Silent Slug

The “No Post November” that bled into more than half of December was totally unintentional. I’ve been overwhelmed, but more on that later.

I had a dream last night wherein I was at a summer Sunday school program… It was like a regular school class, but there were some people from church there and it was taking place in the church building. We weren’t studying anything God related though. Small groups were assigned different readings, and lucky me got an excerpt from some dense Russian novel about philosophy. I understood it just fine, but the names were a lot to deal with, and I was reading slower than I usually do. We came together as a group to complete some type of activity, beginning with several pages of short answer and fill-in-the-blank questions. Most of my group mates were flying through it, like they had seen the questions before. I had not seen them, and wasn’t expecting the format, so I was taking a long time on each item, especially because the names were so long.

Sidebar: I give shortened names to all the characters in Russian novels so I can remember them better. I had employed this strategy in the dream reading, but the follow-up questions used the characters’ full names, and this also slowed my progress.

I could see that two other group members were struggling as I did and that everyone else was fucking Speedy Gonzalez. I was beyond frustrated already when a group mate called us to order, like everyone had already finished several pages worth of questions and we could move on to whatever performance activity was attached to the work. I said I wasn’t ready, indicating that there were a few other group members who were in the same boat. A girl across the table took out a kitchen timer, set it for 17 segments (yeah, not seconds, not minutes, but some arbitrary “segment” of time) and pressed start on the timer that audibly ticked every second. I calmly but authoritatively took the kitchen timer out of her hand and threw it across the room. It went over the heads of another group, smashed into a corner, and fell to the floor. It stopped counting time without buzzing, and I, equally calmly, went back to work on the questions.

While this seemed reasonable both in the dream and in my waking memory of the dream, the response from the room was “gather your pitchforks and burn this crazy woman” level. They acted like they were in danger, like I was completely unhinged, like no one else in the group was as slow as I was, like no one else would have been annoyed to have a 17 segment timer set that TICKED IN THEIR FACE as they tried to work, like I hadn’t been putting in my full effort to finish as quickly as they did. They searched my bag to determine if I had any drugs or weapons on me. To add insult to injury, they took all my snacking chocolate – which I had offered to share! I was not sorry for throwing the timer, but I was feeling ashamed based on their response. I looked around for friendly faces (or even laughing faces because it is kind of funny – no one was physically harmed by the projectile timer!), but no one was offering any support, so I gathered my thing and left.

It should have been over then, but it wasn’t. Because it was a summer Sunday school situation, the pastors had to get involved… and called my mom. My mom, of course, was “on my side” because she understood how frustrated I was, that I didn’t hurt anyone, and that the girl who set the timer was obnoxious to do so. The pastors didn’t know me at all (and were more like school principals than pastors), so they weren’t interested in understanding why I had thrown the timer – or that I had no intention of hurting anyone by throwing it – and they were totally okay with my fellow students searching my stuff and calling me psycho etc.

My alarm went off at that point, so I don’t know what the consequences were. Like I said, even in the waking, I stand by throwing the timer. Who sets a timer on a group mate who has put in an honest effort and needs a little more time to finish? Yeah, you go on with your work and don’t let the slow person drag you down, but you don’t set a ticking timer in their face! In my past, I would have done much more than throw the timer to break it. Of course in reality I wouldn’t throw the timer if the situation occurred now – not to mention that I probably wouldn’t be the group member who was lagging behind – but I would be shooting daggers from my eyes at anyone who set one.

Anyway, the dream stirred up a lot of stuff from when I was little. I absolutely would have done something like that without hesitation. I probably would have followed throwing the timer with punching the girl who set it. (But again, I probably wouldn’t have been lagging behind ever…) So, yeah. I wasn’t surprised by my actions in the dream. It was familiar to me. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel tremendous guilt – not for what happened in the dream – that I was like that once upon a time. Being that way when I was young is one of the reasons I identified so strongly with Cathy in Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Even before Heathcliff comes into her life, she’s described as being spirited, her emotions always at the high water mark, a terror to her family but also sweet in seeking forgiveness. She is suited to Heathcliff’s fire. Linton’s milk-toast personality would never do. Sure, there are tons of other reasons I love the novel, but Cathy’s temper is one reason it resonates so deeply.

Anyway… I’m in a bit of a state this morning. Thankfully this particular state feels more productive than the states I’ve been in for the last :::mumble mumble::: weeks.

Overwhelmed, I said. I keep thinking of swimming/water/drowning comparisons, but every time I do, my heart physically aches for my former teacher and mentor who lost her first born in a flooded creek. While it might be an apt analogy when things in life pile up, it is painful for very real reasons that are not my own. So, I’m not sinking or treading water, but someone else who doesn’t have the same associations would say so.

My first term of graduate classes has knocked me around a lot, but that alone couldn’t keep me down. It’s the addition of settling into a new country. Granted, I worked hard to make this a reality, so I can’t say I don’t know how I got here or “whose idea was this?”. But there are so many hoops to jump through that I didn’t think would take so long – like the bank account, the National Insurance number so I can work, the background check so I can go into schools. It’s the unexpected lack of any kind of socializing because I don’t have work mates yet and most of my classmates are working full time and studying part time, so the last thing they want to do after a 3-hour dinner time class is shoot the shit with someone who doesn’t have much of a schedule. (Not that I’m a very social person, but you’d think a happy hour with work/classmates every now and again might be in order!) It’s that the program is really designed to be part time and shoving it into a year full time is scary – how can I propose a dissertation when I haven’t even had a core class? When I’m not even done with the Research Methods class? When I don’t have a school in which to conduct research?

