Two Years In
In just two weeks it will be my 2 year anniversary in London. I figured that’s worth an update. I’ve been pretty crap at this. There’s been more doing than documenting these days which speaks well of my life here in some respects.
I spent this morning swimming in the London Fields Lido with some new and budding friends/friendships. More and more I’m having experiences that resemble my best case imaginings of moving to London. However infrequently and however newly, I’ve begun to meet and spend time with some really lovely people with warm hearts, creative minds, and excellent senses of humor. Making friends here is a very different sort of process. It’s slower, not just culturally but logistically. Transit is exhausting and people have busy lives. For the first time in my life, I have more friendship potential than I’ve actually had time to explore — which is unfortunate since I also have never had such a lack of social connection. But this is the social math of London. And the self-imposed hermitude that I’m only just now beginning to come out of hasn’t helped things, really.
On that point, my sweet friend Tina came to stay with me this weekend. She’s doing field work for her dissertation in Athens, which I think of as a difficult city, not just for its current political and economic struggles but for its logistics (specifically its dense population), and even she was stymied by London’s magnitude and the sheer amount of energy it takes just to do the smallest things. She congratulated me on adapting so well which made me laugh as I often feel like I’ve done this very poorly. She sweetly provided me with a very convincing counter-argument. That, coupled with listening to another friend’s exhaustion at visiting England, has me reflecting on my experience here with a new and more compassionate lens.
Until recently, I’ve been tough on myself for not feeling more ‘present’ in London — thinking; I’ve been in this amazing city for two years and I’ve done so little of what I’d think of as typical London “Stuff” — not necessarily giving myself credit for how radical a shift it really was. Moving from a city of 600,000 to 8 MILLION was and is intense. Gone were the days of quiet lunches in uncrowded restaurants, or basically being alone, anywhere, ever. Even in my own house, I was (and am) constantly aware of the occupants of the two flats above me, the two to the right, the one to the left. Slamming doors, whistling, loud music, stomping feet, overheard conversation, the clanging of pots and pans. The din of London is unrelenting and requires constant compromise. Other people are terribly inconvenient but there’s no real alternative but to live alongside them, however different from you they are. So you wear ear plugs or get a white noise machine, and sometimes you ask them to take their shoe off if they’re tapping their foot along to music directly above your head, and sometimes you just figure you’re probably really annoying sometimes, too, and let it go. But it’s a constant negotiation of the type I certainly was not used to and the reality of other people’s existence demands energy from you even when you’re not directly engaging with them.
I don’t know if I’m an introvert with extrovert tendencies, or an extrovert with introvert tendencies, but in either case after moving here I found myself steadily depleted on both respects: My introvert self lacked true solitude and my extrovert self — even with omnipresent yet still distant others — lacked true connection. The result was a steady state of overwhelm that, with the addition of a 3 hour commute every day, rigorous study and the outside world being full of things I was constantly reminded that I didn’t fully understand, lead to me tucking myself away quite a lot in this house and/or at University with only occasional forays out into the wider world of London Proper.
It’s understandable that I’d have felt that way. Adjusting to life without the vast majority of things I found familiar or comfortable, life without a car (so a major bodily adjustment), life without an immediate and accessible social circle (so a significant drop in emotional support), add in a major shift in eating habits (no gluten, soy, dairy, or eggs – which made even something as simple as grocery shopping a herculean feat), add in a shocking amount of street harassment and a return to higher ed after a 17 year break and it’s no wonder I spent what little free time I had glassy-eyed in front of Netflix.
Somewhere, though, in the last six months, things began to shift on all fronts. I can’t pinpoint where, when or what, really, caused the change. There was no great epiphany. My skin just thickened a bit. I stopped looking for judgment on every face. The city and its transit started to feel a bit more knowable. I started relaxing a bit more. Being more open and approachable. Doing more active approaching on my own. Taking more chances. I’m still battling that new kid anxiety/insecurity but I think I always will battle that — I’m socially awkward and never stood a chance, really, at being anything else. Thankfully this is a city full of awkward people so I kind of fit right in.
