Zappi’s Bike Shop

I leave Oxford in less than a week, and there is so much that I haven’t written about. Some of the experiences have been purposefully occluded. I know I won’t forget them, but I won’t share with the multitudes (i.e. the six people who read this who are thinking ‘what can she possibly be unwilling to share after debasing herself in her set of articles about why she shouldn’t ask people out?’ Well, there are some things I keep private-ish, I assure you. Although I’m generally bad at keeping my own secrets. Very good at keeping others’ – my own weigh me down.)

Mostly, though, my time writing has been spent on essays and fiction. I wish I’d utilized this place more. But regret is a pointless endeavour.

Instead, let me try to celebrate one of the places I’ve come to love best in the past few weeks. One of the friends I made here at Oxford – though I met him a long time ago, through strange other circumstances – introduced me to this place, Zappi’s Bike Shop.

The name is on the tin. It’s a bike shop, first and foremost, but the top floor is a fantastic cafe. The three women and three men who work behind the counter are all incredibly nice, each in their own ways. I’ve become a bit of a staple, a regular, and I know I’m not the only one. There are many faces here that I recognize, almost as well as I recognize the biking posters – vintage ones, framed, or newer ones taped up – and the framed t-shirts.

Once in a while, usually on the weekends, a big team of cyclists will come in, smelling of swear and rubber and wet hair. They’ll chatter loudly and clog up the space and wait patiently at the counter as, one by one, they’ll order food and drinks to replenish their energy. They’re all incredibly wiry, many of them in their forties and fifties, and all look incredibly refreshed from what has either been a race or a very intense practice. I never know.

The other kind of clientèle that fills the wooden tables, benches, chairs and stools (usually packed and shared by strangers because of the limited space) is the hipster variety. For some reason, although there can be no doubt of this cafe’s success, it is the kind of place people want to think of as a bit obscure, a bit hidden away, a bit private. Maybe the intimacy, stuck up on the second floor away from the general touristy public, helps keep it to the locals. Whatever it is, it’s not surprising to find men and women dressed androgynously here, black jeans and beanies, or stylish suits with patterned shirts and socks showing, or dresses from vintage stores that used to belong to our grandmother’s dowdy sisters. It’s a great place to people-watch.

Now that Oxford’s final term of the year is over, the place is much emptier. It’s often full of students doing their work, and some tutors, grading their students’ essays. The buzz rises and falls as the general rate of concentration changes.

One of the big pluses was that they never had wifi here. It was a good boost to concentration, since it meant less distractions. Until today. Today the wifi works. And thus, a procrastination post was born.

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The Peanuts Thesis

I love Peanuts. I love Peanuts so much. Here are some of the reasons I love Peanuts, and why I thought briefly about writing a senior thesis on the fifty years it ran:

1. It was written and illustrated by one man, for almost fifty years, Charles M. Schultz. It started in 1951 and ended in 2000 with his retirement.

2. The western world, the United States specifically, changed immensely during that 49-year span. In 1951, the US and the Soviet Union were beginning their space race. Armstrong wouldn’t reach the moon for another 18 years. By 2000, when I was ten years old, there was internet in more and more western homes.

3. Charles Schultz worked within the culture, but allowed his women (or girls, depending on how you choose to read the comics) to be strong and independent, both when choosing to rebel and when choosing to conform to the society they were part of.

4. There is a character that can be read as either an unabashed tomboy or a semi-closeted trans-person or a gender-queer person. A very serious conference project could be written about Peppermint Patty.

5. In general, the children don’t tend to fall very easily along stereotypically gendered activity. The fact that they are portrayed as children allows this freedom which would not be allowed a comic about adults in the ’50s.

Why I Shouldn’t Ask People Out (Pt. 3)

The next time I asked someone out was right here, at Oxford. Yes, you heard me. Between ninth grade, when I was fifteen years old, and my third year of university, at the age of twenty two, I never asked someone out. Nor, by the way, was I technically asked out during all that time. Dating and me just don’t go together.

