Tuesday, January 19, 2010

e-books

I have discovered the revolution that is e-books. Of course, I’ve heard of them before now, (I mean, Helloo! I do use the internet!) but I didn’t really get the full impact of what e-books actually mean. In all honesty, I thought that they were a bit naff. A crappy, techie, unnecessary version of a good thing. A book should have pages. Made of paper. That you can hold. It has a smell of its own and doesn’t come with a harsh background light. None of this is really all that surprising, because I’m really not much of a techie. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a technophobe – but there are sometimes when the old fashioned way is just more appealing to me, it’s less of a headache. I mean, a real folder doesn’t get viruses and even when my binders crash on the floor, my stuff’s still there. E-books just didn’t appeal to me and I didn’t believe that it would feel the same to read e-books as it does to read dead tree books.

This was until a friend of mine mentioned that she’d read ‘The Da Vinci Code’ online. That made me stop in my tracks. I’ve been living in Algeria for a few years now and the hardest thing is the complete lack of books in the English language. The only English books here are the classics: Shakespeare, Austen, the Bronte sisters, Hemingway, etc. There’s no choice (said with a plaintive wail in my voice). And then this girl tells me that she read ‘The Da Vinci Code’, a book I’ve been wanting to read for years (which is altogether too long to wait to read a book).

Though I was largely sceptical of the whole e-book thing, I decided to try it out. It’s a question of necessity, as I feel like there’s something missing since I stopped reading fresh material. I miss a good book. I go online and read about all the books other people are reading and it’s torture, cause I know that I can’t read those books. So I decided to download a book – I actually downloaded 5 to see if it worked (if it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing properly, right?). I picked the Twilight series, as I’ve been wanting to read it for ages and I’ve seen both Twilight and New Moon. It downloaded in a few minutes – a miracle considering how crappily slow our internet connection is. Holding my breathe, I opened Twilight in PDF form and voila! I had a book to read. An actual book!

I read a chapter to test it out. I still wasn’t convinced that it would draw me in the same way that a paper book would, that it wouldn’t be able to transport me to another world in the same way. I was wrong. In one chapter I was lost in another world – I was in rainy Forks, standing in Charlie’s house, looking at the old d├ęcor, seeing everything through Bella’s eyes. I was caught.

That night, I curled up in bed and read a third of the book straight, before going to sleep, and I realised that it’s the words and style of the writer that determine how good a book is, that catches you and takes you away to another world, not the format of the book. It’s a breakthrough like none other for me – a total Godsend – I now have books to read: YIPPEE!!! I’ve been doing the hyper version of a happy dance ever since. :D

Monday, January 18, 2010

Writing Style and Blogging

I’m bored out of my mind with my current writing style here. It’s too … stuffy and it’s really not me. What brought this home to me was writing an email to a friend – my tone of writing was totally different. You know, it was a chatty, cheerful kinda email, with a good dose of b*tchiness, which, in my opinion at any rate, is always fun. It’s also more me.

So this led me to ask “ What’s stopping me from writing like this on my blog?” “What’s been holding me back?” Basically: Why can’t I blog like this? Here comes the answer:

- Microsoft Word: yup, I’m blaming my writing style on a computer programme. You gotta admit: I’m good at coming up with excuses. ;) but seriously, the spelling and grammar check thingy, especially the grammar checking part of it, questions how I write things, which makes me second-guess myself and sometimes (umm… read: 95% of the time) I wind up changing stuff. Which is stupid. Because it’s not like I’m gunning for the Nobel Prize for Literature with this blog. Or with anything I write, for that matter.

- The Dictionary and Thesaurus: this duo are a pair of creeps. They act like they’re your best friends and lull you into a false sense of confidence by helping you out when you need them, but then before you know it – bam – you’re overly dependant on them to provide you with precisely the right word. Because God forbid you should use the ‘wrong’ one, or worse: the same word more than once.

- My Primary School Teacher, Mrs. H: this is probably the most justifiable of all these reasons/excuses, even though I haven’t seen her for, oh, a mere 18 years or so. The thing is, I loved writing when I was 6. Honestly, I’d write 2-3 page stories with love – and that’s a lot for a 6 year old. But she made such a fuss out of my bad spelling, to the point that my parents got me a dictionary and I had to bring it to school at Mrs. H’s insistence. Every. Single. Day. (Yeah, I may have some issues now.) The result of this is that I began to associate writing with stress. I was good at maths, I was good at reading, I was pretty much average to good at everything else – writing included – but I got it into my head that I wasn’t good at languages. Please note, that I was raised in a bilingual household, so clearly I don’t have issues with languages. Anyways, it wasn’t until high school (I’m bowing to the American terminology here – I know if I write college you’ll be thinking uni, and these details are sooooooo important you know) that I realised that I was actually kinda good at writing. But then it was too late – I had dropped English like a hot brick when I was 16 and any writing I did after that was due to necessity.
But I still have it in my head that writing is not my forte, which leads me to my next reason for my boring writing style:

- I imitate other writer’s styles. Yeah, I’m like that American bird – what’s it called? Oh yeah, a Mockingbird. Only it’s just my writing, it doesn’t happen so much with speaking (although I do absorb other people’s accents, which is just plain weird), and certainly not singing, cause I can’t sing for love nor money. To make this worse, some of my favourite books are classics (my favourite author is Jane Austen), so my writing style is an attempt at a 21st Century imitation of a 19th Century literary genius. I’m doomed.

