Showing posts from September, 2016

An actual fucking X

Overall, I like situated criticism - the idea that being a part of X group gives you a lived experience inaccessible to those outside X, and makes you more qualified to speak on X than someone who doesn't know anything about it. I think it's a good thing. I think historically lived experience has been discredited as subjective and thus not worthy of attention.

However, I don't like certain ways it's used. Namely, I really, really do not like the fact that it can make someone into a token.

For example, let's say that I'm the only woman in a room full of men (a really common situation for me, because of my area of study). Let's also say that I'm the only woman in a room full of men talking about feminism (this has happened). At some point, one of them will get nervous and ask "as a woman, what do you think?".

As a woman, here's what I think: Think for yourselves. You're grown adults. You can deal with criticism from another grown adult. …

Happy Bi Visibility Day!

Happy Bi Visibility Day, everyone! It's the one day in the year when us bisexuals can finally be seen with the naked eye!

Okay, I'm done being corny - but I'm really glad we have a day to be visible, since we're often ignored or told we're somehow "wrong" by more people than I care to list. (I am angry that basically anyone under the LGBTQIAP+ umbrella who isn't cis L or G is ignored or marginalised.)

(I will be using LGBTQIAP+, even though it's not exhaustive, because other acronyms such as MOGAI [Marginalised Orientations, Genders and Intersex] and GSRM [Gender, Sexual and Romantic Minorities] are less well-known, and LGBTQQIP2SA is long. I personally do not have extremely strong feelings about any of the acronyms, as they're all a bit "eh". I feel like I have now covered most or all of the bases. Sorry if you are now knee-deep in discourse, but I feel like to a certain extent this is required or at the very least extremely common …

On solving problems from the inside

When I was a little girl, one of my favourite novels was a slim volume called The Great Good Thing. It tells the story of a spirited princess, Sylvie, who lives in a storybook kingdom - a literal storybook kingdom, since she's a fairytale character. Not content with living inside the book's margins, her courage and resourcefulness allow her to save her story.

One section always stuck in my mind. Towards the end of the book, Sylvie is facing something she really, really doesn't want to do. She has no idea if her plan will work, and if it fails, everyone dies. A kindly maths teacher, who has advised her through most of the second half of the novel, tells her that "you can't solve a problem from the inside" - that is, you have to look outwards, even if it's uncomfortable.

Although I haven't touched the book since I was in single digits, and I find it really corny now, that line always stuck with me - and probably even influenced my attitude to problem-so…

Why everyone should listen to a cappella music at least once

I have a problem with musical imagery. Music is always playing in my head - so I put on more music to drown it out. I also get bored reasonably easily and keep looking for new music to listen to.

I whacked on some early music - Renaissance and Baroque stuff - because I hadn't listened to it in a while and I genuinely like it. (Yes, I'm pretentious. Complexity is my thing and early music offers plenty of it.)

I haven't done any choral singing since July, so hearing a cappella music was something of a shock - like being slapped in the face with colour. I forgot how much I missed it.

Unless you're into certain types of music, you're unlikely to come across much a cappella music, or even care that much. I think people should care more.

Firstly, a cappella music emphasises the voice far more than usual. When you sing a cappella, you have no instruments to help keep you in time or on pitch, or to "mask" your voice. You just haveyou, and maybe an audible echo. T…

I think you'll find it's a bit more complicated than that

Recently I went on a rant about how slating the eeeeevil Big Pharma without acknowledging that some people need medication to function fucks over disabled people.

(For the people in the back, if the evil drugs from evil Big Pharma didn't exist, a hell of a lot more people would be dead. I hate a lot of drug companies' practices. I also acknowledge that illness is a real thing, and that medication can work even if development and marketing of drugs is done in a hugely troubling way, because I am not comfortable writing off millions of people's lives.)

What I find grating is that several of the people who complain about how mental illness isn't real have...absolutely zero experience with mental illness, either as living with one or as having any kind of medical training. This is unsurprising; the less experience people have with a subject, the worse they are at appraising their own competence.

They tend to assume that treatment for a mental illness is always medication o…

How to complain (and be happy)

The US and the UK share a lot of things - language, food and so on. One thing we don't seem to share is culture - or rather, a certain aspect of culture.

