Whether you abide by the orthodoxies of a major world religion, prefer to recognize the Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre, or think the whole thing is annoying, today is a moveable feast celebrating the turning of a season – my favorite sort of holiday! From snowy Cambridge to you, many felicitations of hope this spring.
Today I went to an indie press / comics convention that was reminiscent of the Portland Zine Symposium… the first year.
I was completely shocked – London is an enormous city, famed for centuries of cultural revolutions! Where are the kids, where is the underground?
Iain is the expert on tap for such questions. His reply to my plaintive query? I think everyone fled to Germany or Bristol due to rents and the price of beer.
While I have a romantic attachment to the idea, I guess that I don’t really need to move to London, eh?
In other local news, I just realized that nobody in my vicinity clamored to decorate eggs this year, for the first time in my entire adult life.
My offspring are tall, creative, outgoing people who launch their Easter holidays by going to conventions, and handing out fliers for their work, rather than dipping boiled eggs in cups of food coloring.
This is overwhelmingly sad, and completely amazing. I am honored beyond words to know them.
I was rummaging around trying to figure out when I decided to move to the UK and stumbled across all sorts of interesting trivia.
For instance, according to my journal, I met Gordon in person exactly four years ago today. How fortuitous! He has proved to be an able tour guide and fast friend in this whole unraveling irksome journey toward becoming human.
While most people find my robotic, emotionally disconnected obliviousness exasperating at best, he has always answered my questions without condescension or annoyance. Or at least, without displaying those traits.
He even taught me how to talk on the phone! For this and just for the sheer genius of his existence, I extend a sincere thank you.
Some of my friends run this thing called Rock N Roll Camp for Girls and someone made a documentary about it. You should go check it out.
Every single time I think that I should call to check on my boat, the phone rings and the extremely energetic marina owner is on the line.
He keeps apologizing for the delay, which surprises me; he is certainly more solicitous of my feelings about the boat than anyone I hang out with – they all find the subject tedious.
Though I’m sure you, dear readers, are eager to know the news: she is out of drydock and all repairs are finished except one, waiting for a part on order.
This means I might get her back as early as next week – perfect timing for an Easter holiday cruise through the Fens!
Last weekend I went out with Jean and a recently arrived academic transplant, and what a treat he proved to be: a writer, art critic, media studies maven and, best of all, North American.
Oh, glorious good luck! A new friend is always great fun, but one with a similar vocabulary and set of interests is a rarity in this town. During the course of the conversation someone told him about my memoir, punctuating remarks about the quality and merits of the book with She has something like a thousand scars on her body!
I frowned and corrected No, just shy of four hundred.
My new companion looked disbelieving, and the others told him to take a look. I obliged by pulling my collar down and he proceeded to rummage around my torso, examining the traces of surgical interventions before kindly commenting that they are not frightening.
Maybe, now – because, without my informed consent (I was just a child) every single cancer scar was injected with cortisone. Over the years they leveled off and faded to silver, and since my immune system destroyed all the surrounding pigment, they are almost invisible.
Of course I didn’t show him my abdomen, hacked open and poorly mended on three memorable occasions, and striated with the evidence that I have birthed children. My belly is reserved for special occasions. Jean commented that it is odd I am such an exhibitionist but I just shrugged; I grew up on display for the benefit of doctors. Showing the scars, the proof of an unbelievable story, is simply routine.
Jean should know this; yet he persists in a series of quaint, sentimental, stereotyped ideas about women.
Today I raced all over the city in a state of panic, acquiring and copying important papers, plucking funds from what can only be described as thin air, figuring out how to pay bills if one does not have a bank account (answer: you can’t).
Welcome to my annual Mooring License Meltdown.
The whole process this year has been exacerbated by the fact that I had to have the boat inspected (out of the water) to obtain a new safety certificate and she is still five hours away in a marina, having her lady bits fixed up.
During the process I was shocked to hear that, against all common sense and economic theory, her value has not decreased: she is worth exactly the same amount as when first viewed three and a half years ago, although she should have lost a thousand quid per year.
