exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

nothing you could put your finger on

by Jen at 8:41 pm on 17.01.2010 | 6 Comments
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

*thwack*. the sharp point of an elbow slammed into the back of my head and i saw stars float in front of my eyes.

sitting at my desk, i hunched low and kept my eyes down, hoping the teacher hadn’t noticed.

*thwack*. the elbow met my head again as she returned to her seat, ostensibly using the wall-mounted pencil sharpener. i did my best not to flinch visibly, even as the words on my paper swam in front of me.

crystal n_________. probably the smallest girl in the entire school. my tormentor.

hard to believe that back at the start of september, we’d been friends. i started sixth grade in a different middle school from all my old fifth grade classmates. at eleven, i was shy and awkward, with a choppy home-grown haircut, still getting used to my brown owl-like glasses. so when i recognised crystal from the accelerated enrichment class we’d both been in the previous year, it was a huge relief. we were both learning to play the flute, both liked prince and wore purple legwarmers. crystal had an indefinable edge to her, a coolness combined with the defensiveness of living in a grittier area of town – but i didn’t care. we quickly started hanging out together, passing notes, exchanging stickers, and even had a few sleepovers where we played 1999 til we wore out the record.

and one evening, lying in our sleeping bags in the dark, she confided to me that she was abused at home.

i didn’t know what to do – what do you do when you’re little and someone drops that kind of reality in your lap? i only knew that when someone reveals something bad, you’re supposed to tell someone in authority. someone responsible. and so i persuaded her to tell our teacher.

we sat in the teacher’s meeting room, the three of us. i don’t remember what was said, but i remember staring at the wall as if my life depended on it. i’m sure the teacher said all the right things, made the appropriate reassurances.

that wall was seafoam green.

what came after that, was a fury directed at me that blindsided me, spun me round with the force of being clocked. at began with a campaign of silence. crystal no longer spoke to me. when i tried to talk to her, find out what was going on, she looked through me as if looking through a ghost. my notes and calls went unanswered. i couldn’t understand what i’d done to make her reject me so completely. but she never let up, not for one second. from that moment in the teacher’s meeting room, with the seafoam green walls, it was if i had ceased to exist.

until, that is, she switched alliances. crystal and i had been a pair of oddball friends, but somehow less odd for begin together. everyone else in our class had pre-established friends from years of graduating up through the grades together. she and i had become friends out of necessity. but now she began cultivating relationships with the popular girls, currying favour with them through her acid remarks and brazenness. as the leaders at the top of the food chain, they admired someone who could act so tough. they took her into the clique, and she soon became one of them.

i’m not sure what she told them about me, but it must have been pretty awful. previously they’d ignored me – i was completely peripheral to their day-to-day, not even worthy of attention. once crystal joined their group, all that changed. they began going out of their way to trip me, sneer at me, steal my books off my desk when i wasn’t looking and hide them. to them, i was something for their amusement – it made them laugh to knock my flour on the floor in home economics class, or snigger at a private joke until my face burned red. it was crystal, however, who reserved a special kind of hatred for me.

“you’re dead. after school, you’re dead,”
the note flung surreptitiously into my lap read. i managed to leave unseen by the rear exit of the school, and walk home by the back streets that day. but she wouldn’t let up – she hissed epithets in my ear when no one was looking, continually threaten to beat me up, shoved vicious notes through the slats of my locker. and her specialty – the elbow to the back of the head with an innocent look on her face, while i swallowed the pain.

and day after day, i endured it in silence.

i don’t know why i didn’t tell anyone. perhaps i knew without asking that the adults couldn’t do much. after all, she was so sneaky about most of it, it was invisible to the naked eye. perhaps i assumed that without proof, no one would believe me. perhaps i knew any intercession on my behalf might make things worse.

when, towards the end of the long school year, i finally told my mother, i remember only this: she offered me a prayer. a prayer that i clung to, repeated ceaselessly like a balm. a prayer that did little to stop the bullying, but somehow felt soothing nonetheless.

god has not promised
skies always blue
flower strewn pathways
all our lives through

god has not promised us
sun without rain
joy without sorrow
peace without pain

but god has promised us
strength for the day
rest for the weary
light for the way

god has promised us
help from above
unfailing sympathy
undying love.

i don’t know why or how that was supposed to make me feel better, but it did. even as i stumbled home in shame, hot tears running down my cheeks when i couldn’t hold them back until i got home. it makes me angry now, that message – that somehow the torment of that year was part of my cross to bear, and that if i only believed hard enough, i could continue to bear it with god’s help. no child should believe that the cruelty of others is part of god’s will.

and i did bear it. sixth grade finally ended, and by the following autumn, crystal and her friends had moved into different classes. i was once again blessedly ignored, forgotten about.

but i’ve never forgotten about her.

as an adult, i came to understand, of course, why she turned against me so viciously, in an effort to protect herself from someone who knew her secrets. funnily enough, i was a threat *to her*, though even in all that grief, it never once occurred to me to lash out, or use what i knew to discredit her. i understand why she did what she did.

i can understand it, but even now, more than twenty-five years later, i can’t forgive it.

i looked her up recently on facebook, out of curiosity. and there she was. looking almost exactly the same, only an older version of the eleven year old she was. my stomach seized up involuntarily – it seems unbelievable to me that someone who’s lived so long in my memory as this feared image could be right there, looking innocent in her curls as ever. if her facebook profile is anything to go by, she doesn’t seem like she ever softened at all. i guess she might’ve had a difficult life if she was so hardened by eleven. maybe life didn’t get any better for her after that.

and of course, i wonder if she ever thinks of me. if she’s ever sorry for what she did, the hell she made my life for that whole year. writing about it now, the tears i never let her see then, still spring easily to my eyes. it probably doesn’t even register on her memory.

i wish i could say the same.

just like anyone – aimee mann

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the zen of running

by Jen at 6:57 pm on 29.09.2009 | 1 Comment
filed under: classic, photo, this sporting life

i am present present present only in this moment, this moment, this moment – this is the rhythm my feet sing out as they hit the ground, over and over. my legs, too short to stride, churn a simple beat. man has been running since the beginning of his existence, and i now tattoo the earth in the same elemental way. lungs fill and empty, synapses fire billions of small miracles as the trees rush past me. the change of season announces itself – there are chestnuts now spilling over in abundance as the leaves begin the cycle of decay, the dry burnt tang of them hanging in the air. it gets darker now, and the moon is a waxen balloon. waxing moon. waning trees. my body knows how to do this instinctively, no learning necessary, just the communication reflex travelling along nerves and sinew and muscle, guided by the brain stem. my thoughts get out of the way, and let the feet do their thing. i do not try to run, i simply do. and even as i subconsciously note the arrival of autumn, and the beginnings of death all around, my body has never been more alive and my awareness in each new second is only this:

i am present present present in this moment, this moment, this moment.

