Month: November 2009

11.30.09 basics

Today, like every day in the United Kingdom, I am thankful to live in a country where standard medical care is free, always.

Yes, there are wait lists – rationing – and excellence is variable depending on your postcode. But the basics are all in place; nobody wants for an asthma inhaler, or refrains from seeking emergency care. Everyone can in fact receive treatment for all manner of chronic conditions, including a liberal sprinkling of drugs I personally would consider experimental or pointless.

The system is incentivized, but in a civilized fashion: as a survivor of a particular kind of cancer I’m not allowed to pay for drugs because they really really really <i>really</i> want me to take the stuff that keeps me alive and moderately well. The murky central organizing committee apparently reckons ‘free’ is a good price to pay for compliance.

Now that I have the permanent right to live in the UK I am safe, but I’ve been watching the move toward reform in the states with great interest. Not because I want to go home (though I sort of do) or because I am fundamentally uninsurable in a pure capitalist model (though I am) but mainly because my friends and family are impacted by current policies. I’m worried about my parents right now, and about what my kids might do in the future. You know, that whole ‘family as a fundamental building block of society’ rhetoric.

Of course I was sufficiently indoctrinated in the bullshit bootstrap ethos to feel that I ought to work hard for my money and benefits; but my instinct was that no amount of work could protect me.

The first Americans in my family only arrived there about eighty years before I left, and I can assure you my ancestors were primarily economic immigrants. They didn’t leave their homelands seeking adventure, or to flee war. They wanted food and land and opportunities for their children to be something better than working class.

I’m the result, one of the first in the stateside family to permanently move more than six miles from the pioneer homestead, go to college, succeed by the standards of the community I was born in. And I did exactly what they wanted without losing sight of what they sacrificed – though the family is not especially impressed by any of my escapades.

My great-grandma lived to one hundred; she knew and disliked me, and met my daughter. But she probably never imagined her decades of dodging deportation would directly influence me to choose a new life in Europe. Not exactly a popular destination if you consult the huddled masses and etc.

I’m sort of with her on the bewilderment, but for a different reason: health insurance. Complicated? Oh, yes.

Right now I am sitting around thinking about questions I am not equipped to answer, and the reason is simple. I don’t recognize myself in this scenario. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, everything that has happened, even the fact that I am standing in a kitchen in Cambridge England cooking pumpkin pie, I am still a poor kid from a peninsula west of Seattle.

I lack a sense of entitlement to the extent that I do not even feel comfortable typing up my problems, let alone talking about the intricate and interesting bits about moving to a new country.

Basically I feel like an impostor. Though all the evidence indicates this is my real life. Some of you have even met me!

Happy Thanksgiving.

11.23.2009 vow

There are two cliched observations about money that I never understood growing up poor:

1. Having enough to survive is crucial, and enough to play is important. More? Not just irrelevant to happiness, but actively destructive, because…

2. More money = more trouble. Tupak probably said it best as far as relationship woes, but beyond that, all those celebrities having absurd accounting problems? I get it now.

Fifteen years ago I took a vow that I would work only for integrity of the experience, not for material rewards, regardless of consequence. There were a few skint years (none of us care much for eggs, milk, or vegan mush after surviving on WIC and punk house hospitality) but overall the experiment was strangely lucrative.

Because I fundamentally do not care about getting rich, I have avoided all of the social traps associated with chasing money. Put me in any environment, be that an ‘important’ dinner or BBC live broadcast, and I will say exactly what I wish. I have nobody to impress, nothing to lose, nothing to gain.

Of course my purity is easy to sustain, since my job is random and theatrical. The audience expects the writer to misbehave, and I deliver, then make them cry. This does not pay vast sums, but it does pay (as my grandma would say) regular.

Avoiding the obvious and standard traps implied by matrimony and career but protecting the children and my own health required brutal, creative, and destructive effort. Observers might even say the emotional cost was too high – but I did it, and here I am.

How extraordinary and alarming; I ended up where I wanted to be all along. If you had asked me at age ten, this is the future I was dreaming about.

The only real penalty of autonomy? I am perpetually homesick, and there is no cure.

Today I’m making a feast while missing my mother, Marisa, Stella & Al, the forests and water.


11.20.2009 recce

Orphan Thanksgiving was cancelled for the first time in, what, a decade? Mainly because I could not face cooking for a crowd of fifty or more people who do not understand the tradition.

Still, I will be cooking for a smaller group, on a different date, at a secret location. Shh.

The main problem this year is the fact that cranberries and pumpkin are scarce to nonexistent. Some kind of crop famine? I have no idea. So it was away to London to look for a solution!

While there I also went on some typewriter recon (or recce if you insist) in the murky lanes of Middlesex.


11.18.2009 fleaming

This morning as I cycled in the city centre I narrowly avoided being crushed to death by a bus sporting an advert for the Dick Whittington play.

Oh, the humiliation to be killed by a panto!

Recently I was thwarted in my desire to purchase prosthetic hands, but consoled myself with a collection of antique teeth. Plus a silver tracheostomy tube. Oh, and some 19th century bloodletting equipment.

Or should I say fleaming? Whatever!

What a merry xmas this will be….


