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The Cartoon Guide to Economics, Grady Klein and Yoram Bauman (recommended by [livejournal.com profile] philmophlegm)
I really enjoyed this. At first I thought it was a bit too simplistic and that I wasn’t going to learn anything from it, but although most of the microeconomics volume was revision of stuff that I’d done before, it was good for getting back up to speed quickly, and I actually learned quite a lot of new stuff from the macroeconomics volume.

L’Etranger, Albert Camus (recommended by [livejournal.com profile] vyvyan)
I was trying to do all of my fiction reading in French for a while, so this was an obvious choice. I’d read it in translation many years ago, but could only remember the basic outline of the plot. I enjoyed the first half, but found the second half quite challenging and slow, right up until the end, when it hits really hard and everything slots into place.

Watchmen, Alan Moore
I recently treated myself to a Chromebook, mostly so I’d have something to read comics on without filling our flat with any more dead trees. This was a good way to start, but I’d like to come back to it sometime after I’ve read more actual superhero comics, so I have a better sense of what it's a critique of.

Transmetropolitan Volumes 1-3, Warren Ellis (recommended by [personal profile] hjdoom)
Gosh, Spider Jerusalem is compelling, isn't he. My first impression of the series is horrified fascination at how prescient it seems. I'm enjoying it a great deal.

Common Sense, Thomas Payne
I read this entirely because it’s referenced in a song in Hamilton. I didn’t really feel as though I got a lot out of it, but I guess at its time the ideas were more challenging. I might try The Rights of Man at some point and see if I get more from that.

Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow
This is the book that inspired the musical that I’ve been obsessing over for the last couple of months. It did the thing that good biographies often do of reading like a novel much of the time, and despite being a bit of a brick I ripped through it fairly quickly, and now feel a lot more informed about the American Revolution than I was before. I think I’d quite like to read a Jefferson biography by someone sympathetic though, as I’m not sure how skewed my perspective of him is now.

Now reading: On Liberty, John Stuart Mill; the rest of Transmet; Economics by Begg and Vernesca
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Last time I wrote one of these I observed that I was doing remarkably well despite there being a certain amount of stress in all three of my work, home and romantic life. One way or another that all seems to have resolved itself, which is helpful, as it frees up my processing capacity to deal with the fact that the country has gone insane.

I’ve only got a week left of my current contract, and I’ve wrapped up most of the things I needed to get done and am working on the nice-to-haves. I’m very much looking forward to never having to see my terrible client again. In some ways it seems a bit daft to have stayed on for so long given how grim the environment is, but there’s still a lot I enjoy about the work itself, and I’ve certainly learned a great deal. As per the recent locked posts*, I’ve been doing quite a lot of thinking about where I want my career to go in the medium-long term and that’s starting to crystallise in a way that gives me more clarity and options in the shorter term as well. I’ve got an interview tomorrow for another fairly short contract, and applications out for some more senior permanent jobs, and I’m rather looking forward to having a short break in the meantime.

I had fairly major surgery a few weeks ago, and despite that my health is pretty much the best it’s ever been. I’m recovering ridiculously well, and although it’s meant that I’ve had to put the weight-lifting that I’d been getting into on a short hiatus, I’ve been using the time freed up to do more running, and last week managed to knock 39 seconds and 89 seconds off my 5k and 10k personal bests.

We made offers on a few more houses, but none of them worked out, and after the referendum we’re going to leave it a little while to see what happens to house prices, as even though we’re buying a home rather than an investment, it would be a little frustrating to buy now and then realise we could have saved tens of thousands of pounds by waiting.

I feel as though I should say something about the astonishing amount of news at the moment, but I’m not sure I have anything new or insightful to add. I am concerned about Brexit, and the collapse of any viable opposition to the Tories, but in some ways the events in Turkey have made me realise that actually, despite everything, we still have a saner and more democratic government than we have for most of our history and than a great deal of the world does now. I’m more concerned about the risk of President Trump - that does seem like something that could seriously fuck the entire world, but I have no idea what, if anything, I can do about it, so I’m mostly just sticking my head in the sand and thinking about all the malaria nets that I actually can do something about distributing.