And in the midst of all this change, I’ve managed to have some really amazing experiences. In the last two years, I’ve gotten married (Twice!) to a woman I am consistently amazed by. I’ve excelled in school — a 4.0 for the first time in my life! I’ve traveled to new cities and countries. From a distance, I was able to play a small part in the care circle for one of the dearest people in the world to me and the love and support that gathered around her before she passed, and that gathered around everyone who loved her after, was an inspiration. I’ve maintained long-distance connections with really precious people. I’ve grown stronger physically — I’m even training for a 5k walk right now. I’ve grown stronger emotionally — I’ve become more independent, more confident, more compassionate. None of those things are completed works (are they ever?) but positive growth amidst the chaos of adjusting to a new way of life is a thing to be celebrated. And today as I walked down the street in the sun with a little gang of rad fatties, all of whom were nomming ice cream cones (me with a dairy free ice lolly (that’s a popsicle for you yanks)), London started to feel just a little bit more like home.
This weekend, my newly minted Partner and I, along with three lovely friends, are headed to Greece for a honeymoon/vacation full of sun, swimming, excellent food, and other honeymooney type stuff. And while I know that waves of missing my loved ones, general overwhelm, and other hard things will come, and while I know that even better things await me as well — right now I honestly couldn’t feel more contented.
New Job Update
So, I’m loving my new job. I spent 11 years at my current job and I don’t regret any (well, much) of it. It gave me a large cross-section of skills and it was flexible enough to allow me to do my activism in the off-hours. Pretty much it was a dreamboat situation until the sale of the company and then it went the way of ‘business’ and lost its utopian, ‘for the artist’ vibe. Still, even through it all, I somehow managed to get everything I wanted from it with the help of good-hearted people in positions of power and the fact that I’m good at what I do. I made enough to live on working only part-time hours, and as much as I was cranky about the lay-off, it makes sense for them to want someone full-time in-house instead of part-time with an 8 hour time difference. AND, now that I have this new position, I can appreciate the kick in the ass to find something that takes all the skills that have been running parallel for so many years (geekery + activism/organizing) and combines them into one position.
This is the first time I’ve ever been paid to do something I believe in *this* much. Working for a direct service LGBT organization is seriously amazing. Everyone is SO passionate about what they do. They really believe in it. The pay isn’t great (non-profit work never is) and it’s not a job you can leave at the office, but there are multiple people who have been with the organization for over a decade and they still believe in what they’re doing. That’s a testament to the organization and the services it provides.
I get to go to work and instead of being talked down from my high horse about diversity, inclusivity, honored complexity, etc — I am met, seen and inspired by my co-workers who have equal commitments, more knowledge, and their own independent action items to address it. I get to be fat and political about it, on the clock. I get to be queer and radical about it and no one blinks an eye. I get to do focus groups! And social networking! And nerdy data-gathering! And community-building!
I guess what it boils down to, is this is the kind of job that I went back to school for. And I already have it. I have a piece of it, anyway. I’m headed in the right direction. My path has shifted from the old direction to the new one. I have no idea where it will lead me but my career path and my activist path have finally merged. Whether this leads to a continuation of this in the future or whether it’s just something I get to experience now, I’m happy. It won’t be without its issues — nothing ever is — but it’s going to take a LOT to wipe this smile off my face.
I’m supposed to be writing the last of four essays that I have due next week. I seem to be doing everything within my power to avoid doing so this morning. Rather than fighting it, I figure I’ll roll with the lazy until it’s out of my system and try again this afternoon when I’m focused. (Ha! That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!)
I’ve just consumed the much-fought-over leftover enchiladas, much to The Girl’s chagrin. In exchange for this delight, I first offered to buy her an electric screwdriver. Then she told me how much they are. I honestly thought about paying £30 for the privilege of wolfing them down and ultimately downgraded my offer to leaving her the leftovers from the night before. Clearly this was not a fair trade. Tenacity wins again.
We’ve just come to the end of a kitchen remodeling project. It chased us out of the house for two weeks and then into the upstairs bedroom for another week to follow. Even now there is dust circling my dainty sinuses like so many villains twisting so many handlebar mustaches. But the kitchen is GORGEOUS (and orange! You know I actually live here now that there’s orange paint on the walls) and we’ve been cooking up a storm (see above re: leftover enchiladas.)
There isn’t terribly much to report, to be honest. The Xmas holidays were spent here in London. It was intense to be away from my Mom for the first time in 37 years. At the same time, come the New Year, I was literally exhausted. First, I’m crap at time management. (see this blog post rather than my essay for a lived embodiment.) Second, somewhere over the course of last 17 years I turned from an aimless slacker into a laser beam of eye-twitching perfectionism. I don’t know if you’ve tried being a completely disorganized perfectionist but the end result of this combination is kind of an Ouroboros of stops and starts in which the unrealistic expectation I have of being able to explain life, the universe and everything in my first year undergrad coursework is hampered by my tendency to stop reading mid-sentence and watch cat videos on YouTube. The pressure I put on myself when writing essays is borderline ridiculous and can result in things like crying/whining and/or the justified insistence that others not do incredibly rude things like breathe or chew within earshot. The Girl was fantasizing (during Valentine’s drinks, mind you!) about shipping me off to the Aran Islands when I write my dissertation. I told her *she’d* have to go, as I’ll need to be near the library.