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do you not yearn at all?

by Jen at 10:44 pm on 7.08.2009 | 5 Comments
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

this is the problem:  i am an inveterate muser, hopelessly mawkish, sappy and sentimental.  a melancholy baby.

give me the right soundtrack and the right kind of afternoon-tinged sunlight, and i find myself tripping down that lane again.  the endless lane of what ifs and what could-have-beens.  the wonderings of who and what i left behind in my headlong, headstrong rush.

i rush ahead, for fear of being left behind.  and so i crash forward full steam, all the while looking back.  i make burn-bridges decisions, and then stand on the other shore, watching the flames and wondering why i’ve cut myself off from the mainland.

does everyone do this?  think about people they used to know and people they used to be, and wonder just why the hell exactly they turned left instead of right?

and maybe everyone does it, but probably few do it with my special talent for wallowing in the heart-filled heartsickness of wishing.  i revel in them, these waves of longing and ambivalence and memory.  i take immense pleasure in the self-centred act of surrendering to the waves.  allowing them to wash over me, drown me with their sweet sorrow.  it’s the beauty of a really poignant song that reminds me of an affair that ended badly, but was oh so fun while it lasted.  it’s the smell of late summer afternoons that brings me back to a place were i was once lonely, but which i filled with wine and poetry and hours of museums.  it’s the flashback to a quiet walk in the fog with a good friend, who i did not then know i would never see again.

see?  told you i was good at it.

i could turn it off, if i wanted to, i suppose.  i sometimes suppose i should – it has the effect of stirring me to disenchantment.  the present can never answer the questions of the past, or fulfill those old desires.

but there is a richness to those moments – holding pleasure and pain in the same instant can be exquisite.  a complexity that brings each feeling to its fullest expression. a pairing of acidity with sun-ripened sweetness.

and so i wallow.  i turn up the music, pour some more red, pore over old words, old photos.  i let my eyes fill up, just because.

because life is beautiful and sad and full of songs and memories that can make you cry.  because i am an inveterate muser, a melancholy baby.

much as i might dwell on what might have  been, i wouldn’t have it any other way.

do you not yearn at all? – the acorn

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there’s a pull to the flow

by Jen at 5:46 pm on 28.07.2009 | 5 Comments
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

there are some days as an expat, when you just wake up with your head in the wrong country.  you feel yourself moving through the time and space where you are physically present, but it feels like floating in parallel universe – there is a disconnect, a doubling of vision that you just can’t seem to shrug off.  a bout of wrong country-itis, like a feverish dream.  i’m gliding through my regular workplace, and when i catch a glimpse out the window, am genuinely surprised to see a london skyline instead of a boston one.  my brain has slipped into a different groove, like a record player needle sliding sideways with jarring effect onto a different track.  perhaps it’s a symptom of the similarity of big cities that allows your mind to play tricks on you – all the samey-sameness of crowded pavements, grey buildings and public transport, so that on any given morning it feels i could be heading to work in any generic urban setting.  or maybe it’s something about the light that morning that reminds me subconsciously of a particular previous life, and creates an alternate reality if only for a few seconds.  i’m not sure why it happens, but it’s disconcertingly random, and is the only true twang of homesickness i generally get these days, so it blindsides me with the intensity of it – the force of here and now crunching up against the mental holiday.

and as much as i keep shaking my head to try to clear the fog and bring the picture back into focus,  no matter how hard i try, i can’t seem to shake the hooked pangs of longing that have gotten under my skin and into my veins, trailing along behind me with the mist of memory, for the rest of the day.

blindsided – bon iver

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my favourite ouch

by Jen at 5:26 pm on 15.03.2008 | 3 Comments
filed under: classic, family and friends, mutterings and musings

amity just texted me to tell me my favourite movie, E.T. is on television. which is rather apt because i just got off the phone with my sister.

Back in 1982 when I was 9 and my sister was 4, my parents took us on a cross-country camping trip for our summer holiday. We went camping for 3 months, from Massachusetts to California and back. And while as an adult, I am ever-so-grateful to have had that experience, at the time, I was pretty annoyed – as any nine year old who had to spend the summer doing “educational” things would be.

So then, we got back from camping, and went back to class in the autumn, my friends were all asking, “Have you seen E.T., have you seen E.T.??!!” Because seeing E.T. was apparently *the* only important thing to do that summer, and it was one of the first summer blockbusters ever. I, being stuck in a tent for 12 weeks, had missed out on THE seminal cultural experience for my peergroup.

And since videos didn’t even really catch on for several more years, I didn’t actually see it until I was about 15. My sister and I finally saw it for the first time together… and, being 10, she cried. And I just can’t bear seeing her upset, I’ve never been able to stand seeing her in pain – when my little sister cries, I cry reflexively. So I cried, she cried more, which made me cry even harder…

She and I continue to cry every time we see it, in a kind of unspoken empathic response – much like the one that exists between elliot and e.t. in the movie. When it was re-released in 2002 for the 20th anniversary, we went to the movie theatre together to watch it on the big screen for the very first time. Within minutes of the opening credits, at the scene where E.T. gets left behind by his spaceship, I glanced over and saw her chin beginning to tremble in the darkness, and that was it – we both ended up sobbing our way through the entire movie.

And since my move to the UK, it has become a kind of symbollic metaphor for our relationship – my needing to leave, her wanting me to stay, the bond that exists at the core of us making parting deeply painful, but our lives inexorably drawing us in different directions. she is my elliot, and i am her e.t. and just as in the climactic scene of the movie, when e.t. says “come”, and elliot says “stay”, no matter how far away i may go, i need only remind her that “i’ll be right here”.