So now I’m gonna stop using Microsoft Word grammar checker, quit using the Dictionary & Thesaurus (if the word’s not in my head then it’s not mine and it won’t express me very well), I’ll try to write every day (don’t worry: I won’t post all the crap I do write, it’s just a practice makes perfect sort of thing) and I’m going to try to write these blog posts as if they were emails to a friend. My best friend. Except without the “hi” or “love Sarah xxx”.

Lets see how long this lasts.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Film Review: The Young Victoria

I watched The Young Victoria recently and I absolutely LOVED it. As a Brit, someone who loves reading the history of the British royal family and as someone who loves a good classic this film was perfect. It has a very good cast, with Emily Blunt (from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’) in the title role and Rupert Friend (from ‘Pride and Prejudice’ – also, he’s Keira Knightley’s other half, just so you know) as Prince Albert, the love interest.

The story centres on Queen Victoria’s life during the year before her coronation and the first few years of her reign over England. It’s not so much a love story about Victoria and Albert (which is what it’s advertised as), but really about the struggle for control of Victoria as the monarch and sovereign of Great Britain, how she dealt with it and how her relationship with Albert was important in this respect. It focuses on her personal strength in resisting her mother, uncle and the politicians of the day, as well the general belief that she was unfit for her position due to her age and gender.

What I liked:

1) The Kensington System, which was put in place to protect the young princess Victoria, is mentioned and explained early on and featured throughout much of the beginning of the film. I think that understanding the Kensington System – a series of rules governing her life, like that she wasn’t allowed to sleep alone, or walk downstairs by herself, and that she had to have someone taste her food for her, etc – is crucial to understanding who Queen Victoria was, why she was that way, and why she was so fiercely independent.

2) The cast was stellar and their performances were excellent. Emily Blunt’s portrayal of the young Queen made her feel accessible and human. Rupert friend’s Prince Albert was likeable, which is an accomplishment, because I never liked Prince Albert - he always seems so severe. Friend, however, manages to depict the Prince’s shyness, reserve and a certain sense of helplessness as a younger son being used in a power game, which endeared him to me. I also enjoyed Paul Bettany’s performance as Lord Melbourne – he demonstrates the conflict of being both a politician, keen to take advantage of the young monarch’s inexperience, and a friend and advisor who cares for her and admires her strength. I could keep going on about the cast, but I won’t.

3) I particularly liked and appreciated the way in which the three key political figures of the time (Lord Melbourne, the Duke of Wellington, and Sir Robert Peele) were introduced, using Albert in Germany.

What I didn't like:

1) There is a huge jump between Victoria’s issues with her mother’s advisor and the sudden death of the king. It kind of confused me a bit.

2) Also, her 18th birthday – which was crucial to her ascension to the throne – was completely skipped. This is especially strange considering that the King mentions that he wants to live long enough for her to reach this milestone. I think they could have mentioned that she’d turned 18 at some point before the King’s death.

3) Of course, it’s not 100% accurate: Lord Melbourne was cast too young – he was in his 50s or 60s at the time, which Paul Bettany clearly isn’t. Queen Victoria’s relationship with her mother remained distant, the film leads you to believe that there was some kind of happy ending in this respect. There wasn’t. And, I’m sorry, but I still reckon that Prince Albert was a bit of a controlling git. But none of this is crucial to the film.

Overall, I thought it was an intelligent film set against a backdrop of difficult issues and concepts – the Regency Order, succession, the link between the different royal houses of Europe, and the connection between a British monarch and Parliament – and I think it manages to explain them all well enough. But then, I’m British. I’ve studied the Kings and Queens of England in History lessons in primary school so I know, or have heard of, a lot of this stuff anyway, and I did wonder as I watched the film if people abroad (especially in North America) would understand it. I think my answer is that, although Emily Blunt is (deservedly) nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, the film was only released in limited cinemas in the US and then went straight to DVD. As such, I would only recommend this film to people who like period dramas or are into British history or the royal family.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dodgy electricity.