The social front is largely unchanged. I know some lovely people. I hardly ever have time to see them. I continue to be a heckuva lot older than my fellow students, some of my profs, and many of my seminar leaders, though people continue to not have any idea that this is the case. It’s weird and vaguely annoying, especially when seminar leaders do things like squee and say “OH MY GOD!! NO WAY!? YOU’RE, LIKE, 10 YEARS OLDER THAN ME?? THAT’S SO WEIRD!!” in the middle of class.
I’ve formed some casual hallway friendships with fellow students, which is nice. And last week someone came up to me after class and invited me for coffee next week because I’m smart and seem to be the only other person in the seminar group that has an opinion on anything. It was a really nice compliment and, as per usual, I was so thrown off by the kindness and so completely socially awkward that I probably came off like an absolute jerk. It’s really common for me to hear that others think I’m stuck-up or self-absorbed. Truth is, I’m just REALLY AWKWARD and painfully shy. And no one ever believes me about it. It’s sort of the opposite of chronic bitchface. When people see me interacting with people I know and am comfortable with, I look really friendly and approachable and relaxed. So when they come up to me, they expect the same treatment which, were I not a complete social dolt, would probably be the case. Instead, they get stammery responses or awkward silences which, based on how they viewed me prior, seems like an intentional thing. Alternately, I may be really nice and funny and have a totally normal-seeming interaction and then totally not remember the person the next time I see them. Problem is, I absolutely have NO recollection for faces or names, especially when I meet people in group settings (which is mostly where I meet people.) I don’t have recollection because, largely, I’m just trying to SURVIVE stranger interactions. It’s not that I don’t like people. I really, really, really do. I wouldn’t even say I’m a true introvert. I’m somewhere in between. I love talking to people. But it takes a lot of energy for me. So where I may seem really present and connected, and I actually *might* be in the moment, because of the overarching awkwardness of mitigating my shyness throughout the entire evening, I sort of become a social goldfish. I survive, even enjoy, one stranger interaction and then am so consumed with the business of surviving the next that I immediately forget what happened just before it. Thus, the next time someone sees me, because they’re, like, normal human beings, they might actually remember who I am and/or having a conversation with me and expect our acquaintanceship to continue in the standard linear fashion. I, on the other hand, will likely be right back at square one and then be so consumed by guilt and embarrassment at not remembering that I will be even MORE awkward than ever. It’s not until conversations happen in quieter spaces, or come with deeper meaning/some point of reciprocal connection, that people actually get embedded into my sieve-like mind. So, to anyone reading this who has experienced me as a stuck-up jerk, I’m really sorry about that. I probably think you’re really neat, or would if I remembered. I like most people. I’m just AWKWARD.
Well, now. Not sure where that tangent came from. Maybe I should have the above printed up on little business cards to hand out to strangers at parties. But then, I’ve always been this way. I got an email from someone I went to high school with. Apparently we were friends. We hung out. We did donuts in my car in the snow in the abandoned school parking lot. I remember NOTHING. Her name doesn’t even sound familiar. I’m guessing it’s a survivor thing. Clearly I have ‘issues’.
Anywhoo – not that any of this has anything to do with London. Except that I continue to be awkward here. Big surprise.
As for school, I’m in the Reading Week of the Spring term. Reading Week is supposed to be a week off of classes in which you are expected to catch up on all the reading you didn’t get to do and/or do additional readings to further your understanding. In reality, it’s the week where everyone scrambles to write all the essays they have due the week following. Because I am doing a joint honours program, I have more work than most. But the trade-off is that I get to see how media and anthropology can interact which is especially helpful given what I want to do in the future.
Earlier this week I did my first school-sanctioned fieldwork. That was really amazing. I came away from the interview with a renewed dedication to figuring out a way to spend my life doing exactly that: Interviewing women about their experiences and then somehow showing others how beautiful they are. The Girl noticed the spark in my eye that she hadn’t seen in ages. I miss activism so much, especially social organizing. It’s hard to not have time for it. I crave that unique connection all the time. My head is spinning with ways to make this my reality. Thankfully I have a few years to figure it out.
