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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.



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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.

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Spring Update

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.


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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!

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Two Years In

In just two weeks it will be my 2 year anniversary in London. I figured that’s...
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New Job Update

So, I’m loving my new job. I spent 11 years at my current job and I don’t...
article post

Spring Update

I’m supposed to be writing the last of four essays that I have due next week. I...
article post

Random Update: Thanksgiving and Social Progress

I’m doing this so intermittently — but it is what it is. I have so little...
article post
thumbnail Piggy N’ Panda – Letters from Home article post
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