Category Archives: Gemma Burgess

On… podcasts

Let’s talk about podcasts, which fill a radio-shaped hole in my life (and man, I miss the radio, especially London’s XFM, which has music of the indie-rock persuasion, and was the soundtrack to my 20s).

I find storytelling podcasts confusing and boring (maybe because they haven’t been edited enough and I’m a grumpy ol’ bitch). I feel ill even thinking about murder podcasts (do people who love brutal murder stories realize a person DIED, I wonder? The answer is obviously yes but they don’t care and I think, as I do quite often when humanity disappoints, ‘well I guess that’s how 53% of white women voted for Trump’, because I am also a liberal ol’ bitch).

And I quickly get irritated with those educational podcasts where endless factoids are rabbited at me by giggly insecure-yet-self-congratulatory-yet-probably-depressive geekboys, because it’s just mansplaining and I don’t fucking want to know anything they have to teach me, and did I mention I’m a grumpy ol’ bitch?

So here are the ones I do like:

Marc Maron’s WTF is basically the granddaddy of great podcast interviewers, and he was my first podcast love. At his best, he is thoughtful, self-deprecating, gentle, witty and human. At his worst, he’s ethnocentric, self-obsessed, bullies men he sees as weak and treats most women with either a benign patriarchal detachment or sexual combativeness. I nearly quit after the fiftieth time I heard him ask a dude “so is that when you discovered pussy?” as though women were all just running around at the age of 14 with our bodies cut off above the pudenda. But the Katie Couric interview really made me love him again, and he’s become increasingly thoughtful, open and wise over the years. So stick with Marc. He makes the world a better place.

Nerdist with Chris Hardwick is another very funny interview series. Gentler than Marc Maron, more funny small talk than an actual interview, and sometimes it makes me laugh out loud. I really love his sidekicks, Matt and Jonah. Start with the Tom Hanks interviews, wander over into the Andrea Savage one, and go from there. Nerdist has a genuine kindness, it always makes me smile. They could do with some more women on this podcast. Why not get Andrea Savage in every week?

If you love New York history (and who doesn’t?) The Bowery Boys is great. Well-written and fascinating. One of these guys has a voice very similar to the kid who played the brother’s friend in Adventures In Babysitting. Same guy was in Dazed And Confused and Rent. You know the guy I mean, right? Yeah, you know. I’m not going to look up his name because I’m CRAZY like that, and anyway, I prefer to think of the podcast guy as the brother’s friend from Adventures In Babysitting and I bet he prefers it, too. (Side note: I wish there was a dedicated podcast about the history of London, but I can’t find one. Anyone?)

Pod Save America. I know, Trumpxiety is real, and sometimes it seems like adding another reason to think about Trump is an impossible ask. But I am trying to look at this whole fucking nightmare as the prison in Shawshank Redemption. The only way for the average person to escape – and to mitigate the despair and anxiety we all feel now and again slash every fucking day - is one teaspoon at a time. So I have a #dailyactofresistance (go here and here and here or here or here and a million other places), I make five phone calls a day, I host postcard parties, I turn up for marches and protests, I donate money and I will continue to, and like that, we’ll get through this, one teaspoon at a time. And I listen to this podcast, because once I started, I immediately felt better about the world, and remembered that very very very very smart and good people are fighting too, and they have giant bulldozers to help my tiny teaspoon. Pod Save America bills itself as a ‘podcast for people not yet ready to give up or go insane’, and it’s hosted by Obama’s aides when he was in office - Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer and Tommy Vietor. It’s extremely funny and smart. If I was single, I would date the shit out of those guys.

And now I am also listening to a new podcast, With Friends Like These, with Ana Marie Cox, which bills itself as “political columnist and culture critic, sits down with liberals and conservatives, pastors, writers, activists, and other people you should know for an open, funny, in-depth conversation about what divides us – a show about listening instead of arguing”. In just one post, it’s been pretty eye-opening, particularly for – as established – a grumpy liberal ol’ bitch like me. Check it out, it’s great.