I head back to Portland in mid-April for a little over a week and I can’t wait to see everyone. Even more, I’m looking forward to the month we’ll be spending there over the summer. It sounds so luxurious. I feel like I’ll just be rolling around in all that love and connection and the different kinds of comforts that exist in Portland. London is amazing, but I haven’t had time to really make it home yet. Hopefully I’ll be doing that in the months before and after PDX.
Random Update: Thanksgiving and Social Progress
I’m doing this so intermittently — but it is what it is. I have so little time these days that a blog post is a luxury I often can’t afford. I’ve been spending any blogging time lately making more political posts on my primary blog but I want to make sure I have some kind of record of this personal transition so I’m giving it a shot! This is largely for my own benefit but published here so friends can catch up if they like.
So, things of note:
1) School is weird and awesome. I’m learning so much and, while I question how much I’m actually retaining because I’m trying to absorb so much so quickly, the basic tenets are definitely staying put. I feel much clearer on concepts like imperialism, colonialism and media representation (or lack thereof.) That alone is powerful and forms the root of the rest of the concepts I’m learning. The correlation between things is at the root of all of this and is becoming more and more apparent. I’m doing a LOT of reading and a LOT of writing. Thankfully the process of writing so many essays actually taught me a bit more about how to read an essay — what’s important, what’s filler/fluff. I’m reading faster and taking fewer notes. THAT is a relief. I have 3 more essays due in the next month and will get feedback on what I’ve already written soon. Curious to hear if I’m on the right track.
2) I haven’t unpacked yet, save for my clothes. All the boxes I shipped are still tucked away in the office. Partly it’s due to lack of time. Ultimately it’s a simple lack of places to put things once they’re unpacked. We’re going to redo the office (paint, get cabinets/shelves, etc.) but the kitchen needs to be redone as well and that comes first. It may be a few more months yet before I actually start really settling in. It doesn’t feel bad, though. I feel at home. My stuff isn’t around but I’m not feeling sentimental for it.
3) Socialness is interesting as well. I’m definitely older than the vast majority of my classmates but I keep getting shocked reactions when my age comes up in conversation. Apparently I’m getting clocked at around 24. (That’s the number I hear every time I ask.) It’s strange to be so much older than everyone and not be perceived as such. In some ways, it makes me more of an outsider than it would were I actually to appear my age. I clearly have a different mentality. When I ask people what they want to do, the answers range from non-committal to completely unknown. I’ve had the benefit of time to figure out a clearer vision, plus I’m paying three times what they are as an International Student so I’m definitely there to get my money’s worth. For this reason, I’m more outspoken than most (though certainly not all) of my fellow classmates in seminar sessions, I ask a lot of questions, and some folks have taken to sitting next to me because they know I’ve done all the readings – which is pretty funny considering what a TERRIBLE STUDENT I was the last time around. All this might be more readily understandable were I to seem my age, but I think I just come off as a really weird 24 year old. Being fat, I don’t fit into the fashion focus that is clearly a major commodity on campus and because I have to get home to start my work shift, I don’t hang around after classes and chat. The connections I’ve made with people have been very individual, often based on shared paths to public transit or smoke breaks or being caught up after a seminar to chat about something that’s been said. Still, folks are warming up gradually as we go and while I don’t feel a kinship with any of them on a deeper level, the growing pleasantries are starting to make classes and seminars more of a pleasure.
I’ve made some connection with a couple of seminar leaders and one of my professors. There’s a story behind that last one that’s pretty funny but not for public posting. I suspect it was a passing moment of a connection. She seems quite busy being radical at protests (which I can’t partake in as an international student at risk of deportation) and she’s leaving campus for 6 months at the end of the year so I doubt there will be time to make a real connection. Still, our brief moment of engagement was fun and good medicine for my scholastic insecurities.
Outside of school there are several folks that I’ve met that I have spent time with intermittently and that I quite like. Unfortunately I’m also really, really busy so I haven’t had much of a chance to really make an investment in deepening the friendships. It’s nice to know they’re out there, however, and with everyone else in London being so busy, too, I suspect these things just take more time than I’m used to. Lucky, as that’s how it would have to be anyway!