11.16.2009 chat

Today at the cafe I took my headphones off and instantly got sucked into a vortex of chat.

Specifically, someone tried to talk to me about irrational fears, and I exclaimed “That kind of cancer is no big deal! Don’t be such a wuss!” Strangers at surrounding tables stared in shock.

Ladychat FAIL.

Later I invested in expensive moisturizing products, only to be informed (by a helpful teen) that I now smell like moist towelette.


11.15.2009 nearby

I decided to buy a typewriter – found they are now archaic and expensive – remembered I own one – dug it out of storage and discovered it only needs cleaning and a fresh ribbon – googled for a solution – and discovered almost all UK typewriter repair shops are in Norfolk and Suffolk (aka nearby).



11.14.2009 remember

Tonight as we walked across Jesus Green I noticed one of my fellow boaters was out in the dark calling for her lost cat, and it struck me that I have grown accustomed to common lands functioning not just as public space but as my own backyard.

We use the space to play, eat, read, and cycle, ignoring the grandeur interspersed with grazing cattle and monuments to martyrs. The commons are more evocative of this university city than any of the closed colleges; I don’t know when I will leave, but I already know that I will miss them.

My kid, five when we left Portland and almost thirteen now, stopped to watch someone practicing tricks. He asked “Which of our friends ate fire?”

I know many circus performers, but he has only met a few. “I’m not sure who you mean,” I replied. “Bob? Remember, she lived in a house called The Palace, with a trapeze in the front room and a half-pipe out back.”


“Skate ramp.”

“Oh. So she lived in the most fun house ever?”


“No, I don’t remember.”


11.12.2009 bidding

Reading Isherwood, listening to Al Stewart, bidding on prosthetic eyes, and ignoring posh wanker undergrads: another ordinary day in Cambridge.

Exacerbated by the fact that my offspring just said I’m more like an arcade token than a trophy.


11.10.2009 menu

I just did the math and realized I spend more on coffee in a single day here in jolly ye olde world than I would have invested in a week of groceries in Portland. Huh.

This is largely down to the fact that the Northwest offers (whether you wish to partake or not) an informal gift economy of favors and hookups. When I moved here the exchange rate and high prices were intense, but the really shocking fact was that I had to pay at all.


11.06.2009 difficult

The grownup offspring needed to renew her U.S. passport. She reports it is difficult to do so if you don’t know your social security number, phone number, or the full name of your biological father.


Well, I mean. I know his name. I can even spell it!

While she was in the embassy I wandered around, discovering amongst other things that Mayfair freaks me out.

Mostly though I pondered the choices I have already made, or refused to make, or accepted by default.

Recently I was offered an opportunity that is tempting, but I am feeling fretful about doing something that doesn’t entirely suit. If nothing else, Cambridge has taught me that this is a valid concern.

But then again, Cambridge looked great – from a distance. How can you know if a new job, new town, new relationship, new anything, will work – until you get there?

And, somewhere just behind or under the ponderous practicality of questions like ‘where should I live’ and ‘how to educate children’ and ‘health care: entitlement or luxury? discuss’ is my essential inescapable reckless nature.

Cause you know what I think is really super fun?

Making unilateral life changing decisions without considering the consequences!


11.05.2009 nonplussed

This morning I had to venture forth early and skip my traditional morning at the Front Room. At a new indeterminate cafe I was tormented by conversation wafting from a nearby table.

What should we call the hipster version of Ladies Who Lunch? This subgenre is mercifully absent from Cambridge life….

Then it was time to accompany my elder child to University Open Day with 1.2 million teenagers, genus Wistful and Artistic.

This offspring was nonplussed by potential peers lounging in the hallways, but I pointed out that you should never judge a school by the ambivalence or ambition of the haircuts.

I certainly never would have finished university if I had been paying attention to such things.


11.04.2009 society

That kid I evicted from the Dundee House in Olympia, WA back in 1994? The one who lived in his van, or the woods, or squatted the dorm kitchen?

Tonight he accepted a prestigious award and presented his research at the Royal Society.

You know when you were a child, and some teacher told you that learning to write cursive with indelible ink was mandatory for future success? And how that admonishment was just the start of a series of inflexible rules about costume, behavior, achievement, and attitude? Lies. Every single one. The real secret to success is simple: you have to want it, and work. Details do not matter.


11.03.2009 black

I woke this morning with the somber reflection that even insomnia is more fun in London.

We had a late start over eggs florentine & coffee at the Front Room (mmmm, my favorite London cafe) before dashing around the city running errands and imbibing additional treats.

Then in the evening we accidentally attended the Oxford Street Xmas lighting ceremony. With Jim Carey pulling the switch!! Double ick! I didn’t know! I was just trying to buy a pencil!

Eventually we battered our way through all the carolin’ and wassailin’ and successfully purchased thirteen identical black turtlenecks.


11.02.2009 hope

Remember my fond hope that changing spectacles and putting the hair up would disguise my identity? Dashed once again!

Regardless, I’m away to London with a shoerack, an extendable fork, two computers, and one stroppy teenager.

Evidently my notion of packing for a fancy event remains calibrated at “whichever garment crumples small enough to fit in my pocket.”


11.01.2009 reception

What does one wear to a lecture and reception at the Royal Society?