The Wine Monopoly), the one "chain" of stores allowed to sell this. These stores usually close at 6 PM on weekdays and around 3 on Saturdays. And you can't buy anything on Sunday, of course. Bars don't follow these rules, but they will be more expensive than you are used to. Again, get away from Karl Johan, or think like a Norwegian and drink grocery store beer in a park. This is technically not legal, but no one cares as long as you're not being a nuisance.*

4. Norwegians do not eat out much. Although you'll probably find every kind of coffee shop, sandwich place and restaurant in Oslo, the Norwegian way to eat is to have breakfast and dinner at home and bring sandwiches wrapped in paper to work/school. Many Norwegians have turned their coffee to-go into a morning ritual, but paying someone to prepare their food for them is a special treat. So if you're on a budget, you can't afford to not visit grocery stores. (If you do need a quick ready-made meal, there are 7-Eleven and DeliDeLuca everywhere.)

Now you know the basics. I'll be back with more tips - my favorite tourist attractions and places to get coffee/beer/food.

* I'm sure some readers are rolling their eyes at how much space I'm giving this alcohol issue. But if you're a student from a country where you're used to just buying a bottle of wine whenever for whatever price you feel like paying, and you're arriving in Oslo at 2 PM on a Saturday, you'll be glad you read this.

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May 5, 2008

May in Paris

Since we have so little time left in this city, each day should be "miraculous", according to Julie*. Finals? What finals?

Miraculous things to do in Paris on a long weekend:

Soundtrack for all these miracles:  

The Legionnaire's Lament, by The Decemberists

* According to this Julie, and also according to Julie Balise

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April 29, 2008

Pashminas

Another important message: Apparently, pashminas are back. Only they are to be worn wrapped once around your neck, and then dangling in front of you. In other words, exactly the way I have been wearing them for years. Alert the press, people, scarves should now be worn as scarves.

The last time there was a new scarf trend, it was the "Mette Marit look", named after my country's crown princess. Amazingly, she tied scarves around her neck, like in the picture on the right. Unbelievable. Despite the fact that people have been keeping their necks warm in this very way since the beginning of time, it was renamed after her. Children of anti-monarchy parents were no longer allowed to wear their scarves in this way. Seriously, they were told to go back and refashion their Palestina scarves before leaving the house.

So, just for the record, I would like to have stated, publicly, exactly which political statements I am making when I wrap my pashminas around my neck. I do not support the blond in the picture (I think she could be anyone basically.) And I have not just bought a gray scarf because I read in a press release that scarves should be "greige, foie gras or slate". I wear my pashminas as a protest against sore throat. And to show my support of color coordination.

Update, April 27th 2008: I am setting fashion trends again, along with every other normal person. Nice to know that I am super-fashionable without even trying.

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April 26, 2008

Testing...

I am testing Windows Live Writer. If this works, blogging without a stable Internet connection will be possible. But I actually started this post to tell you that I am not planning on blogging that much this month. It is my last month in Paris, the weather gods seem to have come to their senses after my rant, and I would like to spend my time doing things that do not require me to be inside near a source of electricity.

Right now for example, I wouldn't mind being on the Champ de Mars with my classmates, after having said "Yes please!" to supposedly "Italian" vodka smoothies and Czech beer, rather than: "No thank you, I need to write this afternoon." AUP just had "world's fair", where the nationalities of the school are represented with tables of food and alcohol. I have had coffee from Saudi Arabia and food from Thailand, Sweden, the USA, Romania and Armenia for lunch. And now I'm back in a very much deserted university library, sitting by an open window and hearing birds chirp in the courtyard outside. I am writing a paper on Joseph Nye. And you know what? I'm really enjoying the day, even though I'm stuck inside. And if I get some work done now, I will reward myself by spending the evening on the steps in front of Sacre Cæur.

I will be leaving Paris on the morning of Thursday, May 22nd.

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April 14, 2008

Rant of the day: Parisian weather

Update, a few hours after this was written: After reading your comments, I have learned that this weird weather is happening all over Europe. Maybe I should just be thankful that I am experiencing it in Paris of all places. Whatever, I needed to write a rant today. If it wasn't the weather, it would have been the schoolchildren in front of me in line at the boulangerie. And that would have been meaner of me.

In Zadie Smith's On Beauty (recommended by the way), an Englishman who lives in New England reflects on how delusional New Englanders are about weather. He is annoyed by the way they say things like: "Oh, England. It's cold there, right?". Because let's face it: New England is cold. In the summer, it is humid and hot and uncomfortable unless you are under water. But in all the months when you want it to be warm, it really isn't. I practically live in the Arctic, but I have never been tipped over by the wind (as in standing still and then falling, only because the wind is blowing) in my home country. No, that only happened to me in Arlington, Massachusetts.

I would like to expand on this character's theory: All people, except Scandinavians, are delusional about the weather. I've been compiling lists in my mind ever since I got to Paris: things I miss when I'm here, things I will miss when I go back, and things I definitely WILL NOT miss when I go back. And it does not make sense at all that Parisian weather is on the last list. Norway is supposed to be cold and miserable, right? Norwegians are supposed to be able to handle any weather, right? Guess not, because I am not handling this weather well.

Today for example, I put on sunglasses as I left my apartment. As I walked out of my courtyard, the Parisian weather gods saw me, saw the smile on my face and decided that I was just too happy. Enter HAIL. When was the last time it hailed in Oslo?

Yes, it's cold up north. But it is predictably cold. I walked outside in a tank top, eating ice cream, last Thursday.  The following Sunday, IT SNOWED. No wonder I keep getting sick. And no wonder Parisians are fashion-conscious - in order to dress for the weather, they need to change three times a day.

And now that I am inside, in class, it's not raining. The forces of nature are against me.

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April 6, 2008

Since you asked: A collection of answers

So, you thought I was going to answer every question in its own post? Sorry, that is not possible - do you want me to get stressed?* Here are some answers to some of your questions:

-What was your favorite book at age thirteen?

I know I'm not being terribly original, but it was The Lord of the Rings.

-How old were you the first time you had a crush on someone?
It's a question of definition, really. Because you think: “Oh, so this is what it's like to have a crush on someone.” And then a little while later: “No, wait, this is more intense. This is what it feels like. Last time was nothing.” And then: “No, no. This is the real thing.” And then eventually “crush” is not a strong enough word. So I could say 11. Or 12. Or 13.

-Which of the following does not fit in, and why? A: A Bear B: Rune Gerhardsen C: NSB
Interesting. I should think up a really good response to this, but not right now.

-Which sexual fetish do you find to be the least attractive?
I am sure that no matter what I suggest, the least attractive one will be something I have not yet heard of. And I don't really want to start that conversation in my comments.

-Which Tori Amos album do you consider to be the best?
Technically, I only have two whole albums: The Beekeeper and American Doll Posse, and they are so different that they can barely be compared. It really depends on my mood.  The Beekeeper got some pretty bad reviews for being “safe”, “the kind of music you listen to while doing the dishes” and “Tori Amos for people who don't really like Tori Amos”. I think it's beautiful, although I get those points. But I do listen to safe, pretty music while I do the dishes. American Doll Posse is more of a rock album, I guess, less just Tori and her piano(s). I also have the best-of album that came out before these two. It's called Tales of a Librarian. I would say that these are three favorite songs, in no particular order: “Sleeps with butterflies” from The Beekeeper, “A sorta fairy-tale” from Scarlett's Walk and “Bouncing off clouds” from American Doll Posse. I cannot believe that I, of all people, am officially writing about music now.

-White wine or red wine?
Usually, red. Having red wine with white wine food annoys me less than the opposite situation. This is probably because I have grown up with a father who will drink red wine with shrimp, which is officially considered disgusting. In my opinion, a good red wine is better than a good white wine. However, a not-so-good white wine is better than a not-so-good red wine. And given my tendency to spill, white is safer.

*By the way, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this article. It's hard to tell how serious it actually is, and if the news peg is two recent deaths, it should be serious. 

Posted by Julie at 10:24 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

April 1, 2008

Since you asked: My guilty pleasures

Since you asked, (and then in some cases, pleaded via Facebook), I will start the answers. Believe me, I wanted to do this earlier, but I've been busy. And I hate not having internet access at home. But let's not waste time complaining. This is an answer to the question: Which movie and which music album do you consider to be a guilty pleasure, i.e. something you'd hate to admit?

In theory, one should not have guilty pleasures - be proud of your taste, embrace your individuality, and all that stuff - but here's my not-so-secret secret: I don't have taste or individuality when it comes to music. Nearly all my music is in my collection not because of the music itself, but because a friend likes it or it reminds me of something. That doesn't mean I don't like music, or that I don't like some music better than other music, but the reason I end up listening to any song is not because I seek it out, but because it just arrives. I hear a song once, it happens to be going through my mind when something important happens, and if that something is something I want to think about later, then I like the song and I find some way to own it. Or a friend says: "I think you'll like this," and usually, I do. No pleasures can be guilty as long as they either can be described as the result of sentimental memories or recommendations from friends.

I'm sure I'm not alone in this, but most of the other people who have described themselves in this way have turned out to mainly listen to Top 40 radio stuff. And I listen to, well thanks to Last.fm, see for yourself.

Speaking of Last.fm, that site has redefined musical guilty pleasures. The new question is: "What do you turn off scrobbling to listen to?" Hmmm... Usually I turn off my scrobbling when I want to listen to something that I have already listened to a lot. I guess that would be my guilty pleasure. Sometimes I just want to listen to a song or a short playlist repeatedly and it looks weird on my Last.fm charts.

I am being kicked out of the library. I will continue next time I have internet and time.

By the way, sometimes I do blog about music:

Posted by Julie at 11:24 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 24, 2008

The French according to the New York Times

This is all very true. And with the exception of their horrible rules for interviews, I generally like the French and their attitudes. I like the idea of a country where fitting in means you need a knowledge of history, lingerie, manners and always choosing the right outfit. And the double bisou is a lot more practical than I once thought. I mean, a hug is actually more intimate, in my opinion, and kissing the air next to someone's cheek doesn't require you to put down your shopping bags.

Posted by Julie at 3:22 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 20, 2008

Home

I'm not sure what it was. A couple of sunny days in a row always helps my mood. Maybe it was the five different people who asked me for directions in both English and French in fifteen minutes - and the fact that I had answers for all of them. Or how happy I was to see my American friends when they got back from spring break, and how much I had missed them - each one specifically and individually for different reasons. When my mom and then friends of my friends visited Paris, I could point out interesting things for them to see. I have a favorite bench on L'Esplanade des Invalides, and I have internet access there. I understand enough French to eavesdrop on conversations. And - this might just be my imagination - but sometimes I can pass people on the street.

For whatever reason, as I rode the escalator out of the Invalides metro station on Sunday afternoon, with a view of the Eiffel tower, the golden dome under which Napoleon is, and my own building, I felt like I was home. I live in Paris.

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March 11, 2008

Being a tourist in one's own city

After my week "back home in Oslo", I went "back home to Paris", and my mother visited me for a few days. My parents usually don't enjoy touristy things, and they have brought me up to dislike them too. With my family, visiting a foreign country involves getting back in touch with whatever friends we have who are currently living there, and following them around while they go to school and go grocery shopping. Naturally, the original plan was for my mom to follow me around and observe my daily life in Paris, but since there are no classes, most of my friends are travelling Europe, and watching me blog from the library gets old, we gave in to tourism instead. 

I realized that I was never a tourist in this city. From the moment I got off the bus that took me from Charles de Guelle to Avenue Bosquet, I have been either busy or tired from having been busy. Not counting the pictures for the coffee shop reviews, I've taken maybe seven photographs, most of them really bad ones. So, nearly two months after first arriving in Paris, I opened a guide book. I read what travel writers have to say about my new home. I posed for photos in the classrooms, at the Louvre, inside Le Bon Marché, in front of Hôtel de Ville, and with the Eiffel Tower in the background at various times of day and night. I chose cafés based on which authors used to sit there. I got up early and walked in the rain to an outdoor market, just because it's more interesting than getting groceries at an actual store.

And I realized that there is no reason not to continue living like this. 

Posted by Julie at 5:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 26, 2008

A message from Europeans to Americans (Work in progress)

It's not that we dislike you. We just don't like you.

See, we don't know you. Our interaction with you so far has been limited to selling you “un pain au chocolat s'il vous plait” or being in the same metro car with you or passing you on the street (more likely standing in your way on the street). At this point in our relationship, your presence does not naturally fill us with joy or bring a smile to our face. Also, we do not really care if the rest of your day is nice. We do not wish you ill, but if the rest of your day is miserable, this will not affect us. Tomorrow, if we see you again, regardless of how your day was, you will still smile insanely, ask us what is up and then instantly change the subject or simply walk away before we have a chance to respond.

Posted by Julie at 2:26 PM | TrackBack

February 24, 2008

It's not that we dislike you. We just don't like you.

I have absolutely no time to blog right now, so naturally, that is all I want to do. But I won't. I will use the fact that my instincts are telling me to WRITE to actually write something for my school newspaper, where I have actual deadlines. Sorry, guys.

Meanwhile, American friends: When trying to understand us Europeans, remember this:

It's not that we dislike you. We just don't like you.

That really does explain everything, and if when I find the time, I will elaborate.

 

(Of course, the blog curse may set in, meaning I will not blog this because I have told people that I will. If so, I'm sorry, but it happens to everyone. I'm still waiting for RealClearPolitics' Horse Race blog to keep their promise to blog about the drawbacks of superdelegates. They promised.