All of that mixed with my usual anxiety and depression would explain my silent slug behavior, but that isn’t all. In late October, my NHS doctor asked me to try to wean myself off of the anxiety medication I’ve been taking for six years. I only take it at night, and I don’t take it every single night because I never mix it with alcohol. It is the only thing that has been an effective help to my life-long insomnia. Without it, I take upwards for three hours to fall asleep because I cannot turn my brain off no matter what. (Yeah, I’ve tried aroma therapy, warm milk, meditation, guided meditation, melatonin, over-the-counter sleep meds, prescription sleep meds blah blah blah. It either doesn’t work at all, leaves me feeling sleepy in the morning, or stops working after only a few uses). The anxiety medication helps with the root of the problem: my brain is too fast and restless. Half a milligram helps to slow me down. A full milligram helps more. In the midst of my mom’s worst cancer days, my psychiatrist at home trusted me to take more to keep panic attacks at bay. But the UK is different. They’re strict with these types of prescription medications, only using them for short periods in the most dire cases. I appreciate that caution, I do. So I tried throughout November to reduce the number of nights I took a pill in the late evening. You would be astounded at how fast my brain took advantage of situation and kept me awake for hours on end. Because I didn’t have any pressing need to hop out of bed early, I went back to a summer teenage schedule – stay up until ungodly times in the wee hours and sleep until 11. It wasn’t good. On top of sleep disruption and deprivation, the dark corridors my brain wanders down when I’m trying to sleep are not good for me. At all.

So when I went back to my NHS doctor – for free, which is awesome and cannot be overshadowed by the different attitudes toward certain types of drugs – I told her that the experiment was over. Luckily the information I had provided from my psychiatrist and psychologist in NYC was cleared by an NHS psychiatrist and my physician was happy to accept all three professional opinions in conjunction with my report of the failed experiment. She told me that the NHS psychiatrist was fine with keeping me on the medication given my long history of depression, insomnia, and anxiety, given the reports from doctors who have treated me for the last 12 years, and given that I have relatively successfully moved myself to a new country and am functioning (not optimally… maybe not even normally, but functioning nonetheless). Thank God! The adjustment back to medicinally induced sleep has been spotty – mostly because this time of year is a lake of bad memory quicksand and I’ve been fighting a cold for five weeks – but it’s happening. Maybe I’ll be less of a silent slug.

Offline I’ve written a little… enough to finish the hefty journal I started on the Fourth of July, not to mention my first assignment for formative feedback in my Research Methods course. The next mind bender to tackle is the only assessed part of the course – a 4000 word critique of two articles about emergent literacy. It’s not an essay in the typical sense. It’s not a test either. It is, however, very formulaic and the ONLY thing that my grade for the class will include. The evaluation system is another huge adjustment.

… and a recent development in things that are making me less than happy: the construction downstairs that begins to shake the whole flat at any time of the morning from 7:45 to 11:15 without warning or pattern.

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Still Life Poetry

Not “still-life” like a painting, not still as in immobile. Still meaning continues to be the same. Does that make sense? Nothing really makes sense for a while after a lecturer-led dissertation planning session.

I’ve written about myself as a poet before; what spurred a poem at different times of my life. What I’ve chosen just now to call Life Poetry doesn’t quite fit with either of those catalysts. Life Poetry is more about what’s going on in the moment, something that sticks to the inside of my skull like a gel that slowly spreads to cover the whole surface… maybe even like toilet cleaner (there’s an image – my skull as toilet bowl!) Life Poetry is less about emotional expression and artistic prowess. It’s part attempt at capturing the moment – maybe still-life works for that – and part humdrum, unavoidable life tasks.

Here’s one from four years ago, in 2014… y’know, the year I singled out as when the wheels fell off.

No Title Yet
October 21, 2014

          And what would we do without music?
When you’re 20 and plan things that happen,
No matter how incredible and magical,
And you believe you’ve met your soul mate.

When you’re 32 and can’t plan anything
Because life gets in the way
And you’re lost
But still know his in your blood
Despite giving up on him.

And when you remember the words of your Baptism,
At any age,
And those of your Confirmation,
And you think, “Faith! What a thing!”

The world splits in two:
The stuff of poetry
The stuff of logic.
People who cross oceans for the perfect head of hair,
Those who don’t.  

          So turn on some Joseph Arthur,
          Maybe “You’ve Been Loved.”
Have a glass of wine.
Edit the event program
And write a speech about your mom’s cancer.
Because everyone can see how strong you are.
Most people are terrified of your strength,
Including you sometimes.


This is one I wrote the other day after a brief visit to hell, which you might know as “Statistical Analysis.”

“Quants”
17 October 2018

Statistically, it’s lonely up here.
The Bell Curve shows
Outliers a clear picture.
“Average” is a good thing.
Deviation is okay,
As long as it’s standard.
It’s a numbers game.

I prefer words,
But they are no more comforting.
It is no easier to feel connected
Because I have more vocabulary at my disposal.
It’s just another demonstration of
how
lonely
it
is.

Does that make me elitist?
Does it mean I am forever
Figuring things out for myself,
Then helping others?
“DIY” stamped on my soul.
Does it mean I should be a leader
Or a loner?
Do I have the patience to
Wait for people to catch up?

Status Update

Do you hear the words in your head in your own voice as you read? In someone else’s voice? Not at all?

If you do, how did you hear the title of this entry?

Stay-tus?

Stah-tus?

Staw-tus? (Please smack yourself in the face if you heard it this way because you’re obviously a pretentious asshat)

The first is a Canadian and British pronunciation or accent. The second is good ol’ ‘Merican talk. Hearing or saying the word differently doesn’t change the meaning though, does it? If you’re used to hearing it one way over the other, it might take you a second to assimilate. When you’re reading to yourself, it really doesn’t matter how you hear it in your head because you know what the marks on the paper mean conceptually without the sound attached to them.

