Cemeteries and Bird Photographs.

I stood as still as I could, raising the phone up to my eye level. I tapped on the screen to make it focus on the little brown bird in front of me. He looked at me, looked up at the grey sky and seemed to wait patiently for me to snap a series of photographs of him. Then the bus came, I got on the bus and I went to work.

Sometimes using Google Maps makes me feel like a ghost. I stood outside the front gates of Highgate Cemetery in London, I then walked slowly around the perimeter. I couldn’t go into the gates, but I walked around the edge, looking in through the thicket at the gravestones. I walked the entire way around. I felt like a ghost, tracing my way around the perimeter, invisible and unable to go inside.

There was an overgrown cemetery in the town I grew up in, in Lusaka. It was in a neighborhood across town from where I lived. The Aylmer May Cemetery, in Rhodes Park. I was obsessed with it as a child. The cemetery had been opened in 1922, closed in 1958 and by the time I was a child had been closed and fallen into disrepair. It has now been reopened, and since 1999 has been undergoing renovations and repairs. However, when I was a little girl the gravestones were cracked, tumbling and the entire place was overgrown. There was a little chapel at the entrance with broken strained glass windows and crumbling bricks. It was unassuming, the kind of place you could drive past everyday and never really notice, but from the first time we found it on a drive, I was in love. Love at first sight.

My mother would take me on long drives in her sky blue Nissan Sentra when I was a kid, 6, or 7, we’d drive through the unfamiliar streets of Lusaka, “following the rain,” turning in whatever direction moved us closer to the menacing dark grey clouds that perpetually hovered over the skyline in the humid summer months.  On afternoons where there was nothing to do, we would look for rain, and use it as a way for my mother to learn the meandering and usually unmarked roads. To this day, she’s uncannily good at drawing little maps of Lusaka, and directing people through neighborhoods.

We stopped the car, and got out. We picked to the edge of the broken fence. There wasn’t anyone there, and so we poked around a bit. My mother would diligently remind me not to tread on people’s graves, we would stop and read the gravestones and work out how old people were, or how long they’d been dead. I loved how derelict it was, how dark, overgrown, and frankly, creepy. We went back many times, I’d beg on rainy afternoons to go. Sometimes we’d chat to people – the man who half-heartedly swept around the graves, or someone passing by, we’d take grave-rubbings. Running our crayons over the white paper, capturing record of the etched words.

I was almost sad as a teenager when I realized my beloved cemetery was being fixed up. It’s important to preserve these sorts of spaces, but there is something about the charm and power of the overgrown cemetery that captures the imagination. Visiting Highgate in London had much the same effect, I loved it. I loved the stale, cool air, the endless shade, and the cracked stones. I loved the moisture and decay as if it crawled out of the ground, the darkness and the mystery. Not in a I-want-to-wear-black-and-lounge-around-on-tombstones sort of way, but more in a sense of feeling all the intensity and impressiveness of burial ritual, of the dead as they sleep forever. I liked sitting quietly, and listening to the noises old, quiet places make. I liked visiting it today, even as an apparition myself. It made me want to explore Washington’s cemeteries. To find out if there’s a dank, overgrown patch of ground, with aging stones for me to explore, here, closer to home.

What does anything have to do with the bird I took photographs of today? I don’t know, I don’t know if it has anything to do with the daydreams about cemeteries that followed. But I do know that I photographed a bird, and then has a ghostly visit to a ghostly place.


Apartment 300

I came home from work today, I buzzed into the front lobby of a building in Arlington, one of the counties next door to Washington D.C. I live in North Arlington, amid pleasant if not unremarkable urban landscape. There are streets with bars and restaurants, shops and offices, and then neighborhoods full of homes that easily would fetch over a million dollars, with colorful Christmas decor going up, and colorful front doors. This opens out into apartment blocks. These were the blocks and houses that once made up the relatively modest neighborhood beyond the Federal Government, “Washington’s Bedroom.” I happen to live in one such block of flats. It’s a relatively large building overflowing with midcentury style. Many of the residents have lived in the building either since its construction in the early 1960s , or very near then. It has a bright awning with the address scrawled on it, and the name of the building in lettering nearby. Each apartment has a balcony, a small bit of Northern Virginia air to call their own. Behind the building is a parking lot, and a patch of grass where the many canine residents poop and play. D0uble layers of front doors open up on a modest, very impeccably clean front lobby. On one way hangs a garish piece of hotel-style “art” and on the other are the postboxes. The carpeting in the building is a treasure. I suspect it was replaced in the mid-to-late 1970s as it is magnificent in its garishness. The doors are all neat and beige.