But let me make one thing clear. It’s not that I don’t make the first move. It’s not that I wait around. I sometimes wish I was more patient, so that I could do that. I sometimes feel bitter, in fact, about how often I’ve actually made the first move. The people I’ve made those moves on have invariably told me that if I hadn’t made that move, they wouldn’t have made it, being too scared or nervous to do anything. At the time, it makes me feel glad, proud of myself. Later on, after things go sour, I don’t regret it (because I don’t particularly feel regret about things anymore; experience is experience, no matter what) but I feel… complicated about it. I twist my brain around with the logic of the clinically depressed, and promise that next time, if there is one, I won’t make the first move.

But then I get impatient.

This year, I was participating in an activity for a while that took up a lot of my time for an intense week or two. I got to meet someone who I’d seen around and had been introduced to a couple of times, though he didn’t remember me. This should have been my first warning. In fact, it was. Let’s call him Michael, because the name makes me giggle for a whole host of reasons that have to do with other things that are really unimportant.

My second warning should have been that Michael was very, very similar – in body type, in face shape, but most of all in attitude and ego – to a person I knew at Sarah Lawrence College. Another person who I was extremely attracted to, in a stupid, illogical way, because the SLC person was also not particularly nice to me, made me feel very small when I was around him, and was far too confidant and aware of my attraction to him, while also making no move. Basically, the SLC-M and the Oxford-M were very different in context and content but very similar in the way they acted towards me.

They made me feel like they were stepping on me. And though I’m usually not actually so dumb about people who treat me badly, I was dumb here. I thought, because of the context and content of the Oxford Michael, that he was actually a nice guy. He was also younger than me, which I thought might give me an edge.

So one night, as he untied his bike from a lamppost, I boldly asked “Want to go out sometime?” and he said, confused, “what, clubbing?” I quickly remedied this mistake (shaking, as I always do, even when I don’t care about a person, when confronted with doing something that is potentially embarrassing and said “No, for coffee, or a drink or something.” He said “Yeah, okay.” And kind of smiled. And I thought that was that, I would get to conquer my irrational fear of SLC-M through this other person and deal with my fear of a certain kind of ego.

Next night, he asked me to clarify. He asked me “When you asked if I wanted to go out… what, did you mean like a ‘date?'” I said yes, because he was being giggly, and I thought he might be flattered, and I never thought that what was about to happen would happen – really, I didn’t, because I didn’t realize anyone could be quite so unaware of another person’s existence.

He burst out laughing. Really, really laughing. He said he was Eastern, that they didn’t do that, and that it was so American of me. I tried to laugh too, saying that, well, it’s not really how I usually do it either, but it seemed like the only way I would see him after our activity was over. I asked if that meant a no. He said that no, it didn’t. But then, for the rest of the day, he wouldn’t give me a straight answer.

That night, I stopped before he left, and told him “You can really say no, it’s fine. It’s not that big a deal, I barely know you.” And he asked if, it wasn’t a big deal, why I needed such a clear yes or no answer. Something broke inside me and all the confidence I’d gained died.

The next time he saw me was at a dance, where I misinterpreted something he said in a very, very awkward way. The next time after that I was dressed in an American flag. And now? Now he invited me to a leaving party. I have no idea why. Weird.

But the lesson is clear. I should. Never. Ever. Ever. Ever. Ask. People. Out.

It just doesn’t end well.

It just doesn’t.

Why I Shouldn’t Ask People Out (Pt. 2)