I took a linguistics course in college as part of my English major requirements. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much of what I learned, and I don’t have my notes with me here in London. They would prove very helpful as I read about phonemes, graphemes, morphemes etc to understand theories of literacy. C’est la vie. Maybe I’ll go collect the notes at Christmas.

In the meantime, I’m reading about four major approaches to thinking about literacy. I connected them to my own teaching practice, and, coincidentally (or not, if you think life is governed my some logical higher power), Timehop reminded me of a real world example that demonstrates I’ve known the theories for a while without realizing I was using the theory to explain events in my classroom.

Two years ago when reading aloud from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, a student read the word “barrister” as “barista.” I don’t remember whether or not I corrected her because I’m not sure the word was integral to understanding the sentence as a whole. What I do remember was posting a status update to facebook wherein I said trying to understand why the student had the miscue was a perfect example of why I wanted to study neurolinguistics.

I had several hypotheses, each grounded in one of the theoretical schools of thought about literacy. I first guessed that she was aiming for fluency in her reading and, therefore, was predicting the word before her eyes and brain actually finished seeing and processing the word. If I’m understanding my reading for this week correctly, this is a psycholinguistic or “whole text” approach. She wasn’t concerned with the individual marks on the page, rather she wanted to get at the big picture. Using her prior knowledge, she guessed at a word she is familiar with rather than a word that means nothing to her. I used the sociocultural perspective to explain why she went with “barista.” She was reading in a context: New York City teenager at a demanding high school. She is well acquainted with baristas while she has no reason to know what a barrister is. (Sidebar: I’m not totally sure I know precisely what a barrister is either! I know it’s a person doing something with the law, but I don’t know if it’s a trial lawyer, a judge etc.)

I didn’t go into cognitive psychology, thinking about how she was processing the single word by looking at the letters individually because I don’t think she was looking at the individual letters to sound out the word. Had she done that, she would have hesitated more and probably realized that the word ended in “r” rather than “a,” a completely different sound than what she said. Several years before, a student was sounding out a word letter by letter, as cognitive psychologists suggest reading happens. When he put it together and recognized the root word, he further hesitated and said, “I don’t like that word.” The word was “misogyny,” the part he recognized “gyn,” and his association was with gynecologist (which is why he didn’t like the word?). He didn’t know the full definition, but building up the pieces, recognizing a part of it, he knew the word had something to do with women.

The fact that I made all of these connections while I was reading shows that I read with links to my prior knowledge and awareness of my personal context, constructing meaning that is memorable because I connect it to something I already know or have experienced. Again, if I’m understanding the chapter, this means that I’m a very advanced reader (I should hope!)

So my current status is congratulating myself for knowing stuff I didn’t know I know. Hooray! Now you’re going to read something today and wonder if you’re using a psycholinguistic, cognitive psychological, sociocultural, and/or sociopolitical method. (At a guess, many of us are too tired and defeated to think too much about the sociopolitical approach *sigh*)

Whose Idea Was This?!

I mean, we all know the answer, right? It was my idea. It’s all my idea. Sometimes my ideas are brilliant; other times not so much.

This whole second masters thing was my idea too. It’s not my worst. It might not be my best either, but it’s God’s great joke that I love printed material and am also visually impaired. I have a deep need to be in print-rich environments, but it becomes physically painful to keep up with my desire to read everything. Okay, not everything. Everything that interests me. Everything that is assigned to me.

It’s not just tired eyes. That hasn’t become a problem yet, to my surprise. It’s more the postures I have to assume in order to see the material, whether it’s on my iPad screen, my 24-inch monitor, or a textbook. My neck, shoulders, and upper back are SCREAMING at me. I had hoped that rowing on Tuesday and swimming on Thursday would help, but I think both activities were more aggravating than soothing. (I also should have stretched even more every day this week, but it can be boring and time consuming.) So today I’m stiff and cringing… AND I’ve gained weight. But there’s more reading to do! Pain pills and patches to the rescue since I don’t have the benefit of a talented masseuse with magic hands who does his amateur work for free (or at least note in this country).

Eyes, body… what else hurts when I do what I am compelled by nature to do? Oh yeah, my brain! One of the chapters for my research methods class was so dense that I thought my brain was going to stop working. Yes, I am here to do research. Yes, I am here to learn theory. BUT I am not here to learn research theory. I’m here to learn literacy theory and conduct literacy research. Reading fortysome small print, no pictures or graphs, tiny margin pages of research theory that presented the basic tenets of laboratory science research alongside social science field research exhausted my brain. Keeping up with the terms, the pros and cons, the implications for project design, audience reception, and policy impact was slow. It also made me doubt myself, as I do, wondering if I was out of my depth. (Yeah, I already have a masters degree, but that one wasn’t research based and really there was only one semester of heavy pedagogical theory. The rest of it was practical experience and reflection.)

Cold comfort: my classmates also slogged through the chapter with great difficulty and were relieved to discover other chapters were easy breezy after that one.

Slightly warmer comfort: the Irish professor says it was the longest and most difficult section of the textbook we’ll have to read for any one class. (She didn’t make the same statement about the studies we have to read to show how we apply what we’ve read. In fact, she referred to this week’s study as “gentle” by comparison to the others… YIKES!)