Tell me your podcast favorites! I need more. Especially more women. Are there any podcasts with female interviewers AND music of the indie-rock persuasion? That is the question.

 

 

 

 

On… period sex

Scared? Depressed? Scared AND depressed? I’m with you, if that’s any comfort at all.

“In the end, however, he will fail. He will fail because however shrewd his tactics are, his strategy is terrible—The New York Times, the CIA, Mexican Americans, and all the others he has attacked are not going away. With every act he makes new enemies for himself and strengthens their commitment; he has his followers, but he gains no new friends. He will fail because he cannot corrupt the courts, and because even the most timid senator sooner or later will say “enough.” He will fail most of all because at the end of the day most Americans, including most of those who voted for him, are decent people who have no desire to live in an American version of Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, or Viktor Orban’s Hungary, or Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

“There was nothing unanticipated in this first disturbing week of the Trump administration. It will not get better. Americans should therefore steel themselves, and hold their representatives to account. Those in a position to take a stand should do so, and those who are not should lay the groundwork for a better day. There is nothing great about the America that Trump thinks he is going to make; but in the end, it is the greatness of America that will stop him.”

From The Atlantic.

I grew up all over the world. As I’ve probably said before, I have two passports, a strange accent, and have never felt any particular cultural identity or fervent allegiance to any one country – instead I’ve been a sort of permanent observer. This outsider status is typical of Third Culture Kids (‘kid’ is, obviously, pushing it, but let’s pretend) and I was pretty much resigned to it.

So is extraordinary that the first time in my entire life I have felt patriotism is a) to the United States, a country that I was not born in and am not even a citizen of (yet) and b) is because of Donald Trump. This country is so much better – and smarter and kinder and wiser and funnier – than him.

For example, because of THIS. And also because of THIS.

On… Sweet/Vicious

I read this, and decided to watch Sweet/Vicious, and GUYS, it’s GREAT.

It triggers a shitload of happy endorphins into my women-kicking-the-shit-out-of-bad-guys pleasure centres, and those centers haven’t seen much action since, what, Buffy? (Oh Buffy. How I loved thee.) And it’s funny and smart and sharp. I love it.

I dare you to watch this trailer without punching the air and yelling ‘FUCK YEAH!’ at the end.

See? You punched the air, right?

You can watch it on the MTV website, and why the heck wouldn’t you.

 

On… a book

You guys, I just read the best book.

Knight

The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life Of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones 

The title is the worst thing about this book, being both forgettably generic (I keep telling everyone about it, and I’m like “the best knight? The bestest knight? the darkest knight? Ugh I can’t remember, I’ll text it to you when I get home”) and way too long. That’s a fifteen word title, people. I mean come the fuck on. However, I’ve had too many titles forced on my little books to be that critical of anyone else’s title. What’s important is what’s inside.

And OH. What a lot of wonderful things are inside this book. I have never read anything about this period before, and this story – such a cliche to say ‘brings it to life’ – but I suddenly understand that people existed, truly viscerally existed, 800 years ago. Before this, my knowledge of Western European history, social and political, stopped at Henry VIII. I vaguely imagined that before him everyone lived in hovels and had hunchbacks and boils, there was the odd crusade, some Vikings popping up now and again for a spot of rape and pillage, Tristan and Isolde in a boat and then at some point before that, the Romans. But no. It would appear people were real in the 1100s, and just as romantic and hopeful and ambitious and wise and silly and desperately violent as they are now. And to feel like you truly know and understand a knight who died 800 years ago, well, that’s a sign of damn good writing. Twenty bucks says Ron Howard and Brian Glazer make it into a movie. Someone send it to them.

On… Humanwire

Like you – like everyone – I’ve been deeply affected and shaken by the events in Syria, the millions of refugees fleeing death and destruction, the images of children drowning in the Med or covered in blood, and most recently the horrendous events in Aleppo. My friends and I were constantly talking about it – do we just keep giving money to Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF? What about the families that might fall through the cracks? How do you know you’re REALLY helping? How can I let these people know that the world cares about them, that they matter? How many more times can I start weeping uncontrollably while reading the news, and then go to Amazon and click-buy something for my children who have never known a single night of fear or hunger, before I go insane?