4) The Girl – again, it’s just so lovely to finally be in the same place. The transition has been relatively smooth. Little bumps here and there as we learn how the other engages with daily life. I’ve been short-tempered now and again due to the sudden onset of so much stress/work, missing home, etc. She’s patient. Learning how to manage time better so that my schoolwork doesn’t accidentally carry over into the little time we do have together will also be important. Between the 20 hours of work at my day job, the 20 hours of actual classes/seminars/transit and the 24 hours of required reading each week, I’m basically working 60+ hours a week — and that’s when I’m *not* writing essays on top. I’m pretty much a zombie in the evenings and it takes me a while to shake it off on the weekend. Usually I have one weekend day that I can stop school and work completely and the other day is half and half. It’s not a lot of time to relax and reconnect. But we’re doing the best we can to make quality time. We have date nights every Friday. (Tonight is a double-date with one of her friends at an outdoor holiday food market!) She’s so busy, too. We’re both working so hard. I’m already looking forward to summer.
5) London itself. Honestly, I could live in a cave in the middle of the woods for as much as I’m taking advantage of the amenities of London. It’s an absolute ridiculousness that I haven’t really gotten out to explore much. But again. Time. I came here to learn and that’s what I’m doing. Still, I need to make time to really fall in love with this place. I honestly forget that I’ve moved sometimes and little moments will catch me out. Mist over old stone buildings at nightfall and I think, OH MY GOD, I LIVE IN LONDON! I’ve been trying to figure out ways to live in that space more often. After all, when in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would move to another country? How did this happen? It’s amazing!!! But then I’m all “Shit, I have to read three chapters for class tomorrow” and the moment is gone. It’s gonna be a long, slow reveal, London!
6) Body stuff. I’m doing really well with the transition from driving everywhere to walking. There were some hiccups at the beginning. I tore a calf muscle within a week of getting here because I hit the ground running (literally.) Had to slow down and take a more measured approach. I started a nearly-every-morning nekkid yoga practice (much to the Girl’s delight) and it’s really helped my sciatic pain and calf strain. I’m practically sprinting up stairs now and while I’m still a little winded after three flights, I don’t have to stop anymore. I challenge myself here and there and other times I give myself breaks by going to closer bus stops or taking the elevator when my joints are aching. I’m grateful that my body is rising to the challenge of this new lifestyle so far. I was very concerned that I would injure myself before I got stronger. In actual fact, I did – but I learned how to make it work. Multi-vitamins are good, too, as there are approximately eleventy-jillion germs on every shared surface in London and I accidentally touch railings all the time. So far I’ve avoided becoming deathly ill. Knock on wood. (But wash your hands after!)
Let’s see… what else. I’ve been doing a mediocre job of keeping in touch with people back in Portland. Everyone has been so sweet. So many letters/cards/little packages. I’m really crap at sending things back due to lack of time but have managed it some and am hoping to do some fun crafty things to send around for the holidays. I really want to set up regular skype dates but it’s definitely complicated on both sides with the 8 hour time difference. Gonna have to prioritize it, though!
We booked our tickets back home for a visit in April. Short trip. Just 10 days. But I cannnnnooootttt wait to squeeze everybody!
Also, the Girl is adorable. She procured and prepared a traditional thanksgiving feast for/with me yesterday. She kept asking me if I wanted to do something to celebrate, but I was pouting about missing everyone and kept saying I just wanted to ignore it. After a chat with a friend who pointed out (gently) that I was being ridiculous, I suggested that “maybe we roast a chicken or something.” The Girl took the ball and ran with it and we ended up having turkey, stuffing, potatoes, rolls, pumpkin pie makings and olives for our fingers. Very sweet. And her pumpkin pie (from scratch) was SO GOOD.
OK! That’s it. We’re off to Dalston to meet friends for the outdoor food market I mentioned earlier. I hear-tell that there’s a New York-style hot dog vendor there. We’ve been following this guy’s roving locations for months and it’s finally our chance to descend upon him and put his claims to the test!
Sunny London (Part 3)
Because clearly I couldn’t be fussed to write part 3 of my arrival to London, and because I’ve been here for 2 months now without having finished my blog about arriving here, I’m going to simply cut and paste three emails I sent to friends shortly after my arrival and then I’ll get on with the business of actually writing a proper update about school and life and the like.
So – day 3 in London and things are starting to normalize a bit. I’m sitting here, still, next to overflowing suitcases in The Girl’s living room (Correction: *our* living room. Still getting used to that!) as I haven’t yet worked up the energy to drag these last two upstairs. In my defense, I’ve been busy viewing random historical sites at the behest of my nerdy-awesome girlfriend – who was equally as driven by her desire to make the most of her weekend car rental as she was to wow me with UK history. I have learned, thus far, that the Salisbury family line were not an attractive lot and that the ye olde public toilets rarely have toilet paper. Oh, and that toilet paper is called Loo Roll. Oh, and that there’s usually a cafe with cake waiting at the end of being dragged through something educational whilst jetlagged.