Even in my brain pain, I am amused. In my first few years at the STEM school I taught juniors, and the curriculum required that I teach them the research process and they produce a research paper. It was not intended as a research methods course, nor was it meant to introduce experimental research. It was more to give them a sense of forming a question, gathering and evaluating sources, keeping records of their references, and synthesizing the information they found. In preparing to teach these vital skills, I couldn’t remember whether or not they had been explicitly taught to me. I don’t think they were. I think I was implicitly taught critical thinking skills, so I was able to strategize for myself when I was assigned a research task. Turns out that I knew what I was doing and teaching, at least according to the texts I’ve read so far in my research methods class. (Sidebar: I would pat myself on the back, but my neck and shoulder pain won’t allow me to move either of my arms that way :::cringe:::)

Also amusing is the fact that I’m now living all the things I told my students throughout my teaching career:

Learning is HARD WORK.

Learning IS NOT a passive activity. 

Learning takes A LOT of effort. 

Learning happens SLOWLY. 

Learning requires reading, writing, questioning, and collaboration. 

Learning is rewarding and fun! 

I experienced these truths in my own schooling, so I believed in them when I shared them with students, both in action and in words. But it has been a long time since I experienced all of them simultaneously for myself. It could overwhelm someone who isn’t naturally curious like I am, who doesn’t love a print-rich environment the way I do, who hasn’t inherited a strong work ethic from both her parents like I have, who didn’t seek out the opportunity to learn like I did, who hasn’t invested (money, energy, life path) so much in the program like I have. No wonder some students dislike compulsory school! If learning wasn’t their idea, they aren’t going to like it or see its benefits.

Head Space of a Head Case

I’ll start with a sidebar because I can. I didn’t know how much I disliked the expression “basket case” until I realized what it originally meant. As far as old expressions go, “shell shocked” for PTSD makes sense and doesn’t seem that offensive. It’s accurate.  I suppose “basket case” for someone who has lost all his limbs is also accurate, but the image it conjures is horrifying. It’s even more horrifying that we somehow transformed it to refer to mental instability (usually after a break-up). How do you go from quadruple amputee to depressed person? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. (Sidebar to the sidebar: a student explained “Kick the bucket” to me when we were talking about idioms. Aw. I miss teaching.)

I’m not a basket case, but I’ve definitely been a head case. I let myself be overwhelmed by the changes I sought, which led to lots of self-doubt. I self-medicated with too much food and too much TV. It’s not cute. I’m in a better head space now, but my nearly atrophied muscles are telling me the fog was real. It’s no surprise that I had a slump – big change always comes with problems. I think I wasn’t expecting it so soon though. I anticipated being busier than I’ve been, thereby staving off the emotional crisis of realizing I’ve been wildly successful in making meaningful change in my life. (Yeah, I’ve always been as afraid of success as I have been of failure. I’m beginning to understand that it’s a pattern of thought indicative of lifelong depression that I’ll never “get over” completely.)

But the frustrations have also been educational… for other people who might want to undertake an international move. Getting the visa is only the beginning, at least in the UK. The visa is the key to a room full of doors. Getting an NHS number is different from paying the NHS fee when you applied for the visa. (Sidebar: I will have more to say about the NHS in coming days/weeks, but the headline is that socialized healthcare is a dream to anyone who has had to deal with the shit storm of health insurance in the US). The NHS number is totally separate from the National Insurance number. The National Insurance number lets your earnings be taxed, so even though the visa says you CAN work up to twenty hours a week as a full-time graduate student, you CANNOT get paid for a job without first having an NI number.

It’s neither here nor there if you can get paid if you don’t have a UK bank account, which you can’t get until you are officially enrolled with the university…. which, for me, didn’t happen until three weeks after I arrived.

Did I know all of this before I arrived? No.

Did I know all of this even in the first week? No.

Did I maybe not learn all of this until I was here for three weeks thinking I’d already have a job and a routine? Yeah.

Oh, by the way, you can’t get a monthly cell plan, a gym membership, an internet/TV contract etc without a bank account. Thank GOD my flat mate is lovely and trusting enough to lend me her banking info. I guess that’s what comes from knowing each other for sixteen years. If I had to face all this without her help, I’d still be in the fog with no hope of getting out.

Now that I know what needs doing, I have various appointments with different agencies responsible for making stuff happen. It’s given me an opportunity to re-frame my thinking…. after some power stressing of course. Rather than continue to live in a state of constant (and largely unnecessary) financial anxiety, I decided to look at it as a good way to slowly get into an exercise and reading routine. The first term has the most face-to-face class time compared to the other two terms because I’m taking two classes, which also means I’ll have more reading now than I will in future terms. I’ve also been out of the habit of gym exercise, favoring walking (particularly while in Ireland), so I need to get back into that. Being forced to wait to find a job lets me do those things. So, good. Thanks, life, for forcing me to prioritize my physical health and my school work instead of money.

But school was also part of the head case head space because I didn’t know what to expect. There wasn’t so much of an “orientation” in the sense that I’m used to. I stumbled in to registering for classes rather than being guided to do so. I got handed a ton of info in booklets on the day I enrolled… Something that irked me because a lot of the info would have been useful prior to enrollment. Whether or not it was available online, I am unsure, but I was relatively attentive to my emails regarding my studies…. what with this being a huge investment and adventure and me being me.

Out of the fog now, I know I have two classes this term, one for three hours on Tuesday evening (I’ll figure out its content tomorrow) and one for three hours on Thursday evening that is a Research Methods course (nearly identical to the one a friend and colleague teaches to seniors at the STEM school where I used to work. That’s right, students in high school are taking a class that is a graduate degree level).  Other than that, I can structure my own time… to do the reading and writing, to have a job, to go to the gym, to fly back and forth to Ireland, whatever. It seems that many of my classmates are working teachers or school administrators and doing the program on a part-time basis, so the condensed class time in the evening and once a week allows them to live and work further afield.

