There is no denying the toll the pandemic has taken on our lives, our mental health. I cannot imagine how “aware” I have become of myself, how I do my work, how I pale in comparison to others knowledge and results. And second guessing how real are the things other people post about themselves — is it possible? could it be? Am I that far behind? And the worst part of it is my conscious refusal to complain about it, knowing how others have taken it even harder : the people who have lost family, loved ones, friends. Those who have closed businesses. Those forced to face the anger of the staff they let go. Those who suddenly have to deal with the unknowns of paying for a house, a car, and feeding their children. Those who have gone through the torture of the Virus. Those who had lost jobs. Those who cannot see beyond tomorrow. Those who suffer illness but have to avoid seeing doctors in a virus-infested hospital. Those forced to endure the attacks of a violent spouse in the house. I cannot fairly moan when I have a home to go to, work I can do remotely, family who can stay safe in house. And yet, I have developed this unexplained nervousness and restlessness that is overwhelming; oftentimes bordering on Dread. What will all be like, really, when we get out the other end? I think the lockdown is a period that allowed so much of our fears, anger, insecurities to incubate. And when we pop the lid off of, imagine the loud boom.
An idle mind, it is said, is the devil’s workshop, and stretching that premise further to the Covid19 pandemic situation, an idle state of being is that on steroids. Everyone is WFH (working from home). Everyone is overwhelmed by everyone else being at home. Everyone escapes by gluing themselves to their gadgetry arsenal of cellphone, laptop, iPad… whatever have you. And everyone has an opinion that everyone else needs to listen carefully. Nothing wrong with that per se, except when expressing that opinion is a chance to show some warped sense of superiority by being unkind and offensive. I partly attribute that to the (now ex-)President’s 4 years that normalized bullying, tough talking, rough-speak which utterly disregards everyone else’s rights, thoughts or feelings. About a month ago, in a social media group of female attorneys (a private group where we can refer or consult on our questions), I posed a question where I used the word “alien” while narrating in bullet points the background or fact pattern of my question. To lay the background “alien” is the word that is used in the law and regulations. I did not use the word out of legal context and I had no bad or misplaced intent. I was merely drawing the background to my query. I got a couple of answers, but one young fairly fresh-out-of-law-school lawyer posted this response in all caps, to the effect of — “CAN WE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE stop referring to our clients as “aliens”? I KNOW THE LAW USES THAT TERM BUT THE LAW IS RACIST AND DO WE NEED TO SUPPORT THAT?” Woh, calm down, girl. First of all, the foreign national I was asking about was not even my client, contrary to your assumptions. My client is the institution that is the other party in a collaborative contract with a foreign element and therefore may have a legal repercussion that I was exploring. I used the word “alien” once, and it was clear that I had not used that term in any racist or divisive way by ANY stretch. I merely asked about someone whose status was referred to in the law and statutes as being an “alien”. It was bland, impartial, and neutral. I shrugged that person’s all-caps rant off although, being a law practitioner for over 20 years…. it really shocked (appalled) me how the courtesy people in the profession has evolved — almost totally gone. In these times, every chance someone gets to call others out, to be rude, to be woke, to grand-stand, to outrightly attribute moral values on words — will be used on the pretext of justifications like “speaking truth to power”, “using your voice”, and every other woke reason you have to cancel and judge people outright. Did that reaction look, or even so much as glance, into the context of my question? Was that kind of response even proportionate to the perceived wrong? Is alien a word that has now become the unspeakable “A-word”? And more strikingly, does not the rudeness and disrespect in your reaction underscore the moral hypocrisy of your woke-ness? I wonder. Just because you can say something does not mean you should. And if you do choose to speak, it doesn’t mean you should shout and scream. If you demand kindness and respect, show that yourself in your dealings. Give people a chance. In law, it’s called due process, and is a very basic hurdle before you render any kind judgment. Strike — but hear me first. With that incident, I remind myself that the feeling I get now and then of being bothered by disproportionate overkill reactions is not real. People get hypersensitive especially in this weird past year that get us all cooped up and with almost no real face-to-face social interactions. But while my feelings may not be real, the bandwagon of the Cancel Culture and its many little variants are galloping forwards fast. And one day, it may be the norm that no one will be able to say anything other than safe, politically correct things. No one will express their true opinions. We will be imprisoning people for their thoughts and conscience. By then, what a bland, homogenous, unoriginal and dangerous world this would be.