*shout if you can’t see them and would like to
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Would anyone be willing to look over a job application for me? It's quite an ambitious stretch for me, so I could use as much help as I can get.

I'm looking for feedback on whether I've said anything that will be offputting, whether I'm failing to cover anything important from the JD/person spec, editing suggestions so I can bring the word count down a little, and general feedback on tone, style &c. Let me know if you'd be willing to give it a once over and I'll email it.
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I didn't sleep at all well last night. I went to bed at around ten thirty, but after an hour or so wasn't close to nodding off, so got up and read for a while, tried again around one, and then finally successfully at half three or so.

I was feeling oddly thirsty - I think between initially going to bed and finally dropping off I drank about four pints of water, which seems like a lot. I hadn't drunk any alcohol since the sip of God in the morning. I did have a fair amount of diet coke throughout the day, but no more than usual. I know that sometimes thirst manifests as hunger, so I wondered if it was happening the other way around and ate some things, but that didn't seem to help much. I'm still feeling quite thirsty this morning.

I'm going to cut out caffeine for the next few days and see what happens. I imagine it's nothing serious, but if I turn out to have developed diabetes or a problem with my liver or kidneys after a few months of giving up alcohol and acquiring an exercise habit I shall be somewhat put out.
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Better angels of our nature, Steven Pinker
I generally find Pinker frustrating but worthwhile, and this book had less of the frustrating than The Blank Slate, but still irritated me from time to time. I enjoyed the book - it had an awful lot of detailed exploration of ideas, but they were nearly all ideas that I already knew the outline of and agreed with, so a) I learned a limited amount of new stuff, and b) I worry that I was viewing it through a huge lens of confirmation bias. In particular, in the later chapters, there was discussion of psychology experiments, at least some of which I know have since been undermined. There were some insights that were new to me though, in particular about why people think violence is getting worse even though it’s getting better, and a deeper appreciation of how capitalism can act to prevent wars.

Les Jeux de la Faim trilogie - Suzanne Collins
A big part of the takeaway from this was “reading in French is hard and slow, but getting easier and quicker.” Despite the language hurdle I enjoyed it a lot. I loved Battle Royale, so it was quite fun seeing a very similar story through the lens of YA, and Katniss is all kinds of awesome. I also really like that they have a love triangle story where you’re not clearly given one person to root for. I preferred the second and third books, as they got more political and less action based, although I felt that there was an awful lot of plot stuffed into third book, which left it feeling a bit rushed and messy. I’ve watched the first two films (in English), and was relieved to find that if I’d managed to miss big chunks of exposition through language then they were bits that weren’t felt important enough to make it into the films. I’m looking forward to seeing the remaining two, and hoping that splitting the third book will address the rushedness.

Economics in one lesson, Henry Hazlitt
The lesson is that you can’t look at an economic decision only in terms of the short term effects on a particular group of people, you have to look at both short and long term effects on everyone. This is all well and good, and the examples he goes through do clearly highlight some flaws in Keynesian economics which fall into that trap, but there were definitely examples where I felt he was making exactly the same mistake, just ignoring a different subset of actors.

The Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Ratzinger
This was lent to me by my spiritual director, as something that might help me redirect my thoughts onto God when I’m being distracted by whether the other servers and clergy are performing the liturgy correctly. I found the first section quite difficult, as it seemed to have an assumed level of knowledge (of theology, art, history, music) that I was missing, but the later sections were more explicit, and I after reading them the earlier bits felt like they slotted into place a bit better. More importantly, I definitely feel as though some of the ideas and ways of thinking that I encountered in the later chapters will be practically helpful to me in keeping my focus on God, although I’ll see how that works in practice over the coming weeks.
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You know that three-legged stool model where if possible it’s best to only make major changes in one of the legs of home, relationship, and work at any given time? I seem to be doing remarkably well right now, considering that I’m encountering a certain amount of complicatedness in all three.