There’s only one assessment for the Research Methods class, though there are “gap tasks” (read homework… fun euphemism? Clever re-branding? What’s in a name?) each week. The assessed work is a four thousand word (give our take 10%) paper due for formative feedback well after the term. The final draft is then due close to the end of the second term. It’s a lot to get used to. Good job I like to write? It’s kind of cool that you get formative feedback from the professor and a chance to revise with those comments in mind before submitting the final draft. It’s also kind of intimidating.

Perhaps more intimidating is the reading load, especially given my poor vision. But it’s not the bad vision that has gotten in the way so far; it’s the absolutely gut-wrenching situation playing out in the US. I’ve written about sexual assault before, and last week’s coverage of Kavanagh and Ford has been particularly brutal. It’s not just that anyone who has ever experienced sexual violence is reliving their trauma with Dr. Ford; it’s also the gross ignorance of the ubiquity of the problem demonstrated in Kavanagh believing he did nothing wrong. I’ve seen numerous articles shedding light on this tragic reality: aggressors carry on with business as usual because, for them, everything IS business as usual. It is victims who are left to pick up the shattered pieces of their trust, their autonomy, their dignity.

Kavanagh is credible to a certain audience because he really ins’t lying in his worldview. He didn’t do anything wrong, no matter what you call it and no matter how much or little he had to drink. In his worldview, he was behaving in an acceptable way. Anyone who shares that worldview sees it that way. It’s sickening, and it contributed to me staying in the fog for longer than I might have if such drama wasn’t happening. My only comfort is that maybe by having our faces so thoroughly rubbed into the injustice of it we can start to change how people respond to sexual assault, that we can start to change a twisted worldview wherein “boys will be boys” means girls are victims.

I started with a sidebar wherein I mentioned PTSD. It seems right to end there because so many women are facing renewed symptoms. My strength is with them. With us. Even if being “basket cases” after watching the news makes us “head cases” until other people recognize our head space: fear, shame, helplessness, loneliness, voicelessness.

Spearmint Mr. F

The last 18 months have been a lot of trial and error. I’ve been thinking of the last several weeks as a series of little experiments, which my youngest sister called “spearmints” when she was four. She kept asking to go on her computer to do the spearmints, but I had no idea what she meant. Spearmints have hypotheses and conclusions, so maybe it’s not the right name to choose. Then again, names and labels don’t always define a thing, do they? (Feel free to quote Romeo and Juliet in your head right now. Lord knows I have this week.)

Mr. F, for instance.. Mr. Funke? Mentally Retarded Female? Frank, that guy Tobias met at the gym? (Don’t get the reference? Maybe we aren’t simpatico.)

A few weeks ago, I riffed on the idea of “falling – I could fail or I could fly; either way, I’ll be fine” as part of something – maybe a poem – I was playing with. I then started to list words that start with “F”… Maybe I was learning something. Maybe I was tapping into a wave.  It’s not a complete thing, nor does it have any order. Did I get the first F word you thought of?

foray
freeze
frown
flounder
falter
float
flinch
flail
flip
finish
fuck up
freelance
flood
fool myself
frolic
fumble
fantasize
franchise
find
frantic
free
foolish
fire
folly
flaw
fleeting
fiendish
fulfill
fertile
fear
feckless
feign
foster
fondue
fess up
frank
facsimile
forest
flesh
farewell
foible
fan
fantastic
fantasy
fawn
forte
flow
favor
fun
filling
fetal
famous
fickle
fake
fast
fondle
feel
fabulous
forbid
flock
fox
fairness
flank
fuse
fetch
filch
filthy
frothy
fault
forever
foam
fullness
fatal
flame
front
flake
fluid
fondness
fetid
facetious
forgo
fang
fair
first
fist
frosty
filibuster
funny
funky
flat
friend
fume
fecund
fat
fact
fling
fecal
flounce
finance
fiancé
facet
forage
fanny
fluff
fate
flop
fasten
finger
final
frail
fur
filter
future
fix
Film
Flick
Fulcrum
Furious
Funnel
Flannel
Fry
Feel
Foul
Foil
Fowl
Frame
Flare
File
Field
Fellow
Follow
Face
Food
Flu
Fringe
Fiasco
Feral
Fee
figure
flush
Feasible
Frightening
Family
flower
Far
Frustrate
Furlough
Furrow
Fallow
Fuel
Female
floor
fight
flexible
feisty
flimsy
feather
frenzy

It’s 158. Maybe I’ll do something with those numbers next. Except that I keep thinking of more F words, including formatting, which gets messed up every time I try to add another word. It’s not flawless (please start singing Beyonce your head. Or not… “I woke up like dis. I woke up like dis”)

Anyway, the experiment of not letting my past dictate my present, not using one person’s sins to punish others (or myself) is going alright. It’s nothing new to be in constant dialogue with myself, so  a comfort in knowing that’s a fixed point to hold on to when everything else is moving.

The experiment of relocating across the ocean is also going well, even though it’s hardly begun. I still don’t know my class schedule, and every time I turn around, there’s another step between me and getting a job. There are so many things to put in the “that would have been helpful to know a month ago” file. Some of it is probably on me, but some of it is clearly poor planning on behalf of the University and the Home Office. If it isn’t poor planning, it’s someone not realizing that other people like to know things more than two seconds in advance.

But one of the things I’ve lacked my whole life is patience, so I’m getting ample opportunity to learn it. I’m also getting plenty of reminders that I do not, nor should I, control very much around me. I wrote several pages on that theme this morning at the coffee shop. I think my therapist back in NYC would be proud of how far I’ve come where acceptance (including self-acceptance) is concerned.