“The greatest enemy of clear language is insincerity.”
― George Orwell
Whoever thought to use “bird brain” as a derogatory? One of my favorite things about living in the UK is the birds. It’s not that we do not have birds in Chicago — we do, lots of sparrows, the occasional American robin (longer, more like a thrush, and a less robust-colored orange breast), and that is about it. Well, that is life in a concrete jungle. In the UK, I don’t live in a high-rise but in a house with a garden. I love that my kitchen sink is nooked in between 3 sides of windows — good cross-ventilation when I need it, and affords me a wide view out to the garden while doing the dishes. The best part of course being that I get to see what the birds outside are up to. I can tell you — Bird brains are something to aspire to. My observations:
- Garden birds watch out for each other. They frantically call out when perceived danger is around — which most of the time means Yours Truly. Whenever I come around with their daily food rations (I am very generous), they would all scamper off. And inevitably one bird will be sounding the alarm to warn others not to land yet while I am still doing the task. I’ve seen other bird enthusiasts who’ve managed to get birds to land on their hands and feed — I wonder if I can ever do that successfully. I am slowly beginning to think this is all a matter of trust, as it is with most things. I have noticed more and more that the birds are less fearful or wary of me now. Sometimes, while I am in one part of the garden, the birds would begin feeding on the other part. They used to not even come close.
- Foodwise, they know what they want, and they are consistent. We get most of our bird feed from Wilko — they really do it right with bird feed: quality, taste that birds seem to like, and the right price. Let’s start with the suet/fat balls, literally balled-up suets. Once we started buying the “premium” ones (more seeds and grains rather than plain suet), the birds never bothered with the plain. Wilko once ran out and we had to buy the regular ones — the birds wouldn’t touch them anymore. We even tried a source from Scotland which had good reviews on eBay — nope, the birds weren’t having them. Another, if you get the mixed seeds, they peck on everything and leave the little corn. They will come to them when there is nothing else. So when they get peck-picky, I trick them back by not refilling the feeding stations so they are forced to finish off the corn. Works every time.
- They have quite solid social bonds. This is shown by little social bubbles and turfs they have in their activities, which is best displayed when they feed. The blue-tits in our garden seem to hog the coconut suets although they do share with other small birds. The bigger birds like starlings, blackbirds, jays, magpies and pigeons commune at a makeshift bird table that we roughly made but is now a gathering hotspot. Tghe southeast corner of our garden is inevitably the “Sparrow Corner” because that truly is a busy hub of all sorts of sparrows. They congregate on the fence, take turns on the feeding stations or the ground, — the cacophony of chirps are music to my ears. And then there are the Long-Tailed Tits, those mousy little cuties, when they come they do not in single spies but in battalions — not quite but they come in groups. They do so so adorably. One comes in, then another, then another until the next thing you know, the suet feeders are nice surrounded by their pointy little tails. My aim this year is to take a nice shot of them in the formation — they’d probably make a beautiful Christmas card this year.
More Bird Notes & observations next time.
Everyone likes birds. What wild creatures is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird? ~ David Attenborough, British broadcaster and naturalist
It has become a strange, self-imposed tradition that I buy amaryllis plants every Christmas in England — something festive, alive and full of color to watch for when everything is drab and cold outside. I usually get them from M&S (formerly Marks & Spencer), or Sainsburys when we do our Christmas food shopping (grocery). When they are “On Offer” (Britspeak for sale or discount) you can get 3 for £10 instead of £5 each. We usually give 1, sometimes 2, to Hubby’s parents. Last December, being Covid December, we couldn’t and didn’t manage to buy any. The one we had from the previous winter (a “double dragon” variety if I remember right) was dried and dead — like a burnt onion bulb. Hubby didn’t even store it correctly for a re-plant. But with all that happened in 2020, I really couldn’t be too disappointed. Still, I could be experimental — because what do I have to lose? So I took what looked like the deadest amaryllis and gave it a serious “hair cut” — meaning, I trimmed off everything I could, and peeled off the dry parts of the bulb. In the end, I was down to what looked like a possibility, but not much. I put the plant by the window and for the next week or so…. nothing happened, despite daily watering. The water seemed only to collect, the compost wouldn’t even drink. To force-dry the damn thing, I decided to bring the plant into the bathroom, and put it by the radiator. The bottom of the radiator is at the right height to dry the compost quickly, and in the next couple of days I saw promise — a thin line of green at the top of the cut bulb. Finally some sign of life. Needless to say the Bathroom was the perfect hothouse/greenhouse for the amaryllis. I never even had to water it because it was humid enough with our daily baths and nonstop hand washing. Today, I am happy to say the first two bright red buds are out of the shell. And I’ve put it by the window when the sun is shining. Whaddyaknow….I have somehow managed to have my amaryllis this winter, with almost nothing to start with, a little luck and no pressure to succeed. :)
Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough.