And that’s why I love E.T., and why i can’t help but cry every time i see it – as I am doing now. because my sister is so very important to me, and because it always makes me think of how very much I love (and miss) my sister.


as soon as the storm is over

by Jen at 6:57 pm on 10.03.2008 | 1 Comment
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

“it never rains but it pours.”

it’s been pouring here today. more than pouring – a violent lashing rain blowing under doorjambs, around window seals, down chimneys. a watery invasion, leaking in from around edges i wasn’t even aware of. this is marching in like a lion to be sure.

and it’s been pouring here as well. the list of things going wrong in the past few weeks continues to mount. a $1500 cheque is offically lost by my bank. the doctor who was supposed to refer me to another doctor, hasn’t – i have to go back to my gp and start again. the british psychological society still hasn’t evaluated my degree, and now that i’ve changed my plans i can’t get back the £100 i paid. work has, unbelievably, managed to get even worse, with no glimmer of any opportunities on the horizon. and this morning i awoke to the flat seeping water from all sides.

and me, helpless to stop it.

i know that these things arrive with a thunderclap and cloudburst. that sometimes life just sweeps you off your feet in an flash flood of problems, and there’s nothing to be done but to ride it out, surrender any illusions of control. and that eventually the storms will recede, and i will forget the sensation of drowning until the next time.

but today, i found myself caught in a downpour – soaked to the bone, face lifted in abject surrender to the sky, shivering and cursing the heavens.

jose gonzales – storm

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i want to drive it all night long

by Jen at 12:35 pm on 23.12.2007 | 4 Comments
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

in two days, i turn 35.

usually around this time of year, i have an annual grump about how old i feel. but even though i am definitely on the wrong side of the thirties now, i am making an effort to be more positive – on that note, i am totally stealing this idea for a birthday post from charlotte.

35 things i have learned:

1. it really is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

2. everything teaches you something, if you allow it to.

3. sometimes, you get what you pay for. can openers are not worth skimping on.

4. at any given place in the u.k. you are never more than 72 miles from a shore (thanks, “life in the u.k.” test!)

5. quality over quantity really matters when it comes to friends

6. everybody’s got their something.

7. the world is a very small place – i am separated from other people and cultures by far less than i ever would have guessed.

8. the metabolism really does a nosedive after you hit 30.

9. everyone should have one semi-impressive “go to” recipe that they love and have mastered.

10. life with a pet is 10,000 times better than life without one.

11. wine gives me headaches. to the extent that it’s not even worth drinking it anymore (

12. i think, at 35, i may finally be over the whole “being born on christmas sucks” thing.

13. relationships are work – but anything worth doing is worth doing well.

14. writing is important. writing is the act of creating history.

15. electric showers are a very, very bad idea. you only need to experience the bizarre sensation of being gently electrocuted whilst shampooing your hair *once* to be completely freaked out by all electric showers ever after.

16. you really can live very happily with very little *stuff*.

17. that being said, i miss owning furniture.

18. art is what makes us human. everybody has a bit of artist in them somewhere. too few people are ever encouraged to find it.

19. you never really ever do completely get over having your heart broken.

20. being kind is more important than being right.

21. i am never right as often as i think i am.

22. to say “i love you” is to make yourself vulnerable… but you should still say it. say it first, say it often.

23. kids are amazing, fantastic creatures – and yet there are still children that grow up without families to love them. that we allow that to happen is our single greatest failing as a society. the foster care system is a crime against children.

24. “marriage” and “wedding” are not synonymous. in fact, one has very little to do with the other.

25. we all need to be heard.

26. there are two kinds of people in this world: people who “get” running, and people who don’t.

27. touch is so important that babies can die without it. hugging, kissing, touching are all ways to stay alive.

28. never order from a menu you can’t read.

29. the first cigarette you ever smoke is the stupidest… except perhaps the one you pick up after you’ve already been quit.

30. money doesn’t grow on trees. people should learn how to handle money in school – it’s more important than learning french.

31. coffee is elixir of the gods.

32. the body is an amazing machine – but treating it well and truly appreciating it are struggles for most everyone.

33. 99% of people in the world all want the same thing – a better future for their children. while we may disagree on how to go about achieving that, there is more that unites us than divides us.

34. 99% of people in the world are good. no matter what the news would have you believe, there is really very little to fear.

35. understanding is the weapon. empathy is the antidote. hate cannot grow in the presence of tolerance. love is the only thing that matters on this shiny little marble. it is the truth behind every major religion, it is the only thing that gives meaning to life, it is the most important thing to cultivate, and the most abundant gift you can give. love is all.

and there you have it. 35 life lessons i have picked up along the way. maybe i have earned these grey hairs after all )

tom cochrane – life is a highway

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home, i don’t know where you could be

by Jen at 6:43 pm on 2.11.2007 | 1 Comment
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

I find myself tripping over the word “home” a lot – it always seems to catch on the tongue. There is a moment’s hesitancy, a split second pause between mind and lips. It’s a fluid thing this notion of “home”. When I am here, home is there. It is where I grew up, where my family waits, where my memories and heartstrings resonate, where the seasons match my moods, where I am in my element as a fish in water.

And when I am there, home is here. This is where my ambitions are rooted, where my daily life cycles and repeats, where I lift my head off the pillow in the optimism of new sun and lay it down again in weariness, where my husband and friends are present in presence, where my creature comforts reside, where my work and apartment and favourite cat are located, where my plans and dreams spring from.

Yet home is also neither of those places, for both are incomplete. *I* am incomplete. Wherever I am, I am longing for elsewhere, feeling the emptiness in me that no one place can fill. It is the hollow formed by absence of family and fall leaves, fragmented holidays and oceanic distances.

It’s a hollow that’s become a permanent part of me – and perhaps more than anything, that hollowness is the one constant in this transatlantic divide. “Home” seems to be, most simply, wherever I am not.

