Monday, 21 March 2011

If the estate of Douglas Adams ever gets hold of this blog, you never saw me, ok?

I am a British Citizen. My passport confirms this. Although the passport was issued by the United Kingdom, it is issued by Her Britannic Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, who is the head of state, but is not elected by the people of the United Kingdom. Which is confusing, to say the least. Since I have little respect for the monarchy, on the grounds that they did nothing to deserve their wealth, power and status, I class myself as a republican. Of course, in America, being a Republican is an entirely different matter, and this difference emphasises the importance of capitalisation. Or capitalization.

Being a Republican is to support capitalism, which is different again. Capitalism can exist in a monarchy, but is subject to market forces, which often respond to chaos theory, in that the tiniest actions have huge consequences. A few individuals can decide, independently of each other and each for different reasons, to sell their stocks in a particular company. This can have a knock-on effect where people see stock prices fall, they sell their stocks before prices fall too low, and economies crash. This, at least, is my understanding of the matter. Abstractly, chaos theory is most famously represented by the example of a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil, which causes a hurricane in Borneo. Or a butterfly flapping its wings in Hull, causing a koala to crap itself in Coober Pedy. A monarch is a type of butterfly, named, presumably, because one cannot choose to be born a caterpillar any more than one can choose to be born into royalty. This doesn't explain why every single animal is not also called a monarch, other than the fact that this would be deeply confusing. I suppose we can be grateful that species are labelled by Latin names rather than by English names which would, presumably, afford each a hierarchical label based on each species' value to the Queen (or king; what other country must change its national anthem depending on the gender of the current head of state?).

Of course, this doesn't even begin to touch upon the fact that, although I am technically a British Citizen born in the United Kingdom, culturally I am English, and that somehow the rest of the world is expected to a) understand and b) accept this as a perfectly sensible state of affairs. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Scotch whisky, and there exists a photo of me, my father and my sister standing on a railway platform at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (named as such to make the town stand out for the sake of English tourists travelling in the Snowdonia region, but to embark upon a discussion of the significance of this is to miss the point, though it would seem entirely appropriate within the context of this utterly shambolic, rambolic, utter-bollocks blog post). I don't have any connection to Northern Ireland, direct or indirect, but that's not to say I don't ever think of them. They're victims of the monarchy more than most. But ultimately, despite my respect for the other nations (principalities? Nothing's simple. Don't get me started on Cornwall) I can't escape the fact that I consider myself to be English.

It's this somewhat wibbly sense of national identity that has made it so easy for me in America. Not because I possess the perfect combination of exotic-accent-whilst-being-a-native-English-speaker and white skin, though that is useful, a fact both depressing and convenient for me, but because a confused sense of identity is both America's greatest insecurity and its biggest secret.

I spent last night in discussion (mostly passively; I found it too interesting to butt in with my own meagre observations) with an American woman of Irish, Italian and German descent, an Irish-American woman and a Mexican-American man. The two women (interesting side note: I originally described them as "girls" but realised there was an issue of sexism in this, since they are both older than the person I described as a "man". Another identity crisis to be resolved another time, perhaps) grew up on the South Side of Chicago, the man on the North Side. The discussion was around perceptions of the various neighbourhoods in this city, described as being "hyper-segregated". The simplified conclusion that I drew was that the South Side is stereotyped as being rough and poor, despite areas of affluence, and the North Side is generalised (by, admittedly, a majority of North Siders more than anyone else) as being diverse, more affluent and inclusionist, despite many areas of segregation and deprivation. The other conclusion that I drew from this, is that this is an entirely Chicago-centric debate. The average person in Biloxi, Mississippi, is not going to make a different judgement on the character of a Chicago North Sider than a South Sider; the average Eritrean is not going to make a different judgement of a Chicagoan than a Biloxite (Biloxian? Biloxster?) and the average space traveller from a planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse couldn't give a shit about the difference between oxygen-breathers from Eritrea or the United States.

Once again, the overall point of this post has been lost somewhere in the garbled mess of my explanations, as though buried in the sludge at the bottom of the Chicago river, though in writing this some vestige of relevance has been salvaged by my mind.

Sometime in the past couple of centuries (don't know exactly when; whilst most of the time consulting Wikipedia for certain facts lends a blog post a certain ring of truth, when you do it too much it becomes obvious and can detract from the veracity of the piece. And let's face it; nobody here really believed that I could spell, let alone pronounce, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch without consulting an external source beforehand) the city fathers decided to reverse the flow of the Chicago river, to prevent all the scrungy, gross human waste from contaminating the water supply that was drawn from Lake Michigan. The fact that they chose a solution that required nothing short of an engineering miracle, rather than just persuading people to shit a little less, and the fact that they actually pulled it off, are both admirable and make me proud to call this city home.

But more than this, I feel that a city where the river doesn't even know if it's coming or going is a perfect place for an Englishman from the United Kingdom who is a British citizen to live.

Yep. That was all I was getting at. Talk about your anti-climax, right?

Friday, 11 March 2011

This is what writers do.

I've been in Chicago for just over two weeks, and I've still not had a novel published. Or formed a band and wowed the local audiences. Or done anything with any of the inclinations that I like to think of as "talents".

There's still time. The Social Security office seems disinclined to issue me a number, which is a little irritating since I already technically have one. The thing with endless free time, is that it's not actually endless. I love having the time to cook for Gina in the evenings, and wander around the city as I please. I tend to get out of bed not long after Gina does, just because I always seem to wake up early and can't get back to sleep. But after a long breakfast, too much time arsing around on the internet and maybe half an hour reading, when I reach the point at which I feel I ought to start doing something productive, I just can't.

I'll open one of a dozen word documents and stare at stuff I wrote when I was out of the house from 6:30am to 5:30pm each day, and wonder how I did it. I'll stare at my guitar, amp and effects pedals and wonder how I managed to record something that the more generous music critics would call an "album" last year.

Or I'll go on the internet. Half-heartedly tab up a few sites for current interests that would satisfy the urge to do something creative. Brew my own beer (where, on the back porch? I guess, why not?), fix up the bike that was generously donated by someone who knows how to use her time in a worthwhile manner. That kind of thing. Then I'll just click onto Twitter (because I'm far too far up my own arse to admit to wasting serious time on Facebook), and there goes an afternoon.

And you know what? I love it. I keep getting these flashes of realism in my mind, and I tell myself "I live here". This morning Gina and I got our marriage license, from a building just across the Daley Plaza from where the Blues Brothers paid their taxes and were finally apprehended. I can go for a walk an end up in the neighbourhood where John Cusack moped away his life in a record store in High Fidelity. I can walk out to Lake Michigan. You know, that enormous, serene, wet bastard that freezes the crap out of this entire region in the winter (now).

Oh right, I should, like, talk about what I've been doing and junk, right. Went to a British-themed prom, drank lots of free beer, made friends with the natives (or the colonials? Presumably I was the native at this event?). Signed up to volunteer with 826CHI, the organisation that, uh, organised the prom. Settled in. Felt like home.

Oh right. The thing that inspired this post was how suddenly adult I feel. In a good way. Living my life the way I want, being sensible in what and how I eat, browsing in bookshops. That kind of thing. It's good. I like it. I think I'll stay.