Rorschach Test

Civil engineering and urban planning are younger than most European cities, so that neat idea of a grid that I dearly love, especially after 13 years in NYC, is meaningless to me now. Though I’m more familiar with London than any other European city, I find myself getting all turned around, not unlike when I was in Dublin this summer. The program coordinator in Galway described the “urban plan” of that wonderful city as an “ink blot.” London being a million times bigger than Galway, it’s like a whole pot of ink spilled. Another way she described it was that someone would walk, turn, and decide to build a house, then another person would come along and do the same thing. Suffice to say, I’ll be exploring for a while. And Google maps with an unlimited data plan make me more confidence.

My new neighborhood is the busiest place I’ve ever lived, including the Columbia University campus and TriBeCa. I thought Astoria had a lot to offer, but I am spitting distance from anything I could ever want. Well, except a peanut butter banana protein yogurt smoothie, but there’s a reasonable approximation only 10 minutes away on foot. Movie theatre – check. French bistros – check. Indian food – check. All types of Asian food – check. Italian – check. MEXICAN – check (though I haven’t tested any of them for authenticity). Pubs – double check. Grocery stores – check. Drugstores – check. Farmers’ market – check. Banks – check. Coffee shops – check. Bakeries – check. Bus stops – check. Tube stop – check. Discos (yeah, I said DISCOS) – check. Hair and nail salons – check. Massage and facial spas – check. Clothing stores – check. Gyms – check. Post office – check. Bookstores – check. Everything really.

And a comedy club. Where James Acaster happened to be doing a show when I realized there was a comedy club. It was sold out, but I got in as a singleton who showed up to get on the waiting list when the place opened. (I call that city magic… it’s not just NYC!) If you aren’t familiar with James Acaster, be warned that he’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s quirky British humoUr, only moreso. Of course that means I love him. He’s a ginger too. The audience was maybe 60 people in a tiny room, very intimate. VERY funny. He’s working on his new show, entitled “Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999,” so he was using as guinea pigs. If I have my say, he will keep a bit about chat rooms circa 2000 when three teenage boys would gather around a family desktop and pretend to be a girl having cybersex with some old guy. Think of that scene in Closer when Clive Owen is catfishing Jude Law. I was almost in tears. Too real. Too funny. Check out his four-part stand-up series on Netflix: Repertoire.

I’ve had my first visitors too! Okay, so they aren’t here for me; it’s just a timing thing. A friend from church and camp is here with her mom and a friend, so I met them at Westminster Abbey for Friday evensong. Yep. On Thursday I was at a comedy club laughing about porn and on Friday I was at church. That’s just how I do. The service was about 45 minutes, no sermon, mostly music (as you might’ve guessed). It was peaceful and chalk full of tradition.

I’m here for a reason, right? Not just going to comedy clubs and church and meandering the winding streets. But school hasn’t started yet. The orientation events haven’t even started yet. I can’t officially register yet, which means I don’t have proof of my enrollment, which means I can’t open a bank account. It was a bit of a shock when I was jetlagged and trying to get myself sorted. I knew classes didn’t start until the last week of September, but I had it in my head that I would hit the ground running, looking for a job. But I don’t know my class schedule. And I don’t have a bank account. So I *could* apply for jobs, but I wouldn’t be able to tell an employer when I’m available or how to pay me. I get irrational and anxious about money, but I rode the wave of panic, reminding myself that I can pay tuition in installments and that I’ve paid my rent until April, so living a while longer without any income is actually okay. Once I really locked on to the idea, I’ve been going easy on myself and taking it as time to wander my neighborhood, get the lay of the land, look the right way to avoid oncoming traffic… y’know, the stuff you do when you move to a new country. It also gives me time to prepare to meet a shit ton of new people when classes do start. Oh, and do the “suggested reading prior to class”… yes. To read the books about reading research and research about reading. Definitely doing A TON of that. (At least I own all three books that were on the list. I have also cracked the spine on the shortest one to discover that it won’t be AS painful as it might sound.)

I’ve had out of context statements popping in and out of my head, like maybe the randomness wants to be a poem or a story or a manifesto, but it’s a bunch of tangled yarn at this point. It’s frustrating and kind of funny because the pieces are sometimes ridiculous enough to make me snort, but on their own, outside of my head, they make no sense. I might have just described ADD. What can you do?

BLACKOUT (week one)

At the Arts school where I began my career as a student teacher (and had you asked me ten years ago what I’d be doing now, I would have told you I’d be there still, maybe a homeowner, maybe married, maybe a mother, but definitely still there teaching my heart out and loving it even with all its snags and snarls… never ever would I have said, in the fall of 2008, that I’d be settling in to a flat in London in the fall of 2018 for a second masters program), when students missed class for performance rehearsals, we called it BLACKOUT.

You might also think of BLACKOUT drunks, but that’s not my style. I may not always remember everything as well as usual, but the times when I cannot tell you what happened or how I got somewhere aren’t in my repertoire. Passing out is another story, but we’re not talking about that today.

Then there’s BLACKOUT like the Summer of Sam, when the power grid goes down and everyone panics. I assume something far worse will happen when the satellites fall. I plan to be ready. Maybe.

Losing consciousness due to a head injury, mental illness, shock, and/or light-headedness is another kind of BLACKOUT. The times I’ve lost consciousness because of low blood pressure or the like were more like white outs though – things went hazy around the edges and then faded to white, not black. I did bang the ever-loving shit out of my head last Tuesday, the day I landed and was jet lagged and had only slept two hours on the plane, but it couldn’t have been that bad because I didn’t BLACKOUT… though I did have a headache for five days, and if I were bald, I’d be able to see the big bruise on my skull. Right where a headband would go. Maybe I should wear one of those ’80s ones that were padded. Or a helmet.