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February 20, 2008

Coffee in Paris

I always thought that if I lived in Paris, I would have a favorite café just around the corner, where Parisians have noisy two-hour lunches with wine, while the friendly, yet efficient waiters know me by sight and start making me an espresso as I walk in the door. And then I moved here and learned a sad, little secret: Parisians are good at cafés and bad at the actual coffee.

Most French cafés use Robusta coffee, which is cheaper, can be stored for longer, and is generally considered to be of lower quality than Arabica coffee. About half of the coffee beans imported by the French are Robusta beans, according to the International Trade Forum. US coffee imports on the other hand, are composed of 76% Arabica and 24% Robusta. Canadian and German imports are similar to the US, and the Nordic countries barely import Robusta at all.

So how do you get good coffee in Paris? Italian brands illy and Lavazza use only Arabica, so look for their logos. Le Malar, for example, on the corner of rue St. Dominique and rue Malar, uses Lavazza. Look for brûleries, the French word for coffee roaster. And then there is Starbucks, which is becoming almost as common as the traditional Parisian café. Just make sure you get your Starbucks coffee in an actual cup, as paper cups cool the coffee too quickly, seriously damaging the taste. Starbucks gives you exactly what you expect from a chain: consistently decent coffee, but never a fantastic experience. So where do you go for fantastic?

On rue St. Dominique, there is a specialty coffee store called Comptoirs Richard, with a bar in the back of the shop where you can get excellent espresso. It’s a five minute walk from the Bosquet building, so this is a good choice for a quick dose of caffeine between classes.

If you want to sit down, read newspapers and use WiFi, try espressamente illy, near Opera. With shiny metal decor and a display of brightly colored espresso machines, the atmosphere is far from traditional or French - in fact, it might seem a little cold. You can still enjoy a pretty good espresso.

In the same area, you’ll find Verlet, with a long line of people waiting to get coffee for their homes, and gesticulating Parisians at every table. I loved their coffee cups, and I wouldn't mind occupying a table here for a few hours with friends. However, while their espresso was good, it would have been much better if it wasn't stored pre-ground in an open container. Once coffee has been ground, the taste is getting worse by the second. As a general rule, if you don’t see a coffee grinder behind the counter, get tea.

My favorite is Cafeotheque Soluna by Hôtel de Ville. The espresso, which changes daily, is delicious, the friendly baristas clearly know what they're doing, and the comfortable atmosphere makes me want to bring a stack of books and newspapers and stay for hours. And as Parisian clichés go, a favorite café overlooking the Seine is just as good as one around the corner.


List of recommended coffee shops:

Comptoirs Richard
145, rue St. Dominique
Nearest metro stop: Ecole Militaire
Espresso at the counter: 2.60
(There is another Comptoirs Richard at this address: 48, rue du Cherche-Midi)

espressemente illy
13, rue Auber
Nearest metro stop: Opera
Espresso at the counter: 2

Verlet
256, rue Saint-Honoré
Nearest metro stop: Pyramides or Madeleine
Espresso at the counter: 2.70

Caféotheque Soluna
52, rue de l’Hôtel de Ville
Nearest metro stop: Pont Marie
Espresso at the counter: 2 for coffee of the day, 2.50 for other espresso coffees

Cafés Amazone
11, rue Rambuteau
Nearest metro stop: Rambuteau (not far from Hôtel de Ville)
Espresso at the counter: 1 (cheapest espresso shot tested)

I have not had time to visit these, but they’re worth mentioning:
Malongo, a French coffee chain
Nespresso on Champs Elyssée
Hediard, 126, rue dur Bac, by Musée D'Orsay

Two brûleries, not cafés:
Brûleries de Ternes 10, rue Poncelet, by the Arc de Triomphe
Lapeyronie, 3, rue Brantôme, by Centre Georges Pompidou

Originally published in The Planet


Posted by Julie at 5:49 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 15, 2008

Reality checks

Internet in my apartment room has been off these past couple of days. Perhaps this was a good thing, as it stopped me writing a rant about my cold/pain from getting wisdom teeth/fever/missed deadlines/inability to find decent, healthy food/overdose of croissants, baguettes and quiches. Seriously, I'm in Paris, and I'm happy to be here. But to be honest, my thoughts are alternating between "Oh, wow, I'm in Paris, I can see the Eiffel tower!" and "Why did I leave my friends, family and coffee machine?" at the moment.

Also, I'm trying not to spend all my money at once. Paris is a fantastic place to spend money. There are so many restaurants/boulangeries/lingerie boutiques/department stores/movie theaters/clubs/museums/bars that I could make exploring, shopping, eating and drinking a full-time job. In fact, I did manage to make it at least a part-time job by writing coffee shop reviews for the school newspaper. I'm usually overly careful with money, but I've been a little bit worried that going on a four month vacation - as in not working while being in a new and interesting place - will ruin every single one of my good habits.

So I'm glad I got a double reality check from John Scalzi. First I read his "Unasked-For Advice to New Writers About Money". After the jump are the tips from the article and its comments that I should be repeating every day while I'm here. Then I reread "Being Poor is Knowing Exactly How Much Everything Costs" to remind myself how great my life is. 

Fashion is the enemy of personal economics.

 

It’s insane for a poor person to routinely pay other people to cook and serve them food.

 

You are likely to be surprised at how many things it turns out you don’t really need if you have to wait to get them, and can actually see the mass o’ cash you’re laying out for ‘em.

 

When you do buy something, buy the best you can afford. Cheap crap sucks.

 

Save your money.

 

I like my coffee. I like electricity more.

Posted by Julie at 6:43 PM | TrackBack

February 12, 2008

Passing strangers

During my first month in Paris, at an American university, (waiting for money from Norway), I have thought about what culture I really feel that I represent here. I am European because I drink wine without getting drunk, feel comfortable in heels and fishnets, and know that there is a price difference when someone calls my French number when I'm in France vs. if I go to Italy. I am Norwegian because I know that neither a croissant nor a baguette is real bread, think all drinks in Paris are cheap and arrive at parties wearing boots and woolen socks and carrying indoor party shoes. I am American because I sound like one and use "we" when I talk about the US.

The ultimate test might be how I handle passing strangers.

Paris is not designed to cope with this situation at all. I have this theory: There are too many Parisians in Paris. The metro basically works, as do the wide boulevards (although not near Galleries Lafayette) and even parts of the Champs Elyssée (although not on weekends). But the charming narrow cobble-stoned streets and the sidewalks on any street were not built for actual people who really need to walk from point A to point B. They were built for chairs and café tables, for smoking waiters, for signs advertizing the "formule" of the day, for slow-walkers who take their time choosing which boulangerie they should buy their morning croissant from, and of course, for small dogs.

Oslo wasn't designed for people either, but this doesn't matter. First off, there aren't that many people in Norway. Secondly, Norwegians don't like interacting with strangers. This fear is hard to explain to Americans. What Americans call "friendly small-talk", Norwegians call "crazy/drunk/American/all of the above stalker tendencies". Norwegians back off when I come anywhere near an invasion of their personal space, which means they get out of my way. French people on the other hand, will not notice that I am standing right behind them. To get past them, I must either yell: "Pardon!" or just walk around them, in the actual street. If I meet someone face-to-face, the general rule seems to be that I must wait while they walk first, no matter what. Americans on the other hand, say "Excuse me," even if they are nowhere near me, just in case. They also smile more.

The last time I went to the US, the first thing that happened when I got there, was that a stranger talked to me and smiled at me and it didn't feel weird. I knew I was home. When I came back to Europe, the first thing that happened was that a stranger ran over my feet with a loaded luggage cart and didn't apologize. And I knew I was home again.

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January 24, 2008

So, how is school?

Here's the answer to the number one question everyone is asking me these days: 

I go to French class in the mornings, Monday through Thursday. The class is small, and we were all tested to make sure we're on the same level. The course includes vocabulary and grammar, but so far, we've basically just talked a lot - which is good. On Mondays and Thursdays I take classes in economics and politics, including a class on the upcoming American presidential elections.

On Wednesday nights (until 9:30 PM!) I have journalism class. Somehow I ended up in a course that requires students to already have taken a journalism class, and well, I haven't. But halfway through the first day, I was having too much fun to really notice. I bought a journalism textbook last semester on impulse, and I'm glad I did. Otherwise, words like "spin" would have confused me. The teacher is a reporter, and he expects us to bring the International Herald Tribune to every class. In fact, that newspaper is required reading, so I need to look into getting a subscription. For next week, I already have three assignments: a press release about myself, a 250 word article on "AUP: Mac or PC?" and an idea for a feature about some press-related topic. The teacher asked if there were any Scandinavians in class, because he wanted someone to write about the press in a Scandinavian country, so I have a pretty clear idea of the topic for my feature already. And I just found out that writing for the AUP newspaper The Planet will give me extra credit in the class, and I was thinking of doing that anyway. I suppose the danger here is that I spend all my time writing, and no time reading for other classes.

AUP is a small university - 1000 undergrads and 17 students per full-time faculty member. I haven't been in classes this size since elementary school. Compared to U of O, there is less required reading, but more strongly recommended reading, including articles handed out in class, websites we're expected to check, and a general understanding that we all follow the news like "news junkies" (plus check the polls for the US primaries regularly). Unlike in the Norwegian system, the final exam is just one of several tests, and class participation counts. I plan to check out the library tomorrow or maybe tonight after class, since I don't like studying at home. If I don't like studying in the library either, there's always LaSource, the closest café, where they have free wireless and waiters who recognize me already. 

 

Image via Heidi

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January 23, 2008

Coffee causes miscarriages, apparently*

I am so sick of health scares like this one.

"The Food Standards Agency recommend 300 mg of caffeine a day as the safe limit for pregnant women, but now they're saying you should just cut it out all together during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy."

Thoughts going through my head as I read this:

  1. I seriously can't believe this. And from a website I actually like no less.
  2. I much prefer to believe that nice nutritionist who came to Coffee Week at the University of Oslo, gave me the best sandwich I've ever tasted and told me coffee was very, very safe.
  3. I'm glad the commentors agree with me.
  4. When you apply for adopting children, and they ask you why, can you write "I need my coffee, so I can't be pregnant"?
  5. I want coffee RIGHT NOW.
* Yes, the Coupling reference is intentional.

Posted by Julie at 2:23 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 21, 2008

General update part 1

This is the first day of school for me here at the American University of Paris. Orientation week is over, which means that real life is starting. I have an apartment  a tiny room ten minutes from school. It's like living on a campus, except it's better. I mean, it's Paris. You know those American movies set in Paris where the Eiffel tower is in the background in every single scene? That is real. I can see the Eiffel tower all the time, which means that my life is a movie now.

Posted by Julie at 4:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 15, 2008

Other people have been blogging

To make up for my unbelievable lack of posting, here are a few other posts you can read:

What did we do in 1996? So much has changed in twelve years. I can't wait for the future.

Childfree or childless?  Not wanting kids doesn't make you selfish or empty.

Babies in the fast lane No, they are not always cute. 

Social networking is yesterday's news "(...) even in the futuristic world of the net, the next big thing might just be a return to a made-over old thing."

Notes to my younger self What would you tell yourself if you could go back in time? 

Posted by Julie at 10:58 AM | TrackBack

Feminism?

For Martine, this is the feminism post I was talking about. I started writing it over two months ago, and it just grew and grew until I finally just had to stop and publish a version of it. It's unfinished, but I won't be updating it anymore. I think the problems I've had with finishing this post really illustrate one of the central points: that feminism is a difficult concept to define. Keeping a post to the point is a challenge when the very issue one is writing about is not so much an issue as it is a label that has been used for several issues - which are not necessarily connected.

I should really write something about feminism and gender roles and women's studies and all that stuff. I've had discussions about it, I read a lot of blog entries about it, and so a lot of thoughts are basically bouncing around in my head. The problem is that I don't know where to start, and the reason for this is that I don't know exactly what I'm writing about.

Well, if that introduction didn't make you stop reading...

I have a book about feminism. It was a Christmas present, it's written for teen girls, and the Norwegian title translates into: "Half of heaven is ours" (note that in Norwegian "heaven" and "the sky" are the same word). According to this book, girls are afraid to label themselves as feminists, but we shouldn't be, because a feminist is really just a person who believes in equal rights for women and men. In other words, "feminist" means "intelligent, modern person living in a Western country today". Ok, so all the people I know are feminists. I've met people who are not, but I have chosen not to know them. (For example, there was a girl in my high school French class who firmly believed that all men are much, much smarter than all women. Guess she had just never met any guy who was more of an airhead than she was. And I hope I never meet a guy like that either.) But if it's that simple, why is there even an "ism"? Why can we study this in college? Why are there "Women's Studies" departments?

I checked Dollymix, which is one of the many websites I vaguely associate with feminism. The subjects of the 149 posts tagged "Feminism" ranged from Sesame Street's "Women can do anything" song (which obviously fits the definition of what feminism is) to offensive Youtube comments and what to do if something you publish online is exploited (where I would argue the connection to feminism is vague). The same site also has a tag called "Women's Ishoos". While I agree that Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and words for vagina are "women's issues", that's not what they're studying in "Women's Studies", right?. And what about rape and the right to safe streets? Norwegian readers know how I feel about connecting those issues to feminism. (To summarize: I just want to get home safe, so stop debating theory already!) The thing is, guys want to get home safe too. Granted, rape is a crime where women are usually the victims, but that doesn't make it "our" problem. It doesn't mean that it's less of a problem if a guy is raped. And let's not forget that keeping the streets safe means keeping them free of armed robbers and drunk people who pick fights too. Safety from any kind of nighttime assault is a human issue. The same goes for war, poverty and eating disorders. The question isn't who the victim usually is statistically, but who should care about the problem.