Most people hate high school. For me, high school was the first time I belonged. There wasn’t a ruling faction – there were cliques. Each clique kept pretty much to itself, except on rare occasions. People were civil to one another unless taunted into acting otherwise.
The clique of friends I belonged to was large – we’d all been the social outcasts of our previous schools, to some extent or another. Or else, upon reaching high school, we’d been thrown off by old friends and had to find new ones to hang out with. We gravitated towards one another, and we were cool, in our own way, because we didn’t give two fucks what people thought of us. We just did our own thing. Made our own jokes. Took over a corner of the classroom during recess. Had our own spot of grass to lie on when the weather was nice. It was good.
I even met another girl like me. She wore baggy clothes that were her brother’s castoffs. She liked anime and manga. We watched Inuyasha together on the phone every evening and squealed over our first acknowledged cartoon fandom. We also discovered music together. First Good Charlotte and then Green Day; Sonata Arctica and then Metallica; Blue Oyster Cult and Pink Floyd; Dream Theater and Kamelot and Nightwish and on and on and on – we started slow and grew quickly into metal and melodic metal and death metal and psychedelic old stuff and punk and on and on and on – we reveled in our discoveries and listened, for hours, dissecting the way each guitar rift or drum roll made us feel, the way it made our stomachs leap and our bodies roar and our heads explode with unknown pleasure. It sounds dramatic, and it was – growing up with older brothers, we’d both felt the need to defend our choices of radio pop music for far too long. High school, our brothers’ disappearance from our lives – mine to the US, hers to the army – allowed us the freedom to listen to what we’d heard emanating from behind their doors for years and finally enjoy it.
With the music, came the fashion. We started lusting after black clothing and lip rings. The latter wasn’t doable – yet – but the former was. Down the slow road to gothdom we went, doing what we could with what little funds we had. Black cargo pants and black t-shirts and tank tops and black nail polish became our daily fare.

Suddenly, we were a bit cooler. Just enough for a guy two years above us – let’s call him Frank – to pay attention to us. He had those big, big, big headphones that we lusted over. He had a CD player (MP3s, I’ll remind you, still played an average of 20ish songs in 2004 or were very expensive – but you could get a CD player that read MP3 CDS, which meant mounds more music). He listened to good, good, good music. He deigned to visit my friend and I in our (!) classroom, the lowly ninth grade – when he was in heavenly eleventh – and play us music. He put the headphones on our heads and blasted roller-coaster sound in our ears, making us forever-conscious of just how to move our heads and rock our bodies and pump our knees.
My friend didn’t think he was cute. I did. I think, in all honesty, that I was mostly just flattered by the attention, but that was enough. I crushed and I crushed and I dithered and I tried to flirt, but the truth is I have no idea how to. If I flirt, I do it accidentally and I don’t know I’m doing it. If I try, I end up being awkward.

Finally, after much encouragement, I asked him out. On a date. I asked him to go see a movie with me. His lips curled in a sweet smile, and he said sure. And I said great. And I ran back to class. And was ecstatic throughout the week.
Until Friday. On Friday he called and cancelled, telling me he was sick. I was disappointed beyond words, but I also wasn’t mad, because hey, everyone gets sick sometimes, right? I’d already had my outfit picked out and everything, but what can you do?
On Sunday (the school week starts on Sunday in Israel), at school, a girl who lived in the same town he lived in sat me down and very seriously told me that she’d seen him at the mall on Friday night with all his friends. I felt like killing her. Why had she told me that? I’d have preferred (I thought then) to not have known. To have lived with the lie. In retrospect, I’m glad I found out, though I also know that she shouldn’t have stuck her nose in my business or gotten involved.
The last I heard of him was that he had a long-term girlfriend who was religious and wouldn’t sleep with him, so he would try to spur that same friend of mine from high school into having cyber-sex with him all the time. She found him creepy. I’m rather glad the whole thing didn’t work out.

Why I Shouldn’t Ask People Out (Pt. 1)

I’m a feminist. Unabashedly. Unashamedly. What that means to me – before anyone gets incensed and rolls their eyes – is that I believe in equality. I believe that women deserve equal rights and I know we’re still not getting them. I also have a lot of issues with gender-binary stereotypes, even though I spout them a lot because psychology still works through socially constructed ideas that are part of how we handle day-to-day situations.

What this all boils down to is that even in eighth grade, having just turned thirteen, I knew that I had just as much right to ask a boy out as he had the right to ask me out. Of course, the fact that I was a pudgy, tomboyish, glasses-wearing, musical-singing-during-recess-with-only-two-friends-I-had, good-grades-getting, aspiring-actor-whose-acting-teachers-didn’t-like-her, reading-obsessed, non-pop-cultured weirdo meant that I wasn’t really getting lots of offers. But there was this one boy, a reader who was in the same acting classes as I was. He was beautiful, and he was occasionally nice to me. Along with many other girls, I nursed a not-so-secret crush on him. Let’s call him Stag.