I suppose you could think of anesthesia as a BLACKOUT too. I. LOVE. BEING. ANESTHETHIZED. It’s magical to have my brain turn completely off. Anesthesia isn’t like sleep because I’ve never had any kind of dream while under anesthesia. It’s an amazing “off” switch – the only one I’ve found.

My lack of blogging may seem like a BLACKOUT to some who are eager to hear about the first week of my new life, but that’s not what I mean by BLACKOUT either.

BLACKOUT curtains, friends. BLACKOUT curtains.

My mind-blowing flat (thank you, Lor!) is on the American second floor (which is called the first floor here because what Americans call the first floor is called the ground floor… so many small differences add up. I may talk about the metric system at a later date) and is therefore entirely visible to people on street level, on the upper level of double decker buses, and the buildings across the street. The living room and both bedrooms have floor to ceiling Juliet balconies instead of windows, which is wonderful (it’s not quite notched up to “oh so charming” because I am not planting flowers in window boxes as I would kill anything before it could grow), but it also means sunlight and sight lines. The landlord fitted each room with a blackout blind, but lucky me, the one in my bedroom is broken and can’t be replaced for two to three weeks.

This was neither here nor there the first few nights I was here because I didn’t have a bed of my own. I was sleeping on an air mattress in my roommate’s room as she is local and hasn’t moved in yet. Now I have a real bed (though not the free bed I thought I’d have, but this week has been all about flexibility and spending money), I had to come up with a solution so that I wasn’t flashing everyone in north London when I change my clothes and the sun didn’t wake me as soon as it begins to rise. I’m happy to say I MacGyvered that shit! I used the box my bed came in and the box my dresser came in (oh Argos and IKEA, how I’ve come to lovehate you both) to cover the whole thing. Some light still gets through, but no one on the street, on a bus, or in the buildings across the way is getting a free show.

It isn’t quite BLACKOUT yet. My landlord ordered the replacement and asked the company to get it ASAP, but it’s still two weeks at the earliest. In the meantime, I have my ghetto fabulous box setup, and it makes me laugh.

Probably not the update you were expecting, but creating my space, ie my bedroom, is important, and having BLACKOUT ability is essential to my space. Anyone who has lived with me or who has visited my apartment knows that I like a dark, cold bedroom. I and a few others may have even called it my cave a time or two. It’s also important because it’s my home in a foreign land, so I want it to be comfortable and comforting.

And it’s getting there.

The status of the blinds and my solution are also good examples of how nearly everything has worked out this first week of attempting to settle in. I’ve had to be attentive, patient, and flexible. If I hadn’t already written about taking things one at a time, I would be doing so now.

One.

Thing.

At.

A.

Time.

And eventually BLACKOUT!

Tonight’s the night!

I’ve been re-watching Dexter lately… not because Christian Camargo (Rudy Cooper/Brian Moser/The Ice Truck Killer in season 1) looks like anyone. Just because, okay? So you have to hear the title of this entry in Dexter’s voice.

Now that we’re all on board…

I had things to say about shitty customer service, but the mood has passed.

I ate a number of feelings regarding submitting my resignation to the DOE, so who cares about them now that they’re in my fat cells? NOT ME! Full steam ahead. (That may be a Titanic reference. I’ll get back to you. In the meantime, let’s laugh about what I would say if I ever met Leonardo DiCaprio.)

I walked around DC, hitting the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Seeing the elephant encapsulated my childhood. It. Was. Trippy. It was one of many activities that reminded me how much I appreciate my mom’s decision to move us to NoVA. I know the choice was difficult and had a ton of ramifications for our family – and my dad’s future after my parents divorced – but I am grateful to have grown up here, grateful that both my parents are still here – mom less than a mile from the house she raised me and my brother in – and that I have it to come home to no matter where I roam or what other places also capture my heart.

Speaking of hearts, one of the people I met in Ireland met me for coffee after our program. We talked about the phenomenon of love at first sight. I’ve never been a big believer in the idea, mainly because I think love is a deeper emotion than can be determined by the eyes. That said, I’ve always felt like you could be drawn to a person for non-lust reasons before you know a ton about him/her. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking (and writing in my journal) about “the currents between people” to steal a phrase from watching The Alienist earlier this year. I think the people call it chemistry? I wrote a poem entitled “Chemistry” a while ago (I want to say maybe ten years now!)… I thought about digging it out to post here. It may even be on a flash drive somewhere, but all my writing was in one of the boxes that got soaked during my exit from NYC, and I haven’t brought myself to fully investigate if anything is unsalvageable. Glancing at it, everything looks okay. Maybe it’ll be a project if I’m here for Christmas. Anyway, chemistry or “the currents between people” and love at first sight and whatnot. Add to that a chicken and egg conundrum, and you have all the clarity of London fog.

The thing I wanted to write here today before I go to the airport is about God, which I know will be where some of you stop reading. My faith has been a big part of my life since I was very young. In recent years, it has been shaken and reformed, but it has never disappeared. As I set off on a new adventure that has elements of things I’ve wanted for sixteen years (living in London) and substantial risks (I resigned from a totally secure job!!!), I have been thinking about God’s plan for my life. How do we ever know? A friend posted a hilarious meme of a woman crushed by a road sign. The text read “I prayed for a sign from God.” It is NEVER that clear. There is ALWAYS massive uncertainty… which is why FAITH is different from KNOWLEDGE.