And I’m never where I want to be.

leona naess – home

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saying goodbye

by Jen at 2:01 am on 5.09.2007 | 1 Comment
filed under: classic, family and friends, mutterings and musings

i hadn’t seen my grandfather in probably 6 years, though i couldn’t actually pinpoint it. the last time i saw him was likely a christmas celebration, where i probably gave him a pair of warm slippers, or a thick flannel shirt – the kind of comforts that used to matter to him after his wife of 50 years had died, when the cold went a bit deeper, began to get through to his bones.

as i was growing up, my grandfather was never a very demonstrative man. he had been raised in a household of famous british reserve and stiff upper lips, and while we knew he loved us, it was my warm, bosomy grandmother who was full of perfumed soft hugs and kisses for the grandkids. my grandparents had moved from massachusetts to west virginia, travelled often, and were the independent sort of retirees who toured around the country in their custom rv, so we didn’t see them more than once or twice a year.

then my grandmother died. and suddenly, the importance of family was set out in stark relief for my grandfather. old grudges with his sons were forgiven. he started calling to talk, and saying “i love you” a lot. he began coming up for holidays and birthdays, alternating visits between his three children. grandpa became a fixture in our lives the way he never had been when we were children, with his endless war stories, his everpresent flask of whisky, his long distance van rides up and down the coast, driving 14 hours at a stretch well into his 80s.

no one was quite sure when the alzheimer’s first made itself known to my grandfather, because he hid it from the rest of us for a very long time. my grandfather spent his life as a private pilot and chemical engineer, a man of formulas and numbers – a man as proud of his intellect and independence as he was of his full head of thick dark hair. a smart man, who was, it turns out, extremely adept at covering for his loss of memory. dates, places, and names began to elude him, but it was only when he stopped paying his bills and began dissembling electrical fixtures looking for spy cameras, that it became apparent something was really wrong. that was four years ago.

since then, there has been a long, drawn out battle to get him into a nursing home. a battle which culminated in his being found by the police on the manicured grounds of the museum of fine art, late at night, scared and disoriented. a battle where he fought to retain his dignity and independence, and his family fought to have him declared incompetent. a battle for the remaining threads of his pride at the expense of his health and safety. a battle fought tooth and nail. a battle my grandfather could not win.

i spent the day with him today. we picked him up from his home – a “good” nursing home, but depressing and institutional and a place where people go to die all the same. we drove to a diner, had club sandwiches and chocolate milk for lunch. my grandfather was fairly lucid, and we talked about his routines, his roommate, his newfound interest in singing with the music group. as we drove through the city he once knew so well, he spoke of the houses he grew up in, the routes he used to drive to and from work, his anger at no longer having a car of his own. we went to the marina and had ice cream on the boardwalk, sitting in the sun, overlooking the boats, and my grandfather reminisced about what it used to look like when that area was only swampland and a small landing strip. as he sat eating his strawberry ice cream, wearing his heavy vest on a warm late summer day, his papery skin crinkling at the folds of his face, his eyes milky and damp, he spoke of wanting to buy a boat and sail the world. i asked him sail over and visit me in england.

i understand his desire to escape.

my grandfather is 90. i know, dropping him back at the nursing home, hugging his frail bones gently and kissing his dry cheek, that i may have said goodbye for the last time. or maybe i already did, when i last saw him 6 years ago – i just didn’t know it at the time.

i don’t know how you reconcile that within yourself. if anyone ever does.

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something inside that you wanna say, say it out loud, it’ll be okay

by Jen at 7:57 pm on 21.08.2007 | 3 Comments
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

i ran 15 miles last night. i felt invincible, unstoppable. i love the way that running makes me feel proud of what my body can accomplish. i just wish i’d always been able to feel this way.

like a lot of women (probably even most women), i’ve hated my body for much of my life. as a kid i was involved in tons of sports (soccer, ballet, swimming), yet i distinctly remember sitting against the wall in the gym during gymnastics at the age of 9, in my shiny blue leotard, hating that my thighs were thicker than those of the kids sitting to either side of me. it wasn’t just a passing observation – it was a burgeoning feeling of shame. even now, it’s painful to think about that sad little girl who hated her thighs. i wish i could go back to that time and try to protect her from what she would eventually do to herself later on in life, in the name of thinner thighs, as that sense of shame buried itself even deeper, growing like a cancer.

where does that kind of internalised self-loathing come from? certainly not my parents, who always instilled the healthiest of messages. who as medical professionals told us everything we ever wanted to know about our bodies, who brought me up on a steady diet of “free to be you and me”, along with plenty of fresh air, exercise and milk. it didn’t come from being overweight. i put on about 15 extra pounds in my last year of high school, because much of the socialising in my circle of friends revolved around pizza, but that’s the chunkiest i’ve ever been. so i’ve never had an actual weight problem – but that hasn’t kept me from suffering the full spectrum of distorted body image issues.

so i spent much of my teen years being embarrassed to wear shorts, but active eating disorders first reared their ugly head in the autumn of my first year of university, when i became severely depressed. as a side effect of that, i starved myself. i lived on egg whites, dry salad and cheerios, day in, day out, and nobody even questioned it. i often deliberately slept through one or more meals, waking long after the cafeteria had closed, and resorting to the box of cereal and coffeemaker i kept stashed in my room. i would take a small paper cup of granola from the yogurt section, and dissect it in my room for hours, painstakingly sorting through the seeds and berries, making it last until lunch time. i dropped 30 pounds without even trying over the course of 6 months. nobody questioned it. i had friends who were working out for hours a day, measuring their body fat at 3% with a set of calipers, obsessing over meals. in the background of that context, my quiet little disorder went unnoticed. i was miserable for a whole host of reasons, and i was taking it out on myself by depriving my body. mercifully, at the end of the school year the depression lifted, and with it my need to count out saltine crackers for dinner began to evaporate with the black haze that had invaded my brain. the following summer i fell in love, started eating properly again, and the world righted itself for a while. and for a long time, i thought of that experience as an aberration, a blip. the fucked up thinking of a fucked up mind, and something i could safely see receding in the rearview mirror.