And then I found out about Humanwire, from a friend of a friend in Colorado.

Humanwire is a registered charity that establishes direct contact with the refugees you’re helping, so you can see the impact that your donation has (check out these Facebook stories) – and Humanwire itself takes 0% of the money you donate. There’s total transparency: it’s kind of cutting out the charity middleman.

You choose the refugee family that you want to help, read their stories, see their photos, decide how much money to raise (“leading a campaign”) and you see how the money you raise for them gets them food, clothes, school for their children, medical care, heating over the winter… It takes 60 seconds to sign up.

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My friends Anna, Joanna, Lucy, Alex and I have pledged to lead campaigns together. So we’ll work together and support each other while we raise money, and hopefully, help many more families this way than we could alone.

These are real people. These are some of the stories. Each story is heartbreaking and horrible. These people urgently need help. This is the campaign we chose, and as soon as we raise the target, we’re choosing another one. Sustained support on a case-by-case basis.

Anyway, I wanted to write about this, because it’s Christmas, and as much as we’re all complaining about 2016 being a terrible year, it’s much much worse for these families. So please, join us. Do it alone or with your family or with your friends, sign up, lead a campaign, and help a family who has no one and nothing else. The only way through this is together, and you can genuinely make a difference. The refugees are chosen on a case-by-case basis, and are extensively vetted beforehand. These are families, particularly women and children and babies, who need us.

 Abdullah

This is a letter from the founder of Humanwire:

Thank you for taking the time to visit Humanwire. My name is Andrew and this site is the result of my frustration with the war in Syria.

As of October 19, 2015, The United Nations has officially registered 4,180,631 Syrians with the greatest concentrations in Lebanon and Turkey. In order to support this large number of people, the UN requires $4.5B but has only raised $1.8B to date [1].

The UN’s World Food Program, the largest agency in the world for fighting hunger slashed its food allowances for each refugee in Jordan in August 2015 in half down to just $14 per month. Food allowances for refugees in Lebanon per person remain a steady $13.50 per month [2].

The UN Inter Agency noted in September of 2015 that “the spike in Syrian refugees arriving in Europe, including from Syria directly, is mainly due to the loss of hope that a political solution will soon be found to end the war as well as to steadily deteriorating living conditions in exile, triggered by the humanitarian funding shortfall, felt by refugees in the region” [3]

In Sept 2015, The UN High Commissioner for Refugees was quoted as saying: “Our income in 2015 will be around 10% less than in 2014. The global humanitarian community is not broken – as a whole they are more effective than ever before. But we are financially broke.” [4].

If you read between the lines, the funding is stretched too thin and the level of support on an individual basis has become too insignificant for any one person to sustain.

I first got interested in the Syrian crisis because my wife Rima is of Syrian descent and so now is our two-year-old son Freddy. Rima grew up in Lebanon which borders Syria to the west and every time we visit family in Beirut and around the country, the effects of the refugee crisis are impossible to miss.

We live in Boulder, Colorado, regularly voted as the top city in America for living standards and when I think about the conditions of people who are fleeing persecution and war, I can’t help but question my humanity.

Lebanon, the extra friendly and once small home to 4 million people, now has 5 million almost overnight. In Lebanon, there are no formal refugee camps. There are some makeshift camps and others simply roam the country.

The influx has effected everyone in Lebanon from the bottom-up. Opportunities for work for the Lebanese which were already scarce have evaporated while social resources have been overwhelmed beyond compare.

Most refugees from Syria do not want to go to America or Canada, and most don’t want to go to Europe, either. Given the opportunity to go safely, the vast majority would just prefer to go home.

People are being born into homeless lives due to other people’s wars and growing up knowing nothing else. Young adults once happily enrolled in quality education with big dreams of becoming engineers and astronauts are being deprived of the dreams so many others have freely.