My apartment is at the end of the third floor corridor. It was a family home when it was first purchased. With a galley kitchen, built-in book shelves, a large living room, hall closet, two bedrooms, and a Mamie Eisenhower pink bathroom, as well as the aforementioned balcony there is plenty of space. It then became a lease. I don’t know who lived her before my roommate and the roommate who lived with her when she first moved in.

The apartment has a beige carpet we’re eventually going to rip up, furniture from various places, a smallish TV. There’s also a plant eaking onto life, and in one corner there are packed bookshelves to the ceiling. The living area is organized into a small living room, a little reading space, and a dining room. The apartment is dove gray all through the living room, most of the furniture has a country, beach house kind of feel. With navy blue, turquoise, grey, and yellow dominating the color scheme. There are cushions on the couch, books and DVDs on the shelf , decorative items, a set of curtains which were painstakingly selected. There is even a table light, and a DIY tape Devil’s Trap a la “Supernatural” on the ceiling over the front door.

The bathroom is one of the best parts of the apartment. With all its original fixtures and tiles it remains relatively unchanged since the building was constructed. The tiles are pale pink, the bathtub is low, while the sink has that classic mid-century marble with a little wooden cabinet beneath, the medicine cabinet is also wooden. The shower curtain, carpet, and knobs are different. Decorative knobs from Anthropologie and the carpet and curtain come from Target. We picked out items to flattered our little old school bathroom.

You may be wondering why I’m telling you this about the place where I live. I moved into the apartment in Spring 2012 after a nasty experience with some rather gnarly bedbugs. I had been moving from hotels, sleeping on the floor, I was stressed and effectively homeless. I found the apartment on Craigslist and moved in with almost nothing. I slept on a futon from Ikea for the first 10 months, with a peculiar assortment of objects around it. It was some of the most difficult time of my life, and the little apartment served as a real haven. It was a safe space.

Nearly 2 years later, I walked in the front door today and felt like I was at home. Not a place I might move away from, not somewhere temporary. Somewhere I genuinely consider home. I plopped down my purse, poured a glass of water, sat on the couch and thought, this is a great place to live. It’s difficult to imagine that I would’t eventually leave this pleasant little home, but as someone already far from home, it’s important to come back to something everyday and feel belonging.

Some of you may have noticed…

Maybe it was the thesis stress, maybe it was the allergies, maybe it was the smaller, but not small dress I bought, maybe it was the threat of spring looming on the horizon bringing with it intolerably short shorts and mostly naked undergraduate girls…

Whatever caused it, yesterday I reached breaking point.

Some of you may have noticed, I am fat.

I’m not “pinch an inch”, “could serve to lose a few pounds”, or “chubby”, “tubby” or even “festively plump.” I dwell on the plus size of plus sizes. Usually I don’t talk about it, except to make one of my no fail jokes [Look, I didn’t get this body climbing stairs and avoiding cupcakes.] I figure if I don’t mention it, you all won’t notice. You won’t notice how much of the sofa I take up, how I fill up my chair (or one of those wretched little desks), you won’t notice my thighs, or back rolls, or double chin when I’m laughing. You’ll instead notice my voice, or my smile, or my bunny front teeth, my excellent hair perhaps, or how handy I am with liquid eyeliner.

I also know this is not the case. I live in the same media frenzied world as everyone else. I know that despite everything I’ve achieved, or how well I get dressed in the morning or just how good I am with the liner, I am still fat. At the end of the day a fat girl is just a fat girl. Everyday is battle against homeliness, against looking matronly, maternal or pregnant. Everyday I walk around Washington DC, and I am aware that when people look at me, they see a fat person. I have all the stereotypes of what fat people are like hovering around me; we’re lazy, unmotivated, uninspired, miserable, out-of-control, we’re not confident, and we’re rarely sexy. Yeah – would you believe that is exactly that set of characteristics that got me where I am in life. I am 100% a successful student, friend, person, intellectual, artist and writer because I’m an lazy, unmotivated, miserable fat fuck. Funny, that.

Usually, I’m pretty confident about my body. I have the rare good fortune that I didn’t “get fat”. I started out pretty fat, and stayed fat. There isn’t a moment in my memory when I wasn’t fat. My appearance now is the logical conclusion of all my other appearances. That said, something happened the last few weeks (I do NOT want to talk about it.) that threw me a curve ball. So, after a week of panicked mega-dieting (I’ve lost 6 lbs since last Wednesday, when I’m on it, I do not mess around.) frantic waddling on the treadmill and treating my closet like a collection of burlap sacks, I went online last night and googled “fat positive”. For the first time since high school, I needed someone else, a total stranger on the Internet, talking to not me, but fat women everywhere that my body is okay. It worked, looking at pictures of other people, women, my size, larger and littler made me feel like it was okay. That I could get up today and get dressed and feel okay.