According to this same book, there are two kinds of feminists. One kind believe that men and women are born psychologically the same, and that any mental differences are learned through our culture. The other kind believe that men and women are inherently different, that the male way of thinking has dominated our society, and that it's time to make room for female values. What really irritates me about this is that it shouldn't be a question of belief at all. Whether our brains are the same when we're born is not up to anyone at the Social Studies or Humanities side of campus to decide, it's for the Natural Science side to figure out. As long as they're not sure, I can only work with what I have. I don't know if my love of shoes comes from nature or nurture, but I know that it exists. I also know that when they describe the male and the female way of thinking, most of the time I agree with the male - what is that supposed to mean? That my emotional, empathetic female mind has been corrupted by male role models like my dad? That Anna is right, and I'm actually a man? (Oh, that's why I don't like pink! Although the need to wear heels and skirts is kinda weird.) It just doesn't make any sense. Furthermore, whether or not we're identical shouldn't matter in the least when it comes to determining whether we are equal in terms of value. This is one of my favorite points in the wonderful Blank Slate by Steven Pinker. He has written the best text about feminism I have ever read. (Sadly, that book has been  somewhere in my friend's apartment for a long time, and I only just got it back before I left for Paris. I have the feeling he waited for as long as possible to give it back to me because he knew that I would start quoting it again. I kind of got the hint that it was annoying him when he said: "Julie has a new boyfriend. His name is Steven Pinker.")

The book also refers to "master suppression techniques", better known in Norway as "hersketeknikker", "discovered" by the Norwegian feminist Berit Ås. (Again, calling her a feminist shouldn't really be necessary if we're all feminists.) I remember learning about these techniques in ninth grade - because the girls used them on each other. Again, this is a human issue. Maybe it happens more often that men use these techniques on women, but theoretically, that's not the point.

Maybe I've just been extremely privileged (ok, scratch the "maybe"; I have been), but I don't see a lot of the problems that "feminists" are supposed to see. I don't see how emotion-free rational thinking is male and therefore wrong, I don't see how wearing high heels is degrading as long as I choose to do so myself, and I truly believe that much of the wage difference between men and women can be explained by barriers we put up ourselves, rather than discrimination from male employers. I didn't even interpret the Meredith Brooks song "Bitch" as being about female capriciousness in general; I just thought it was about Meredith Brooks. When I was looking at colleges, a friend encouraged an all-girls school, because it would make academic choices easier if I wasn't thinking about certain subjects and college roles as male and some as female. I thought: "If a girl isn't mature enough to choose a "male" subject or major when she really wants to, than she's not ready for college at all." If we (women) want to be treated "like everyone else", maybe we should stop defining ourselves as a unique group of people who are firstly characterized by our gender and only secondly by our personalities. It just makes it seem like the world is divided into "women" and "all the other people", and isn't that exactly what we're fighting against? Maybe we should, as one blogger writes, stop whining and focus on real issues:

"Sometimes I think if modern feminists stopped focusing on children's toys, women's fashion, chivalry, and how middle-class white Western women like themselves were being oppressed, and directed their collective energy completely towards fighting domestic violence and countries where girls cannot walk to school without being raped, the latter problems might not be so prevalent-- and might even be abolished." (Source)

Again, these issues are not women's issues, but really important issues in general. So where does that leave feminism and Women's Studies?

Posted by Julie at 9:22 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 14, 2008

Blogging from Paris

I'm not dead. I have recent Facebook activity after all. But there have been complaints about this blog not being updated, and to that criticism, I would like to say: Thanks for noticing - thanks for reading! I have been really busy, and my mind has been on personal things not fit to be put on my blog. When I tell people this in real life, they ask if its serious. No, I'm definitely OK, but since the last time I blogged, I have more or less finished my bachelor's degree, celebrated Christmas, packed all my belongings into either suitcases or my attic, said good-bye to friends and family and moved to Paris.

I know I said I wasn't going to do that, but it suddenly worked out. And although the pain of leaving people behind really makes me realize what a wonderful life I lead in Oslo, I am (so far) glad that I am here. And I will keep you posted.

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November 18, 2007

Random facts and thoughts

This post is a response to this post. As an alternative to writing “Seven odd facts about me”, I am commenting on seven odd facts about my friend. And being the self-centered person I am, I'm saying a lot about myself at the same time. This is also an exercise on how much I can write about nothing, so if you don't feel like reading a lot about nothing, don't.


  1. You have an exceptional sense of smell; my sense of smell (pardon the pun) really stinks. This is perfect. As long as I stay close to you at all times forever, you can be my sense of smell. I was a little thrown by the comment about someone you like having a funky smell. You would have told me, right? Someone would have told me? Fortunately, my self esteem is great. Someone said to me a few hours ago: “Oh, so that's why you have no sense of competition. You know you're better than everyone else.” Well, it actually sounded much nicer when he said it. Anyway, my self-esteem is good, and I have already decided that there is no way I will ever take any hints from your blog at all (unless they're the good kind). And also, the good thing about having enemies is that they tell you exactly what's wrong with you. I've heard that I'm self-centered (yeah, I know), boring, weird, nerdy, bad at picking shoes (that one hurt), but never funky-smelling. In fact, strangers tell me the opposite, and that (for future reference) is a compliment I really love to receive, since I actually do wonder about this. I wonder if deaf people obsess about how their voices sound.

  2. You don't chew gum or eat licorice. Thank you for being sane. Especially the gum thing. Licorice tastes bad, but gum is bad. It's evil. One of my sad “I guess grown-ups make mistakes too” experiences from my early teens was when I scraped gum off the bottom of desks from the Norwegian School of Management. These were not the desks of the freshmen undergrads, they were the desks of the MBA students. Adults who have been through years of business school, then started their careers, then returned for even more school, and they still stick their gum under their desks. See what this foul stuff does to people and their respect for school property? Sad. By the way, I have no idea why I was scraping this gum off. I know my dad teaches these disgusting people, but I don't know what their desks were doing on our porch. I'm guessing we were using them as extra tables for a garden party. I must have been pretty enthusiastic about that party. (If you become an MIT lab rat, I can go to the Kennedy School of Government or Boston University Journalism, and I won't have to miss you.)

  3. You like skirts better than pants. Well, duh. So do I in general, although I do love my Jeans. There are plenty of random anecdotes I could tell you involving skirts or jeans, but I'll tell you the latest one: Last week, in the elevator at work, a guy from some other office in the building looked at my legs for a long time and then said: “Aren't you cold in that skirt...?” I told him I wasn't – in Norwegian, so I suppose my reply could be translated as anything from: “You see, what with my hand-knitted wool socks and gigantic shapeless woolen sweater, I'm OK, thanks.” to “Actually, I think it's getting hot in here.” I don't know how he interpreted it, but it wasn't the first option. I fled. Don't worry, I wasn't scared, just kind of shocked. Maybe I should write a list of weird elevator experiences (like the list of weird customer experiences at my last job) and mass e-mail it on my last day. I would include the adorable Japanese gentleman (old man adorable, not cute guy adorable) who insisted on opening all the doors for me as I left work, even though that meant I had to wait for him next to the doors, as he was walking really slowly – almost limping.

  4. Your hands are sensitive to heat. Now, listen and learn: First you buy coffee. If at all possible, get it in a real cup. This can be done. Even if you're doing take-away, as long as you promise to come back with the cup. I think it's kind of like getting your coffee upgraded to large without paying extra. If there's a girl behind the counter, send a guy to get you coffee. If there's a guy behind the counter, you can charm him yourself. If that doesn't work, ask for a larger paper cup than the size of your drink requires. If that doesn't work, get two napkins and wrap them around the paper cup. Also, it's a law of nature that if you're carrying two napkins, you won't spill anything. This is a variation of the law that means it won't rain if I'm wearing rain boots (notice how it worked in Bergen?)

  5. You have a scar on your left hip. I must have seen this, but I can't remember. My only scar is a finger-nail-shaped one on my left hand. It's from a fight with my sister. I don't remember exactly when I got it, but I do remember looking at the wound and thinking: “That won't scar.” But it did. I think it's very fitting that she's the only one to have left that kind of mark on me.

  6. Your first musical love was Belle & Sebastian. The first CD I bought for myself (or chose and had a parent pay for, possibly) was the soundtrack to The Phantom of the Opera – the original musical. I was ten, and I LOVED that CD. I think my introduction to popular music (for my own generation, not my dad's music) was TLC at about the same age. A girl in my class who had older sisters listened to that. In elementary school, it was the usual stuff (Spice Girls, No Doubt and Jewel are artists I remember buying albums from at that time). I didn't really listen to music for a few years after that. I went to a middle school where Destiny's Child was considered weird and alternative, so my options were limited. I wish Pandora had existed back then. Or that I had met you sooner.

  7. You grew up in a house where the radio was always on, and now you can't stand background noise. I grew up in a house without music. Not that it was silent – I get my ability to go on and on and on about the most random subjects from my parents. My dad has some stuff he likes, but my mom dislikes the concept of background music, and she's not really a fan of anything in particular. I like background noise (and studying on campus). What gets to me is repeated sounds. Ringing phones that no one answers are bad. Worse is people repeating short messages over and over, like yelling someone's name in the exact same tone again and again and again. Oh and whining voices. Some pop songs (think Fergie) manage to combine all of these annoyances.

Posted by Julie at 10:12 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 7, 2007

"A brief history of record industry suicide"

Read this. It's a comment on the music industry after the music site Oink was shut down. Although I never used Oink myself, I've been meaning to write something about these issues for a while. Luckily someone saved me the time by writing something I agree with.

Here's a quote:

"Oink was not only an absolute paradise for music fans, but it was unquestionably the most complete and most efficient music distribution model the world has ever known. I say that safely without exaggeration. It was like the world's largest music store, whose vastly superior selection and distribution was entirely stocked, supplied, organized, and expanded upon by its own consumers. If the music industry had found a way to capitalize on the power, devotion, and innovation of its own fans the way Oink did, it would be thriving right now instead of withering. If intellectual property laws didn't make Oink illegal, the site's creator would be the new Steve Jobs right now. He would have revolutionized music distribution. Instead, he's a criminal, simply for finding the best way to fill rising consumer demand. I would have gladly paid a large monthly fee for a legal service as good as Oink - but none existed, because the music industry could never set aside their own greed and corporate bullshit to make it happen." 

Related posts:

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November 6, 2007

Rant on technology and manners

People who rant about technology and manners usually annoy me. I'm talking about the bookstore employee with the obnoxious-sounding voice who wouldn't let me use a cell phone near the entrance of her store, or the people in front of me at a conference on information technology who told me: "You know, the sound of your typing is sort of distracting." The basic theory of these people is that using cell phones and computers is essentially private and for the fun of it, and therefore rude in public. This is absolutely ridiculous. (Or as Kristiane writes in Norwegian, it's so 2003.)

Slightly less ridiculous is the idea that communication technology can be stressful because it forces us to be perpetually available to anyone who has our contact information. This idea makes people turn their phones off, only check their e-mail during weekdays, and relish the lack of internet connection in their vacation homes. This can be extremely stressful to the people who need to get in touch with them, but sometimes people just need a break, right? As usual, the problem is not e-mail or text messaging in itself, but the fact that our habits and our rules of decent behaviour haven't caught up with the changes in technology.

Ok, where's the rant? Is this really me being angry?

See, that's the whole point. This issue doesn't make me rage, but maybe it should. Someone once told me that in this information technology age, if the sound of your own cellphone ringtone makes you stressed instead of excited, and if checking your e-mail and seeing no new messages is a relief rather than a disapointment, then you know you've grown up. I guess I have.

I don't currently have a stalker, a demanding job or particularly needy friends. But somehow, all the little messages and questions and requests seem to add up to a full-time job (which I do in addition to full-time studies and part-time receptionist work) as a combination of secretary, therapist, event planner, student guidance counselor, tutor, mediator and research assistant to everyone I know. Because I'm such a language geek that I genuinely want to proof-read your essay. As long as I'm taking notes in class, I might as well e-mail you a copy. I know everyone who's going on this trip, so it makes sense that I coordinate things. Yes, I do know the address of that restaurant. Don't worry, everything will be ok, but I'm here for you if you need to talk. I would love to have coffee with you. You know, I read about that somewhere - I'll send you a link.

I do know that I'm not the only one who feels this way, but I don't know exactly how to stop this. And I really don't think that turning off my cellphone and going into some sort of hermit-like existence whenever I want to relax is a healthy or polite way. I really believe that if you publish your e-mail address somewhere, you should check it regularly, and answer people, and that if you have a cellphone, people who have your number should be allowed to call.

But maybe it's time I set a few rules:

Posted by Julie at 4:02 PM | TrackBack

October 24, 2007

Aina


My friend Aina won the last comment competition, and her blog challenge to me was to write about her. As of this month, Aina and I have been friends for ten years. This entry will probably be the most sentimental piece of writing you have ever read on this site. But Aina, this is not red-wine-induced. I never drink and blog.