The relationship stuff is simplest - [livejournal.com profile] obandsoller and I are rock solid, before anyone worries; but for a little while I let myself get my hopes up about a possible something with someone else, and then that didn’t pan out (yes, that’s the sad thing I referred to in the last post). I’m okay, and have bounced back remarkably quickly, but it’s been an undercurrent of uncertainty and anxiety as well as hopefulness for the last couple of months, which takes energy.

House stuff is hard work and infuriating. We found a place, and we knew that our maximum price was higher than the vendor’s minimum, so we were confident that we’d reach an agreement, but then the vendor got cold feet and it fell through. And then we found another place and had an offer accepted and got pretty excited, and now that’s been stalled for weeks and we think isn’t going to happen. And then we found another place and made an offer way above the asking price but were still outbid… And it’s getting a bit tiring, not knowing when it’s all going to be sorted out. I mean, we’ll find somewhere eventually, and once we get to the other side we’ll have a shiny new house and we’ll never have to move again, and it’ll be great. But still, it’s a bit tiring.

A similar undercurrent of uncertainty remains at work. My contract ends in a few weeks, at which point I’m having some surgery and will definitely be taking a bit of time off to recover, but I’m still not sure what I’ll be doing afterwards. My client has indicated that he’d like me to come back in some capacity, but so far has been rather unforthcoming on the details, and although there’s nothing terrible per se about my role at the moment, I’m getting quite bored. There are definitely more interesting projects that I think I could take on, but it remains to be seen whether my vision and my client’s are in concert, and the longer I go without knowing, the less engaged I feel, and the more inclined to just go “Sod it, time to move on”.

But as I indicated at the start, despite having a non-trivial amount of stress and uncertainty to manage, I seem to be bearing up extremely well. I know how lucky I am, being in a position to buy a house in London at all, and having the amount of freedom of choice about where and how I work that I have, and knowing that whatever else happens in my love life I’ve still got this incredible, affirming, enriching partnership with Ramesh. But often knowing that on paper doesn’t stop stressful things from being incredibly draining and clouding out that sense of fortune and gratitude, and that doesn’t seem to be happening this time around.
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Something I need to get better at is remembering how profoundly mood can affect my ability to do practical and useful things, and applying that to my model of other people. The effect of depression and related mood disorders in this arena is something I mostly grok, even though it’s been a long time since I suffered more than the most transient and trifling of depressions, but I’m currently a bit sad about something specific*, and it’s taken me rather by surprise how much of a similar effect it’s had in terms of making it hard to get out of bed and go to work and do my chores and be sociable with delightful people.

For the last few months I’ve been overwhelmingly more functional and productive than I ever had before, and it felt quite robust, so it’s a little surprising to find it this fragile. I mean, it hasn’t crashed down to zero - I managed to lift weights and cook dinner and play bridge yesterday, and although it took me a while to get going this morning, I’ve still made it into work and got a reasonable amount done so far; but it has felt like far more effort than I’d become used to. I expect it’ll sort itself out over the next few days, and if it doesn’t then all the tools I used to become more functional are still there if I need them to get back again, but I think it’s probably good for me to realise that no matter how resilient I feel, there are definitely still squishy bits really quite close to the surface.

I’m also uncomfortably aware that there have been times when thoughts along the lines of “why can’t so-and-so just pull themselves together and get on with things” have been closer to forming than I might like to admit, and although I think I’m usually fairly good at nipping them in the bud with a reminder that different people have different capabilities and needs and responses, perhaps this experience of how quickly capabilities can change even within one person will make them less inclined to reach the point where that nipping is required.

*which is just one of those unfortunate things which is absolutely no-one’s fault, and was handled as decently and kindly as possible by everyone involved, so just in case anyone is thinking of feeling anything resembling guilt about this sadness, don’t you bloody well dare.
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One aspect of Ardgour-en-France that I meant to write about is the food. Anyone who’s known me for more than five minutes will probably have picked up that food is something that I’m passionate about. Making, sharing, and appreciating good food is an important part of how I relate to people, so the challenge of planning the catering for a group of that size, and making sure that not only are all the dietary requirements met, but everyone actually enjoys the food is one that I find stimulating.