– George Washington Carver, botanist.
Called to be an “expert” on a particular foreign law on short notice. I have a knot in my stomach. I’m a strange mucky pot of soup of:
- Dang, I need to brush up on this and make mental and paper outlines.
- Dang, I need to switch to millennial-speak explaining to young(er) start-up entreps. The inadequacy I feel is possibly imagined more than real, but it’s not a lingo I’ve imbibed.
- Dang, I need to remind myself that I can’t doubt myself now.
- Dang, I need to repeat to myself: This is your niche, a very narrow area, that you know better than any one in the room, and if you freeze, JUST WING IT.
Bring it on. And then bring on the weekend. I need a drink.
We often think hair grows gradually. I found out, it grows in spurts.
We often think we would grow old gradually. Not so. We grow old overnight. The day I turned 40 was the day I realized I had to take my glasses off to read, that I had a paunch that runneth over the top of my jeans, that my jawline has lost the cutlass definition that it used to have. It gets worse — now add to the list back aches. Weak ankles. Knees that are not as bending. Memory that can’t be summoned. Thoughts that refuse to be censored. And to think, I am young-old, and not yet old-old. What’s it going to be like when I am really old. Hmmmm….
Age has taught me that what other people think of me is none of my business.
Our backyard probably rivals the local bird park for bringing in birds but that’s because we’re underhanded. We cheat. We put all the bird-feed gimmicks from Wilko Bird Food : suet logs, suet blocks, fat balls (premium!), mealworm, robin mix which are berry mix with nuts and mealworms, bird seeds, nuts, sunflower seeds — you name it, I’ve bought it. I made the crazy mistake of buying those super-cheap ones from B&M, bargains on a post-Christmas deal — cute little seed-studded gnomes — but ugh big mistake… the birds take forever to finish them. I recently hid one in the suet block plate… guess what? My winged friends finished the suet but the gnome is pretty intact — maybe they will eat it when they have nothing else to eat. But now back to what I was going to say — Every time I head out to feed the birds, I make sure I bring out the bright yellow water bottle, hoping the birds will get used to seeing that and knowing it means feeding time. It seems to me (and I could be wrong on this) that they don’t scurry off as fast when I come around to feed them, so I believe (because I so want to believe) that this is the Pavlovian effect of the bright yellow water bottle. Could it be?
They are coming more often now to the backyard. My part in that being dotting more food stations and water around, and replenishing them more often. They also seem to be moving more in pairs, showing off in a dance sashaying their wings, and singing in unintended chorus that make mornings so much more beautiful. I will miss this when I go back soon. But not to worry, hubby is putting cameras inside the bird houses (we have 2) and I will be able to see how they are growing their families. If I often gripe about how Technology has alienated people from one another, I marvel at how close it has brought us to our animal friends. :) Note: Magpies, I learn now, are not just black and white. They have that electric blue stripe from the edge of wings to tail. As if they could get prettier.
“The early bird catches the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.” ~ Willie Nelson
I love British TV and one of my favorite genres is the quiz-themed. For me, it is relaxing, and at the same, ironically, provides a chance for me get hyped shouting answers at the telly– cathartic when you’re in a country where you have no friends, family or work colleagues to talk to just any time. My favorites (in order) are: University Challenge (BBC), Mastermind (BBC), The Chase (ITV) and Eggheads (BBC).