 

I first met Aina at drama class ten years ago. We were both new girls in the class, we were the youngest, and we noticed each other immediately. I noticed Aina because she spent the five minutes before our first class bouncing against a wall. Also, her bangs were a very bright shade of pink. (Although she may have dyed them after our first meeting, I can't remember). Compared to this dramatic first impression, I don't know what made me stand out from the crowd. Maybe it was because I was so much shorter than all the other girls. For whatever reason, Aina told me later, she saw me and thought: "This girl is going to be my friend."

Many of my other friends, both the ones I knew before Aina and the ones I met later, have asked me why the two of us are friends. We look and act like a childrens' book illustration of opposites: tall and short, dark-skinned and pale, loud and quiet. (Not to mention - oh, the irony! - she's allergic to coffee.) At parties, she's the center of attention, while I cheer her on from a corner where I'm having some sort of serious conversation. Our interests, feelings towards school, politics and much of our taste in music, clothes and hobbies only occasionally match up. Had we met at school, we would probably have been in different crowds, and we might never have had a real conversation. 

Making friends in drama class was different from making friends in regular school. We all had to wear head-to-toe black in class and of course costumes on stage, so seeing people in their real clothes was unusual. We got used to doing weird things together: voice exercises, fistfights without touching, pushing invisible boxes in slow motion, balancing on tight-ropes that weren't really there. Looking back, I realize that drama class was as much about imagining things as it was about acting them out. It was a weekly escape. No matter what was going on in the rest of my life, I wasn't supposed to think about it in class. And no matter what the rest of my friends and acquaintances did or said, Aina was separate from them.

We shared an "abstract" sense of humor and (over-)active imaginations. We could (all right, we still can) spend hours having "What if?" conversations, making up increasingly unlikely scenarios and storylines. Sometimes these ideas would become short stories or scripts, but usually it was just a way to pass the time.  We both kept diaries (my entries were usually short stories describing my experiences chronologically, while Aina's journal was an apparently random mix of sketches and stream-of-consciousness). We often called during the day to tell each other about our dreams. Each of the three years that a part of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy came out, we would stay up until 6 AM discussing it. I don't think any other person has ever made me laugh as much as she has. Sometimes I missed having a best friend whom I could also swap clothes with, and often it annoyed me that we lived more than walking distance apart, but other than that, our differences made the friendship interesting, not complicated.

Other friends did complicate things. I was a different person when I was with Aina, and I think she was a different person when she was with me. When there were other people there, neither of us quite knew how to behave. Even people we were both friends with, were often difficult to spend time with in groups. The changes we both went through over the years only made our differences greater. We e-mailed and visited less and less, and by the time we had both graduated from high school, we barely saw each other. She visited me once at the university, and sometimes we were invited to the same parties. After months of silence between us, she sent me a long e-mail update, and the Tori Amos album The Beekeeper, because it was too beautiful not to be shared. Although I still credit her with introducing me to Tori Amos, I don't think I was all that impressed at the time; I had so many other things on my mind.

The morning after Midsummer's Eve in 2006, I woke up in my new apartment. I don't know if it was the shrimp, the chicken or the wine, but I have never on any morning before or since felt worse. At two PM, having barely made it through breakfast and some random tv movie, I picked up my phone, intending to call last night's hostess. For some reason, I ended up talking to Aina instead. It was our first phone conversation in about a year, but I'm pretty sure I didn't just misdial. There must have been some reason for the following conversation:

"I feel so awful, I still haven't finished breakfast."

"Me too. Midsummer?"

"Midsummer."

"Yeah..."

"And I had the weirdest dream..."

"So did I!"

And just like that, we were back to normal.

Today our circles of friends have overlapped much more than before, but she is still the one I call to get a completely different perspective on whatever I'm thinking about. We celebrated our ten year friendship anniversary a few weeks ago. I could write something sweet about how we've always been there for each other through ten years of trials and tribulations, but it would be stretching the truth a bit. We've lived two very different lives, and we haven't always understood each other. But more than most, if not all, of my friends, she has influenced me and made me a compeletely different person from the one I would have been without her. And every once in a while, she'll say something that tells me that she really gets me, despite all the outward differences. Over those ten years, we've had fights, hysterical laughter, a few tears, deep conversations, random conversations only we could understand, hundreds of inside jokes, milk and cookies, coffee and cookies, cookies, second helpings of blueberry pie, very interesting outfits, and a lot of Pringle's.

Posted by Julie at 1:38 PM | TrackBack

October 11, 2007

First sentence

I "Searched inside" The Myth of the Rational Voter by Bryan Caplan at Amazon.com. This is the first sentence:

What voters don't know would fill a university library.

Well, I certainly hope so. If you can't fill a university library with stuff people don't know yet, what's the point?

Posted by Julie at 10:09 PM | TrackBack

October 10, 2007

Meme while we wait

I'm working on a couple of longer posts, and I never have enough time to finish them in one sitting. So just to make sure there is something on here that isn't a This Week: a meme Elisabeth specifically wanted me to answer.

Most people like to feel comfortable. There are comfort foods, comfortable sweaters, comfortable shoes, etc. Please fill in your comfortable answers to these questions about things that make you feel good and are comfortable, just like that horrid, ratty robe you always wear.

1. What are two foods you might indulge in after a stressful day?
a. Pasta. Not that pasta is an indulgence, but that is usually what I will eat after a stressful day.
b. Ice cream.

2. Which two beverages do you find soothing and delicious?
a. A really good double cappuccino
b. Water, water, water

3. What two books do you re-read every once in awhile?
a. "What I Loved" by Siri Hustvedt
b. "The Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien

4. What two movies can you watch over and over without getting bored of them?
I can't really pick two, but all the movies my parents used to watch when I was younger are in this category. I've watched them to the point of knowing them by heart, and for that very reason, I don't expect them to entertain me or surprise me anymore. I expect them to bring back memories. They include Four Weddings and a Funeral, Peter's Friends, Indian Summer, Much Ado About Nothing, and Groundhog Day.

5. What are your most comfortable articles of clothing?
I had to think about the answer to this one for a long time. I've never understood the pretty = uncomfortable and comfy = ugly thing. How can a horrid, ratty robe make you feel good and comfortable? (For more on that, see this post). I feel much more comfortable if I'm wearing something I could wear outside the apartment. I guess I could mention The Jeans and the skirt my mom made me for a salsa-dancing scene, which is made in red sweat-shirt material. My one item of clothing that is only worn inside my own apartment is a red, very soft (I'm the third, if not the fourth person to own it) sweatshirt with the words: "When you're as great as I am, it's hard to be humble."

6. Name two songs that give you comfort, or two songs that you never get tired of.
a. "Sleeps with Butterflies" by Tori Amos
b. "The Blower's Daughter" by Damien Rice

7. Lastly, what do you like to do to unwind after a hard day?
a. Play all my music at random while I either catch up on Bloglines or stretch out on the couch and read several chapters of a novel.
b. Visit friends.

Posted by Julie at 8:14 AM | TrackBack

October 1, 2007

Living Locally, Working Globally

Link to my bachelor thesis on offshoring and labor migration from India.

See also:

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September 23, 2007

This week

Tom Friedman quoted my father in the new and updated version of The World is Flat. Congratulations, Dad.

I listened to...

I read what I've been reading for a while (The Polysyllabic Spree) and I added the following to my Bloglines:

I revisited an old favorite, Sahara Beduin,and I mourned the fact that LaSosta will soon be coffee place history. 

Posted by Julie at 4:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 13, 2007

Think before you act

This week I received an e-mail from the student government telling me that someone had contacted them, wanting me to remove something from my blog. 

I was curious and a little nervous at first, and then vaguely annoyed when I found out what it was all about: someone wanted me to remove a comment because of (in this person's own words) "a pathetic attempt to remove myself from the internet." There was nothing incriminating in the comment - the only thing a reader would find out about the commentor was that he/she liked my blog without knowing me personally.

Although this incident was really minor, I suppose it does set a precedent for how I should handle this kind of stuff in the future. And I must admit that my gut feeling was annoyance. Commenting a blog is like talking to the blogger in real life. Once you've said something to someone, you can't really unsay it. You can tell them to stop telling other people that you said it, which I guess is what this person did to me. You can insist on getting credit for your brilliant thoughts. But if you regret having said something in real life, then, well, that's life.

I feel like I'm constantly telling people this to no avail, but (drum roll) the internet is just like real life. Facebook doesn't change who your friends are, cruelty is still cruelty, and once you've said something, it's out there. Both literally, because of internet tools like Bloglines and web.archive.org (see comments to this post), but also in peoples' minds. Once someone knows that you went to that party, or that you agree with that political blogger, no amount of de-tagging or comment-deleting will save you.

The obvious solution is to think before you act. I've discussed this with friends who claim that there is a difference between how you are expected to act in private and how you are expected to act in public, and that no one has the right to force anyone else to mix the two. This is sort of true. I agree that no one has the right to upload drunken photos of you, but I still believe that the easiest solution to this problem is to avoid passing out in your own vomit when there are cameras in the room. That, and only getting drunk with people you actually trust. And if you think about it, in the good old days before the internet, people still managed to know all the weekend gossip by lunch on Monday anyway. People in China didn't find out, but did you really care what people in China knew about your drunkenness? And do you really care now? 

And all this whining about potential employers googling you? What are people really afraid of? I can just picture it: "You know, this woman has an excellent education, interesting work experience and great recomendations, but she used to write comments on a fashion blog, so she's clearly not serious enough for this company." or "I hear that when this man was in his early twenties, he used to go out with his college friends and (gasp!) drink beer! We couldn't possibly hire someone like that." Or maybe: "I know she's really qualified for the job, and she's beautiful too by the way, but in this one photo I found on Facebook, she was having a really bad hair day."

However, if you insist, I guess I'll humor you. I have now removed the person's name, e-mail and website from this site.

Posted by Julie at 3:06 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 23, 2007

Future wish

"Hey, great idea: if you have kids, give your partner reading vouchers for Christmas. Each voucher entitles the bearer to two hours' reading time while the kids are awake. It might look like a cheapskate present, but parents will appreciate that it costs more in real terms than a Lamborghini."

I must remember this in the future. 

Quote from the fantastic Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby.

Posted by Julie at 8:46 AM | TrackBack

August 14, 2007

Update on the bachelor thesis situation Part 2

Read Part 1 first.

It's the first day of school for new university students, and the first day of what will probably (hopefully?) be my last semester at the University of Oslo. I almost didn't come back this fall. When I was at my most stressed about the bachelor thesis I applied to journalism school, and got in. It sounded so very tempting to just start over. After all, it seems like everyone does. Being 20 and writing a thesis made me feel very small, very young and inexperienced and suddenly grown up. I felt like I had no idea what I was really doing. I suppose it didn't help that after nearly two years at the university, I still hadn't figured out what made my grades good and what made them bad. My grades were usually pretty good, but I was never able to predict what they were going to be, even after each exam. University wasn't like high school, where I excelled if I did my best and slipped a little if I was lazy. I knew how to go to high school. I still don't know how to go to college.

I know how to get up in the morning (usually), walk to campus, get my books and read for hours. I know how to take notes, and I know how to remember things. But I'm not all that good with exams. And I didn't feel like the bachelor thesis was going so well either. I read a lot, but whenever anyone would ask me what I was writing about, I had to admit I didn't really know. How was I supposed to choose one single question to answer in twenty pages, when every single dilemma seemed to have an answer only two pages long?

Less than a month before deadline, I returned to my original idea. I read everything I could find about offshoring (thank whatever one should thank for Google Scholar) and worked my notes and references into some form of semi-logical order. My thesis - title, hypothesis, conclusion - changed drastically every single day. I moved my enormous stacks of books into my parents' house and sat at their kitchen table nearly every waking minute, looking like in the picture above (which is completely candid, not posed). About a week and a half before deadline, I sent my advisor a long e-mail, detailing all my questions about the thesis and my difficulties with finding one central idea with which to tie all my new knowledge together - a yes or no question I could answer or a well-known thinker I could prove wrong. My advisor told me: "This looks ok to me." I kept writing until just before deadline, then I added a conclusion, printed three copies and handed it in, shivering. I finished my other exams in a sort of daze, ate a lot of chocolate and bought shoes and tried not to think scary thoughts like: "You just did a really bad job. How could you postpone starting on the most important project in your bachelor's degree until the last minute? You've had two years to think about this, not to mention twenty years. You better get used to the idea of doing this one over."

Then I got an A.

I checked and rechecked the grade about 15 times. Then I started wondering why. Was my writing so good that I had fooled them into thinking I was actually writing about something? Had they taken one look at the front page and thought: "Oh, my God. Economics and technology? I'm a political scientist, I don't get that stuff. And it's in English. Scary... I'll just stamp it with an A and hope no one notices that I didn't actually read it." I kept waiting for an apologetic e-mail saying: "Due to technical difficulties, you seem to have gotten an A. This is of course a mistake. We have changed your grade to a D. Have a nice day!"

After all, I broke every rule in the book. I only worked on the thesis for a couple weeks. I used "creative" language and unnecessary quotes. I didn't have one central idea, but just a wealth of information. I forgot to explain words that I should have explained, and I introduced new ideas in the conclusion. Everything my advisor told me not to do, I did. And after I had floated around, feeling slightly drunk with relief for about a week, I thought: "So that's it, huh? THAT was brilliant and insightful? But I didn't do anything!"

Now that it all over, I can at least say that I learned a lot. Much of it didn't make it into the finished thesis, but there are plenty of subjects about which I can say: "I almost wrote a thesis about this, so I do know something about it." I also learned how much information really is available to anyone with an Internet connection and a library card, and how quickly this information can be processed if you don't have to memorize the details for an exam. But if the university thinks this is the best I can do, if this is all they expect, then I'm a little disapointed in them. 

