Friday, 28 March 2008

Shoe Dilemma: Ethics, not Aesthetics

Shoes get a lot of abuse. They have to walk through puddles in the rain, they get scuffed, they generally have an entire body's weight pressing into their soles. In the days before I had an obscene amount of shoes, I would wear through a good few pairs in a year (now, very few pairs get enough airing to get seriously worn). Shoes are pretty important as regards comfort, hygiene, not getting pneumonia and not getting lovely bits of glass lodged into our soles, but I've been questioning the ethical pros and cons of different kinds of shoes recently.

First up is leather. Leather is very resilient, waterproof and generally don't take no shit from nobody. It's a natural material too, so less harmful to ye olde environment and good for tootsie-hygiene. However, I'm a veggie. The veggie-dom is more out of habit now than anything, I renounced meat at about age 12 because I wuvved fwuffy widdle animals and thought it was the right thing for an animal-lover to do. Vegetarianism is an ethical minefield and I'll probably make a post on it some time, but simply put, after so many years of not eating meat it just seems a really odd thing to eat by now. I would never stop someone else from tucking into a nice steak, just like they wouldn't stop me from listening to Einsturzende Neubauten even if they thought that it was a really odd thing to listen to. So what's the toss-up? Should we refrain from buying leather as a symbolic pro-animal rights stance (because, as far as I'm informed, the hides used for leather are a by-product of the meat industry and not vice versa) or is it better to buy the more resilient material when we need to replace some worn-out shoes and cut down on consumerism?

Number two is natural fabrics - cotton etc. Natural materials are quite obviously better for nature in both manufacture and disposal. Problem is, with cloth shoes, there's a lot of disposal. They don't survive the rain, they don't survive the mud, they don't survive long walks and they don't survive many washings. There are a lot of (human) ethical issues too - the cotton trade isn't always the most fairly traded of trades (oh dear, the word 'trade' has now lost all meaning to me) and farmed en masse it isn't going to be so nice for the soil. The soles are often man-made (see below) which opens up another can of worms. However, lots clothes are made of natural fabrics and it's easy enough to buy environmentally non-hostile clothing. The main issue with fabric shoes is the excessive amount of them that would have to be consumed in order to keep up with the resilience of leather.

Finally, we have man-made materials. Vinyl, synthetic leather, plastic-based stuff. Fairly resilient but not so environmentally-friendly when it comes to manufacturing or disposal. On a hygiene level it's a bit dodgy too, but BO doesn't really come into ethics, unless you smell bad enough to wipe out a small country.

Most of my shoe collection is cloth and man-made, with a small amount of leather (old school shoes, my docs and a pair of heels or two). On the whole I would conclude cloth shoes as the most ethically sound but when it comes to hardcore walking they're not really going to last. Cloth works well for fashion purposes, but for wear-and-tear investing in well-made leather (I swear by my docs) or very strong synthetics is probably better in the long run than buying pair after pair after pair of cloth shoes every time you go on a city holiday, or get caught in a storm, or go on a hike. What's everyone else's opinion? Does anyone know of a strong, environmentally non-hostile ('cause in reality, nothing is really environmentally friendly) synthetic material?

Friday, 21 March 2008


Dystopian art is fascinating. For me, at least. As a 14-year-old, reading Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World was de rigeur among my circle. We wee pseudo-intellectuals would spend hours (or, more likely, about half an hour each time it came up, but hours makes us sound more fervent and zealous) discussing the two, comparing and contrasting and generally prattling on with very limited knowledge on communism and capitalism. I can be critical of the pretentiousness now, but it was more the desire to think and understand and form an opinion than any kind of pretension, and it would warm my heart to overhear a young'un confess their ardent love for a book over coffee they haven't quite developed a taste for. Alas, now that we have Starbucks, it seems to have sucked all of the under-16's away from the teeny independent cafés and into its vacuum. Sad, sad, sad. Aside – just had a laugh with my dad about Starbucks dipping into the tip jar to pay supervisors. Thrifty business skills, whut.

Anyway, my love for wannabe-beat adolescents is a bit of a venture away from dystopian literature. Dystopia varies from post-apocalyptic scenes through cyberpunk cityscapes to claustrophobic suburbia. It’s sordid, disheartening and at its best, unsettling and utterly disturbing. Aside from 1984 and BNW, some dystopian works that really got a grip on me were Crash, Neuromancer, Transmetropolitan, Dubliners and The Virgin Suicides. Those last two aren’t usually considered to be within the canon of dystopian literature but I’m flinging them in there anyway, ‘cause I can. Thank you, art, for being subjective.