I am in love with the Internet. Why? because in a split second last night I could begin a process to put to bed a lot of hurtful feelings I’ve been dealing with all week, for this I’m very grateful.

The excellent website I stumbled onto was http://fuckyeahfatpositive.tumblr.com/



An Ode To My iPhone.

Once upon a time I had an iPod, and I had a small, red, Samsung flip phone. It was my senior year in college. I had returned from a trip to Africa and on the flight home, I had dropped my iPod. It had careened down the aisle of the plane. It would never turn on again. A couple weeks later, I sat in a bar on campus. I balanced my little, red phone precariously on the top of a slim-line beer mug. A friend said, “that phone will fall in.” It did. I panicked. I got beer all over myself. The phone never recovered.

On March 6th, 2008 – I wrote this email to my Dad.
“Hey Mom and Dad.
got phone looked at. water damaged beyond repair.
spent money, got iphone.
is beautiful.”

This was the day my love affair with my iPhone began. Since then I have described the time I’ve had it as being anywhere from 3 years to 9 million years. The time has been so beautiful.

It has been the iPhone that time forgot, old and clunky. Indestructible, dropped many times. The light was bright and charge stayed strong.

About two months ago my phone began to behave…unusually. It was dropping calls, slowing down, failing to get texts, crashing. I would reboot it, restore it, speak kindly to it and nightly hope that these were not signs of terminal illness. It began to have occasional seizures, I would patiently stroke it back to functionality. As time has gone by it has slowed down, refused to get internet, the sound comes in and out, service is spotty at best. I began to hold it to my ear, listen to the sound of its tiny hard drive whirring into eternity. I can still hear its little iPhone heart beating, but it is dying. I know I could just use it, tolerate its breakdown, tantrums – but I know what would happen. I could come to hate it. I would hate its slowness, its crashes. I would come to resent my little companion.

Today I decided I would not let that happen. I went to the Apple store in Georgetown and bought a new iPhone. A 8 gig, 3Gs. I don’t need more than 8 gigs. Today I stood on the corner of Wisconsin Aveune and M St and watched the service bars drop. No Service. No service ever again. No calls, no texts, no twitters. He will still get wireless, and still plays music. I will let him fulfill these roles until he can quietly and peacefully go. I just finished syncing him for the last time. Preparing him for a quieter life, a retirement.

I made the first call on my new phone to Paul. I’m happy it sounded clear, worked well. But it was not a happy occasion.

I learnt so much from my iPhone. I could text more, make friendships fast, I met a lot of people through this phone. I sent the texts that have built my relationship, saved me during all-nighters, I’ve found directions, I’ve been able to sit in airports and bus stops and just be online – learning all the time. I don’t think I would have thought to go to CCT if I hadn’t been so connected to this little piece of technology.

You will live a peaceful life, little iPhone, and even once you have passed into the great beyond – I will keep you close by.

Film: Birdemic – Shock and Terror

Today, I experienced something beautiful. Sonora, Paul and I went and saw Birdemic – Shock and Terror, the epic “romantic thriller” by genre master, James Nguyen. Now, don’t get me wrong, Birdemic is an unrelentingly terrible film, awful by every possible standard, however it is also a beautiful thing to watch.

The narrative follows two main characters, the alarmingly slow moving Rod and his love interest, Nathalie (Victoria’s Secret model in the making.) They apparently went to high school together, where he sat two seats behind her in English (and collected her fallen hairs) and get accidentally reunited outside a diner in California. They go on a series of painfully boring dates, while Ron does very well at work. He’s a software salesperson, and has “silicon valley dreams”. What’s even better is that as all this incredibly mundane business is being inflicted upon the oft hysterical audience the film pushes a far-less-than-subtle message regarding polar bears dying and the other effects of global warming.