Read the thesis here.

Posted by Julie at 2:51 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Back to school again

University is starting again. Last year at this time, I was happy just to be walking in the same direction as my fellow students, whether it was towards school or in line to buy highlighters and notebooks. Everything is more complicated now, but my morning coffee has not quite kicked in, and I don't think I quite have the filter in place, the one that tells me what you readers might actually be interested in, and what is just my rambling. While I collect my thoughts - and my books - read what someone else has to say. Not only because it's a beautifully written little post, but because I almost could have written it myself.

Posted by Julie at 8:46 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 13, 2007

Advice from Hemingway

 

Advice I intend to follow, from Hemingway. I suppose I could call him one of my heroes, although I generally make a point of not having those. 

On Writing:

If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water. 

My aim is to put down on paper what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way.

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. 

On Life: 

Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.

Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.

 

More Hemingway quotes. 

Biography beneath the fold. (This is an abridged version of the text you can find here, but it's still very long for a blog post. The highlighting is from when I studied Hemingway in high school.)

At the time of Hemingway's graduation from High School, World War I was raging in Europe. The United States joined the Allies in the fight against Germany and Austria in April, 1917. When Hemingway turned eighteen he tried to enlist in the army, but was deferred because of poor vision. When he heard the Red Cross was taking volunteers as ambulance drivers he quickly signed up. He was accepted in December of 1917, left his job at the paper in April of 1918, and sailed for Europe in May. In the short time that Hemingway worked for the Kansas City Star he learned some stylistic lessons that would later influence his fiction. The newspaper advocated short sentences, short paragraphs, active verbs, authenticity, compression, clarity and immediacy. Hemingway later said: "Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I've never forgotten them."

Hemingway first went to Paris upon reaching Europe, then traveled to Milan in early June after receiving his orders. The day he arrived, a munitions factory exploded and he had to carry mutilated bodies and body parts to a makeshift morgue; it was an immediate and powerful initiation into the horrors of war. Two days later he was sent to an ambulance unit in the town of Schio, where he worked driving ambulances. On July 8, 1918, only a few weeks after arriving, Hemingway was seriously wounded by fragments from an Austrian mortar shell which had landed just a few feet away. At the time, Hemingway was distributing chocolate and cigarettes to Italian soldiers in the trenches near the front lines. The explosion knocked Hemingway unconscious, killed an Italian soldier and blew the legs off another. What happened next has been debated for some time. In a letter to Hemingway's father, Ted Brumback, one of Ernest's fellow ambulance drivers, wrote that despite over 200 pieces of shrapnel being lodged in Hemingway's legs he still managed to carry another wounded soldier back to the first aid station; along the way he was hit in the legs by several machine gun bullets. Whether he carried the wounded soldier or not, doesn't diminish Hemingway's sacrifice. He was awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Valor with the official Italian citation reading: "Gravely wounded by numerous pieces of shrapnel from an enemy shell, with an admirable spirit of brotherhood, before taking care of himself, he rendered generous assistance to the Italian soldiers more seriously wounded by the same explosion and did not allow himself to be carried elsewhere until after they had been evacuated." Hemingway described his injuries to a friend of his: "There was one of those big noises you sometimes hear at the front. I died then. I felt my soul or something coming right out of my body, like you'd pull a silk handkerchief out of a pocket by one corner. It flew all around and then came back and went in again and I wasn't dead any more."

Hemingway's wounding along the Piave River in Italy and his subsequent recovery at a hospital in Milan, including the relationship with his nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, all inspired his great novel A Farewell To Arms.

When Hemingway returned home from Italy in January of 1919 he found Oak Park dull compared to the adventures of war, the beauty of foreign lands and the romance of an older woman, Agnes von Kurowsky. He was nineteen years old and only a year and a half removed from high school, but the war had matured him beyond his years. Living with his parents, who never quite appreciated what their son had been through, was difficult. Soon after his homecoming they began to question his future, began to pressure him to find work or to further his education, but Hemingway couldn't seem to muster interest in anything.

He had received some $1,000 dollars in insurance payments for his war wounds, which allowed him to avoid work for nearly a year. He lived at his parent’s house and spent his time at the library or at home reading. He spoke to small civic organizations about his war exploits and was often seen in his Red Cross uniform, walking about town. For a time though, Hemingway questioned his role as a war hero, and when asked to tell of his experiences he often exaggerated to satisfy his audience. Hemingway's story "Soldier's Home" conveys his feelings of frustration and shame upon returning home to a town and to parents who still had a romantic notion of war and who didn't understand the psychological impact the war had had on their son.

The last speaking engagement the young Hemingway took was at the Petoskey (Michigan) Public Library, and it would be important to Hemingway not for what he said but for who heard it. In the audience was Harriett Connable, the wife of an executive for the Woolworth's company in Toronto.

As Hemingway spun his war tales Harriett couldn't help but notice the differences between Hemingway and her own son. Hemingway appeared confident, strong, intelligent and athletic, while her son was slight, somewhat handicapped by a weak right arm and spent most of his time indoors. Harriett Connable thought her son needed someone to show him the joys of physical activity and Hemingway seemed the perfect candidate to tutor and watch over him while she and her husband Ralph vacationed in Florida. So, she asked Hemingway if he would do it.

Hemingway took the position, which offered him time to write and a chance to work for the Toronto Star Weekly, the editor of which Ralph Connable promised to introduce Hemingway to. Hemingway wrote for the Star Weekly even after moving to Chicago in the fall of 1920. While living at a friend's house he met Hadley Richardson and they quickly fell in love. The two married in September 1921 and by November of the same year Hemingway accepted an offer to work with the Toronto Daily Star as its European corespondent. Hemingway and his new bride would go to Paris, France where the whole of literature was being changed by the likes of Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein and Ford Maddox Ford. He would not miss his chance to change it as well.

The Hemingways arrived in Paris on December 22, 1921 and a few weeks later moved into their first apartment at 74 rue Cardinal Lemoine. It was a miserable apartment with no running water and a bathroom that was basically a closet with a slop bucket inside. Hemingway tried to minimize the primitiveness of the living quarters for his wife Hadley who had grown up in relative splendor, but despite the conditions she endured, carried away by her husbands enthusiasm for living the bohemian lifestyle. Ironically, they could have afforded much better; with Hemingway's job and Hadley's trust fund their annual income was $3,000, a decent sum in the inflated economies of Europe at the time. Hemingway rented a room at 39 rue Descartes where he could do his writing in peace.

With a letter of introduction from Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway met some of Paris’ prominent writers and artists and forged quick friendships with them during his first few years. Counted among those friends were Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, Max Eastman, Lincoln Steffens and Wyndahm Lewis, and he was acquainted with the painters Miro and Picasso. These friendships would be instrumental in Hemingway's development as a writer and artist.

Hemingway's reporting during his first two years in Paris was extensive, covering the Geneva Conference in April of 1922, The Greco-Turkish War in October, the Luasanne Conference in November and the post war convention in the Ruhr Valley in early 1923. Along with the political pieces he wrote lifestyle pieces as well, covering fishing, bullfighting, social life in Europe, skiing, bobsledding and more.

Just as Hemingway was beginning to make a name for himself as a reporter and a fledgling fiction writer, and just as he and his wife were hitting their stride socially in Europe, the couple found out that Hadley was pregnant with their first child. Wanting the baby born in North America where the doctors and hospitals were better, the Hemingways left Paris in 1923 and moved to Toronto, where he wrote for the Toronto Daily Star and waited for their child to arrive.

John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway was born on October 10, 1923 and by January of 1924 the young family boarded a ship and headed back to Paris where Hemingway would finish making a name for himself.

With a recommendation from Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford let Hemingway edit his fledgling literary magazine the Transatlantic Review. In recommending Hemingway to Ford, Pound said "...He's an experienced journalist. He writes very good verse and he's the finest prose stylist in the world."

Ford published some of Hemingway's early stories, including "Indian Camp" and "Cross Country Snow" and generally praised the younger writer. The magazine lasted only a year and a half (until 1925), but allowed Hemingway to work out his own artistic theories and to see them in print in a respectable journal. 

From 1925 to 1929 Hemingway produced some of the most important works of 20th century fiction, including the landmark short story collection In Our Time (1925) which contained "The Big Two-Hearted River." In 1926 he came out with his first true novel, The Sun Also Rises (after publishing Torrents of Spring, a comic novel parodying Sherwood Anderson in 1925). He followed that book with Men Without Women in 1927; it was another book of stories which collected "The Killers," and "In Another Country." In 1929 he published A Farewell to Arms, arguably the finest novel to emerge from World War I. In four short years he went from being an unknown writer to being the most important writer of his generation, and perhaps the 20th century.

The first version of in our time (characterized by the lowercase letters in the title) was published by William Bird’s Three Mountain Press in 1924 and illustrated Hemingway’s new theories on literature. It contained only the vignettes that would later appear as interchapters in the American version published by Boni & Liveright in 1925. This small 32 page book, of which only 170 copies were printed, contained the essence of Hemingway’s aesthetic theory which stated that omitting the right thing from a story could actually strengthen it. Hemingway equated this theory with the structure of an iceberg where only 1/8 of the iceberg could be seen above water while the remaining 7/8 under the surface provided the iceberg’s dignity of motion and contributed to its momentum. Hemingway felt a story could be constructed the same way and this theory shows up even in these early vignettes. A year after the small printing of in our time came out, Boni & Liveright published the American version, which contains ten short stories along with the vignettes. The collection of stories is amazing, including the much anthologized "Soldier’s Home," as well as "Indian Camp," "A Very Short Story," "My Old Man" and the classic "Big Two-Hearted River" parts one and two. "Big Two Hearted River" was a eureka story for Hemingway, who realized that his theory of omission really could work in the story form.

Next came The Torrents of Spring, a short comic novel that satired Hemingway’s early mentor Sherwood Anderson and allowed him to break his relationship with Boni & Liveright to move to Scribner’s. Scribner’s published Torrents (which Scott Fitzgerald called the finest comic novel ever written by an American) in 1925, then a year later published Hemingway’s second novel The Sun Also Rises, which the publisher had bought sight unseen.

The Sun Also Rises introduced the world to the "lost generation" and was a critical and commercial success. Set in Paris and Spain, the book was a story of unrequitable love against a backdrop of bars and bullfighting. In 1927 came Men Without Women and soon after he began working on A Farewell To Arms.

While he could do no wrong with his writing career, his personal life had began to show signs of wear. He divorced his first wife Hadley in 1927 and married Pauline Pfeiffer, an occasional fashion reporter for the likes of Vanity Fair and Vogue, later that year. In 1928 Hemingway and Pauline left Paris for Key West, Florida in search of new surroundings to go with their new life together. They would live there for nearly twelve years, and Hemingway found it a wonderful place to work and to play, discovering the sport of big game fishing which would become a life-long passion and a source for much of his later writing. That same year Hemingway received word of his father’s death by suicide. Clarence Hemingway had begun to suffer from a number of physical ailments that would exacerbate an already fragile mental state. He had developed diabetes, endured painful angina and extreme headaches. On top of these physical problems he also suffered from a dismal financial situation after speculative real estate purchases in Florida never panned out. His problems seemingly insurmountable, Clarence Hemingway shot himself in the head. Ernest immediately traveled to Oak Park to arrange for his funeral.

The new Hemingways heard of Key West from Ernest’s friend John Dos Passos, and the two stopped at the tiny Florida island on their way back from Paris. They soon discovered that life in remote Key West was like living in a foreign country while still perched on the southernmost tip of America. Hemingway loved it. "It’s the best place I’ve ever been anytime, anywhere, flowers, tamarind trees, guava trees, coconut palms...Got tight last night on absinthe and did knife tricks." After renting an apartment and a house for a couple of years the Hemingways bought a large house at 907 Whitehead Street with $12,500 of help from Pauline’s wealthy Uncle Gus.

Pauline was pregnant at the time and on June 28, 1928 gave birth to Patrick by cesarean section. It was in December of that year that Hemingway received the cable reporting his father’s suicide. Despite the personal turmoil and change Hemingway continued to work on A Farewell to Arms, finishing it in January of 1929. The novel was published on September 27, 1929 to a level of critical acclaim that Hemingway wouldn’t see again until 1940 with the publication of his Spanish war novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. In between Hemingway entered his experimental phase which confounded critics but still, to some extent, satisfied his audience.

In 1931 Pauline gave birth to Gregory, their second son together, and the last of Hemingway’s children.

After A Farewell to Arms Hemingway published his 1932 Spanish bullfighting dissertation, Death in the Afternoon. While writing an encyclopedic book on bullfighting he still managed to make it readable even by those who had no real interest in the corrida. He inserts observations on Spanish culture, writers, food, people, politics, history, etc. Hemingway wrote about the purpose of his Spanish book, "It is intended as an introduction to the modern Spanish bullfight and attempts to explain that spectacle both emotionally and practically. It was written because there was no book which did this in Spanish or in English."

Though a non-fiction book, Death in the Afternoon does codify one of Hemingway’s literary concepts of the stoical hero facing deadly opposition while still performing his duties with professionalism and skill, or "grace under pressure," as Hemingway described it. Many critics took issue with an apparent change in Hemingway from detracted artist to actual character in one of his own works. They disliked a blustery tone Hemingway drifted into , particularly when discussing writers, writing and art in general. It was the genesis of the public "Papa" image that would grow over the remaining 30 years of his life, at times almost obscuring the serious artist within.