I suppose this is another example of my genius for real estate investments – too bad I’m far too lazy and political to capitalize on such skills!
The worst part of the whole process was finding someone to witness my signature on the license contract. Jean, Josh, and all the usual suspects were mysteriously beyond reach. I was seriously considering asking the Wonderwall busker but then remembered a basic truth: the market square is the source of all that is good in this town.
We’ve talked nearly every day since I moved here, but I never knew his name until today, when I said Can I have a small hot chocolate? And I have a sort of funny favor ask….
My mate at the mobile coffee cart laughed and said it wasn’t the first time he’d been approached for the chore, then genially witnessed my signature on the document.
The cup musings sent my brain off on all sorts of bizarre tangents, one of which ended in the realization that I do not actually have any friends leftover from grad school. In fact, aside from Dawn Hitchens (daughter of a founding faculty and still beloved if misplaced), I can’t even remember their names.
This fact is in stark contrast to the startling point that I’ve managed to keep track of so many Green Vests. What is that, the uninitiated might ask? To be simplistic: the kids who staffed the computer center.
They bedeviled my life, but I can tell you exactly what happened to KTS, Byron, Leopoldo, Pat, Phan, Brian Ventura, and even Rob (the one who lived under the floorboards).
The computer center staff of my acquaintance practiced their art in an ancient and misty past, where many of us still used typewriters. Consequently, to be a Green Vest was quite an achievement, and a position of power.
Many of the brethren were kind and gentle, though a few were tyrants. Desperate grad students on limited budgets using dodgy software to print, say, a thesis might find themselves in crisis under this regime – and I speak from experience.
I’m still disturbed when I remember that each laser printed page required a red ticket, purchased in twenty-five cent increments from the bookstore. Fine – except the bookstore was only open during the day, and the computer center never closed. Leopoldo was the most dedicated enforcer, his presence on a deadline evening the equivalent of a broken kneecap.
In significant contrast: KTS, at the time a vociferous enemy, not only attempted to teach me how to use complicated software – when he recognized that I was not capable, he sighed, sat down, and finished my statistics homework. Yesterday he wrote to invite me to stay in his new apartment in Brooklyn; our friendship has been a marvelous and intricate mystery stretching across two decades.
Buffy is the only Green Vest who truly vanished – hardly surprising though eighteen years after we last spoke, I still miss her. Anyone out there who knows a striking, hilarious person of any stated gender going by the name Taylor (perhaps but not necessarily with an English accent) – do tell.
The point of this post has been mislaid like my lost cup, but the original idea was this: whatever seemed most important in the moment has faded over time, while the peripheral experiences have become hugely significant. How alarming – and entertaining.
During this adult lifetime I’ve moved more than fifteen times, and though I have a marked tendency to collect and hoard, much has been lost through the years.
When I lived in Portland I had a house filled to capacity with clothes, toys, art, and ephemera. When I moved to Seattle I shed half of the clutter. When I moved to England the remaining material possessions had to fit in a twenty foot container box. When that lot arrived in customs fully half of the items were damaged beyond repair: a liberating tragedy.
Of all that has been sold, discarded, or lost I can honestly say I do not miss much. The taxidermy and record collections live on in my old house, and I can visit whenever I like. There are a few dresses I remember fondly, but I would never wear them again even if they were hanging in my cupboard.
The single exception, the only object I miss, is a white plastic cup with a green lid, purchased during my first week of college and used every day all the way through graduate school. In the genre of travel mugs it would not rate very high as it was not insulated, but this was a feature I appreciated because the scorching hot coffee or tea kept my hands warm as I scrambled around campus. By the time it cooled completely it was time for a refill, a ritual repeated endlessly through the years – stretching far beyond just my education.
The cup went with me everywhere, and though the printed logo on the side vanished after a few vigorous scrubs, the cup was distinctive to a certain portion of the general public. In the Northwest hardly anyone commented, but in places as disparate as NYC or Tucson it was entirely ordinary to be standing around, cup in hand, and have a stranger pop out of a crowd to ask Did you go to Evergreen?