What I’ve decided is that the God I know – the God of love who created us in His image and sent His Son to know our suffering and die to save us from our sins (yes, that’s the God I grew up knowing. The God of the New Testament. The Christian God who is so grossly misused to hurt and marginalize people), does not want His children to be unhappy. He wants us to live our lives to the fullest because He created us for wonderful adventures. He doesn’t want us to hate ourselves and beat ourselves up for mistakes. He doesn’t want us to be uncomfortable in our own skin. He doesn’t want us to live unfulfilled, angry, resentful lives. He wants us to be joyful, whole, forgiving. He wants us to live in grace and mercy for ourselves and others.

Not to say that being depressed and anxious are sins or anything. Because I don’t think they are, and I don’t think God does either. I think that’s the influence of evil (or the devil if you’re so inclined). One of the things about Christianity that is precious to me is the idea that Jesus experienced all human emotions so that God knows exactly what we go through, hurts with us. He understands completely, and that is not what He wants for us.

Also, it’s not to say “anything goes” to make us happy. Obviously if hurting others makes you happy, I wouldn’t say that is God’s plan for you. I’d say the devil has a firm hold and you need to have a come to Jesus moment (in a Southern accent, and I’d mostly be joking because I’m not trying to convert anyone). OR this could all be me doing mental gymnastics to justify moving to London because I wasn’t strong enough to keep slogging away in the DOE.

But also, God is love!

So preachy, sorry. I’ve just been thinking about it a lot recently and needed to put it into the world.

Yeah. I started this entry talking about watching a serial killer drama and then gave a mini sermon. That’s just how I roll, holy or otherwise.

One Thing At A Time!

My dear friend’s son started kindergarten last week, and she got a questionnaire about him beforehand. One of the questions asked if her child could follow directions if they were given as a series of things to do. For example, “Put away the glue, then tie your shoes and check that your water bottle is full before we go outside.” My friend had to answer NO! Stated like that example, her son would likely do nothing; however, if the list is broken down and he gets directives one at a time, everything will (eventually) get done.

This one thing at a time method is not usually how I operate. I’m a planner even though my life taught me early on that planning is often a foolish, fruitless, and frustrating activity (OFTEN, not ALWAYS). Not having a plan, usually a point by point plan listed out so I can track my progress, is uncomfortable for me. Of course, this whole “time off” “gap year” “sabbatical” “hiatus” has been all about not having that kind of plan, facing a situation that terrified me in order to get away from a situation that was sucking me dry.

I tried to make plans during this time – big plans, little plans, day at a time plans. If you’ve kept up with the blog, you know that a lot of those plans didn’t come to fruition for various reasons. I learned a lot from that, lessons I’ve been learning for twenty years. I think I finally get it now.  I can have an idea of what I want, vague or specific, and I can have a strategy to get there, but I’m not in charge on a large scale. As I’ve previously mused, I’m not actually in charge of much at all. One of the takeaways from this lesson is that I have to go with whatever happens, even the things I may have planned for, because rarely does everything work out exactly as expected without hiccups.

This move to London is the perfect test to show me how much I’ve learned over the last year of being outside my comfort zone. I found out in mid-May that I had a seat in the program, but I already had a month-long study trip to Ireland scheduled. Since May 20th, E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G in my life has been

ONE

THING

AT

A

TIME

!

I have to constantly and intentionally slow myself down and prevent myself from the type of big-picture planning that is in my nature. I’ve also had to take it easy with the long lists I favor. The reality has been that I cannot tackle more than one thing at a time because the next action item is largely dependent on the outcome of the thing I’m working on. I’m also finding that if I even try to plan big, I get anxious and remember all the shifts in direction that have happened over the last year. It’s not that I’m afraid to make a concrete long-term plan; it’s that I finally feel like I’ve learned that doing so – at least doing so in a very specific way – will only result in what some people might call failure (but what I’ve learned to call flexibility).

Now, less than a week away from my one-way flight to London, I am still reminding myself to take it one thing at a time. It’s the only way I’ve gotten so much accomplished already, so I know it works even if it is against my nature. “Worry about today’s problems today and let tomorrow’s problems wait” :::breathe::: Okay, I can try to do that. So when I think of things like: will I have to get a new mobile phone? I stop myself and think, “is that something you need to know the answer to today? Or is making sure you have all the paperwork for the flat together for the realtor more important?” It’s about prioritizing without de-emphasizing the importance of other things. I don’t need to solve the cell phone problem immediately because I know my US-based plan will work in the UK as long as I’m willing to pay the extra charges. On the other hand, I can’t very well show up in London having paid rent for a flat without the paperwork to support my legal right to live there… that would be a disaster!

Another part of my brain says I should be able to solve both problems in a day – the cell phone and the flat – because I am capable of multitasking and holding a ton of information in my mind simultaneously. But I have a new attitude toward the concept of “should” and “supposed to.” Ready? Here goes: FUCK THAT! Who or what is prescribing this “should” and “supposed to?” I’m confident enough in my intelligence to know I CAN see the big picture and figure out the logistics to make it happen, but I’m also learning to love myself enough to know that I don’t always have to function at 115% (or even 100%), I can get everything done – and with a lot less anxiety – if I don’t try for optimal performance. That’s not to say I want to be mediocre, because I absolutely don’t. I hate people who only do the bare minimum. But I don’t have to push myself in a way that makes me feel bad about myself. Plus, the reality is that I have more to handle than two things, so it makes sense to prioritize and let the other things go until they are at the top of the list.

As mama says of any big task, “eat the elephant one bite at a time.” Less than a week until I go, and I’m taking care of stuff one thing at a time… do I need to go back to kindergarten?