Returning to fiction in 1933, Hemingway published Winner Take Nothing, a volume of short stories. The book contained 14 stories, including "A Clean Well Lighted Place," "Fathers and Sons," and "A Way You’ll Never Be." The book sold well despite a mediocre critical reception and despite the terrible economic depression the world was then mired in. James Joyce, one of Hemingway’s friends from his early Paris days, wrote glowingly of "A Clean, Well Lighted Place" as follows: "He has reduced the veil between literature and life, which is what every writer strives to do. Have you read ‘A Clean, Well Lighted Place’?...It is masterly. Indeed, it is one of the best stories ever written..."

In the summer of 1933 the Hemingways and their Key West friend Charles Thompson journeyed to Africa for a big game safari. Ever since reading of Teddy Roosevelt’s African hunting exploits as a boy, Hemingway wanted to test his hunting skills against the biggest and most dangerous animals on earth. With a $25,000 loan form Pauline’s uncle Gus (the same uncle who helped them buy their Key West home) Hemingway spent three months hunting on the dark continent, all the while gathering material for his future writing. In 1935 he published Green Hills of Africa, a pseudo non-fiction account of his safari. Unfortunately, he picked up where he left off in Death in the Afternoon. While the book contained some decent writing about Africa and its animals it was overshadowed by Hemingway’s again digression into the blustery tone of his alter ego. In the book Hemingway harshly criticizes his supposed friends, making the reader cringe at his insensitivity. He portrays himself as courageous, skillful and cool while depicting others, including his friend Charles Thompson, as mean-spirited and selfish. In a telling review the prominent literary critic Edmund Wilson poked at Hemingway, saying "he has produced what must be the only book ever written which makes Africa and its animals seem dull."

Oddly though, from the same safari Hemingway gathered the material for two of his finest short stories, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber." In both stories the protagonist shows a weakness that is contrary to what the typical Hemingway hero exhibits. Harry, the dying writer in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," laments his wasted talent, a talent diminished by drink, women, wealth and laziness. Macomber in "The Short Happy Life..." shows cowardice under pressure and just as he redeems himself his wife shoots him.

As in other Hemingway stories, a curious effect can be seen in these African tales. Often in Hemingway’s non-fiction work the truth is obscured by Hemingway’s need to promote his public personality, his need to portray himself as above fear, above pettiness, above any negative quality that would tarnish that image. In his fiction though, certain negative qualities, whatever they might be, are in the characters as flaws that often lead to their destruction. Beyond that, in a biographical context, the actual events of Hemingway’s life end up in his fiction rather than in his non-fiction. For example: Hemingway’s World War I injuries more closely resemble those of Frederic Henry in A Farewell To Arms than the accounts you see repeated in old biographical blurbs which tell of how he fought with the elite Italian forces, how after being hit by a mortar he carried a wounded soldier through machine gun fire to the field hospital, and how he refused medical treatment until others were treated before him.

When you want to find the truth about Hemingway’s life, look first to his fiction.

In March 1937 Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance. The civil war caused a marital war in the Hemingway household as well. Hemingway had met a young writer named Martha Gellhorn in Key West and the two would go on to conduct a secret affair for almost four years before Hemingway divorced Pauline and married Martha. Pauline sided with the Facist Franco Regime in Spain because of is pro-catholic stance, while Hemingway supported the communist loyalists who in turn supported the democratically elected government. Often travelling with Gellhorn, the two fell in love as they competed for quality stories. They would eventually marry in November of 1940, nearly four years after meeting at Sloppy Joe’s bar in Key West in December 1936. Eventually the loyalist movement failed and the Franco led rebels won the war and installed a dictatorial government in the spring of 1939. Though his side lost the war Hemingway used his experiences there to write the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, a play titled "The Fifth Column" and several short stories.

After returning from Spain and divorcing Pauline, Hemingway and Martha moved to a large house outside Havana, Cuba. They named it Finca Vigia ("Lookout Farm"), and Hemingway decorated it with hunting trophies from his African safari. He had begun work on For Whom The Bell Tolls in 1939 in Cuba and worked on it on the road as he traveled back to Key West or to Wyoming or to Sun Valley, finishing it in July of 1940. The book was a huge success, both critically and commercially, prompting Sinclair Lewis to write that it was "the American book published during the three years past which was most likely to survive, to be know fifty years from now, or possibly a hundred...it might just possibly be a masterpiece, a classic..." Oddly, the book was unanimously voted the best novel of the year by the Pulitzer Prize committee, but was vetoed for political reason by the conservative president of Columbia University; no prize was awarded that year. The book sold over 500,000 copies in just six months, and continues to sell well today.

The next ten years would be a creatively fallow period for Hemingway, (it would be 1950 before he would publish another novel) but while he looked more interested in bolstering his public image at the expense of his work, he was actually immersed in several large writing projects which he could never seem to complete. During the 1940’s he worked on what would become the heavily edited and posthumously published novels Islands In The Stream and The Garden Of Eden. In between he would also cover (and some say participate in) World War II, and he would divorce his third wife Martha to marry his fourth, Mary Welsh. In an insightful essay on Hemingway, E. L. Doctorow writes of Hemingway’s work during the 40’s, discussing The Garden of Eden in particular. "That is exciting because it gives evidence, despite his celebrity, despite his Nobel, despite the torments of his own physical self punishment, of a writer still developing. Those same writing strategies Hemingway formulated to such triumph in his early work came to entrap him in the later...I would like to think that as he began "The Garden of Eden," his very next novel after that war work (For Whom the Bell Tolls), he realized this and wanted to retool, to remake himself. That he would fail is almost not the point--but that he would have tried, which is the true bravery of a writer..."

After his work covering the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent work on his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway took on another assignment, covering the Chinese-Japanese war in 1941. He traveled with his wife Martha and wrote dispatches about the war for PM Magazine. It was a tedious trip and Hemingway was glad to return to Cuba for some well deserved rest. He didn’t stay still long. By 1942 Hemingway had undertaken an undercover operation to hunt down German submarines in the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Cuba. Hemingway gathered some of his friends, as well as a few professional operatives, then outfitted his boat Pilar with radio equipment, extra fuel tanks and a nice quantity of ordnance, hoping that if he ever located a German sub he could get close enough to drop a bomb down the hatch. He called the gang the "Crook Factory." Nothing ever came of their sub hunts except a good time fishing and drinking together, in the process irritating Martha who thought Hemingway was avoiding the responsibilities as a great writer to report the real war then raging in Europe.

In the spring of 1944 Hemingway finally decided to go to Europe to report the war, heading first to London where he wrote articles about the RAF and about the war’s effects on England. While there he was injured in a car crash, suffering a serious concussion and a gash to his head which required over 50 stitches. Martha visited him in the hospital and minimized his injuries, castigating him for being involved in a drunken auto wreck. Hemingway really was seriously hurt and Martha’s cavalier reaction triggered the beginning of the end of their marriage. While in London Hemingway met Mary Welsh, the antithesis of Martha. Mary was caring, adoring, and complimentary while Martha couldn’t care less, had lost any admiration for her man and was often insulting to him. For Hemingway it was an easy choice between the two and like in other wars, Hemingway fell in love with a new woman.

Hemingway and Mary openly conducted their courtship in London and then in France after the allied invasion at Normandy and the subsequent liberation of Paris. For all intents and purposes Hemingway’s third marriage was over and his fourth and final marriage to Mary had begun. Hemingway wrote, "Funny how it should take one war to start a woman in your damn heart and another to finish her. Bad luck."

In late August of 1944 Hemingway and his band of irregular soldiers entered Paris. Hemingway was always fond of saying he was the first to enter Paris en route to its liberation, but the story is a stretch. He did liberate his favorite bar and hotel though. He set up camp in The Ritz Hotel and spent the next week or so drinking, carousing and celebrating his return to the city that meant so much to him as a young man.

Next, Hemingway traveled to the north of France to join his friend General Buck Lanham as the allied forces (the 22nd Infantry Regiment in particular) pushed toward Germany. Hemingway spent a month with Lanham, long enough to watch American forces cross over into Germany. The fighting was some of the bloodiest of the war and was obliquely recorded by Hemingway in Across the River and into the Trees.

Hemingway returned to America in March of 1946 with plans to write a great novel of the war, but it never materialized. The only book length work he would produce about the war was Across the River and Into the Trees. It tells the bitter-sweet story of Richard Cantwell, a former brigadier general who has been demoted to colonel after a disastrous battle which had been blamed on him. The aging Cantwell, with his heart problem that threatened to kill him at any moment, falls in love with the young Italian countess Renata. They carry out a love affair and through their conversations and monologues we learn the source of Cantwell’s bitterness...an inept military that fails to appreciate his talents and in fact sends him orders that are impossible to fulfill, in effect guaranteeing his failure and disgrace, an ex-wife (based on Martha Gellhorn) that uses her relationship with Cantwell to gain access to the military brass for information important to her journalism career and a general distaste for the modern world.

Banking on Hemingway’s reputation, Scribners ran an initial printing of 75,000 copies of Across the River and Into the Trees in September of 1950 after it had already appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine in the February-June issues of the same year. Generally slammed by the critics as sentimental, boorish and a thin disguise of Hemingway’s own relationship with a young Italian woman named Adriana Ivancich, the novel actually contains some of Hemingway’s finest writing, especially in the opening chapters. The critics were expecting something on the scale of For Whom The Bell Tolls and were disappointed by the short novel and its narrow scope.

Stung by the critical reception of Across the River and Into the Trees , Hemingway was determined to regain his former stature as the world’s preeminent novelist. Still under the muse of Adriana Ivancich, Hemingway began work on a story of an old man and a great fish. The words poured forth and hit the page in almost perfect form, requiring little editing after he’d completed the first draft. It had been a story simmering in Hemingway’s subconscious for some time...in fact he had written about just such a story in one of his Esquire magazine dispatches as early as 1936. Max Perkins periodically tried to persuade Hemingway to write the story, but Hemingway felt he wasn’t yet ready to write what his wife Mary would later call "poetry in prose."

Hemingway often described competition among writers in boxing terms. He felt he’d been suckerpunched and knocked to the canvas by the critics on Across the River and Into the Trees, but as if he’d been saving it for just such an occasion, he believed the fish story would allow him to regain his position as "champion."

In September of 1952 The Old Man and the Sea appeared in Life magazine, selling over 5 million copies in a flash. The next week Scribners rolled out the first hardcover edition of 50,000 copies and they too sold out quickly. The book was a huge success both critically and commercially and for the first time since For Whom The Bell Tolls in 1940 Hemingway was atop the literary heap...and making a fortune. Though Hemingway had known great success before, he never had the privilege of receiving any major literary prizes. The Old Man and the Sea changed that, winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953.

Flush with money from the Old Man and the Sea Hemingway decided to exercise his wanderlust, returning to Europe to catch some bullfights in Spain and then to Africa later in the summer for another safari with his wife Mary. In January of 1954 Hemingway and Mary boarded a small Cessna airplane to take a tour of some of east Africa’s beautiful lakes and waterfalls. The pilot, Roy marsh, dove to avoid a flock of birds and hit a telegraph wire. The plane was badly damaged and they had to make a crash landing. The group’s injuries were minor, though several of Mary’s ribs were fractured. After a boat ride across Lake Victoria they took another flight in a de Haviland Rapide, this time piloted by Reginald Cartwright. Heading toward Uganda the plane barely got off the ground before crashing and catching fire. Cartwright, Mary and Roy Marsh made it through an exit at the front of the plane. Hemingway, using his head as a battering ram, broke through the main door. The crash had injured Hemingway more than most would know. In his biography of Hemingway Jeffrey Meyer lists the various injuries to the writer. "His skull was fractured, two discs of his spine were cracked, his right arm and shoulder were dislocated, his liver, right kidney and spleen were ruptured, his sphincter muscle was paralyzed by compressed vertebrae on the iliac nerve, his arms, face and head were burned by the flames of the plane, his vision and hearing were impaired..." Though he survived the crashes and lived to read his own premature obituaries, his injuries cut short his life in a slow and painful way.

Despite his ailments, Hemingway and Mary traveled on to Venice one last time and then headed back to Cuba. On October 28, 1954 Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature, but due to his injuries was unable to attend the ceremonies in Sweden. Instead, he sent a written acceptance, read to the Nobel Committee by John Cabot, the US Ambassador to Sweden.

After 1954 Hemingway battled deteriorating health which often kept him from working, and when he was working he felt it wasn’t very good. He had written 200,000 words of an account of his doomed safari tentatively titled "African Journal" (a heavily edited version was published in July of 1999 as True At First Light), but didn’t feel it publishable and didn’t have the energy to work it into shape. There were no short stories forthcoming either and those he had written he put aside as well, disappointed with his effort. He was struggling creatively as much as he was physically, and as a way to satisfy his writing "compulsion" he returned to those subjects he knew well and felt he could write about with little struggle.

In 1959 Life magazine contracted with Hemingway to write a short article about the series of mano y mano bullfights between Antonio Ordonez and Louis Miguel Dominguin, two of Spain’s finest matadors. Hemingway spent the summer of 1959 travelling with the bullfighters to gather material for the article. When he began writing the story however, it quickly grew to some 120,000 words, words that Hemingway couldn’t edit into short form. He asked his friend A. E. Hotchner to help (something he would have never considered in his prime) and together they succeeded in cutting it down to 65,000 words. Despite reservations about the article’s length the magazine published the article as "The Dangerous Summer" in three installments in 1960. This was the last work that Hemingway would see published in his lifetime.