Oh, indeed. Wherever else? There are many valid criticisms of the school, and I was either miserable or furious throughout much of the experience, but there is literally no other campus where I could have survived – let alone thrived.
When asked for advice on college selection, I restrict myself to the observation that freaky kids should go to freaky schools. Though I do write letters of reference if people simply insist on Brown or Columbia, I tend to think that most of my friends and family members are well advised to choose an experiential, collaborative, interdisciplinary institution. Without grades or defined curriculum. Where you can fail or succeed on your own terms – without interference.
The reason is simple: we are all without exception the sort who confront the world with a You’re not the boss of me attitude.
Evergreen does not require that you select a mentor but having an advocate makes it easier to navigate the place. At first I had serious problems with professors and advising staff who told me to forfeit my scholarships, give up and go home. Tired of this attitude, I finally marched up to the director of the Native American Studies program and said I’m nineteen years old and the first person in my family to go to college. I have a four week old baby, a rare genetic disorder, two different kinds of cancer, and a possibly terminal auto-immune disease. I want to be here. What can you do to help?
He replied Anything you need.
That was the start of a benevolent friendship I am still trying to understand years after his unexpected early death. He was a Blake scholar, a poet, a fan of baseball – and hugely controversial. His personal and professional life were rife with scandal that shocked even the most tolerant.
He also signed every single independent study contract I devised, letting me combine literature with health education, writing with stints teaching sex ed in juvenile prisons, and collaborations with James. I enjoyed perfect freedom and only talked to my professor once every quarter, when we decided how to assign credits given my goal of public policy graduate school.
This was, he advised, a mistake. He said that reading my fiction was like walking barefoot across broken glass. He said You are a writer – but I didn’t care. I was too busy.
I was one of the most vocal critics of institutional failings, but Evergreen has the perfect answer for internal complaints: internal governance. I didn’t just stomp around declaiming, I was appointed to a task force. I didn’t just agitate for my own benefit, I ran the union of students with disabilities. All of my work study paychecks were funneled through these activities. Eventually, I wrote the first ADA compliance policy ratified by the deans.
I was no fan of Olympia, was never involved in the culture of the town or school; although many of my current friends were around at the time, I did not socialize with them. I had a child, and a goal: to acquire practical credentials and a steady job with benefits. Parties, shows, band practices? Frivolity! I rushed through my undergrad in two and a half years, and chose to stay on for graduate school because I was offered high quality subsidized child care on campus. Someone else might remember – how much did we pay each month? One hundred dollars, maybe two?
Staff members in childcare center were kind, devoted, and best of all, state employees making a decent wage with full benefits. Several became friends; the director and one teacher remained in touch for a decade after I moved away.
Given that my rent was never more than a hundred dollars a month, this meant that I could scrounge by without taking out major loans. Living on a graduate assistantship is in fact difficult, but we had The Corner! Bless the hippies, for they shall provide cheap garlicky grub, and let you wash dishes to pay if need be. Just bring your own fork.
I was the youngest person ever admitted to the public administration graduate program and pursued my studies with a ferocity still remembered by the faculty. They did not know what to make of me; how do you seminar on organizational theory if you’ve never had a real job? They compensated by putting me on the faculty hiring committee.
My fellow students were all ten or twenty years older and they treated me like a pet, took me out for my first legal drink, elected me to run the student association – a thankless task but of course, exactly my sort of treat.
I’ve never been infatuated with a person, but in those years I had an intellectual love affair with the Grange movement. Research ruled my life, and I loved it. The passive neglect of my advisor was probably intended to force me out of the program, but I didn’t want supervision – I wanted to save the world. This translated to a job staffing a project through the Governor’s office (trivia: the one ousted for sexual harassment – and no, he never tried it on with me).