Funny story – I had to use the “loo” and we stopped at a petrol (gas) station. Before I went in I asked “Do I ask for a restroom? or bathroom? or?” and The Girl said “Ask for the loo or the toilet.” Of course I wasn’t going to say TOILET — Who says TOILET?!?! Feeling excited to make use of my new UK slang, I walked up to the counter and asked “Do you have a loo?” However, the man behind the counter didn’t speak much english and, confused by my accent, furrowed his brows and repeated “Dyahavvaloo?” I said “No, no… DO YOU HAVE A LOO.” – careful to enunciate each word (though I didn’t speak louder – a fact of which I am proud.) He repeated back “DYAHAVVALOO?” At which point, my spirits were dampened and I simply said “Toilet???” At which point he rolled his eyes and pointed to the clearly marked Toilet sign directly to the left of him. *sigh* Tourist Fail. At the pub later that night, I was informed that I should ask for the “Shit hole” next time. Somehow I don’t trust that advice.
As for me and my horse, it seems we are being fully domesticated. This weekend is a trip to IKEA so that I can begin inserting myself into all available corners of The Girl’s bachelor existence. I have been informed that I get to pick the colors for the walls in the office. I’m planning on being ridiculous about it. Tonight we made muffins. The joy at finally getting to do such a mundane deed together resulted in The Girl’s spontaneous composition–”The Muffin Song”–which went something like this:
Ohhh, we made muffins.
Muffins in the eveniiiiing.
And then we kiiiiissed.
Had a bit of a Dusty Springfield vibe to it, I’d say.
Here’s some of what I’ve learned about London so far:
1) “Just around the corner” translates into at least a half-mile’s walk and “a bit of a walk” means at least 1.5. By virtue of this, I’m getting to see a lot of London on foot. Exploring a city with your tootsies and/or on public transit is a really different thing. You’re forced to interact with all your senses as well as with your heart and mind. Today I was told stories of road trips in the US, the names of humdrum familiar states and cities dripping like jewels off the tongues of bright-eyed adventurers. Yesterday, a woman asked me “Why would you come *here!?*” I said “To London? Or to Hackney?” She said “Both!” I said “Because it’s something I don’t know yet.” That seemed to satisfy her. Little conversations. Little connections. None of which I’d have if I weren’t waddling around on foot.
2) That said, probably best to make a slower transition from a sedentary driving lifestyle to a “OMGLONDON!!!” walking lifestyle, as my torn calf muscle can attest to. Live. Learn. Cuss a bit. Move on.
3) Don’t listen to the people who tell you not to smile at people in passing. Maybe don’t make lingering eye contact, creepypants – but it’s OK to smile. I don’t feel obligated to ingratiate myself but I’m having an adventure, so often I’m smiling when I’m out and about. Last week I was randomly offered a cookie by a shop owner who was eating one behind the counter. Clearly I’m doing something right if people are giving me cookies. COOKIES!
4) They really like the word cock here. I’m not kidding. There’s Cock-A-Leekie Soup. There’s just plain old Cock Soup. There’s “The Famous Cock” which is a pub. There’s Cockfosters, which is a borough. And I’m sure that’s not the half of it.
5) Everything is CUTE here. Jesus. Cobbled streets, twinkly lights, shiny red double-deckers, old ornate pubs, smooshed-together brick houses and fruit and veg markets on every corner. Really, London. Get it together. You’re a postcard of yourself.
Btw, as can be contested to by our current houseguest, you should totally come visit.
Love love love,
Hopping the Pond (Part 2)
So – the last 24 hours in Portland.
Mom’s partner Celia kindly drove her up to Portland so she could stay the night with us. The *intention* was for her to get a ride home from D the next morning as, clearly, she’d be too bereft at the loss of me (such a Leo!) to drive safely. Thing is, tho, stubbornness is genetic and I had to get it from somewhere. Guess who? Just as well, though, as I gave Mom my car when I left and she had to get it home somehow. Off topic: I love the fact that Mom now owns two VW Beetles – one green, one yellow. The only thing better than owning a car that makes people punch each other randomly (SLUGBUG!) is having *two* cars that make people punch each other randomly.