Besides highlighting Hemingway’s increasing problem with writing the clear, effective prose which made him famous, his physical deterioration had become obvious as well during that summer of his 60th year. Pictures show Hemingway looking like a man closer to eighty than one of sixty. At times despondent, at others the life of the party, the swings in his moods, exacerbated by his heavy drinking of up to a quart of liquor a day, were taking a toll on those close to him.

During this time Hemingway was also working on his memoirs which would be in 1964 as A Moveable Feast. Hemingway wouldn’t live to see the success of this book which critics praised for its tenderness and beauty and for its rare look at the expatriate lifestyle of Paris in the 1920’s. There was a control in his writing that hadn’t been evident in a long time.

By this time Hemingway had left Cuba, departing in July of 1960, and had taken up residence in Ketchum, Idaho where he and Mary had already purchased a home in April of 1959. Idaho reminded Hemingway of Spain and Ketchum was small and remote enough to buffer him from the negative trappings of his celebrity. He had first visited the area in 1939 as a guest of Averill Harrimen who had just developed Sun Valley resort and wanted a celebrity like Hemingway to promote it. He had always liked the cool summers there and the abundance of wild land for hunting and fishing.

But even the beautiful landscapes of Idaho couldn’t hide the fact that something was seriously wrong with Hemingway. In the fall of 1960 Hemingway flew to Rochester, Minnesota and was admitted to the Mayo Clinic, ostensibly for treatment of high blood pressure but really for help with the severe depression his wife Mary could no longer handle alone. After Hemingway began talking of suicide his Ketchum doctor agreed with Mary that they should seek expert help. He registered under the name of his personal doctor George Saviers and they began a medical program to try and repair his mental state. The Mayo Clinic’s treatment would ultimately lead to electro shock therapy. According to Jefferey Meyers Hemingway received "between 11 to 15 shock treatments that instead of helping him most certainly hastened his demise." One of the sad side effects of shock therapy is the loss of memory, and for Hemingway it was a catastrophic loss. Without his memory he could no longer write, could no longer recall the facts and images he required to create his art. Writing, which had already become difficult was now nearly impossible.

Hemingway spent the first half of 1961 fighting his depression and paranoia, seeing enemies at every turn and threatening suicide on several more occasions. On the morning of July 2, 1961 Hemingway rose early, as he had his entire adult life, selected a shotgun from a closet in the basement, went upstairs to a spot near the entrance-way of the house and shot himself in the head. It was little more than two weeks until his 62nd birthday.

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August 9, 2007

Someone give me a reason to stay

Norwegians are simply not rich, thinking in Norway is frowned apon, and the authorities do cruel things. I want to believe that there are good reasons for this, but I'm losing faith.

I was born here, but I don't think in Norwegian. Almost everything I say these days is the translated version of what I'm really thinking. After ten days in Massachusetts, I've started to wonder why I didn't just stay in that place where people say "Excuse me" when they step on your shoes, where bookstores are open until 11 PM, where coffee ice cream actually gives you a buzz and where the local radio station features more relevant and thought-provoking debates than national tv in Norway.

Update November 23rd: Thank you, Michael Moore

Remind me why I live here...?

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Yet another reason not to like the current American president.

(What a good post... shoes and politics at once! If only it were good shoes combined with good politics... )

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August 5, 2007

Hirsi Ali: "You grew up in freedom, and you can spit on freedom"

Interview with Ayaan Hirsi Ali in which she says:

"I don't find myself in the same luxury as you. You grew up in freedom, and you can spit on freedom, because you don't know what it is not to have freedom. I haven't. I know there are many things wrong with America, and I know that there are many things wrong with Americans, but I still believe it's the best nation in the world."

Bruce Bawer writes of the interviewer, Avi Lewis: "In place of a mind he seems to have a write-protected file of received leftist opinions." I agree with Bawer when he writes that Lewis is an example of people who "don't get it and don't want to". The US (or "Western society" in general) has plenty of problems. It's easier to get ahead if you're rich and connected, McDonald's will not make you a healthy person, guns kill and endless shopping does not bring lasting happiness. Yet it is one thing to criticize each of these problems individually and another to see them as a sign that everything the West stands for is a mistake - to think that a society is evil if it is not perfect. When something does not work perfectly, it may still be the best possible solution at the time. Liberal democracy is, as Churchill said, the best solution we've come up with so far, and the US has been relatively good at it.

From Bruce Bawer's blog (copied here because there is no stable link to the post):

July 23, 2007 (8:00 P.M., CEST): This interview with Ayaan Hirsi by some Canadian TV guy named Avi Lewis is an instant classic. In a few brief questions he manages to sum up the entire mindset of those who just don't get it – and don't want to. She answers each question articulately, definitively, knowledgeably. Yet none of it seems to get through. It's as if he's not programmed to process sense. To think. In place of a mind he seems to have a write-protected file of received leftist opinions. The obnoxiousness with which this lightweight PC mouthpiece sneers at the hard-won wisdom of one of the truly great individuals of our time is breathtaking.

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July 29, 2007

Well, it's over

There are no spoilers in this post, but there are spoilers in the links.

I've been a Harry Potter fan since I was eleven. When I read the first two books, I didn't even notice all the media attention they were getting. I remember finding an article about the series on an airplane and realizing that I wasn't the only one who liked these books, and I remember how excited I was when someone told me there were going to be seven books in all! I read the first two books aloud to my younger sister, and then my dad read the third, fourth and fifth book aloud to us both. We could spend hours just discussing the details of the characterizations. Quidditch is the only team sport I've ever been enthusiastic about.

Granted, it's been ten years. I've had other things on my mind. The first two movies were really disappointing, and the general media circus and people overanalyzing the importance of these books for society were well, overkill. And the fifth book was bad, which means the fifth movie could never be all that good.

Even so, after spending most of yesterday on my friend's sofa, listening to very dramatic LotR soundtrack music and reading The Deathly Hallows (while she reread her own copy next to me), I can only say: I hoped that Rowling would tie up the loose ends to my satisfaction, and she really did. I don't have time for a review at the moment, but I'll refer you to:

Maya (mistful) : "I'll never stop loving the thought of people in excited lines at midnight (...) I could never be anything but grateful." (Maya makes a lot of good points, particularly about character development, which I love to over-analyze)

Jenny Sawyer: "Unfortunately, Rowling did her readers a great disservice by making the story about Harry when it really should have been about Snape." (Wow, Snape's life story would make a really good novel - not for kids, though)

Uma Damle: "All is well that  ends with a well written book." (New favorite quote!)

Updated September 4th 2007: Catherine Bennet in the Guardian writes: "You feel that simply by cutting intra-paragraph repetition and the number of times she describes an angry Harry saying something angry angrily, Rowling and her editors might have saved 10,000 trees (...) Anyone who, as a child, never wanted a favourite book to end, must envy the Potter cohort a magical world that has grown by hundreds of pages a year; a world whose arrangements Rowling has depicted in such sublime, almost manically generous detail, that for 10 years her readers could more or less live inside it (...) Whatever happens in the last of these brilliant adventures may matter less, for the millions of children who grew up with Harry Potter, than the end of his companionship and with it, the end of their childhood."

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July 25, 2007

The logic of Harry Potter

There are no spoilers in this post. 

I'm currently reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. My friend is urging me to finish it as soon as possible so that we can discuss everything about it like the nerds we (sometimes) are. Meanwhile, I must admit, sadly, that the lack of logic in the series is annoying. And this has only gotten worse as I've gotten older.

Now before this friend and others kill me for writing bad things about our beloved series, let me just say that I wouldn't be writing this if I didn't love the books. I wouldn't care if I well, didn't care. And while it may in many cases be best to just enjoy a good story and not worry about the plotholes, when they annoy me, they annoy me, no matter how many times people tell me to stop being "too smart for my own good".

Megan McArdle writes about the bad economics in Harry Potter, and in my opinion, she's right (if we think of economics broadly to include magic and information, not just Galleons, as resources). There does not seem to be a clear pattern to when and how magic can be used. Witches and wizards have the ability to use magic, but must learn the details of how at school. So far, so good. But while they can transfigure one animal into an entirely different species, they can't remove mold from bread and they must eat trick candies to be able to fake disease. Sometimes wizards need only wands to perform spells, and sometimes potions or various gadgets (deluminator, pensieve, timeturner) are needed, and I haven't found any kind of pattern for when you need what. And the whole idea of having or not having money really should be less important if you can magically alter clothing, food, your house etc. yet the Weasleys are still poor.

When magic and knowledge about magic isn't being used as a plot device, information is. McArdle writes that the characters "spend the latter books pointlessly withholding information from each other that, if shared, would end the installment somewhere around page ten". This is not the way to write a good story, and it was my biggest irritation when reading "The DaVinci Code", except that in that case, much of the information was being given to the charactors but withheld from the reader. The characters would then slowly and stupidly try to solve riddles that were unknown to the reader, and as soon as the whole riddle was described, its answer was obvious. A good mystery story gives the reader the opportunity to solve the mystery before the last page. The answer should be there, but cleverly hidden between red herrings and amusing subplots. The reaction to the last chapter should be: "But of course! Why didn't I figure that out sooner?" not "Huh? What? But... huh?" as brand new characters, info and plot devices are introduced at the author's convenience. I can't stand those stories where there would be no plot if the characters would only communicate, and every once in a while, J. K. Rowling falls into that very trap, especially in the later books.

Another annoyance (which McArdle does not address) is the psychological and emotional logic. Harry Potter may have had vague memories of being loved as a baby, but until his 11th birthday, he has never really experienced kindness, let alone anything resembling friendship. Shouldn't that unusually unhappy childhood have made him less stable, trusting and generally normal than he is? For example, that he trusts and likes Ron immediately, but then rejects the powerful Draco Malfoy's offer of friendship, seems strange to me. It shows an unusual sense of loyalty and integrity. Many 11-year-olds would find it difficult to stand by their unpopular friend, and when we keep in mind that he met this friend less than a day ago and that he has never experienced loyalty himself, it just doesn't seem believable to me. Over the course of the series, Harry encounters incredible sadness and loss and is almost constantly in grave danger. He is betrayed by people he trusts and kept in the dark by people who should be telling him the truth. Yet he continues to be the hero, questioning his friends' need to protect him, and putting other people's safety before his own. This even happens in situations where he rationally knows that it is more important to the entire world that he survive than that person X does. This may be a reaction to his lonely childhood - he has very low self-esteem and can't believe other people would risk their lives to protect him - but it seems to me that he is just making stupid choices and being more noble than I find believable. And it's not just Harry. Hermione, one of the characters I identify with the most, sometimes shows signs of being written as a steriotypical "nerdy girl" rather than as a real person who happens to be really smart. Although I think that Rowling got better at writing this character as Hermione grew up, it still astounds me that she doesn't get more exasperated with Ron and Harry. I understand that they are very close friends, but doesn't she have a need for friends she actually has more in common with?

The obvious answer to these comments (mine and McArdles) are that: "Come on! It's a kid's book about magic!" However, there is a difference between a realistic story (one that could actually happen) and a believable story (one that has a perfect internal logic, even if it does involve superpowers). Children can tell the difference. Anyway, the children who first started reading Harry Potter, are no longer children. When I first started reading this series, I was eleven (just like Harry) and I loved the believability of the first book and the surprising, yet perfectly logical end. Now I'm almost 21. Over the course of ten years, fans have grown up. And the books have gotten longer, darker and more detailed. As I finish the very last chapters of the Harry Potter series, I hope Rowling ties up the loose ends in a satisfying way. I really, really do.

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July 18, 2007

How to travel Part 2: What to wear

I work at a museum and spend much of my time talking to tourists. And although I love my job, everything becomes routine after a while. So the part of my brain that isn't answering their questions or politely asking them to stop smoking while leaning against an 800-year-old wooden building, is usually judging their fashion sense. Now I know I can appear to be high-maintenance, and I don't insist that everyone at the museum wear heels and skirts just because I feel like it. After all, there are cobble-stones, steep mountain paths and often rain to deal with. But Crocs? With socks? Is that really necessary, or even practical? If the point of Crocs is that they are sandals that can get wet, then doesn't wearing them with socks ruin their (dare I even say it) one possible good side? 

It seems that bad taste is mandatory for tourists, just like it is for Norwegians going to their cottages in the mountains. Too many adults seem to stick to the childish idea that clothes are divided into comfortable, practical play-clothes and stiff, itchy “dressing up” clothes. It apparently hasn't entered their minds that a t-shirt can be soft and have a flattering color and that shoes can be good for your feet without being Crocs. On one randomly chosen day, I saw 14 fanny packs, 20 people with socks in their sandals, 6 weird hats, 8 pairs of Crocs (at least two of them with socks), 5 pairs of tourist vests, 23 pairs of tourist shorts, 19 pairs of tourist pants, and 8 pairs of tourist pants with removable legs so that they can be turned into tourist shorts. To be fair, I counted 11 pairs of ok shoes, and 7 pairs of gold-colored shoes, which you would not expect in the average tourist's suitcase.

This strange tourist style makes me wonder about two things: Firstly, what are these people carrying around? They have twenty pockets on each item of their clothing, plus fanny packs and backpacks. But they don't have food or water (they always ask me where they can buy that), their sunglasses and cameras are carried on strings around their necks, and their sweaters are around their waists. So if the average tourist is carrying a map, a wallet and a cell phone, what is in all the other pockets? I haven't yet worked up the nerve to ask them.