I began to follow a full season of University Challenge (meaning, start to finish) last year. When I was in the US, I would catch it on delayed run on YouTube. I have also introduced a few American friends to it, and they love it. Which makes me wonder why Quiz shows are not as big or common on American TV, but anyway. I digress. University Challenge got a spike (not just in viewership but in social media buzz) largely because of Canadian Eric Monkman and his team mates Justin Yang (also Canadian), Ben Chaudri (who has made “Nominate Chaudri” a popular byline when you need help with answers) and Paul Cosgrove (he of the bemused smile and closing-bracket sitting position) from Wolfson College, Cambridge. And also the team from Emmanuel College Cambridge led by Bobby Seagull and his baby-faced teammates. Monkman’s tight-browed intensity and booming voice is a stark contrast to Seagull’s smiley enthusiasm, but they seem to share an endearing lack of arrogance or self consciousness. And altho neither team won the Championship — that honor went to Oxford’s Balliol College (led by Joey Goldman) — they came out with their own cult following. The bromance also produced radio stints and a book (which I must admit I have yet to get a copy, but I will).
So far this year, the show is at the quarter finals level. My favorite team is Ulster University — if only because, or maybe precisely because, they are so out-of-the-mold of the teams or winners:
- They are from Northern Ireland (largely under represented in UC)
- Their average age is 50 which makes them often more than twice the average age of their opponents (“You’re never too old!”)
- They are a very good, solid, cohesive and fast team
- They are NOT Oxbridge (to point out the obvious)
- Their spirited, excitable and animated expressions when they get a question right or wrong.
They have that underdog quality that makes you just want to root for them, because they represent the quiet and deadly potential, nay power, of the unexpected. I really hope they win (they lost to St. John’s Cambridge, but still have another shot) or at least go through to the semis. Go Ulster!
When I tell friends in the US about the “British things” I like or do when in the UK, I get reactions like eyes widening (or rolling) or raised eyebrows. Drives home the reality that my lives on either side of the pond are VERY different, and this oftentimes makes my interests on one side of the pond sound quite incredulous to people on the other. But I always say “vive de difference” as it is always difference, diversity, even incongruence, in life that makes things inviting and fun. The latest thing I have developed is (get ready for this) BIRDWATCHING. In Chicago, I don’t get the chance to see the variety of birds that i can when in our little village in the UK. I can tell you though that at any one time when I look up the sky in the Windy City, I can see at least 3 planes flying northwestward over Lake Michigan, en route to Ohare International. Mechanized flying things that roar, not quite as graceful as birds and their songs. And so I started noticing these feathered friends from those daily look-outs from the window by the kitchen sink here in England, and hearing their tweets and calls. What a refreshing treat. Not long after my father-in-law gave us a colored poster of common birds (pull out from a Sunday paper) which piqued my curiosity even more. Add on a day at Caernarfon Castle with the RSPB (Royal Society of the Protection of Birds) selling (and me buying) lapel pins of a host of bird species to raise funds, and the serendipitous £1 find I got from a charity shop (RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds by Simon Harrap) the very next day, and there we have the perfect storm of the birth of a new hobby.
Over Christmas, Hubby bought me a pair of binoculars, specifically, a NIKON PROSTAFF 7s 10×42. They are not the typical small little things that birdwatchers can thrust into the pockets. More the type you hang on your neck while you move around. They feel “substantial” — which I like, because they have more the feel that you’re holding a piece of equipment rather than a toy. The best part of it is that it is lightweight, for all the power it packs in.
I keep on the window sill the RSPB pocket guide, and a more expansive “Birds of Britain and Europe” by Rob Hume. I like that both books either describe the bird voice/sounds or illustrate their flight pattern. Both books also provide a cross reference to confusion species or similar species. I also have a small notebook where I have begun to note down the birds I have seen and where. For now, I think the most special one I have on the list is the Great-Spotted Woodpecker which honored us with its presence when it came for the bird-feed pellets we have just put out. With his bold black wings decorated with little white dots, and a bright red crown and under tail — what a beauty. We now have 3 feeders in the backyard, and we like to think it has become Blue Tits Central in this little neighborhood. They fly together, and oftentimes we have finches, blackbirds, chaffinches, robins, starlings, chubby wood pigeons and even the odd pheasants joining in there party. I am so looking forward to more of these glorious feathered creatures, in number and types, coming over in the spring and summer.
“…I keep looking for one more teacher, only to find that fish learn from the water and birds learn from the sky.” ~ Mark Nepo (author, in “Facing The Lion, Being The Lion, Finding Inner Courage Where It Lives”)