I don’t remember much about the last night, to be honest. I think largely it consisted of glazed expressions, mild nausea and an overwhelming feeling that I was forgetting something so important that the entire fabric of the space-time continuum would begin to unravel the moment the plane lifted off the tarmac. Somewhere in there was dinner, some friends popping by to pick up clothes that didn’t make the “is this worth $70 in luggage overages?” cut, a bit of crying, and far-too-many cigarettes.
The next morning, after sorting out my final details and donning my predetermined airplane outfit (all grieving-widow black, natch), I stumbled out into the living room to the smell of bacon. D&L had, very sweetly, gotten up early to cook a spectacular breakfast. The lovely JK (she was an integral part of planning my going away party as well as simply being an outstanding human being in general) had just arrived as well to help us caravan to the airport. Everyone was buzzing around, Mom was chopping things to keep herself busy, Girl was packing up her last minute items, D&L were cooking and, after being advised that I was pale, sweating and shaking, I was banished to the front porch with JK where I took deep breaths until I got a hold on myself.
I nibbled a bagel halfheartedly, cursing the nausea for ruining my chances at enjoying such a delicious and well-intentioned spread, and held hands with Mom as the reality of leaving sunk in. I won’t lie, there was some ugly-crying going on. Kindly, everyone else was suddenly HIGHLY FASCINATED by their breakfast plates and made room for Mom and I to have our moment with minimal awkwardness. And then, it was time to go.
We piled ourselves and our luggage into two cars and hit the road. Again, I couldn’t tell you what we talked about in the car. All I remember is being worried about my Mom and still convinced that I was forgetting something globally catastrophic. The goodbyes at the airport were fast and fraught and sweet and hard. But the well-wishes were just as palpable. And as folks pulled away, the Girl and I lugged our baggage inside and started the business of actually leaving.
One thing – the Girl and I booked our flights separately since she had a round-trip and I didn’t. We’d called the airline to try to get seats together and they’d told us that the only seats available were two middle seats, one directly behind the other. Now let me tell you, the prospect of a middle seat is no fun for anyone but, for a fatty, it’s the stuff of nightmares. We took our plight to the woman at the counter and, as sympathetic as she was, it sounded like she wasn’t going to be able to do anything for us. She did, however, suggest that I grab an airsick bag and make gagging motions to entice the person next to me to swap seats with Simone- which was funny. “Works every time!” she said. But somehow, over the next 15 minutes of luggage wrangling and joking conversation, she pulled a fast one on us and, as we arrived at the gate we found ourselves with sneakily upgraded tickets. Economy Plus at no extra charge *and* two seats together! Whoever you are, United Check-In Lady, we love you!
Also, props to United Economy Plus — not only did the seatbelt fit me but, with the extra leg room, the tray table even came all the way down. It bumped my belly a bit but it was doable. The armrest wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world but it came down and felt tolerable. Luckily, however, I was with the Girl and I could put it up and relax – the relief of that was immense. As the plane rattled down the runway and the tears began to come again, I wondered how on Earth I’d have managed to wrangle the immensity of leaving without her beside me. I watched Portland get smaller and smaller in the distance and felt a strange mix of grief and the tingles of excitement creeping in around the edges.
This was really happening. After two long years of preparation, of skype dates and months between kisses, of paperwork and uncertainty, of hard emotional work and profound epiphanies — I was really moving to London. I was really going to be with the Girl. I was really going to try on not only a new city, but a new continent, a new culture and a new direction.
After 13 hours in the air and an uneventful layover in Chicago, our plane touched ground in London. I filled out my landing card and the Girl and I parted ways – her to the quick-moving line for UK residents and me to the heaving mass of over-excited tourists and hopeful emigrants. After being in the shuffling for 20 minutes, I got to the sign that said “Expect a 30 minute wait from this sign.” I txt’d the Girl who was already waiting on the other side and she wandered off to pick up the luggage. I’d been advised to keep a copy with me of everything I used to prove legitimacy for my Visa and, with nearly an hour in line to freak myself out, I was completely convinced that something was going to go horribly awry by the time I finally got to the customs official. Instead, she asked me a few easy questions, slapped a few stamps on my passport and all but clapped me on the ass as I walked through.
That was it! I was in! The other side of that customs gate felt like some weird kind of rebirth. As I made my way to baggage claim, I smiled to myself. No more goodbyes. I live here now. In LONDON!
So, I moved to London. NBD. (Part 1)
I’ve had a block about writing this post. For the most part it’s because I’ve been too busy doing stuff to stop and write about it. That, and the sheer magnitude of experience encompassed in the last month seems too daunting to write about, even in summary. But, thanks to the (sweetly) insistent pestering on the part of the Girl, I am giving it the ol’ college try.