There’s a slightly selfish aspect to it. When food is part of my identity in this way, and especially when I get positive responses to meals that I’ve cooked or planned, it gives me a layer of armour against the voices of disordered eating. It would be better, I think, if I didn’t need to get my validation externally at all, but somehow getting it from being a provider of nourishment and culinary pleasure is quite hard to make coexist with seeking it from being thin, thinner, thinnest, and I’m fairly certain that it’s healthier for me to crowd out the latter with the former.

I think we ate pretty well throughout - as ever, there were a few hiccoughs with me forgetting to order the odd ingredient, or not being able to find something in a French supermarket that would be straightforward in England, but all the cooks did a sterling job of improvising alternatives. I was particularly pleased with and proud of the Medieval Feast on the Tuesday night. A feast of some description has been a feature of several of these holidays, and this was the third time that [livejournal.com profile] strongtrousers and I have run the show.

And we’re getting good.

I mean, we’ve been decent cooks for years - it was whilst we were living together at the Suite that I first really got into food, and I learned an enormous amount, and through the years I think we’ve both learned back and forth from one another. But even so, in previous years the feasts have been hard work, they’ve been very stressful, and although we’ve made some fabulous food, not everything has worked. By now though, we’ve learned. We’ve learned what works for big groups and what doesn’t, we’ve got the confidence to make things up on the fly when we need to, and we’ve broadened our repertoires considerably. And so this time everything just worked. All day, I could barely believe how smoothly everything was going, and how unstressed we all were, and when we served the food, how well chosen and well received every single dish was. Look at the menu below and tell me you don't wish you'd been there ;)



With thanks to [personal profile] pseudomonas for the calligraphy.

Weekend

Apr. 18th, 2016 10:59 am
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I had a fairly quiet weekend, which I think was just what I needed, as the emotional impact of recent spiritual developments are still washing over me in waves, so the luxury of not having to do anything else challenging is very much appreciated.

On Friday evening I went to the theater to see “Such Things as Dreams Are Made On”, an immersive show based on The Tempest. Sadly I didn’t enjoy it much - on the scale of immersive theatre from “basically just a play but with some ambulatory bits” to “completely disconnected scenes on a theme”, it seemed right at the latter end, and I found it disjointed and difficult to make any sense of at all. That said, other people I went with appear to have encountered a lot more plot than I did, and enjoyed it more, so I may just have been unlucky with where I placed myself, which is always a bit of a risk with these things.

On Saturday I woke reasonably early and spent a couple of hours exercising. It felt more difficult than it sometimes does - the weights seemed heavier than I’d have expected, and the running was slow, and I didn’t much enjoy either - but I kept going, which is something. I napped in the afternoon, then slept for ten hours that night, and nine last night, so I think possibly I was fighting off some very mild illness. The vendor of the house we’ve been trying to buy is currently being made of faff, so we have resumed our search in the hope of finding somewhere better, or at least less faffy, and had our first new viewing on Saturday afternoon. It was decent enough, and had we seen it before the current place then I think we’d be happy with it, but it’s not quite as good, so we’re currently weighing that against the likelihood of the original vendor getting his act together, and planning to see a few more places next weekend.

Saturday evening I went on a dinner date with someone from OkCupid - he was pleasant enough, but no real spark, and I don’t think I’ll see him again. If I’m honest, I think I could have predicted that and saved myself the effort. There’s definitely still a part of me that is sufficiently surprised by someone showing interested that I feel an obligation to respond positively to any initiation of contact showing a modicum of thought. Actually though, I might do better to accept that I’m quite picky these days, and I’d make better use of my time if I only met with people I felt actively excited about.

Sunday started with Mass, but although I had anticipated the Annual Parochial Church Meeting to follow, poor Fr Daniel was unwell, so that was postponed to next week, and I got home early. That turned out to be a stroke of luck, as I’d got myself in a muddle about timings for our afternoon plans, and this let us rejuggle them. Ramesh & I had a lovely gentle stroll into Islington, where we had (very good, but I think a little overpriced) gelato at Amorino, then went to see The Man Who Knew Infinity at the cinema. It was a fairly meandering film, in which not a great deal happened, and we already knew how what conflict there was would resolve, but it was a pleasant, comfortable reminiscence. I’m not sure how much interest it would hold for someone without any connections to maths, or Cambridge, or India, but for us it was quite well targeted. I think that A Disappearing Number, which I saw a few years ago with [livejournal.com profile] jamesofengland is a much better piece of art on the same subject, but also a lot more challenging, and there is space in the world for both.