I read Crash by J.G. Ballard during the summer and it had my morbid curiosity faculties going ninety. It’s sordid, it’s sleazy, it’s full of bodily fluids and Ballard uses the most devastatingly close, slow prose and detailed, shimmering imagery to sharpen some terribly gruesome images. If only suburbia was really that compelling. It’s been a while since I read Neuromancer but it was wonderfully dead-end. My cyber/technophile boyfriend lent me Gibson’s second book, Count Zero, but I couldn’t get into it. It wasn’t as compelling and shiny and new (and yet hopeless and tarnished) as Neuromancer. Transmetropolitan is just funny, and a little bit 1984-esque with its ‘if we keep going in this direction...’, except it’s non-preachy in its moralising. I’ve read so many flatulent, wanky graphic novels and I can understand the cynicism towards comics but Transmetro is actually compelling and cool and intelligent.

I do think that Dubliners is quite dystopian. Joyce described the city as Ireland’s ‘centre of paralysis’ and his stories really portrayed it as such. Everyone wants to escape, but nobody does. They all back off at the last minute, or no longer have to opportunity to, or think they’ve escaped when they really haven’t. There are all manner of taboos and things that don’t belong in Utopia in the book – insanity, dead-end marriages, decay, illness, Magdalene laundries, excessive power, betrayal and loss of idealism. It’s a realist text, unlike Ballard’s, Gibson’s and Ellis’s. Food for thought, eh? The Virgin Suicides is more counter-Utopian than dystopian because it doesn’t display an undesirable society; rather it shows what brews under the flowerbeds and behind the white picket fence that are supposed to be desirable. Suburban Utopia’s one fatal flaw is, I suppose, the lack of something to do, somewhere to progress to. I love Eugenides’s prose, I love how slow and heavy the atmosphere is and I love how nothing seems to happen for pages and pages, and yet one looks back and a lot has passed.

I think the reason that Dystopia is so compelling, aside from the ‘things could be worse’ perspective (which, as an aside, I despise – if things aren’t perfect, looking somewhere else and saying ‘ah well, we’re not so badly off as them’ as an excuse not to strive towards the unattainable goal of perfect is pure laziness and the key that opens the door to decline. Be happy, but never be content) is because it taps into real fears. Cold War, anyone? We all like to be frightened out of our wits and I, at least, like being confronted with prose-images I’m uncomfortable with (real images are a little harder to stomach). Unfortunately, there are some real dystopias in our world right now – Iraq, Tibet, Palestine, parts of the Balkan region (Chernobyl is the kind of thing dystopian literature thrives on – demise occurring because of modernisation and supposed progress). Dystopian literature may go a step beyond reality – no worldwide nuclear holocausts have occurred just yet – but it’s compelling in how it is merely a step beyond reality and not a constructed unreality as it seems.

Sunday, 9 March 2008


Recently I've been thinking quite a bit about where I want to go in life. The problem with doing a two suject moderatorship and adoring both subjects is that I have no idea where to specialise. I've also been thinking about little dreams I've had throughout my life, little things I've wanted to experience. So now, a month and a half before I turn nineteen, I think I'll jot down my aspirations and give myself a focus.


& Have Dr. as a prefix to my name. I adore education, learning and understanding and have always assumed that I will get myself a phD. It would be my equivalent of releasing an album, or designing & showcasing a first collection. I don't know what I'd do it on yet, though, if I go into psychology it will probably be something related to gender. I'd especially like to study for it abroad, in England, France or the U.S.
How to achieve: Keep working hard in college. Be competitive.

& As regards a 'serious career', I have no idea as of yet mostly because I have no idea whether I'll take my degree in literature or psychology. Either way, lecturing and researching would be my first choice because it's not a monotonous job, it's something I'm passionate about and I can see it being very fulfilling.
How to achieve: See above.

& Get consistent firsts as end of year grades. Don't slip below 2.1 for coursework grades.
How to achieve: Study. Read. Work hard. Be original. Think.


& Play keyboards and all kinds of percussion in a gothy electro band and dress like a character out of a Gibson novel at each gig.
How to achieve: make myself available to musicians with similar dystopian dreams.

& Be part of a little guitar-and-piano acoustic duo. Smile often. Hum as a backup singer. Perform a lot of lovesongs and wink at the pretty boys in the audience.
How to achieve: find a kindred musical soul who can write sweet melodies that entwine prettily with my lyrics. Keep smiling. Be charming.

& Finish the standard RAD grades (up to 8). Get the first few vocational grades - the ones for the people who don't want to be professional ballerinas but still want to dance well.
How to achieve: Keep dancing. Stay in shape. Make time.

& Get my diploma for teaching piano.
How to achieve: Keep playing. Get grades 7 and 8 done. Make time.