but i fell into the disorder trap again, when i least expected it. shortly after completing my last marathon back when i was turning 30, i began purging. and purging, of course, is just a polite way of saying i made myself vomit. it wasn’t even even something i consciously started doing – i remember the first time was almost accidental- but before i knew it i was doing it every day, sometimes several times a day. i would try to wait until my stomach was growling with hunger to eat, then eventually lose control and eat voraciously. i’d feel disgusted with myself for being such a pig, then vomit, then feel even more disgusted with myself for doing that. yet for nearly a year and a half, i couldn’t seem to stop. it’s humiliating to admit that. it was revolting and painful and i hated myself more and more intensely every single time i found myself in front of a toilet bowl. hated what i was doing to myself, hated myself if i didn’t do it. i could almost see myself as an observer might – like an out-of-body experience. i’m convinced there is nothing more deliberately physically punishing or degrading than forcing yourself to vomit, and i am convinced that, had i continued, i would have ended up someplace bad relatively soon. i was scared out of my wits at what was happening to my mind and my body, my inability to end the cycle. i tried, unsuccessfully, to stop every single day. yet the day of my first date with jonno was the last day i ever put a finger down my throat. i think i somehow knew that i couldn’t have a relationship with him if i carried on hurting myself, and that finally flipped a switch in my brain. even now, years later, i consider that a miracle.

those are also two periods of my life that most of my family and friends have never known about. i never told them, and i don’t believe they ever guessed. and i write about them now, not as some sort of shock confessional or catharsis, but because it’s important to recognise just how dangerous and slippery and insidious these issues are. my parents did everything right, and instead of feeling proud and strong within my body, i spent years hating it and wanting to harm it. i am wildly envious of people who’ve always felt comfortable in their own skin, who treat themselves well – with care and respect. and i am sad for all the years i wasted feeling repulsed every time i looked in the mirror. truth be told, it’s something i still struggle with in my head – feeling good about yourself shouldn’t be that hard. running is my reminder that i can be a healthy, happy, and capable being, no matter what i look like.

i have young nieces who will grow up surrounded by messages that equate their self-worth with their looks, and even more directly with their weight. raised in the shadow of media that take more photos of people the skinnier they are. industries that make make millions off of women who torture themselves. i would give absolutely anything to protect them from feeling the way i felt, or falling into the habits i did. the problem is, of course, that you can’t. it can’t be externally imposed. it’s scary to know that you have so little influence or control.

it’s difficult to talk about. if it’s hard for me, how much harder for others?

but going home on the tube one evening, one of the free rags had a 3×3 closeup photo of jennifer lopez’s buttock, and the caption pointed out that even she, one of the world’s most celebrated bodies, had cellulite. i admit to feeling some sense of vindication – joy in photographic evidence that perfection doesn’t exist, and never has. it’s all just an illusion after all, this idea that if we just exercise enough self-abnegation… if we just work out long enough, and eat nothing but cabbage, and whiten our teeth and wax our bikini and wear enough makeup and the right clothes… if only, we too can be perfect. yet i’d still rather live in a world where the myth isn’t perpetrated to begin with – where we don’t have to build “perfect” up, just to savagely tear it down.

a world where little 9 year old girls don’t hate their thighs.

knapsack – less than

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i bet that you look good on the dance floor

by Jen at 8:26 pm on 21.07.2007 | 2 Comments
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

last night i went to the lovely nicole’s birthday drinks over at south london pacific, and after a few umbrella drinks towards the end of the evening, a few classic motown songs came on. motown has had a special place in my heart since i was 12 and spent a whole year indoctrinating myself with aretha, marvin, diana and all the classics. and they’re fun as hell to dance to.

i was a real late bloomer when it came to dancing, far too self-conscious thinking that people were watching me, believing i had to do it “right”, and coming across awkward and stilted as a result. i was one of those kids who could never learn to moonwalk or do the cabbage patch, no matter how much i practiced in the privacy of my bedroom. i was convinced that i just had no rhythm, thanks to a steady diet of folk music and talk radio from my parents. they had no rhythm, so it made sense that i had none either. other kids loved school dances – i counted myself lucky that i managed to avoid almost all of them.

but it was motown that finally taught me to love dancing. when all the other kids my age were obsessed with duran duran, i was listening to smokey robinson and the miracles, and diana ross and the supremes. the temptations, gladys knight and the pips, stevie wonder, martha and the vandellas, the four tops… i could sing all their songs by heart. and somewhere in there, i found i liked dancing to them. to my surprise, i discovered that, in spite of my obvious genetic disadvantage, i *could* follow a beat and move my feet in time to the music.

the only problem was, they weren’t exactly playing motown to kids wearing legwarmers and madonna-inspired bracelets, and i was still painfully shy. thus for many years, my dancing prowess was never seen outside the confines of the bedroom i shared with my sister. i made it through the embarassment of junior and senior proms only because the guys i went with were even more self-conscious dancers than i was.

all that changed, however, when i married a guy who loved dancing. his family was full of music and he liked to say he grew up falling asleep behind the speakers in the discos. and he was a good dancer – the kind of guy who catches your eye on the dance floor with his confidence and smooth moves. the kind of guy whose greatest skill comes from effortlessly making his partner look good. if there was music, he was dancing – and he wanted me to dance with him.

time and again, over my reluctant protest, he’d drag me out onto the floor. and i’m not sure when it happened, but at a certain point, his confidence became contagious. i looked around one day and suddenly realised that no one was watching how i danced, or comparing skills, because they were all too busy having *fun*. some of them weren’t even very good, but they were having a much better time than i was. i stopped caring about what other people thought, and began to enjoy myself. and as i learned to relax, i became a better dancer. i learned to wind and grind, drop my waist and shake my hips, work my way down to the floor and back up again. i even learned to hustle, twirl and dip. i learned to enjoy dancing with strangers, both pursuing and being pursued. i learned to enjoy dance as flirtation – all sweaty closeness, sexual innuendo and bass beats.

i haven’t been dancing in a while – the clubs are full of shitty techno kids on drugs, and standing in a queue being evaluated by bouncers is not my idea of a good time. j’s not a dancer and pretty much refuses to dance in public unless it involves crowd surfing and a mosh pit. the last time i went dancing, strangely enough, was in a restaurant in la paz, bolivia.

so when one of my favourite all-time motown songs came on last night, and i jumped up and ran to the dance floor, it made me realise just how much i miss it. i’ve gone from dreading it to loving it to bemoaning its absence in my life. who would have believed it? not the geeky girl hanging out in her bedroom trying to moonwalk for most of 1984, that’s for sure.