The second mystery is this: why do the same people over-dress for flying and then under-dress once they've landed? OK, so I can't prove it's the same people, but when I see so many stilettos in economy class check-in lines and so many Birkenstocks with stockings at tourist attractions, surely there must be some overlap? One semi-logical explanation I can think of is that people with bad shoe taste want to bring their Crocs and their wedge boots (both in one closet; shudder) and the wedges are the heaviest.

Another possibility is that these people have seen some ca. 1950's airline ad (or for that matter, the 2000's in-flight commercials for IcelandAir) and have gotten the impression that long-distance flying is glamorous. Well, forget that. Your feet will swell, your eyes will itch, your food will taste bad, you'll freeze and then overheat and your mascara will fall off. The flight attendants may be wearing pencil skirts, heels and eye-liner, but they are not like other people. (Incidentally, now that I know how to fasten my seatbelt and adjust my own oxygen thing before helping a child, how about the flight attendants tell me how to apply make-up so that it stays in place for 12 hours of high-altitude dehydrated hell?) Flight attendants wear uniforms, and uniforms have certain distinguishing features: they are uncomfortable, they are traditional, and they are not what everyone else is wearing. So wear flats and pants. Not a mini-skirt that doesn't allow to sit down (you'll have to do that for take-off and landing, you see). Not something that needs to be ironed when you change flights. And if you must wear shoes with soles that could contain anything from knitting needles1 to samurai swords, at least make sure they're slip-ons so you can make it through security check in less than 20 minutes.

In fact, long-distance flying is one of the very few occasions when even my inner Prada-wearing devil can “OK” track pants and flip-flops in public. I recommend pyjama bottoms if you have the guts. Wear socks in your sandals for all I care. In fact, that can be good: you slip off your sandals in the air, but you're still warm; then when you and your swollen feet land, there's room for your toes.

There's an added benefit to dressing slouchy in the air: it shows you're high-class, at least according to Paul Fussell's very funny book about the American class system. People dress up for special occasions. Dressing way down shows that flying is something you do a lot, that you're completely comfortable with it (Fussell writes that walking around the aircraft barefoot promotes you to upper class) and that frankly, you have better places to wear your stilettos. Might I suggest The Norwegian Folk Museum?

Part 1 

1Airlines confiscate knitting needles and then hand out knives and forks. Makes perfect sense, right?

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July 13, 2007

How to travel Part 1: This is a non-stupidity flight

Stupid people should be treated like smokers.

"Live and let live" is an excellent rule when interpreted correctly. It does not mean "Everyone should be allowed to do whatever they want," but "Everyone should be allowed to do whatever they want, as long as the only people they harm are themselves." Unfortunately, as long as you interact with other living things at all, this second part of the rule limits you quite a lot. Norwegian smokers have noticed this in the past two years, since stricter regulations were imposed July 2005. It is now legal to buy boxes of cigarettes with THIS THING YOU JUST BOUGHT WILL BE YOUR DEATH!!! written on them, but you can't smoke them anywhere indoors. And since Norway has about six months of white winter and four months of green winter, this makes being a smoker in Norway a cold, wet and lonely existence. (Or so I hope. I am not a smoker.) And this is ok, because by now everyone knows that smoking is unhealthy and addictive and every smoker knew this when they started. It is a stupid choice, and if you insist on making it, then you should accept being left outside in the cold. Literally.

When I fly, I wish other stupid choices were treated the same way as the choice to start smoking. By now, shouldn't we assume that most people in the Western world know how to behave when they travel? As Eddie Izzard says: if you need to watch the part of the security information when they tell you how to put on your seatbelt, how did you manage to buy a plane ticket? And with all the publicity about the new limit on fluids in carry-on luggage, shouldn't people have gotten the message by now? I don't really see how putting my eye cream in a plastic bag makes the world a safer place, but I just do it. I don't wait for security personel at the airport to remind me and then hold up the line while arguing with them about my economy-size shampoo bottle I just have to bring with me everywhere. I've seen people standing next to a "Remove your laptop and place it in a tray" sign discussing (in the same language as the sign was written in) whether or not they should keep their laptops in their bags. I always manage to stand directly behind someone in the check-in line who didn't realize that not only do you have to bring your passport and your ticket with you when you travel, you also shouldn't bring twice as much luggage as you are allowed to, unless you are prepared to pay for it. And most of all: if you don't show up for the flight, that should be your own problem. At Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands, they say over the intercom: "Mr. ________, you are delaying the flight." which I think is just rude enough.

Part 2 

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Hello, again

This blog is not dead.

I have simply not been in the mood for blogging these past weeks. And before that, the This Week posts were a lazy way to keep updating despite the stress of The Bachelor Thesis. After that was all over, I spent a lot of time outside and at work, since sunshine, money and a social life were all badly needed after the exams and thesis. So I wasn't near my computer all that much. Also, I've been thinking and writing about some more personal stuff lately. Nothing that anyone needs to worry about, just stuff that I don't want to put out on the net.

These past couple of days however, I have realized that my muse, or whatever we want to call that "I'm going to blog this!" feeling, is back. I have had ideas and phrases bouncing around in my head, and my fingers have been itching to type. And today, I finally have the time...

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May 20, 2007

To Do List

When I look back at the last few months and wonder what on earth I have been doing with my time, it's good to know that I am not the only one with this feeling of having achieved nothing. Continue reading to see a To Do List I think we can all relate to.

Incidently, this is entry number 200, so I have achieved something. 

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May 14, 2007

Playlist

Last.fm is fun. I have some criticism, mainly:

  1. I don't like the idea of organizing music by tag. At all. I especially don't like tagging artists by which country they are from. How is that relevant to how the music actually sounds? The beauty of Pandora is (was, sniff) that I could find music that sounded like music I liked, regardless of stuff like decades. Not music made by people from the same town as an artist I like one song from.
  2. What is not indie? I thought I could use this tag system to find out what people think indie means, since last.fm is so democratic and stuff. But practically everything I like is tagged indie, and I don't even know what it means! That doesn't make sense.

On the other hand, you can make playlists and put them on your website. So I did. I had to have 15 different artists, but most of the songs fit into the same mood - at least in my mind, but as my little sister tells me twice a day, I am so weird. So there is an idea behind the choice of songs, but I doubt I'll be able to explain it.

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May 13, 2007

Alejandro Bendaña 2

In 1987, P.J. O'Rourke met Alajandro Bendaña and wrote this:

We met our first Sandinista that same night, General Secretary of the Foreign Ministry Alejandro Bendaña, who mentioned that he'd rather be out dancing at the street festivals (which I saw no sign of) and said he assumed we would, too. Tsk. Tsk. There but for lack of international understanding ... Bendaña oozed self-confident charm. His clothes were nattily rumpled, he bummed cigarettes and, having gone to Harvard, he spoke better English than we did. He was full of enthusiasm for the Central American Peace Pact, the Arias Accord. Bendaña vowed Nicaragua would comply - unilaterally if need be - with all the Accord's requirements, though he had to look in his briefcase to see just what those requirements were.

In a fit of bonhomie, Bendaña then hinted the government would soon allow the one opposition newspaper, La Prensa, to publish again, permit the Catholic radio station to resume broadcasting, free some political prisoners and announce a partial cease-fire with the contras. 

"The revolutionary process," said Bendaña with real heat, "does not require having a newspaper shut down, does not require having a radio station shut down, does not require eliminating political parties. Those measures go against the grain of the revolution!" By the look of the faces on the faces of the StaffDel members, I'd say it had occurred to them that Bendaña worked for a revolution that didn't require those things but had done them anyway. The aides had some major questions, which Bendaña parried like an amused and slightly absent-minded Northwestern football coach defending his team's record against Michigan and Ohio State.

In 2006, I met Alejandro Bendaña. He hadn't changed much.

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May 4, 2007

Heartbroken

Just when things were going so well, Pandora broke my heart.

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May 2, 2007

Coffee and conversation

From Inanimate Objects by Todd Zapoli 

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You know you're from Paris when...

I'm posting this here now, so that I can return in a year and check how many of these I get then. Because if everything goes according to the current plan (which changes at least once a month), I will be living in Paris at that time. 

1. You consider Boulogne, Neuilly, Saint-Denis etc to be the countryside. I mean, Porte de Versailles or Porte de la Villette mean there IS a door, and therefore an outside and an inside, right?
2. You know that, when you take the subway and you have to go through Châtelet, you NEED a ticket because you know exactly where the police is hiding (behind those glass window things)
3. You're SO over the sound the Carte Imagine R makes when you swipe it on the machine
4. Your very first clubbing experience was at Les Planches. Now you think it looks more like a nursery than a club.
5. You know that a martini means a martini, and not that gross vermouth and gin mixture.
6. You find it normal that someone is randomly peeing in the street.
7. You peed in the street at least once in your life.
8. You think that having a car in Paris is useless, but to go from Concorde to Les Champs Elysées, you take a taxi.
9. You can tell only by looking at their clothes from which arrondissement people are.
10. Shopping is a competitive sport, fashion, a way of life.
11. You actually consider walking in dog shit with your left foot lucky (it happens so often, it might as well be useful)
12. You know the subway map by heart, but you have trouble learning the different regions of France.
13. You know that coffe isn't suppose to be served in a cup that looks like a bathtub. And you drink it at the bar, standing.
14. You hate Paris and Parisians.
15. You love Paris and Parisians.
16. When foreign people ask where you're from, you say "Paris", and not "France".
17. You could write a poem on Ladurée/ Pierre Hermé macarons.
18. You have never been on the Eiffel Tower, or on a boat on the Seine, and you only go tothe Champs Elysées when it's Sunday night and you need to buy a book at Virgin for class on Monday.
19. When people say "Paname", you want to bleach their mouth.
20. You're so dramatic, you say you want to kill yourself at least five times a day.
21. You're surprised when someone holds the door for you at the subway exit.
22. You're even more surprised when a sales person asks if you're looking for something in particular. Actually that would never happen.
23.You know the guy whose sister's friend who's the cousin of a girl who knows the manager.
24. You got shit faced when you were 13, and now you drink real drinks, and look down on people who do vodka/beer shots at frat parties.
25. "Putain", "bordel", "merde" or the ever famous "putain de bordel de merde" are not considered "bad words"; I mean, you use them every day, and sometimes it's affectionate.
26. You don't really get excited when you go clubbing; you just take your bag and go.
27. You know that Paris is not a city, it's an attitude.
28. When you see "schales" in the street, you think that they should be banned from the city and burned at the stake.
29. You thinks it's normal when you know the life story of the butcher/baker/cashier of G20/homeless guy rue de Rennes/sales woman of H&M.
30. You KNOW that it's the most fabulous,angry, stylish, bitchy, comic, even romantic (even though you HATE clichés) city in the world and that, although you left, you will come back and stay for good.

Source 

Posted by Julie at 10:18 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

April 30, 2007

Good news for internet radio

Despite my dilemmas over protesting, it seems that protests from Americans was enough. The Internet Radio Equality Act - good news for fans of Pandora and similar.

Posted by Julie at 11:13 AM | TrackBack

April 29, 2007

Update on the bachelor thesis situation Part 1

In January, I wrote that I needed to know what my bachelor thesis should be about and what kind of computer I should buy.  Later I added an update on the computer situation when I had bought a Toshiba. So what about the bachelor thesis situation?

Well, let’s just say that I’m not as happy with my bachelor thesis as I am with my computer. I still don’t feel that I found that “one perfect idea” that would make me happy to read and write about the same topic nine hours a day. I’m beginning to think that I have a fear of commitment – not emotionally, but academically. I find it very difficult to ask one single question and turn the answer to that question into weeks of work and tens of thousands of words. I love writing, and I love finding stuff out, but I don’t like using more words than necessary, and I hate over-explaining and pointing out the obvious. And I have a nasty habit of thinking that once I know something really well, than it falls into the category of “the obvious.”

The whole bachelor thesis thing was very hyped up. I was told that this was the most fun thing I would do in college, that Inter-students always wrote brilliant, insightful, original texts, and that fellow students and advisors would give me so much help. People said that it should count as 20 credits, because that was the amount of work we brilliant and insightful scholars put into it.

Truthfully, I wouldn’t say that this is the case. I still think that this was much more fun. Writing something brilliant, insightful and original cannot be guaranteed. Sometimes you want to research something and it turns out that there really isn’t all that much to say about it that hasn’t already been said. And sometimes you want to learn something, and you can’t because finding the important facts would involve years of collecting data and even then you might just find out that there is nothing interesting to say about it. And no, not to be rude, but I don’t think that fellow students or the advisor have helped much, and I know I haven’t helped anyone. And I’m already doing 40 credits this semester; I don’t have time for 50, but I do think that the thesis is costing me 30 credits of anxiety.

And many of my fellow students are saying the same thing: “I’m struggling with this! No, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be!”

When people ask the dreaded question: “What is your bachelor thesis about?” I answer: “Ummm… Can we not talk about this?” But I do have a topic, I am writing, and I think it is time for brutal honesty: I am going to tell you all what I’m doing these days – in part 2. But first I am going to be social with my good friend and reminder that there are brilliant and insightful people who don’t care about international politics.

Posted by Julie at 6:11 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

This week

I read

I watched

  • Sex and the City
  • Wallander
  • Mona Lisa Smile
  • Peter's Friends

I listened to

  • The soundtrack to Mona Lisa Smile 

Posted by Julie at 9:15 AM | TrackBack