After the film we went to Ottolenghi for a late lunch/early supper of mushroom & leek croquettes and various salads. It was all delicious, but for me the highlight was “Mixed green beans with edamame, soy roasted peanuts, lime leaf and lemongrass“, which I could have eaten all day. In a great feat of self-control I managed to drag myself away without buying a single new cookbook, and we headed home. It was such a lovely afternoon, and I think both of us really enjoyed taking the time to put the busyness of life to one side and just focus on each other for a while.

In the evening I treated myself to turning into a prune in the bath, then did a bit of French practice before praying the examen and then getting an early night. Glancing back over this, it’s possible that I might want to revisit my conception of what a quiet weekend looks like, but on the other hand, whilst it was quite full in some sense, everything that it was filled with was revitalizing and refreshing, and surrounded by getting enough sleep, which can make all the difference.
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You may recall that about a month ago I talked to my spiritual director about being, in some sense, an atheist? He recommended the book God of Surprises as reading material that might help me process the tension of belief and unbelief.

Well, I certainly can't accuse it of false advertising in the title. I, er, appear not to be an atheist any more. Which is unexpected, to say the least. This evening has been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, and I'm now feeling a little weepy and a lot overwhelmed. Prayers from those of you that do would be appreciated.
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There was one theme that came up for me in a variety of ways over the course of my recent holiday, of doing something that’s a bit outside my comfort zone, where I’d been putting in quite a lot of effort to practice and felt that I’d made big improvements, only to panic and fail when faced with doing it for real. This happened in three different spheres - speaking French, singing, and playing the piano. Naturally, the moment of failure was fairly unpleasant in each case, but I’m quite pleased with, perhaps even proud of, how I responded afterwards.

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Last week I went on holiday with fifteen other fabulous people, and it was absolutely bloody brilliant. I’ve been going away with (approximately) this group every couple of years since 2008, at first to Scotland, and for the last couple of instantiations to a chateau in the south of France.

Organising a holiday for a group that large is pretty hard work, and much approbation is due to [livejournal.com profile] emperor for doing the lion’s share of that work. It’s worth it though, not just because of the sheer concentrated awesomeness of my friends, but also because it opens up the opportunity for activities that need larger groups. We did readthroughs (William Shakespeare’s Star Wars and Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9) and singthroughs (Les Miserables and Jesus Christ Superstar) and games and a ceilidh, none of which would have worked with significantly fewer participants.

The singthroughs in particular will stay with me. [livejournal.com profile] leonato had the leads in both of them, and as hot as he is just standing there, when he sings it’s positively indecent. There were a great many other spectacular performances as well - both shows were stolen by their respective villainous double-acts whenever they were on stage, and the various sympathetic malefactors of Judas, Pilate and Javert were all played to heart-rending affect. Fantine’s death drew out my first tears of Les Mis, but not the last by a long shot. As for my own performance, I’m simultaneously very pleased and very disappointed in various aspects, but that will get an entry of its own to follow.
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So, it’s coming to the end of Lent, and time for a bit of reflection, both spiritual and practical, on my disciplines. After a couple of weeks of going to sleep at 10.30 I found that I was mostly waking around 5.30 or so, and whilst it was refreshing to always be getting enough sleep it was also frustrating feeling that my evenings were being cut short in order to give me more time at such an unsociable point of the day, so I shifted it an hour later. Interestingly, relaxing the discipline actually seemed to make it harder to stick to - I still managed it most days, but missed considerably more than I had up to that point. However, I was still waking up shortly before my alarm more often than not, and with one or two exceptions, finding it fairly easy to get up when it went off even if I hadn’t preceded it.