fontella bass – rescue me

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last stop… canada

by Jen at 2:40 pm on 17.07.2007 | 6 Comments
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

it’s a strange kind of limbo i find myself in these days. it feels like coasting. for the past few years i’ve had one goal after another that i was working towards, and to not have something just on the horizon feels strange. first there was moving to the uk, then getting a work permit. no sooner had i done that than j and i got engaged, so there was getting married, then the planning of the world tour, then the touring, then coming home and getting re-established.

but now that all’s been said and done, these days i just feel… aimless. yeah, i know there’s the plan for the move to canada, but that still seems so far off. and if i’m honest, i’ve avoided thinking much about it up until now.

here’s the thing about canada: i’m not ready yet. j talks about it eagerly, and as much as i do want to move, hearing him daydream about it makes my stomach knot up. to me, canada feels like the last stop: settling down, buying a house, staying put. and there are attractive qualities to that, but it also means giving up other things. freedom, and friends, ease of travel, and an element of escapism. i worry about whether it’s worth the tradeoff.

as much as i can moan about living here, it’s okay as long as i know i have the option of going somewhere else. i like keeping my options open. in a perverse way, i feel more secure knowing that i’m tied to almost nothing, because then, there is still the potential for anything – no avenues are closed to me. which makes no sense at all, but there you have it. the possibility of getting stuck someplace with no easily available exit strategy makes me claustrophobic. because what if i get there and it turns out to be a huge mistake?

i know what you’re going to say: you can always sell a house, move again, travel during your vacation time. intellectually i know all that’s true.

but there’s more than that. there’s going through letting go again. i ditched everything to move here, and even as i did it, i had no idea how much i was actually sacrificing. i don’t know if i can do that again, knowing what i know now. knowing how hard it is to rebuild a life from scratch. knowingly cast away friendships and family, for a change of scenery. or rather, i know now that i can – but i no longer know if i’m willing to. it’s just not as easy as i thought it would be.

so i avoid thinking about canada. and there are no other big goals looming in the immediate future. so i go to work, come home, pay the bills, and relax on weekends. the weeks cycle by in rapid succession, calendar ticks over rhythmically. and i go to work, come home, pay the bills, and relax on weekends. i look forward to vacation. it’s all rather desultory. i mean, i know this is what people do. this is what i used to do. i just haven’t felt this purposeless in a long while. there is no “next big thing”. more importantly, what if there never is?

it scares me to think that this could be a preview of life in canada. that settling down, staying put and being responsible means there is no “next big thing”. i’ve done desultory. i’ve been mundane. i’ve gotten up, gone to work, come home, paid the bills, and relaxed on weekends. that was my life before i came here. but i’m not ready for there to be no “next big thing”. not now, not yet.

maybe not ever.

canada – beige stationwagon

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the strangers whose faces I know

by Jen at 9:36 pm on 11.06.2007 | 1 Comment
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

i came home this afternoon to find a card from my friend jo lying with the post on the floor. inside she wrote that she’s having another baby in november. which means she’s 4 months pregnant already.

i tried grasping at happiness, tried to react the way a good friend should when someone shares joyous news… but my heart just sank. the gulf that is not the atlantic between us has widened just a little further – a distance measured not in miles or years, but trajectory. as in einstein’s theory of relativity, it’s hard to know who is moving away, and who is standing still, and if it even matters when the person you love gets smaller every time you look over your shoulder.

i have spent some time mourning the friendships i left behind in the u.s., but it took me a long while to realise they were dying. i didn’t know then that by leaving them, i was letting go of them. forfeiting by default. i didn’t know. nobody told me that would happen, or nobody made me believe it anyway, and i’m not sure that if i knew, i would have gone.

i’m also not sure i wouldn’t have. i’ve often traded the known for the unknown, without knowing why. a deep-seated impulse defying examination or explanation. maybe the defiance *is* the impulse. or the explanation.

and i know, too, holding fast with both fists is not an act of preservation. the world spins on in spite of me, and perhaps i was always on a different course anyway – like a boat tacking through the eye of a wind, a pivotal turn or decision setting me in an unforseen direction, the only real question: will i be forcibly pushed or allow myself to be carried? there is a difference. even staying put, nothing stays still.

the shift has been infinitesimally incremental, and the same time seismic. tectonic plates drifting past each other towards opposite sides of the world. me in my boat of defiance, helpless to get back to where we were, when things were aligned and we were both looking in the same direction. we’re victims of the little earthquakes that change our internal landscape, and in doing so, change everything.

or maybe it’s just me.

and so i try to recalibrate, adjust. point the compass north again towards the only thing i know to be true: i could not be anyone else, anywhere else. still – i feel so lost when i see my familiars receding into pinpricks on a horizon an ocean away. i’m lost and losing and tearful of salty sadness.

awash and at sea and alone.

the weakerthans – left and leaving

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drifting through days

by Jen at 5:07 pm on 3.06.2007Comments Off
filed under: classic, mundane mayhem

it’s another lazy sunday afternoon, and once again i am beleaguered by sotto voce messages of guilt for squandering a full day. at times, doing nothing with my weekend makes me feel incredibly wasteful. profligate with something valuable. it’s no mistake that we “spend” this resource we call time, as if there were monetary amounts attached to each second.

and i usually do start out friday evening chock full of ideas. earnest notions of movies, picnics, shopping, assorted cultural events are invisible notations in a mental diary, bookmarking a genuine intent to take advantage of the city i am so fortunate to have outside my door. and occasionally those plans do come to fruition. some weekends i do make it to the museum or the cinema. some mondays i actually do have something of interest to report back when work colleagues dutifully ask, “how was your weekend?”

but more often i find myself frittering away the days with mundane errands: filling the fridge, emptying the clothes hamper, wrangling with dustbunnies takes more time and effort than i had anticipated or alloted. the crap of daily life that i don’t manage to get to during the week surreptitiously co-opts the day, stealing away my jeaously guarded hours of free time. it invades my carved out space, infiltrates, obliterates. at the end of the weekend, i may have stocked cupboards and a clean house, but precious little else to show for it.