The plot really picks up when after a night of passionate laying next to each other, Rod and Nathalie awaken to find their sweet, Californian town has been ravaged by killer eagles and vultures. Eagles and vultures with ear-splitting shrieks, rendered in the most spectacular gif animation I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. They proceed to join up with another couple, and find themselves in a mini-van (read: Epic death trap). From here they spend the rest of this rolicking, joy-ride of a film doing incredibly foolish things, getting in and out of the vehicle for no apparent reason, leaving valuables behind (jerry can of gas, gun, etc.) and gathering dead weights (children). All the while they are regularly attacked by these maniacal bloody birds, and occasionally encounter sage-like individuals who proceed to unleash needlessly long diatribes about the negative affects of pollution, vehicle emissions, and global warming in general. By the time you’ve seen 20 minutes of this it becomes painfully obvious that the filmmakers are seriously trying to attempt to convey a cautionary message regarding the environment. Sometimes it feels as if Birdemic is the spotty, unwanted love-child of An Inconvenient Truth and Avatar.

I won’t go on and ruin the delicate nuances of the narrative, however, what is more remarkable about this innovative piece of film is the perceptive and effective use of the pan shot, sound editing and special effects. Never have I seen frightening, predatory birds rendered quite so poetically as Nguyen’s clunky, super-imposed creatures. Nor have I seen such epic, magical use of the pan-shot. Pans up and down, left and right, two, three, four, five, six in a row – revolutionary to say the very least. Finally, the sound editing is something to truly marvel at, the deeply moving effect of having key lines of “meaningful” dialogue being washed out by appalling soundtrack or on set background noise. Never have I felt so effectively sutured into intricacies of a film.

What is interesting about films such as Birdemic is that the people who produce them truly do deserve respect. While their films may appear to be travesties to the conditioned eye of the Hollywood film viewer, they are, actually, the products of considerable work, devotion, love and effort. I deeply respect the work of these independent filmmakers. In part because I know how proud I would be of making my own feature film, and also because it allows the average film-viewer to appreciate the detail and tremendous care that goes into the making of a major film. What is generally lacking in these sorts of films is attention to the myriad of small details, very few of these details are overlooked in the making of a major picture. It really makes me respect all the editors, effects specialists, gaffers, sound technicians, etc all the more.

We saw Birdemic at E St. Cinema in Washington D.C. It was a nearly sold-out show, and much of the audience were midnight movie regulars, and “Roomies” (people who attend cult screenings of Tommy Wisseau’s remarkable disaster, The Room). These sorts of film audiences are full on participants, funny and excited. Watching a movie with them creates a great sense of community and comradeship.

I would strongly recommend Birdemic – Shock and Terror as well as any of the film experiences in E St. Cinema’s midnight madness film screenings.

The Question of Snownership

And in the face of snowpocalypse, here is something light…

There is a lot of snow around Washington D.C. today, epic piles of it. There has been snow around, in varying quantities since before Christmas, actually. I really like snow, I am fascinated by it because I didn’t grow up with it. Every time I see it, it’s an exciting adventure. I also like to play with it. Now, I don’t mean throwing or building massive sculptures – just sort of push it around a bit, touch it, eat it, mould it into little chunks – the way people who are fascinated by snow are prone to do.

Now as I understand it, people play with snow local to them. Like one’s children go out into the local park, or one’s garden and play in snow. So if you have a house, with a garden the snow that falls on the garden is your snow, for you to play with, just as the snow that falls on your drive is yours to shovel. Similarly, if I lived in an apartment with a balcony I would assume that the snow on my balcony was mine. I used to think that living in an apartment I had less snow to my name, perhaps just the snow that fell on my car – because I own the car, so surely I own that snow. When I was an undergrad the snow that fell around my building at Mason was snow I had the right to play with.

I now live in an apartment block, behind a public building and my car lives in a garage. As I see it there is no snow for me.

So, I have been pondering what snow I can play with:

It is acceptable to play with the snow on other people’s cars, or in their gardens? If you were a car owner or homeowner and you came out one morning and found the snow atop your vehicle had been tampered with, would you feel violated? Similarly, if the snow in your front garden was disgruntled from play, would you feel something had been taken from you, the chance to muss your own snow up as you shuffle to your buried mailbox? I know I would.

Similarly, there is a space for walking dogs in my building complex, but I do not have a dog. Am I allowed to play with that snow, or will I seem like I’m waiting to steal someone’s terrier?

So, I think the snow I am allowed to play with is either National Snow, the snow that has fallen on the monuments or the Mall in Washington, or the snow at Georgetown (but even that’s a stretch because I’m not living on campus – but I pay tuition, surely that buys me some snow!) And both of these places are quite far away from where I live, there’s basically no snow in Virginia for me! I’ve been borrowing people’s snow! Playing with snow at Katharine’s house or at Paul’s house and asking stupidly, “may I play with this snow?”

Right now, I have to satisfy myself with the little bit of snow that has become trapped between my screen and my windows.