When the electricity went in England, it was exciting and fun. I was a kid, so it was really cool, sort of like an adventure. It was something to talk about at school the next day. I loved lighting the candles – it felt like something out of “The Little House on The Prairie”, or something. But then, it was extremely rare that the electricity did actually go, and it usually went for a very good reason.

Here it’s a different story altogether. The electricity goes, not regularly, but often enough. Too often. The candles are on standby, as are the matches. We have a back-up battery for the computer so that it doesn’t crash and sometimes we even put the heating on a bit earlier, just in case the power goes (the drawback of gas boilers with electric timer systems).

And it’s not cool. Nor is it fun or exciting. It’s annoying, plain annoying. It’s annoying when you’re online and the internet goes. It’s annoying when you’re trying to read, write or study by flickering candle light and you’re having to strain you’re eyes to see (honestly, I don’t know how they managed in the olden days – especially in England in the winter when the days are so short. No wonder so many people were illiterate then – they never had the light to read!). What’s more, it tends to go for so long that the batteries in the torches and camping lamps run out, not that the batteries are all that good anyway. And it’s super annoying when you’re sitting on the loo and the light goes. That just takes the biscuit.

Although, truth be told, the area we live in now isn’t that bad – the power only goes about a couple of dozen times a year, which is bearable – whereas the area we used to live in when we first came to Algeria was much worse. There, the electricity went with every puff of wind, every drop of rain, the very slightest hint of humidity and a mere glimpse of sunlight. In short, it went constantly. Perhaps the nicest thing about when it did come back was that we could hear all the kids in the block cheering.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Judgement, pressure and blogging

When I was younger (here I go, sounding like a granny!) in my early teens I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. I know that’s kind of weird because when you’re in your teens that’s when you’re supposed to be most self-conscious about others’ approval, but that just wasn’t the case for me. I dunno, maybe it was because I was home educated and therefore not subject to the peer pressure most teens go through, but there it is. I just didn’t care.

It was only in my late teens that I started to be more aware of the impact of other people’s judgements on my life. Although I made plenty of mistakes before this time (obviously), they’d never been that public. Until my late teens. I made a couple of really minor mistakes – really, they weren’t that big a deal, in fact, they weren’t so much mistakes as misjudgements, but, whatever, some people found out. It’s worth noting that they only found out because a) I honestly didn’t think that there was anything wrong with what I was doing, and so didn’t try to hide it and b) I told people what I was doing, because I thought it was ok. To this day (nearly six years later), it is still held against me. It was a very sad experience to go through, and one from which I learnt a lot.

The most difficult part of the whole thing for me is that I no longer feel as though I stand alone, that I alone am held responsible for my mistakes. I feel as though if I screw up, someone or something else will also be blamed. Either one or other or both of my parents, Islam, home education, college (a.k.a. high school), university, UK, Algeria … the list is endless. The problem is that, yes, to a very large degree, these are the main influences in my life and have shaped who I am today, which means that I value them all highly and I don’t want to give people a bad impression of any of them. But my mistakes are not caused by them, either individually or together. My mistakes are my own. They happen because I am human, I am young and I don’t get everything right all the time (and, last time I checked, neither did anyone else, but apparently, that’s irrelevant).

The result of this is that I find it very hard to be me honestly. I play roles: university student, perfect Muslim girl, fun and free twenty-something year old, etc, etc, and it just gets depressing and tiring and fake. Moreover, it’s starting to make me feel angry and resentful. I don’t want to be the means of hurting the people and things that I love, but I need to be me.

And that’s why I haven’t told the people I know about my blog, yet. I’m afraid of all the judgement and its ramifications, even though I know that the vast majority would be very supportive and encouraging. There are, however, people I know who will read this blog determined to see their opinion of me confirmed, people who will use my blog to try to nitpick and point out all my flaws. And no matter what I do, they will find something to pick at and argue over and be hurt by, for the simple reason that I am not who they want me to be.

So that’s why I want to find my groove/niche with this blog before I tell them. I need to be who I am and accept that any repercussions that occur are not my fault so that I can represent myself authentically here. Otherwise, it’ll just be another way in which I have to juggle all the roles I play, and there’s no point in that.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2010 Resolutions

Ok, I’ve finally put together my New Year’s Resolutions – it’s only 6 days late, which is pretty good by my standards. This year, I’ve decided to divide them into Goals I want to achieve and habits I want to form. The goals have pretty obvious stages, but some of the habits I’ve broken down into smaller steps. I haven’t bothered to list the steps or stages here, though because I think it would just go on too long.

The habits first:

1)Qur’an: both revising and memorising.
2)Extra prayers.
3)Reading: both in Arabic and English.
4)Extra fasting.

The goals:

1)Memorise ¼ of the Qur’an.
¼ is a lot, but I really feel that I can do it, if I’m dedicated enough and form the right habits. Over the last few years I’ve been learning about 1/12 a year, and that’s been really easy to do. There’s no reason why I can’t do more.

