Saturday, 28 March 2015

Not another remake


Why they can't remake Little Women (for the hexillionth time)...

So, rumour is beginning to have it that there's going to be a remake of Little Women, which, as you  know, is one of my all-time favourite stories. I am embarrassingly passionate about the tale. I used to re-read it every winter - it's such a cosy, comforting book - and I think the front cover eventually fell off the front of my Penguin Classics copy. To the unitiated - and probably male - it's a family saga set during the American Civil War, featuring the March sisters, their "Marmee", and their well-off neighbours, the Laurences. 

It's impressive, for a book set in 1860-something, how many plot points in it still ring true. The bit where Meg goes to a party with her considerably richer friends, and borrows a dress and wears make-up and drinks champagne? We've all been there - acting differently to fit in with a new crowd.  The bit where Jo refuses Laurie? We've all been torn between someone who is staggeringly hot and you'd kill to have them right there, right now and The Right, But Infinitely More Boring Thing... haven't we?

And every girl-writer I know wanted to be Jo - and I'm convinced the character arc of the second March sister provides a solid foundation for living a feminist life, should you ever need some guidance. I know there's some hot debate surrounding the fact that she marries the professor, especially as he seems to try and make her into the sort of writer he thinks she should be, rather than letting her do her own thing. However, being the kind of girl who loves a dashing, dishevelled academic-type in spectacles and tweed, I'm prepared to let it go.

The only film adaptation I've actually seen - and there's been several already, one featuring Elizabeth Taylor, another featuring Katharine Hepburn, two badass women right there - is the 1994 Gillian Armstrong version, starring the luminous Winona Ryder as Jo, Claire "Homeland" Danes as Beth, and a young Kirsten Dunst as Amy, the slightly bratty baby of the family. I had the video - yes, VHS, do you remember? - on almost permanent loan from the library when I was ten or eleven. Every time I catch it on television, I have to sit down and watch it. I found it on Netflix last Christmas and bawled my way through it (I blame the Christmas wine intake, and not the sheer amount of feelings the film evokes in me.)

The 1994 film is perfection and cannot be improved upon, so I beg you, Hollywood, don't even try. Myself and all the other bookish young women of the world don't want you to. Just let us have this one. You can have Anne of Green Gables, if it's whimsical young ladies you want. Or what about What Katy Did? Surely that's due a reboot?

And when they inevitably do...

For me, Winona Ryder is Jo March, and Susan Sarandon is Marmee. I can't think of any currently "in vogue" actresses that would better those performances. I mean, there must be some, but none that spring to mind readily. Jennifer Lawrence? I love her, but she ain't no Jo March. Emma Watson? Again, she's brilliant, but I have my reservations - she might be able to carry off the adult Amy role, at a push. The Theory of Everything's Felicity Jones? No. I'm sure she's a great actress, but I couldn't tell while watching TTOE, because a) Eddie Redmayne was so brilliant, and b) because Jones did not appear to age at all during a film that was set over a period of decades. Once I noticed this, I couldn't un-notice it.

While we're on the subject of badass feminist writers...

I'm currently reading Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny. I'm a fan of Penny, for her politics and for her ability to write fierce, beautiful, intelligent prose (I want to print out and carry with me always her essay on why she writes). However, Unspeakable Things is, so far, proving to be problematic. I love an angry feminist book - there is still much to be angry about, and writing fuelled by rage is often the most compelling writing of all - but I feel that the book would be hugely improved by some facts and statistics. There are a lot of generalisations and claims in this book, and while I don't doubt them, I think the book would have even more clout if she included the figures to support her obviously carefully-considered opinions.

Sunday, 22 March 2015


I use this image a lot. It seems fitting.

Sorry - this isn't going to be a nice, cheery Sunday afternoon read.

I've been anxious recently. No - I can't put it in the past tense like that - I am anxious, a lot of the time, at the moment. I hope it's just a phase. I hope to God it's a shorter phase than it was a few years ago; a phase that's easier on me, less violent than it was then. I was not all that well then - I know that from looking back - and few things scare me more than returning to those sleepless nights, those days of heart-racing and room-pacing.

You're wired when you're anxious. Drained but still buzzing somehow, humming away with what-ifs and but-maybes and "this time, I will definitely die". It's exhausting and you cannot outrun it. That's the worst part: being a prisoner of your own mind and being unable to trust your own body. Because you can't climb out of your head; you can't lift your brain out, put it on a windowsill and tell it to calm down. And you can't trust a body that insists that you stay in fight-or-flight mode when there is nothing there to fight or flee.