That in turn determined my thesis, one of the very few in the history of the program with a single author – we weren’t allowed, but when have I ever followed that kind of rule? It was predicted that I would fail but despite great personal chaos (cancer tests, clandestine dates, testifying in multi-million dollar lawsuits, a messy and protracted divorce, typing the final document through the night in the computer lab as my toddler slept under the desk, you know – the usual) I finished all course work and writing on time. Unlike two-thirds of my cohort group.
The director of the program strongly advised against my thesis: I used a participatory research methodology to analyze the implementation of a federal civil rights law at the state and local level. When I presented the final product she shook her head and laughed and said that it should be published.
Of course, that never happened. I resolutely went forward into the world, taking up a government job that seemed ideal, staffing disability policy advisory boards. Then I quit. Forever. Citing nothing more than the fact that I did not like wearing beige clothing. This outcome was probably obvious – how could a person too contrary for an alternative liberal arts college survive in government service?
I carried my Evergreen cup around for about ten years before it was mislaid, and every time I took a sip I was reminded of the lessons from that period of my life. I miss it. That cup kept my fingers warm.
Yesterday Jean emailed Tonight, you’re mine… Approximately fifteen minutes after any hope of child care walked out the door. Such is life! I’ll catch up with him later – rumor has it he acquired a new boyfriend. Indeeeeed….
In other news, I hear that Byron has left Pittsburgh behind and is now consorting with the scientists during the day and partying with Longshoremen at night. I cannot quite conjure the mental image of Byron, legs crossed and sipping lady drinks, in a real working class bar. I’ve certainly never dared take him to one.
He reports he is having some bro time.
The weather remained warm and sunny all week and I continued to walk around town, pausing here and there to write. This has improved my mood more than anything – I haven’t been able to work in months and work is absolutely essential for my mental welfare. I have simple needs, easily satisfied!
Meandering to Magdalen College:
The tourists are about to descend so this morning I set off at nine to walk to Grantchester, hoping for a solitary idyll working at the Orchard.
On the way, a few glimpses of life here:
Virginia Woolf was a fan of the Orchard, where Bloomsbury consorted with the Neo-Pagans. Though she remarked of Cambridge: No place in the world can be lovelier… Lord! How dull it would be to live here!
Indeed. Though today, who cares? I worked on essays for a few hours then drifted off to sleep in the sun:
They’re currently dredging the King’s Ditch so large swaths of the Backs are all ripped up, the river stopped, a footbridge closed… mayhem!
Iain says my next book should be Cancer for Fun and Profit!
That would certainly be amusing, though I wonder where the profit would come from? Perhaps I need my own telethon.
On the fun side of the question, the mail today brings news: the people who run Oral Surgery are badass in the extreme, and have ruthlessly cleared time in the schedule for me. Guess I can’t avoid that one any longer – sigh. I dislike having my face Xrayed!
The people who run the Cambridge Breast Unit (insert your own joke here) were so very impressed with the survey I mailed in they have elected to kick me straight to Clinical Genetics, without an initial stop to let their own people have a first poke. That seems quite polite of them. Though we all know exactly what tests will be ordered, at least there is yet another delay so I can continue to dwell in denial!
To conclude, I must admit that when I wrote to the assorted clinics I forgot to contact my skin cancer docs. What could have caused the oversight? Perhaps the fact that they are the most likely to cut me.
In fact, the likelihood hovers around one hundred percent…. and the biopsy will be accompanied by stern lectures I can recite verbatim. Never fear, none of this worries me. As always, I am mostly just annoyed – though at the same time hugely impressed that the NHS provides such high quality (if grubby) services. Free of charge.
Earlier today I was telling Mark Mitchell that I have been considering giving up sugar including but not limited to honey in my tea, alcohol in general, and cinnamon jelly beans. Why? For the entertainment value.
He said Giving things up out of boredom is odd to me. When I’m bored, I engage in even more dangerous behaviour, rather than cleaning up my act.
I pointed out that there isn’t really much else on offer except, perhaps, taunting swans. Not exactly something that interests me.