In Israel, when you’re in seventh and eighth grades, there are a ton of big parties, for Bat and Bar Mitzvahs. Families who have the money to spare or aren’t throwing big family-get-togethers for the occasion of their kids’ Jewish coming-of-age rent out halls and invite the kids’ grade for a big dance party. Tame stuff, but it was when I discovered that I loved dancing, and that I could mimic other people’s dance moves, and that it made me feel alive and sexy.

Seventh grade was the girls’ Bat Mitzvah parties. Eighth was the boys’. It so happened that another boy I had a little bit of a crush on through a big party too, a family and friend affair. There would be a bus to ferry us to the location. I had a new shirt, velvety purple with bits cut out for my shoulders, long-sleeved. It felt sexy, to my eighth grade self. A few days before the party, I decided I’d ask Stag to be my date.

My heard pounded all day long. I was shaking as I walked up to him. And asked. And he… said he’d think about it. I smiled, happy. I got a non-negative answer! I was a girl, who’d asked a boy out, and it wasn’t a no! He hadn’t laughed at me! Of course, the laughter will come in this saga, but not from him. No, he bruised my ego but just letting me wait, until I heard that he’d asked someone else out – had, in fact, forgotten that I’d asked him. I remember vaguely confronting him about it – saying something about how he owed me an answer, and him saying that he was taking someone else.

The story doesn’t quite end there, though. The boy whose party it was – let’s call him Opie – was a nice guy. I earned the nickname “Ilana Massage” from him, because I gave good massages. I got to touch him, and he made me cooler by association. He was the class clown. He liked me – he thought I was funny, and smart. I think, looking back, that he might have been gay and not known it yet. But he was nice to me. He wasn’t an asshole. He made fun of me occasionally in the way that kids in middle school do, but he didn’t exclude me from things. Stag, on the other hand, played favorites. He pretended to be all innocent-faced, but he switched camps to whoever treated him more like an idol.

Years later, Stag and I met in a military office, waiting to be interviewed for media-job postings. He had a broken leg from a ski trip. I was running a high fever. We weren’t at our best. I thought he looked familiar. But he recognized me and called my name. We chatted. He still looked good. He still made me nervous. But he remembered me. Who knows – maybe I’m still the only girl who’s ever asked him out, however unsuccessfully.

Whether the weather be good or bad…

I love England. I love Oxford. But I have noticed that there is a remarkable amount of discussing the weather that goes on here. Nowhere else have I reverted to that social stereotype of “chatting about the weather” during awkward situations so often. I’m not complaining, mind you – I’m just stating an observation.
[An aside: my typing volume has apparently reached critical mass and has chased one of my flatmates out of the kitchen where I am sitting. While I am known for typing vast and loudly, it is also only in England that I have become quite so aware of how much the volume of my typing noise annoys people. I swear, though – it’s partly my keyboard’s fault. Its keys are small and make staccato noises that appear to bother people. Am I the only one who loves the sound of typing?]
Back to the weather, though. It does’t matter whether it’s absolutely gorgeous outside, the sun shining proudly over the Oxford spires, or whether it’s grey and cloudy and depressing and grey (when it’s grey, it’s so grey that it deserves being mentioned twice). Either way, people will discuss the misery or loveliness of it, and will complain or rejoice. I find that concentrating on the miserable weather, when it’s as it is today, makes me far more aware of it. I prefer to ignore it and just get on with things. Otherwise, I’ll succumb to that most lovely of prospects – the rainy afternoon nap – and will be lost to the world for several hours.

Is this a thing anywhere else? This constant discussion of the weather? Or am I right in my supposition that it’s peculiarly English/British?

 