What helps? No-one has the time to feel like this, to be exhausted by something so un-useful, so how do I manage it? It will always be a part of me, I think - an undercurrent, a messy gatecrasher - how do I keep it away? At the time of writing, the only failsafe solution has been to throw myself onto DB's lap and have him stroke my hair until I felt able to sit by myself without needing another human as an anchor. And unfortunately - comfortable though he is - I need a better strategy.

Doctors recommend cutting caffeine and alcohol, and exercising regularly. The latter isn't a problem (I can run now! I have an app and one of those armband phone holder things!), the former I find harder. Keeping busy is the only thing that's ever worked reliably for me - work, running, writing, seeing friends, living by to-do lists. But getting too tired can also be a trigger, and not having any time on my own to just faff, and "be", also sends me crackers, so it's a fine line.

I wrote most of the above just over a week ago, and since then, have calmed down a bit, thank goodness. I'm posting it anyway, because suffering in silence has only ever made things worse. For everyone.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Pointless nostalgic

Bristol's Wills Memorial Building. I didn't even go there, I just have a lot of feelings.
If I needed yet another reminder that I'm no longer a teenager - but instead a half-fledged adult with a full-time job and a pension plan - well, this week, I got it. So smug have I been for the last few months, riding on a wave of sheer relief at finally getting and managing to keep said job, I completely forgot about filling in my tax return (I was technically still self-employed as a proofreader until October 2013). And so last week, I received a delightful letter from HMRC stating that I owed them £100 and a completed self-assessment form. Fair enough, I'm a tit, I'll fill the thing in, HMRC will scoff in disbelief at how paltry the amount they're chasing me for is, and we can all move on with our lives.

Hahahahahahaha - nope.

I won't go into to details, because you'd combust with boredom, but you know the Black Books scene where Bernard tries to do his accounts and ends up making them into a smart-casual jacket? That's not comedy, that's a documentary.

DB and I have just got back from a very brief visit to [my future home] Bristol, where he spent his student days, and next week, I'm going with my brother to an open day at the University of Birmingham. My current mood is therefore uni-nostalgic - heartily so. I could totally go back to that halfway house between adolescence and adulthood, and spend another three years - and a few thousand pounds - on books and library time and endless essays. That would be much better than work - wouldn't it?

I don't really want to go back, of course. It would involve a PhD, and regular contact with academics and aspiring academics, and it's hard to say which of the two groups is worse. I like being able to step out of work-mode every evening at 5.30; I like being able to leave my office-self at my desk on a Friday, and practically skipping home because the weekend is finally within reach. You don't get to do that as a student; you're constantly thinking about your current assignment, the reading you've not done, and what in the name of Christ you're going to do with the qualification once you've got it. It's a 24/7 gig, academia, and I don't have that dedication. (I'm going to be a lousy parent, it seems.)

I'm nostalgic for the student lifestyle - I didn't think I would be, being the sort of person who has a proper Freak-Out if she doesn't have her weekends planned out down to the minute. But if I could go back now, I'd do it properly. I'd go all out; I would work the student cliches to their very bones. I'd read prodigiously, I'd write - not poetry, mind, no-one can tolerate a student poet - and I'd hang out with the most earnest, pretentious fellow students I could find - the militant feminists, the strident socialists, the opinionated and the insufferable. Why? Because when else are you surrounded by so many ill-thought-out but loudly and passionately defended opinions? I'd get into politics and history and Russian literature - because I would have the time.

And really, that's what I miss: the time. I did English and Linguistics - they're not exactly heavy on the contact time. And like almost every other 18-21 year old doing an arts degree, I didn't realise what a glorious gift those free hours and days were. The time spent drinking, hungover or killing time with my university boyfriend and his housemates could have been spent reading - absorbing all the knowledge and opinions my little head could handle.

I'm aware I'm romanticising the student life, looking back at it from a distance of over three years (my MA doesn't count, as I was quietly miserable for most of that year). The reality of it was different to how I'm remembering it now, and the second year of my degree was actually pretty grim. It can be a lonely life, and the support for students experiencing mental health wobbles is patchy at best.

So perhaps I don't want to go back. While I may have far less free time now - fewer hours to read, and write, and figure out what I think - at least whatever time I do have is mine alone. The trick is to spend it well.

Our drive back from Bristol involved some of this, and some of that.