or alternately, i am waylaid with inertia, a molasses-like lassitude invading my muscles – watching time drip away minute by minute from comfort of the couch, playing languidly with the cat, lounging at a friend’s house eating crisps and drinking beer. nothing you can really put your finger on occupying the day, nothing you could say you *did* with purposeful intent – only that which seemed to loosely coalesce around the weight of gravity which seems to have overtaken the body. and the only advantage of this lethargy is that it slows the clock’s inexorable march towards monday morning, stretching the hours out into long, drowsy far-away horizons which take their sweet time in arriving.

still, there is luxury in indolence, and i am only too aware that i am lucky to have free time to indulge in, no matter how foolishly or carelessly i scatter it to the winds. i find security in the knowledge that there will be another 48 hours of freedom in just five short days, so i can take it for granted. and there is comfort in routine – the virtuous saturday morning run, followed by jonno cooking breakfast and making coffee. the predictable hum of the washing machine every sunday at dinner time producing a stack of freshly laundered towels. the shared trek to the grocery store, where we dance the same dance amongst the familiar aisles every week. it’s soothing to have our small intimate patterns of couplehood, as boring as they are.

but there remains that quiet, nagging voice at the back of my head that surfaces in the evenings as i contemplate the arrival of another work week, which insistently reminds me of all the things i was going to do, all the things i was meaning to accomplish. the voice which points out the opportunities gone by, the events i never quite got to – the same voice which started friday with so much enthusiasm, now turned critical and harping.

and i do what i always do: fold my clothes into the dresser, plop down on the couch, turn on the television, crack open a beer, and tell it to shut the fuck up.

erykah badu – time’s a wastin’

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you can fool yourself, and maybe someone else like me

by Jen at 7:12 pm on 27.04.2007 | 3 Comments
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

tomorrow is my friend beth’s birthday. i always remember her birthday because it comes right after my sister’s birthday, and at one point she and my sister were probably the people i was closest to in the world.

beth and i met shortly after i first moved to new york. i was working in a residence for people with learning disabilities, and she was the newly appointed assistant manager. it was a shitty job – the kind of shitty job you have to do in certain fields before you get to move up to non-shitty jobs. the kind of job where most of the staff don’t care, and the managers even less so. except for her. working with people with learning disabilities just made her eyes light up. she happily gave up her evenings and weekends without pay, because to her it wasn’t a sacrifice to do something she loved. it set her apart.

beth’s work was also an escape from her homelife – a life full of drama and abuse that she never seemed to be able to free herself from. there was a long-term wifebeater named tommy – the stereotypical hard-drinking irish guy who’d slap her around and stomp on her soul. there was a cold, distant mother that never really cared to begin with, and only used her improbably successful daughter to boost her own ego. there were the stray animals she was forever taking in and nurturing through long nights of sickness, nursing them to health. there were fights and abortions and depression and more fights.

i’m not quite sure how or why she and i became such close friends through all of this. i suppose because we were both had a similar innate, shoot-from-the-hip sensibility. maybe because we both had a crude sense of humour and a tough-girl facade. most likely, above all else, because i was a sympathetic ear for the never-ending soap opera that was her life. in retrospect, she needed me to be a rock, and i needed to be needed. she was, by turns, kind and caring and effusive and a incorrigible liar. the kind of liar who confides in you about the lies they’ve told others, yet still expects you to believe in truth. it was never malicious, or even intentional – she lied to get help from the people she didn’t think would help her, because she didn’t think she deserved to be helped. she intuitively used people – but she did it with such fragility and open need that you had to forgive her for breaking your heart, even as you picked her up off the floor.

after several long years, she finally left tommy. i helped her move out. and then she decided to make a clean break of it altogether and move to louisiana. something about the heat and the languid pace drew her there. there were tears and exchanges of rings and hours of long-distance phone calls. in the end, she spent two years waitressing nights at a bar and grill chain in lafayette, declared bankruptcy, wore herself into the ground like a used cigarette butt, and finally decided to move back. when she was getting ready to move back to brooklyn, i flew down to help her drive the van back. we spent a weekend in new orleans drinking, dancing, getting tattoed and watching sunrises over the mississippi.

after moving back to new york, i helped her get a job working in my department as a care manager for people with learning disabilities. it was a job she was ill-suited for, and she hated it – i always felt guilty about that, and covered for her lapses more than i should have. in the meantime, tommy had been replaced by rob – different name, same manipulative, controlling personality. she drew them to her like flies, men who saw a vulnerability to exploit – like a warm open mouth waiting for a kiss and getting a left hook instead. there were more arguments and abortions and depression. she eventually took a job as a veterinary assistant, and wept every time she had to euthanise an animal. she was in a bad way.

eventually, finally, she began seeing a therapist. she started her own pet-taxi service. she broke up with rob. and for a while, she balanced without training wheels, riding wobbily along, but riding nonetheless.

the problem was when she looked down and realised there was nothing holding her up but herself. that, of course, was when she crashed. it’s easier to believe in gravity than your own strength.

i was living in boston then. it was the day that i’d finalised my divorce, and i came home, put on pyjamas and crawled into bed at seven o’clock, hoping for sweet, oblivious sleep. so when the phone rang at nine, i almost didn’t answer it. and of course, it was beth – in the throes of suicidal despair. telling me all about the note she’d written, the pills in her hand. the connection kept dropping as my cordless phone battery died, and then hers. she told me she was taking the pills. i told her i was calling the police. i called the police. i sat on the phone with her waiting for them to arrive. she pretended to be mad, but never hung up. i hung on.

one of the many ways beth bent her life, twisted the people in her life, was to never have any of her friends meet. so i never met her friend marnie, who called me a few days later and told me beth was okay, was getting out of the hospital, was on anti-depressants, was staying with her for a few weeks. i had no way to contact her

she called me a few months later. she sounded good. we talked only a few times after that, and i knew she was getting back together with rob. whenever she did something she thought i wouldn’t approve of, she laid low and avoided talking to me. i don’t know why she needed my approval. i don’t know why i needed to approve.

and then, suddenly, i was moving to london. i rang her up, made a special trip to new york to see her before i left. i was staying with my friend jo, and when i arrived and called her to meet up, she told me she was moving apartments that weekend, but she’d call me back later that night after she was settled. she never called back, never answered my calls.

and i haven’t seen or spoken to her since. i often wonder if she’s still alive. when i google there’s not a trace of her, except as the name of a character from the old t.v. show “dallas”. and some part of me has to wonder if she lied about that too.