& Travel lots. I want to go inter-railing in Eastern Europe, see most of the major cities in Western Europe and visit the Scandinavian countries. I want to see San Francisco, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Montreal, Moscow. I want to backpack in South America and Australia, see India and live in Paris for a while.
How to achieve: Save money. Volunteer where I'm needed. Find travelling partners.

& Shun the standard cinema, club or pub trips every now and again for something unusual. Go to the theatre, go to art shows, go hiking.
How to achieve: Already working on it. I have friends who are interested too, and I live in a city full of new things. I have no excuse!


& Teach people abroad who might otherwise be left without education. Spread my love of learning. Work for UNESCO.
How to achieve: Volunteer time and energy. Get in touch with the old school for their connections in Zambia and Peru. Be prepared to make sacrifices.

& Keep on working with my university's access program. Try to share the opportunities I've had with the people who haven't had my luck in life.
How to achieve: Go for the parallel program again next year. Help Rosie with the special needs program and if that's full go for the standard voluntary tuition program. Be enthusiastic. Go for parallel co-ordinator in 3rd or 4th year.

& Be a good friend.
How to achieve: Do things with friends. Listen, advise, be a shoulder. Laugh, scream, be a partner in crime. Love.

& Meet new people.
How to achieve: Say hello. Strike up conversations with people in the queue, on the bus, beside you. Go out with friends' friends, be chatty, be open. Smile.

The Big Dream

& I want to make a living out of writing. I've been writing for a long time, since I was in primary school, or even before then. I have a little wooden picture book my dad got for me in Germany when I was barely finished learning the physical act of writing. I made a little story to accompany it, writing on the blank block backs beside each picture. At 14, I read Jack Kerouac for the first time. I fell in love with his insight, his conflict, his prose style. He was not me, and yet his writing really, truly spoke to me. It managed to mould itself into my life, despite being from a completely different era and different part of the world. I started dreaming about sharing my writing with others, having them connect with it in the way I connected with Kerouac's. I regarded it as a pipe dream, until my English teacher told me that I had the talent. This year has been tough; I am in a course with some fantastic writers and sometimes it seems as though I won't succeed - that I'm not good enough - that my stories are bland and my poetry too internal. However, just because someone else succeeds doesn't mean I can't. My favourite joke is "What's the closest thing to an Irish literary movement?" "Two writers on speaking terms with each other" - but I'm sick of that stereotype. One person's success, in literature at least - doesn't detract from another's. However, this year has been good as well because I was published for the very first time. That is the first step and I have made it. The ladder is tall but I will keep climbing.

How to achieve:
- Don't lose faith, ever. Remember that you do this for fun, any gain in finance or publicity is merely a benefit.
- Write constantly. Never take a day off. Write through the blocks, don't let them defeat you.
- Fire things into every competition, every publication possible. You have no excuse not to. You won't get anywhere if you don't.
- Remember that not winning/getting published doesn't mean that you suck; literature is a subjective thing. What one person may love, another could hate.
- Keep going with the poetry and short stories, but try a novel. Make a short film - you have people at hand to help. Write a play, give it to the Players society. Write e-mails, letter and diaries often.
- Experience life, think. Have something to share or something to say. You live in the land of the seanchaí and the melancholic. Even though you don't like identifying yourself as part of a particular nation, accept your heritage and your geographical situation as inspirations you're lucky to have. Experience life, think, share.
- Write. Succeed. Be happy.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Queen Adreena, I Adore You

At 13 years if age, I was a fairly avid reader of Kerrang! magazine. Bought it every fortnight or month or however often it came out, pored over each page and discovered many, many musicians who morphed my world and added to my identity. One band I found through the pages of Kerrang! was Queen Adreena. I had noticed pictures of the band and their delicate singer over the weeks, and, getting a free cd with one issue that had their song Siamese Almeida on it, I listened. And enjoyed. And listened again and again on repeat. It was alternately delicate and powerful, modern and oddly medieval, highly sexual and completely innocent. Which is a nice, highly polarised way to summarise Queen Adreena as a whole.

After that, I bought their first album, Taxidermy. Fairy music, out and out. It just had a beautiful sense of fatigue, that potential energy that never becomes kinetic. Drink Me was more raw, more junkie and filthy. The Butcher and the Butterfly was something of a resolution between the two. A pixie that longs to join the real world and can't hack it. Or something. Taxidermy remains my favourite to this day, probably because I listened to it all the time at a point when it really, truly meant something to me, when I could place myself inside it.

Some songs from the Taxidermy era mashed together
Video for Pretty Like Drugs off Drink Me
Medicine Jar from The Butcher and The Butterfly