It feels as though this has consolidated into a change of habit, and one that will continue into Easter and beyond, and although a part of me is concerned that this is me using Lent for self-improvement (particularly as regulating my sleep pattern is something I’d been working on for a while), I think that I’m probably just being over-scrupulous. Whilst I don’t think I can point to particular devotions that I’ve been doing more of by virtue of getting more sleep, I definitely feel as though God has been a more central part of my thoughts during Lent than in the normal course of things, and I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to attribute some of that to just having more brainspace when I’m not chronically underslept. I expect that increased centralisation to continue into Easter as well, and one of the things that Fr Angus and I discussed last week was how to continue to do that but with a more joyful and celebratory focus as befits the season.

Of course, it isn’t just the sleep that’s been contributing to the increased brainspace. Not being on Facebook has done that as well. One thing that it has definitely led to is writing more on DreamJournal, which tends to encourage more longform and thoughtful pieces. Another is that I’m keeping up much better with email correspondences, which are a lot more fulfilling because they’re more personal. In both cases I’m feeling as though I’m communicating a lot more, even if I’m doing so with fewer people. I do still get value out of being on Facebook though - partly because there are many people I’m in touch with there but not elsewhere, and partly because it can be updated with a lot less time and thought, so doesn’t fall into the trap of having a dozen things I want to say but not enough time to craft them into a well written post.

After Advent ended I said I was hoping that I’d continue to spend less time using Facebook, but that didn’t really last long. This time I’m going to be more deliberate about it. I shall refrain from installing it on my phone, and stay logged out on my computer by default. I’m hoping this will mean that I only spend time on it when I’m consciously choosing to do so rather than having it as constant background noise. We’ll see how it goes.
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I, er, accidentally a half-marathon. Oops. Also gosh, well done me! Also ow.
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This post gets somewhat introspective and a bit disjointed. Content notes as per the title, so read with care if necessary.

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I’d say that he took it surprisingly well, but actually I wasn’t a jot surprised. His response was just as considered and wise and useful as I’ve come to expect.

I started meeting with Fr Angus for the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Advent. I’d found it such a powerful and useful experience on our parish pilgrimage to Walsingham that I wanted to take it up regularly. After having asked Fr Daniel’s advice about suitable confessors and undergone a certain amount of procrastinating and faffing, we began that discipline. After a short while it became clear that actually, important and useful though confession is, there’s a point of frequency above which it starts to feel repetitive and rote. We discussed this and agreed to move to taking a more general approach to spiritual growth, which would include, but not be limited to confession.

He’s very good. His way of thinking about and relating to God makes a lot of sense to me, and gave me some useful ideas about how to start thinking about and resolving the tension of alieving but not believing in God. I still have a lot of work to do, but before I started meeting with him I'd been letting my faith drift and stagnate a bit, whereas now it really feels like there's some important growth going on.
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Darlings - I'm playing a role in a readthrough in a few weeks which would benefit from a long, Victorian style skirt. The only skirts I own nowadays all tend to the slinky, and I'm really looking for something voluminous. Does anyone have something that might be suitable that they'd be willing to lend me?
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Project read more non fiction is go, starting with the above recommendation from Oliver. This rather odd little book is part biography of James Tilly Matthews, considered by some to have had the first documented case of paranoid schizophrenia and John Haslam, his physician at Bedlam, and part social history of the way we view and treat mental illness.

It certainly gave me a new-found gratitude that my sojourn at the tender mercies of England's madhouses took place at the end of the 20th century rather than the 18th, although sad to say I can definitely recall shades of Haslam in some of the doctors I was unlucky enough to encounter as a youth. I did feel at points as though the writer were stepping slightly over the line between recording history and spinning narratives out of whole cloth, particularly when speculating about the events which preceded Matthews' committal, but I'm not sure whether that was just because it made for a more interesting story than could be fully justified by the primary sources, or as a deliberate device to echo Matthews' own meandering between implausible fantasy and a truth which was stranger than fiction. In any case, it was a thoroughly diverting read.