It’s been almost 7 weeks since my last confession. During that time I said goodbye to everyone I know and love, packed up what remains of my belongings, tied up all my loose ends and hopped across the pond to jolly old England where I am now sitting next to the aforementioned Girl who just finished washing up after cooking me sausages. Let this be an inspiration to you — at the end of any huge leap of faith, there is hope of sausages.
My last month in Portland was exactly what I hoped it would be. My days and nights were filled with sweetness, connection and hugging. It’s all a bit of a blur, really. I left home in the early mornings, came home late at night and in between were hilarious brunches, river trips, bluff sunsets, park picnics, waterfront walks, BBQ’s, dinner parties, patio chats and so much more. Some friends threw me an incredibly sweet going away party with living party favors (lily starts to take home and plant) and a banana cake you wanted to put your entire face in. I had a small gathering as well the night before last where the intimate circle came for drinks. One friend brought a little Polaroid camera and took shots that I could take away tangibly, which was such a lovely and perfect idea. Another gifted me with a package that she insisted I not open until I was on the plane. Inside it was a series of additional envelopes to be opened as-needed. I opened the one that said “Sometimes flying while fat sucks.” and inside of it was a gorgeous picture of a rad fatty and the words “You are beautiful!” So sweet. The rest of the envelopes I have saved for emotional emergencies – as I’m sure some will arise over the next year – and knowing they’re here is a huge comfort. Another dear friend gifted me with a pendant of hers, something that she wore frequently and that I’d always commented on as beautiful. It’s something I always have associated with her and having it here with me is such a sweet and strong connection. Another friend gave me a tiny dish with an old map of London on it. She’d saved it from the first Estate Sale she’d organized, saying that I’d helped her somehow to make her dream a reality. These gifts, each one of them in different ways, as well as other more personal gifts I’ve not mentioned, and the equally-as-valuable gifts of time and connection, touched me in ways I really can’t explain. The collective tenderness, connection, hilarity, sweetness and love that I experienced in that last month is an experience I will never forget and never take for granted.
Two weeks before my departure, the Girl arrived in PDX. We’d arranged for her to come for a final visit and so that we could go home together. (I know, I know. *squish*) We spent a couple of nights in Portland at a local hotel just to have some sweetness and respite together and then packed up and went down to Silverton to stay with my Mom for a week. The time in Silverton went so quickly. My Mom, the Girl and I were all working so we had only evenings together, save for my birthday which was mid-week. I kept feeling this (self-imposed) pressure to figure out ways to make each moment we had feel momentous somehow. It had to be SPECIAL!!!!! Truth is, though, that we were all so exhausted that largely we spent each night curled up on the couches together watching movies. That was good, though. The sweetness and comfort of being in the same room was all we really needed – that, and to stock up on normalcy since there was so little to be had in the near-future. Leaving Mom’s house was the hardest part of this entire process. But really, save the cost of the plane ticket, being an hour away and being 24 hours away isn’t all that different. My Mom and I are as close as any Mom and Daughter can healthfully be and no amount of mileage between us will change that.
Aside from the week at my Mom’s, my last month in Portland was spent in the home of my sweet friends D&L. They were infinitely patient with the sorting process which left suitcases in their living room for days and days as well as just being genuine joy and light to be around. D sat with me while I packed things, tried on silly hats, laughed with me and read me her stories. We spent a bit of time in the pool together. L introduced me to the Glee Project and cried with me at the same silly moments as well as constantly chasing the cats out of the house so as not to set off the Girl’s allergies. And together they were just the most welcoming and easy place to be for both myself and my Mom. D actually offered to drive my Mom home to Silverton after she dropped me at the airport — this on only 3 hours of sleep after an on-call shift. Their kindness and ease in sharing their space during such a chaotic transition just affirmed all the wonderful things I already knew of them, and will never be forgotten.
Also, I have to say that the Girl deserves some kind of medal or perhaps an actual trophy for putting up with my harrowing mood swings during those last two weeks. Between stress hormones and general overwhelm, I was a handful to say the least. She was grace under pressure and a constantly safe space to rest my over-full head. She maintained her excitement even when I was terrified (or possibly terrifying) and helped me feel grounded in the midst of all that change. I’m a lucky girl.
So – more to come. For now, it’s 8 hours ahead and bedtime. I leave you with some pics of my last weeks in PDX.