Have you given any money? Maybe even $5? I hadn’t.

Why? Why?! I spent countless hours reading news stories about it. I saw UN advertisements on every page of the internet with children distressed in boats. My credit card details would autofill in the form with one touch and yet I didn’t.

There is something about sending money into the void that is disconnected, as if there was a missed opportunity when you want to do more than just give money. Even when you trust the organization you are giving to, and even when your contribution is effective, the relationship between the contributor and the charity has not evolved much, you just send in your money which goes into a pool, hope for the best, and basically that’s it for your part. By sending your money to the charity which acts as the intermediary, you never actually get a true connection. Not even a tangible smile is exchanged.

What would happen if you removed the intermediate, or reduced its role by setting the charity organization aside to facilitate a direct connection between the donor and the recipient? That is the purpose of Humanwire.

When I first traveled to Lebanon, it was not easy because I was unfamiliar with Arab culture. Even with Rima and her loving family, it took a few trips to begin to understand people’s intentions due to the culture being so different, I thought. Now when I look back on it, I think its funny because the Arab people are just as friendly and loving as anyone I’ve ever encountered. People in Lebanon in particular are a lot like Westerners. They have many of the same interests, the same concerns and the same ways of living.

There is a cultural gap that need not exist, I’m sure of it. With today’s ability to connect around the world, this is the time for people everywhere to come together.

More than 43 million people worldwide are now forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution [5]. Half of all refugees in the world are children 17 and under, most of which have lost family, home, school and friends. Humanwire is your opportunity go beyond providing mere sustainability, this is the time to take a stand and bridge the culture gap.

 

On… tweens

I rarely talk about work on this blog, mostly because it kind of feels like boasting or complaining and both of those things make me feel like an asshole. The truth is that it’s always going pretty well, but pretty slow. HOLY SHIT IT IS SLOW. In October I pitched and sold two TV shows – one to Universal Studios with Hazy Mills, and one to Warner Bros Studios with Alloy Entertainment. Both are sharp, funny half-hours about flawed women (or as I call them, people). We’re going out to cable networks in January, so cross your fingers for me.

In the meantime, I am writing a tween comedy for a very cool production company, which is SO fun and escapist (i.e., exactly what we all need right now). Anyway, I’ve been regressing (which wasn’t awfully hard, as you’ll imagine) and remembering what it feels like to be 12, and thinking about my favorite books and movies about 12/13-year-olds.

Here are my top three books:

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Anne Of Green Gables (all the way through to Rilla Of Ingleside)

I had paragraphs of these books memorized, actually memorized, and I still have the entire set. Oh, how I loved Anne.

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Emily Of New Moon

But I loved Emily more. Like Anne, and in fact like most heroines in books about 12-year-olds set in the time before electricity (my genre of choice at that point in my life), she’s a bookish orphan. Holy shit, I loved me a bookish orphan.

From memory, I think her mother was long dead (their mothers are always long dead) and her Dad dies of TB early in the first book, and she’s sent to live with an austere maiden aunt. (See: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.) After that she tries to be a writer for like three books. I read a lot of books about girls who wanted to be writers, despite having fuck-all ambition in that direction myself at that point. I want to be an ACTRESS. All caps.

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The Babysitters Club

The only thing better than an orphan holding a candle was the goddamn Babysitters Club. Kirsty, Mary-Anne, Claudia, Stacey and Dawn. The COOLEST. I wanted to be creative Claudia, but I knew I was good girl Mary-Anne. Stacey was obviously too cool to even talk to me, Kirsty was into sport so that was never going to happen, and Dawn was dull AF.

And my top three movies:

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The Parent Trap

For me, the Hayley Mills version, always and forever, amen.

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My Girl

Oh God. The bees.

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The Man In The Moon

I loved this, although all I remember about it now is a kiss in the rain, and something about a tractor. And the guy in it went on to star in one of my most favorite ever movies, Dazed And Confused, and then Mallrats, or maybe that was his twin and he was the one in Party Of Five? And one of them ended up a crack addict. Allegedly.