2)Learn the rules of recitation of the Qur’an (Ahkam).
This has been on my list for a while now, so I’m hoping to have set it up by the end of the month.

3)Find an outlet for my Islamic writing.
I have written on some Islamic topics, and would like to write more, but I have no outlet for my writing just yet. I don’t feel that this blog is the right place, although that may change, or else I may start another blog, or get involved with another website. I don’t know, but I need to really consider a reasonable outlet.

4)Pass my year at uni.

5)Get around about half way through my thesis.
I don’t know how long it’ll take me to figure out what I’m going to write my thesis on, or find a teacher to oversee it, or do the research or anything really, hence the reason this is such a vague goal. I just want to know at the end of the year what I’m doing in this area, which I think is about half the work.

6)Get a job online.
Online, because I want to work from home. Having to go out regularly or work in a specific space / time is not for me. Not long-term at any rate. I don’t mind deadlines, so long as I can make up my own schedule. Also, the Algerian currency isn’t too strong and I would really appreciate an income in another currency. So online is the best route for me. I’m giving myself 6 months to get myself together for this one, in terms of CV, cover letter, search, etc, etc.

7)Get a real, decent-paying job.
This kind of links in with the previous goal, only it differs because I do actually need to meet human beings, and not just at uni. I get that. But I don’t want to work all the hours God sends. Basically, I’m looking into teaching English at the moment. I’m offering private tuition and I’m hoping that will take off, and I may consider working in a school. We shall see. I just want a regular, dependable income, especially, while I’m working on the goal above.

8)Save some money.
Um, yeah, another vague goal, but I’m not really sure how much I want to save. I guess something like 10-20% of my earnings would be good, but then it depends on how much I earn, doesn’t it?

9)Get my driving license.
This one’s been on my list for too long. I’m hoping to get myself to save up for the lessons by buying a book on the topic. I’m quite sure it’ll motivate me – books generally do.

10)Complete 5 new and different knitting projects.
I enjoy knitting, and I want to do more to improve. I’ve picked 5 because I think that’s a decent number: not too much and completely attainable. They have to be new and different, because that way I’ll learn something new with each project, as well as expanding my list of things that I can knit. Also, completing just 5 means that if something’s a success I can make it again without spending the whole year making the same thing.

11)Expand my blog.
This means that I want to write more often, post more often, and reach a point where I’m happy enough to inform my family and friends about it.

12)Be consciously more positive and proactive.
By this I meant that I want to make up my mind to be positive and not be so easily annoyed / upset. I want to be more proactive because I want to get off my arse more. The reason I’ve lumped them together is because I feel that they are interrelated in my life.

13)Either go to the UK, or plan a trip back there for next year.
I haven’t been back for a long while now, and I’m really wanting to get back there. I don’t know if I’ll manage it this year, so I’m being flexible about it so long as I can plan a trip for next year.

That’s it. As most of these goals will, at some point or another, affect my life over the coming year, I will probably update as and when I have something to new to say.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What am I doing?

This is a question I’ve started to ask myself sometimes with regards to my Masters degree. Some (not all) of my lecturers are not exactly great, and that’s putting it very kindly. I can sit in a 2 hour lecture and not learn a thing. Add to that the fact that admin is taking forever to sort out our paperwork, so I don’t have a student ID card, or even a library card, which is clearly a problem. Although, that’s not the real reason why I’m questioning myself. I know that admin will, eventually, sort themselves out – they always do – and my research projects will be researched and completed using library books and other resources and it’ll all end well.

My real problem is with my lecturers. Honestly, I think that the majority are – thus far – wasting my time. I’m not learning anything new. Today, for example, I spent over 45mins listening to a lecturer discuss an issue with some of the other students, whilst another lecturer last year explained the issue and summed it up, with all the different opinions in about 10mins. Furthermore, and what’s worse, is that they don’t really motivate me to study. Last year, I’d come out of a lecture and want to do more work. Not so this year. Although, I suppose, that motivating me isn’t really their job, thereby making it my issue with me. I’m going to have to motivate myself this year and push myself with my studying as well as the rest of my life, to accommodate the shift in my responsibilities, as a grad student, job-seeker, friend, Muslim, a member of 2 communities (expat and Algerian) and a family member. I guess I thought that it was going to be like last year.

So, I reckon that now would be a good time to state my New Year’s resolutions, except that I don’t think I will just yet. I need a little more time to stew on them, as I’ve read so much about setting resolutions that are keep-able that I would like to apply to my list this year. I’ve pretty much picked them out, but will probably divide them into things I want to do/have, and habits I wish to form... we shall see. I’ll probably have them up here by the end of the week.