Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Civilizing the Impossible and the Grotesque

I have always struggled at fitting myself easily in the boxes of someone else's forms. Some not too small voice inside me starts screaming like Prufrock, "How shall I begin to spit out all the butt ends of my days and ways?" At the same time, the logical, rationalizing voice that likes making systems and classifications (I actually visited Linnaeus's garden in Uppsala as a kind of shrine to a durable classification system), is caviling about their having the wrong boxes or the wrong language for their intended purpose and audience. My tech writer pals and any former students reading that last phrase may feel obliged to stand up and salute. "Purpose and audience" is the rallying cry for a lot of us very fond of writing that makes sense and gets the job done. On top of it all, British English sometimes sounds funny to my American ear.

All these voices were screaming in my head as I struggled to fill out the Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) application. I cannot fill it out more than 28 days before my 2 years allotted on my spousal visa expires, but it takes them 4 -6 weeks to process the application. This sounds OK until you appreciate that the application must include my passport (original), Morris's passport (original), my driving license (again only the original will do), marriage license and then at least 20 original documents addressed to us jointly at this address over the 2 year span of the visa, from at least 5 different official sources. There are more wrinkles and variations, but you get the idea.

With this application, Morris and I have to prove (for the lebenty-ith time) that we are who we say we are, that we are in fact married, and the trickiest of them all--that we are living as a couple. When I first read that, my eyebrows went up, and my eyebrows are a lot like Groucho Marx's so they went way up. All I could think was that they wanted to look at the sheets. I shook that vulgar notion from my head until I read that some of the suggested evidence we could provide was records of visits from a midwife or an antenatal clinic. Then the latent feminist joined the ranks of the other voices in my head--am I only part of a couple if I am reproducing? Biology apparently still determines destiny in the UK if you are an alien presuming to live in the country.

All this gnashing of teeth slowed me down considerably. I finally calmed the voices--at least long enough to complete the application--by imagining that this was a client who had asked me to put together a presentation to satisfy these constraints. My friend who used this ploy on me successfully to get me to complete my thesis doesn't read my blog, so she will not recognize herself here. At any rate thanks to her then and now, I managed to compile something passable.

The guidelines for the section on proving that we "do not have recourse to public funds"--meaning we can pay our own way, comprise only one brief note on one page. If, however, you wonder how to complete the boxes for whether you have committed genocide, crimes against humanity, or have been accused of either, there is an entire page of guidelines and references to web pages to help you.

Along the way to completing it, I noticed something that struck me at first as ironic. I could not imagine someone lingering over those boxes wondering--"Did I really commit genocide or was it all just a misunderstanding?" Or then, if I checked the box, Yes, what would I write by way of an explanation. I did not have the heart or the curiosity to read the page about rehabilitation if you checked Yes to any of those boxes. Afterwards, the ideas and the images lingered with me in the way that reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness lingers-- like the aftermath of a bad dream.

On the other hand, those clerks trying to classify and sort the impossible (have they lived as a couple) and the grotesque (how many murders constitute genocide) perhaps are champions of civilizing. In a time when genocide, crimes against humanity, and people charged with such crimes but still walking freely among us have become almost commonplace should we be indebted to the civil administrators for their efforts to classify it or repelled by their legitimizing of it.

I would like to hear what you'all think about this. The application for the ILR (SETM) and the guidelines can be found on the Home Office web page.


At 5:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

well, I guess genocide commiting would make you generally unwelcome, so it's a good thing to assess. and who knew it was such a grey area that warranted so much defining?! this sounds completely bizarre!

your tactic of pretending it was work is a great solution! I shall have to try that when I am really disinterested in doing something.

[thanks for visiting my blog...]

At 12:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If, however, you wonder how to complete the boxes for whether you have committed genocide, crimes against humanity, or have been accused of either, there is an entire page of guidelines and references to web pages to help you.

I'm sure these must be very useful. But I couldn't help but be reminded of Justice Potter Stewart's quote about pornography: "I know it when I see it."

At 10:36 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Good to hear from you all the way from Chicago. Is it cold there now? Has my daughter stopped in? She is so busy but a cuppa and a little conversation with you would be good for both of you. It's hard to be a long distance mom.

At 10:37 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Oh, Cur, I love the innate wisdom you bring to the genocide definition thing. I was curious which persona would out--your lawyer self or your curmudgeon self.

At 8:16 PM, Blogger scorrie said...

read Alice in Wonderland, then move on to OFFICIAL FORMS // Alice makes you see the REALITY of how this crazy country manages to increase employment while reducing production and exporting our jobs to China // where? // scorrie //


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