I have never spent significant periods of time in the US, so my only exposure to American culture is through their media: publications, TV, movies and American people posting on social media. As such I acknowledge that I have a very limited and fragmented view of US culture.

One thing does strike me: American people are much more focused on positivity in the sense of being generally upbeat and smiley. In fact, Americans pioneered the new thought movement (a precursor to the belief that you can influence the world with your thoughts) and a lot of the self-help genre as we know it today.

In particular, the US is focused on being positive by avoiding anything or anyone deemed "negative". As in "no negative thoughts allowed", "complaining is bad for you", and so on. Thankfully, it seems to be getting bet…

What would you tell yourself going into first year?


It's the day before freshers' week starts, which means that uni marketing has gotten slightly ridiculous (not sure why...we're all already signed up to be screwed out of money...maybe this is to make us feel better...). One question popping up over shiny social media is "what advice would you give to your first-year self?".

I screwed up a lot in first year. Hey, at least I've not screwed up too badly this year; true, that's mostly because I haven't actually started it yet, but I'm trying to feel more positive about myself. As such, I feel qualified to give first-year me a lot of (hopefully useful) advice. And if any first years come across this, I really hope this helps!

0: Keep an eye on your physical and mental health and seek help immediately if you feel unwell.
This is 0th on the list because it's the most important. You will have many, many chances to do well at basically everything. The thing with a body or a psyche is that you only…

This is why we can't have nice things

I'd like to think that I have principles: a desire to seek out truth; a desire to help others; focus on freedom of thought and expression; and questioning of authority. While they've attracted me to broadly being left of our predominantly conservative societies, they've also landed me in trouble.

I'm attracted to science because it's possibly the most effective way of knowing that we have. Unlike any other way of knowing, it is self-correcting over time - not always easily or well, but it gets there. And it shows us wonders.

For me, one of those wonders is a vast improvement in comfort and quality of life. People regularly live to seventy or eighty nowadays. Many more diseases are now survivable; vaccination has restricted many diseases around the world. We even managed to eradicate smallpox.

Learning about science and keeping up with the news has also made me painfully aware that none of this is guaranteed. Antibiotic resistance is on the rise; antivaxx rhetoric h…

Not a Token

Content note: talking about depression, suicide and other such fun things - no gruesome details but if it upsets you then don't read this

I don't know how to talk about this, but I feel like I have to talk about it: mentally ill people are caught in a shitty situation.

The most immediately identifiable problem is the environment. Despite many, many shiny campaigns over the years, mental illness is still stigmatised; the people actually reached by the campaigns aren't necessarily the people who enforce that stigma. Families, who should be supportive, often...well, aren't.

This is compounded by lack of access to information. I'm not sure what it's like in other countries, but when I was growing up in the UK very little information about mental illness was provided to young people. It took me three years and two suicide attempts to realise that I might have to go to a doctor about this. (Yes. Really.)

The combination of stigma and not being provided with informat…

Physics and Physicists: The Difference Between Ghosts And Dark Matter

Physics and Physicists: The Difference Between Ghosts And Dark Matter

Excellent little post on not making stupid comparisons.

Star arrangement that hid for a decade spotted at galaxy’s heart

Star arrangement that hid for a decade spotted at galaxy’s heart: A dense cluster of stars orbiting the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way has played hide-and-seek with astronomers for years – now we've finally seen it


It's halfway through September and I'm currently sitting through a thunderstorm.

Life kind of didn't like me this summer, between not studying abroad, having to scramble to find a place to live, having a mini-breakdown and damaging friendships.

And no holiday. Because I was too overworked. Yay.

But it's September! And I've got a new flat all to myself! And I've prepped for the new academic year! (Just. I have a lot of work and I'm pretty scared.)

I saw a friend from uni today, since we hadn't met up all summer. We caught up on old times, videogames and such lofty academic questions (!) as what happens if a black hole and a white hole merge. He reminded me of how much I would have missed everyone if I had gone abroad. How much I've missed Manchester and university life.

Now I'm drinking tea, listening to Beck, and supposed to be preparing for a phone interview tomorrow...but I keep getting distracted because I'm so damn happy. Because things …