Someone else helpfully suggested I address my current existential crisis thus: find yourself some nice football thug with a dick like a coke can and GET BUSY!
Technically there are no hoodlums in my general environs except those who live on Drunk Bench, and of course, I am too pure and innocent for such antics. Though that person does offer a certain underlying wisdom. Essentially, I am lonely.
The main reason I never talk about my problems is simple: my early life provided sufficient drama that I appreciate my current good fortune. I survived cancer, poverty, violence, and brutal accidents – what else could compare?
Unfortunately that does not mean I lack challenges, even problems that other people would recognize and sympathize with. All manner of turmoil has bubbled and oozed through my existence, especially since I moved to the UK. Did I talk about any of it? Not much, not hardly, no way. Some people heard scathing anecdotes, a very few others were allowed glimpses of grief (especially after the suicides last spring), but I have no vocabulary of discontent, no relative desire to share the burden of worry.
Why? Possibly because that is the honor code of my family. Perhaps because the early trauma required silence to endure. More likely because I am deeply private, contrary, and cryptic by nature. Beyond those semi-pathological explanations the even more basic fact is that I am, even when wounded, even in the darkest depths of despair, both a stoic and an optimist. I’ve always been a Hey kids, lets build a clubhouse! kind of person.
The last few months have been very difficult, but it is only now, in the last few days before spring opens up the world, that I can talk about it. Or, for that matter, allow myself to feel it. Winter is always a problem – I get very depressed, and can’t do much to build up my store of vitamins and sunlight without risking my health in other ways. Mostly I just hang on, and try to spend a few hours pacing around outside fully covered with warm clothes and sunblock. It helps – a little.
This year the problem was exacerbated by my longest ever sustained period of being a single parent. When I had my daughter I was still a teenager, and knew that I needed support. Even though her dad vanished I had my own parents, his parents, several sets of great-grandparents and cousins and aunts, friends, and housemates to help.
James and Byron were always around in the early years, and after I moved to Portland there was Polly and her menagerie, the magazine community, IPRC friends, and eventually the chorus. Being a mother is a solitary experience but I was never truly alone – I always had at least a designated co-parent, and usually a whole squadron of people who supported and loved my little family.
Even when I did not wish to access these resources, they were there. Even when I moved to a new city, the whole thing happened again, partly in an organic fashion, but mostly because I knew that it was a necessary tonic. Seattle has a reputation for being deeply unfriendly but I had AEM, Jeffrey and Tizzy, a different set of magazine folks including Yantra and Sal, the parents I met through AS1, and onward.
I’m not a friendly person but I am a community organizer; that is my calling, my trade, the skill the fairies granted at birth. England presented a unique set of new and puzzling challenges, Cambridge even more. But before I arrived I knew Sarah, David, Rachel, Emma, Don, Barbara, Andy, Karen, Iain. From that starting point I was introduced to a whole phalanx of other people, and found mysterious connections – people who are close Chloe, a woman who knows Ayun.
Of course a large number of those people are in London or even further out. And, as reported earlier, this year saw a vast exodus of Cambridge friends as they finished their academic work and departed.
If I have a crisis I know that there are people nearby who could help; Xtina, for instance, is a person I trust and admire who would not be frightened by the madness of my medical routines – something that I have to consider. But she is in London, so we do not share a daily routine. We can exchange email and visits, but we are not geographically close enough for the sort of casual intimacy that exists when you live in not just the same city but also neighborhood.
In Portland, most of my friends lived in the same neighborhood. In Seattle, Jeffrey was three blocks away on the other side of Beacon Hill. Here in Cambridge, this winter, I have exactly zero relief or support. Yet because of my previously discussed reticence I haven’t mentioned it.
Of course I will build up a new network of local friends; I just haven’t had time, and winter is never kind. Critically though, if I were simply alone, I would not even feel isolated. The problem I have been pondering this winter is the fact that parenting alone – without anyone to share either the good or bad parts, without any breaks, without respite or adult conversation, is one of the loneliest experiences I have ever had.