Waste,

Feb. 29th, 2016 12:30 pm
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I went to see Waste at the National Theatre this weekend. It was extremely bleak, with barely a single likable character, but that's kind of what you look for when going to the theatre with Oliver. I enjoyed it immensely. It asks interesting questions about idealism vs pragmatism, and the difference between what one does and whom one is, and about how the relationship between church and state should work. I'm not sure it tells you how to answer any of these questions, or even how the writer would, but that uncertainly and lack of resolution feels appropriate.

The acting was excellent. Restrained and pointed for the most part, but with intensity bubbling away underneath and building tension until it couldn't help but escape in brief passionate moments before being locked up again. I was particularly taken with the set design, which was simple and sparse, and perfectly reflected the mood of the play.
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Learning French continues well, I think. It’s pleasing, because at school languages were always one of my weak points, and it’s nice to know that I can do reasonably well if I apply myself. I’d be interested in how other people’s experience of learning languages compares, and especially in any resources you think I might find useful.

I’ve finished the Duolingo tree, although I did the last dozen or so badges fairly quickly, which means they haven’t fully sunk in yet, and I’m struggling to keep them all gold. I’ve now finished seasons 1-3 of the podcast Coffee Break French, and am just getting started on the fourth and final season. These podcasts take a variety of forms, some of which I find more useful than others.

The first season starts with introducing basic vocabulary and grammar, pretty much all of which I’d already covered. It was somewhat useful to revise in an audio form and get used to hearing spoken French, but I did skip a fair amount of it. The final ten lessons of the season are more interesting though, as they were presented as a series of conversations which occurred on holiday in France, so there was a short piece to listen to, followed by some discussion and analysis, and then the piece played again. This sort of practice was definitely useful, and I could see clear improvements in my ability to understand excerpts of spoken French longer than a sentence or two. The second season followed a similar pattern, although the earlier lessons, whilst still mostly revision, were challenging enough that I listened to them all.

Season three was much better, in that nearly all of it had the “listen to a piece”, “discuss some of the language used”, “listen again” structure, with only the odd lesson here or there to formally teach a couple of the trickier bits of grammar (ugh, conditional mood; even more ugh, subjunctive mood). Over the course of this I went from understanding maybe a third of what was going on in the first listen, to getting maybe 90% of the gist, which feels like real progress. Also, a lot more of it is going "hear French ---> understand concept", rather than "hear French ---> translate into English ---> understand concept".

So far I’ve only listened to half of the first lesson of season 4, which feels like quite a big step up. A lot more of it is in French and not translated for you afterwards, so you’re pretty much forced to figure it out for yourself, and it’s also quicker (although I suspect still a long way from being at normal conversational pace). I’m thinking about buying the premium version of this season, which gets you extra lessons and transcripts and learning notes, but is pretty pricey. I’ll see how I go with the free content and then decide.

I’m becoming aware of just how many different skills are involved in learning a language, and of what I find effective and ineffective for learning each one. Learning grammar through audio definitely isn’t something that works for me - going over the bits that I’d already learned, or having examples pointed out is fine to cement things, but I don’t feel as though I understand the conditional and subjunctive any better now than I did before I started those lessons (and I need to sit down with some written resources and practice them more). On the other hand, the podcasts are great forcing me to just keep going and move on to the next sentence, and then pull out the whole meaning from the bits that I managed to pick up. I’ve read a couple of YA novels on my kindle, which is great for vocab, both cementing and learning anew, and is much easier to do when the dictionary is a click away rather than in a separate book. I’m not sure how much it helps with grammar - at the time I was still in the fairly early stages of learning, so mostly just picking out the key words and guessing at the grammatical structure, but I suspect that now my understanding has grown a bit, it will help with that as well.

One area that I’m not doing very much of is constructing sentences, either written or spoken - you do some of that in duolingo, but a)more of it is going from French to English, b)it’s all written, and c)it’s only one sentence at a time. Once I’m managing to keep my tree golden I’m going to work through the tree for francophones learning English, which will help with a), but then I really need to branch out a bit more and find opportunities to write and speak in French. [livejournal.com profile] oedipamaas49 did recommend going to conversations meetups, but that is obviously utterly terrifying, so I’m probably going to put it off until I feel at least a little more fluent.
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