PHOTO /  Earthwatcher

The Ups and Downs of the Isle of Wight

Bus ride to the ferry to the Isle took us through Portsmouth. Made me think of Dickens and Copperfield. Not the magician. Though he’s cool too.
Ferry to Isle. Sunlight and wind and cigarettes and friends.
Isle of Wight. Bus takes the road to where the little Roman helmet points but turns back because can’t fit between two parked cars. Drove all the way around the island. Back to the same exact road. Manages to fit between same exact two parked cars. Horrah! Lunch and Roman ruins for all!
Low point. Roman ruins would be could be should be fascinating. But leg muscles are mutinying and patience is capsizing. Medusa isn’t straight in her mosaic on the floor and I still haven’t gotten a straight answer over who made the joke about it being just like all of us.
More sun. More bus. Hotel by the beach is beautiful. Room small but comfortable. Feels like vacation. Walk to the beach, walk along the beach alone. Feet are tired of standing still and meandering so brisk hard walk in the sand is a relief. Trying to walk over rocks to join in becomes a torture and I turn back. Feet are still bruised. Bloody rocks.
Back to hotel. Seven minutes in hot water heaven. Wrote outside. Read. Moved inside. Cold. Trivial Pursuit – which was to be pursued for hours yet – getting warmed up in the background of Jeanette Winterson’s “Sexing the Cherry” which blurred before my eyes.
Low point. Dinner. Embarrassing, as usual. Making a fool of myself. Food. Food food food. Why can’t you eat like a normal human being? Do you eat salmon? Salad? Vegetables? Potatoes? Sausages? No? No?! REALLY?! Well what DO you eat?
Walk on the beach. Confusion. Friend jealousy, feeling out of place, but also out of comfort zone and bravely proud. Good. Odd. Good.
Back. Bottle of wine split down the middle without breaking one shard of glass. Tension? Cher from Clueless thinks wine makes you feel sexy. Made me feel spinny and inarticulate. Not proud of my honesty, because honesty changes every time I dig deeper into my thoughts to uncover something else I hadn’t thought of before. Apologizing sincerely for honesty erases it and makes it dishonest – not the apology, but the honesty.
Sleepywinetime.
Morning breakfast bus bus Osborne losing people getting lost finding people lunch. Bus bus bus bus ferry bus.

Back in Oxford. Last term. Dear oh dear oh dear oh dear.

Ducks in a Row; 0th Week Begins

Ducksinarow by moonpie dig itMy to-do list at the beginning of this week included editing and sending out two stories, writing another story from scratch and writing an article for which I’d conducted an interview. It also included seeing friends, spending time with my mother, figuring out how tumblr works and reading some books that don’t feel like school.

Then my cat got sick. TMI warning – it’s about to get graphic. He was peeing blood. It was pretty gruesome. It was like having a fat boy cat having a period and horrible cramps because damn, the poor little kitty was in pain. He’s doing better now, but he’s still too fat to wash himself properly and he still has some sad dry bloody patches around his nether regions.

I did, however, manage to get everything done, even while worrying that my cat was about to bite the dust at any moment (we weren’t sure at first whether he was going to be alright or not and my mom and I both tend to worry more than we probably need to. Pessimists have more fun and all). I have rather a history of getting shit done when people are close to biting the dust. WOO, LIFE EXPERIENCE, WOO.

Tomorrow I’m going to be leaving a country and arriving in another country yet again, and there’s nothing more I can say about it really, because the process becomes extraordinarily boring. Airport, security, flight, passport, airport, bus, Oxford. That will be that, hopefully, and tomorrow I’ll get to see some people I haven’t seen in forever.

Trinity term is going to be interesting. Finalists at Oxford are, from what I understand, almost 100% unavailable until after their exams are finished, and the colleges and their environs become quiet and studious places where the slightest peep after nightfall is an offense punishable by forceful glares. Fair enough, of course, but I wonder whether this will put me in the delightful position of feeling at home amongst an introverted and gloriously studious crowd or else will entirely alienate me as an outsider without the same exam-stress-vibe as the finalists are experiencing.

Towards the end of last term I’d already found a variety of different types of studiousness going around – there were the coffee-coffee-coffee types, the going-to-bed-at-sensible-hours-waking-up-at-sensible-hours-got-my-shit-together-smug types, the party-till-the-last-possible-second types and the clumping-together-for-comfort-and-warmth-in-the-library types. There were the I-cannot-have-friends-anymore types, the I-will-not-see-you-for-months-now-deal-with-it-kthxbi types, the I-actually-do-live-in-the-Bod-thanks-very-much types and the pfft-this-is-easy types. There were various combinations of these as well, because very often, I noticed, people switched between types throughout the last couple weeks of term.

It’s going to be interesting coming back and seeing how everyone’s holding up, whether everyone is surviving okay, and how many will need massages, chocolates, hugs or cheerleader dances of encouragement. I’m advertising myself now as a giver of all of these, so shout out if you’re in need.

