Dear ____: January 23, 2017

Hello again!

We just talked this morning, but I wanted to say how lovely it is to hear your voice and see you in person (on a screen). I don’t know how our ancestors did it, man. How can you move across the world and never see or hear your loved ones again? A letter that takes three weeks to arrive by steam ship is romantic and wonderful for a time, but to never be able to react real-time to their questions, their facial expressions, their bad puns…that’s torture. Plain and simple. Much as I hate technology at times, I am glad that it exists to shrink the distance down a little.

According to our family legends, my great, great (I think, but I’m not so great at genealogy) grandfather emigrated from Bristol to America back in the 1800’s. He joined the American Navy and during WWI he spent a night at the Bristol base on his way to somewhere (I’m not very good at history either). He wasn’t allowed to leave the base and, more painfully, his family were not allowed to come and visit him. To be in your home town again, after all those years, and not be able to hug your family or go to your local pub and meet up with your friends? I could not handle that. They were a tougher lot back then.

It’s not easy being so far away. I miss home a lot (not the snow and the inversion you are having now though!). After the events of last week reminded me that developing nations and their lack of legal infrastructure can lead to instant and irrevocable change for my friends (and myself tangentially), I long to be in a place where at least I know there are rules and people are held accountable to them. I know that there are loopholes and problems in any system, but it feels we’re always spit out the wrong end of them here. It’s thoroughly frustrating.

Good news though, we do love the new digs. The space is much more comfortable for us and somehow it feels more homey. We have a lovely view across the city from the roof (where we had a beer and watched the sunset yesterday), and we can walk (walk!!! imagine that!) to the corner shop and a mall (with a cinema) all on quiet, residential back roads where no taxis come and honk at us. It’s fabulous. We’ve both felt really happy here the last few days, possibly because we’ve had a lot of unexpected leisure time – it was in short supply the last few weeks so it’s wonderful to have it back!

Until next time, my friend.

xxxx

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Dear _____: January 8th, 2017

Dear ____,

Hola and good morning to you! How is 2017 treating you so far? For us it’s been hectic but good. All in the same week, we started a new year, found a new house, lost the house then found another one that’s even better. Chris wrapped up his old job and made progress on the paperwork to start the next one. He also embarked on a journey to the UK for a 10-day pleasure cruise of unemployment (mostly to be spent eating pork products and hanging out with his family).

I completed the penultimate exercise of my Dive Master course, wrapped up the course I was teaching, collected four friends (two I knew already and two other news ones) from the airport and helped them get set up for a week of adventure around the country. While Chris is away, I am packing up the house (slowly, slowly, as they say here) and entertaining the cat with all sorts of boxes and packing materials.

It’s been a busy week!

January is also the start of my year of study. I would love to say I managed to get it all in, but it was just too much. Of the four days I planned hit the books, I managed one and a half. Still. I did that, so I am trying to be happy that I made a point of it.

The most interesting course I am doing right now is called Think Again (on coursera – a cool online learning platform). It’s really brilliant and a little bit mind blowing. Here’s something that totally changed my world view this week: we were talking about arguments and how they are constructed from reasons and conclusions. So one challenge was to argue to someone who doesn’t believe you that a water molecule is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. I was chatting with Chris about it and guess what, Alex! We don’t know! We don’t certainly know that water is H2O. It’s not a definite fact. Did that freak you out? Because it freaked me out.

Chris knows many random things and is much better educated than I, but I thought I had that whole H2O thing down pat. Yet when I asked how he would argue it, he said, “Well, we don’t know that it is. We have to appeal to the scientific authority that they have observed its behavior and seen that it is consistent with what we would expect from a composition of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.” I was like, “Whaaaaa??? We don’t know that it’s a fact??” followed by the sound of my mind slowly crunching in on itself.

So I started googling it, and yeah, he’s totally right. We are pretty sure that there is a ratio there of two hydrogens for every one oxygen atom, but we cannot say with absolute certainty that the molecule itself is made up of only three atoms. It could be H4O2. Or H6O3. Or H246O123. It could be any of those. Or it could be all together different. We simply don’t know. And that was kind of a liberating moment for me. I felt like, “If we can’t be certain of something so seemingly fundamental as that, then everything can be called into question. And it should! And that’s super fun and awesome!” I feel like I should have had this realisation when I was ten or something, but there you go. I had it at least, and that’s what matters, eh?

I’m also really loving the linguistic elements of this argument class. It talks about how sometimes you can change the world with just your words. You can say, “I pronounce you man and wife.” and in making that pronouncement you actually make them married. Magic! So you physically altered the material world when you officiated Kristen’s wedding. You’re like a super hero!

In my spare time this week, I also managed to watch Pleasantville for the first time (right? I don’t know how that’s possible) and I was very impressed by it. I am exceedingly late to the game here, but I really enjoyed it. You know how I have a thing about color, so the whole black and white thing with color secretly moving into it was super awesome and joyful for me. At the beginning, the plot felt cheesy and I thought it would be superficial, but it covers a lot of really serious topics like being human, the pain of racial divides, the importance of education and literacy, the value of color and art, what it means to think for yourself and how sex is super fun.

I remember that it came out when I was still a church-goer and all the talk about it was, “It’s a movie about sex and this shady little girl who gets everyone to do it, and they make it sound like that’s a good thing!” It’s sad the things I missed out on in my life because people told me they were wrong. If I could go back and talk to myself then, we’d have a very interesting chat.

Anyway, the analogies in the movie with our current political atmosphere are palpable. A little too close to the bone at times, actually. Two quite painful quotes for you:

“My friends, this isn’t about George’s dinner or Burt’s shirt. It’s a question of values. It’s a question of whether we’re gonna hold onto the values that have made this place great.”

and a scene described in the script thusly:

CLOSE UP. MILK BOTTLES.

They jingle happily in their metal carrier, just as they did before. The CAMERA WIDENS out to REVEAL Elm Street in all its idyllic glory, with one notable exception: In the foreground is the trunk of a tree with a hastily scrawled public notice tacked to the bark:

TOWN MEETING TONIGHT. ALL “TRUE” CITIZENS OF PLEASANTVILLE.

While the ultimate solution to this messy situation was far too easy to be believable (make the ultraconservative, stuck-in-his-ways leader feel some feels and suddenly everyone gets it and they all move on with their life happy and enlightened about how to work together), it did make me feel like perhaps, ultimately, education and freedom of thought and expression will reign supreme over ignorance and narrow-mindedness. At least I want to hope so.

With that optimistic thought in mind, I am off to face another week.

I hope your first toe into the doorway of 2017 has been greeted with warmth and joy (at least indoors and away from the epic amounts of snow you have had!).

Until next time, my friend!

xxxx