This is true even though not much has gone wrong, nobody is in crisis, and I emphatically love my children. They’re the best, the most entertaining, overall and completely my favorite people in the whole world.
Those facts do not change my latent seasonal depression, the burden of being accountable for all practical chores, or a hundred sundry other worries. Could it be worse? Yes, of course – and that knowledge is exactly why I normally keep my mouth shut. If only censorship were a solution!
Certainly I do not know what anyone could do for me, and I’m an expert on the subject.
This is a temporary situation for me; it will all be better in a few months. I am endlessly impressed by those of you who are single parents for an entire lifetime: you are heroic beyond measure.
Today I’m grateful that spring has arrived and that everything will change again very soon. New friends, new adventures, hurray!
It is once again time to apply for a mooring permit, for which I am required to account for all of my time away from town. Yes, I know – my secret boyfriend George Orwell would have a lot to say about that! If he were, you know, alive.
This is a useful exercise because while I generally feel like a ramble through the Fens is the sum total of my adventures, this is apparently… an illusion!
I never imagined I would leave the Puget Sound, let alone be a world traveler.
The fact that her sister tattled on her is just genius. Though I am a wee bit tired of this trend.
I was already annoyed with misery memoirs as a category (hence my subversive little true and verifiable book), let alone flat out lies.
If you want to write fiction, write fiction. Stop making life hard for the rest of us.
One of my genius west coast friends anted up a link to a completely hilarious Seattle Craigslist rant, later deleted, that is summed up by: Just fucking fuck me, already – the basic presumption being that men in that city do not know how. Or are too complicated and sensitive. While I found the listing highly amusing, I have made a scientific study of the miscreants of that beloved metropolis, and I feel compelled to defend their honor.
To state the most obvious point: men fulfilling the desired criteria are not likely to cruise Craigslist for a date. Where are they? At a show, club, or bar – scoring. Hard to locate? Not at all. Any day of the week you can walk into just about any Capitol Hill drinking establishment, walk up to the bouncer or bartender, and state your requirement.
If they don’t offer themselves up with alacrity (the normal response given a corresponding sexual orientation) they will succinctly give you a list of potential candidates, often accompanied by comments on relative penis size.
How do I know this? Remember – I went on a Hunt for Bad Boys and Lumberjacks when Ana Erotica needed a research subject and playmate.
In fact, though I did not personally sleep with any of them, I did acquire several significant friendships out of the deal. Thankfully, only one imagined he had fallen in love with me (and I suspect there is a correlation between my chaste refusal to have sex and the love thing – that is a Bad Boy Paradox).
Where else could you find a really bad boy? Almost anywhere, though I once picked someone up in criminal court – I thought the charge of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes was wildly funny. You might not share my sense of humor, but you get the point.
One of my charming companions pointed out that the problem with some of our female friends is they say they want gangster, but then date emo. Hint: if you want a fast date, it is a better bet to look for a filthy boy or dirty girl.
During our hunt Ana Erotica had an explicit and detailed list including all manner of details; we found countless people who matched. Her main problem is that she wants them to pass a literacy test – if she asks what they are reading and they say Miller, Bukowski, Kerouac, or Burroughs their services are not required. Too obvious and banal.
My comment that the man of her dreams is more likely to be found with porn or Guns & Ammo did not amuse her. And she makes a living writing porn!
Though recently some dude said he was reading Scientific American and she replied that her friend Byron’s work was described in the magazine and he knew the article and score! That bad boy probably wondered what hit him. We’ll never know cause obviously she didn’t leave her number behind; she didn’t care what he thought of the whole encounter.
Of course I myself seek true love and have eschewed bad boys with a firm hand, or at least, insist that our relations are virtuous and innocent. My point is that they are easy enough to find.
The larger question is whether you want to keep what you catch. Just saying.
Right about now a very large crane is pulling my steel canal boat out of the water to have her hull inspected, and then blacked. Scary!
I wish I could be there to watch – the whole thing is excessively fascinating. Too bad the marina isn’t on a bus route.