 

PHOTO / moonpie dig it

I Stopped Reading Big-Name-Authors’ Articles (to Save Myself a Soul Crushing)

WriterAnywayMy mother opened up the International Herald Tribune the other day and said “oh” in a fatalistic kind of way. “There’s an article by Scott Turow here.” Granted, I haven’t read any of his novels, but I know he’s one of those BIG NAMES that you see in BIG LETTERS on the covers of BOOKS. My mother is an incredibly fast reader, so she’d probably already skimmed a bit of the article by the time she’d let out her exhalation of a syllable, but when she further remarked that the piece seemed to be mostly about Amazon and the “state of authors today” I said immediately that I didn’t want to read it. I may have said it a bit forcefully. I may have also wanted to run screaming from the room in order to avoid contamination.

Here’s the thing. As a 22-year-old writer who is incredibly serious about her aspirations to remain one, I am fully aware of the state of the publishing world today. I know that Amazon is monopolizing the e-book market, not-so-slowly but ever-so-sure. I know that there are fewer and fewer BIG NAME PUBLISHERS in the market, because they’re all merging, buying each other out, and trying to stay afloat while more often than not paying their authors a pittance instead of working wages. I know that things are never going to be the same as they used to be.

I used to mourn it. I really did. For a while, I was even panicking. How will I be able to keep writing? How will I support myself? How will I ever make money? How will I ever survive? How will any young writer survive in this horrible, horrible world?!

But then I realised that I was falling prey to the fear-mongering. And I looked around me. And I took a deep breath. And I got over it.

The world is changing. But the written word is still prevalent. The format may be changing, the market may be changing, and the way business is happening may be changing. But the point is that people are still reading, and writers are still writing, and art is still happening everywhere. Some things are worth fighting for – equal rights for women, for the LGBTQ community, for instance (still not a thing in too many parts of the western world, let alone the rest of it) – but fighting to maintain a certain kind of business model for a certain kind of profession that has been changing for as long as it has been around? I’d rather adapt, learn as I go along, and continue to write and communicate.

PHOTO / sbpoet

Juiced-up Jitterbug Jet-lag

People say that coming over one direction or the other is worse. Everyone’s an expert. I don’t know, man, I just know that I got it bad right now. Three flights over oceans or seas or what-have-you in a matter of less than two weeks, coming off the stress of an Oxonian term, plus a bus ride as long as a flight in the middle of that and no time to get over the first jet-lag because there was just too much to do in New York, and let me tell you – I’m seeing the world through zombie’s eyes.

My brother called me a jet-setter, and boy, did that stick in my craw. I tried to argue him out of thinking that, but once you get started arguing with my brother, you may as well count on being in for the long haul. I love that about him, though. He makes it seem like he knows everything about everything, and me, with my little sis hero-worship eyes, I sometimes forget that it isn’t so. I sometimes get so deep into some nonsense argument about the fashion industry – something neither of us, by the by, knows much of anything about – that I need to pause, breathe, and then remind myself and him that we’re both spouting bullshit. I’ve even encountered the rare occasion, lately, in which I was able to tell him flat out that he was just being contrary for the fun of it, to which he admitted readily, with that little grin that I can transpose onto his face at any age.

I’m not a jet-setter, let’s be clear about that. I may fly a lot, but it’s due to my peculiar circumstances. I’m lucky, yes, that both my mother and I have incredibly simple needs and desires outside of our traveling. Or maybe it’s not luck at all, maybe I’m reared the way I am because I always knew that purse strings need to be pretty tight in order to be able to fund all this necessary international travel.

I’ve never been further into the real South than Arlington, Virginia, which is technically below the Mason-Dixon line, so it kind of counts, but my jet-lagged fingers are typing out this mildly Southern accent in my head and probably doing it all wrong. A fourth flight is coming up soon, and everything starts a-winding down then. A scary thought, that is. A real terror, truly. The next year and more are laid out in front of me and let me tell you, that rose path of a red carpet is nettled with thorns. I’m barefoot, you know. But I’ve got calluses this thick from all the walking I do. It’ll all be alright, honey. Yes it will.