but for all her faults, beth was my dear friend. and i miss her.

happy birthday beth, wherever you are.

the jealous sound – naive

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as i plant tomatoes on easter sunday

by Jen at 2:25 pm on 8.04.2007 | 2 Comments
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

kalanchoe, variegated coleus, rhododendron, geranium, alyssum, verbena, bromeliad, succulent… the latinate language of music to a frustrated gardener.

since sprouting marigolds in paper cups as a little girl, i’ve loved growing things. my mother’s own enthusiasm for amateur botany was woven through the tapestry of my childhood memories – forest walks spent exploring the hidden life of the undergrowth, the overexuberant vegetable garden in the backyard, the patiently rooted cuttings with their delicate tendrils perpetually on the windowsills, waiting to be gently transplanted into pots. and she loved teaching me the names – identifying well known species aloud, looking the unfamiliar up in reference guides, fostering curiousity, honoring nature.

yet it’s only recently that i’ve begun to recognise the roots of that same affection within myself. moving back to boston in my late twenties was the first time i began to cultivate it – i had just moved into the first floor of a two family house, and was still idly looking for a job, when i began to try to tame the vast overgrowth of my new backyard. pretty soon, i found myself esconced in an old neglected corner plot of the yard, just aching to be renewed and replanted. i spent hours in the springtime muck, excavating thick weeds and wild grasses, hacking away dead vines and old stumps, combing through stones and preparing the beds. after investing so much energy in the preparation, i set out a diagram of vegetables and flowers – that first spring i installed tomatoes, beans, sunflowers, daylilies, basil, snapdragons and daisies. every afternoon that summer, i would come home from work, carefully search out any weeds, attach the hose to the sprinkler, and sit in the sun with a beer and the paper while the plants drank deeply from the soil.

still, it took me by surprise when it happened. under my watchful, industrious care, things actually began to grow. tiny bipalmate shoots emerging from a single seed. fragile roots multiplying and strengthening. stretching upward, gaining height every day. flowering, pollenating, fruiting. it fascinated me as nothing short of miraculous, like one of those time-lapse nature specials unfurling in real time right before my eyes. from nothing to something to abundance. the worms as allies, the bees as guardians.

i became a gardner in earnest. i pruned and mowed and tended that yard with such devotion. i carefully sculpted the old rhododendron back into shape, untangled the surprising grape vines covering the fence, sewed up the gaps of lawn with green, and ruthlessly executed any interloper weeds with the vengeance of a woman possesed. i created a small herb plot full of fresh thyme and rosemary. i cordoned off a large wildflower patch, strewn with poppies, columbine and nasturtium. i barbequed at weekends, gathered fresh bouquets of blooms, and watched the dog roll around in the grass with abandon. i pinched back even when i hated to, fertilised prudently, set out booby-traps for slugs. i dragged out the mower every summer, and stored the hose away every winter. i filled the birdfeeders religiously. i sat on my porch and watched the grass grow with a patience i didn’t know i had.

and even after i left that apartment behind, the garden still grew in my thoughts. i wondered if the bulbs had come up that spring. if the new occupants were tending the perennials, if they’d turned over the topsoil and planted new sprouts early enough in the season. if they’d protected the hydrangeas from frost.

since leaving that apartment, my nurturing instinct has been restricted, restrained. curtailed within the square confines of balconies and windowboxes. pot-bound, coiled in on itself, like the roots of a plant with noplace left to grow. i try still, seeding my energy in small containers of green longing, straining through glass-filtered sun. and there are some small successes – some hardy souls which flourish in spite of the crowding and smog.

and there’s me – still trying like hell to bloom where i’m planted. and if you look closely, some small encouraging shoots of growth, pushing up through thin soil towards the sky.

the youngbloods – sunlight

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and me with my umbrella

by Jen at 3:22 pm on 30.03.2007 | 2 Comments
filed under: classic, londonlife, mutterings and musings

as a kid, my favourite books were the mary poppins series, because they told stories of a world where *anything* could happen, a world where children’s fantasies and reality were inseperable and unpredictable. and somewhere in my travels through the realms of that literary fantasy, the idea of living in london became planted in my head.

more than 20 years later, i determined that i would turn my childhood dreams into a real-life reality. so i got rid of all my belongings, moved in with my mother to save money, took on extra jobs, sold my car, enrolled in night classes, and applied for a student visa. making my decision, to actually getting on a plane took 6 months of hard work and sacrifice. and there were innumerable times when i wondered just what the hell i was getting myself into. i worked 50 hours a week, took beginner college classes 4 nights a week, fought with my mother non-stop, had no social life, no belongings, no transportation – all to move to a city i hadn’t spent more than 48 hours in. to head off blindly into the unknown with no job, no friends, no security. it felt like madness a lot of the time. and it probably was. (i needn’t point out that most thought i had lost my marbles.) i wrote in my journal on the day that i landed, “i made this happen because i fixed my mind on it, and would not let go.” probably the most important lesson in self-determination i’ve ever experienced.

last year, as i was getting ready to leave, i reflected upon the 3 year anniversary of my arrival in london. the initial romance, the inevitable fade. the hard-fought truce i managed to broker between a city trying to best me, and the person i was determined to become. the tension between the fantasy life i thought i would lead, and the reconciliation with a new reality.

and today makes four years. leaving and returning has made me feel even closer to this city in many ways. i came because i felt i needed to. i stayed because i felt i had to. but i returned because i wanted to. i no longer believe in the fantasy – this isn’t mary poppins’ london. but i also no longer need it. the reality of living here, both good and bad, is something i choose every day. every day i don’t get on a plane to be somewhere else, is another vote of commitment to the weight of my life in london. that’s probably not a forever thing, but it’s been enough for four years worth. four years of deciding that even though the fantasy never lived up to the hype, the reality ain’t half bad.

but what i’ve learned about myself between getting off the plane and today… that’s the real dream come true.

i’m not a big dave matthews fan, but through all the hardest times of doubt – every time i thought i’d never get here, or wondered what the hell i was turning my life upside-down for, or felt like kicking out all the windows, or wondered why i had run across an ocean only to end up depressed, lonely, broke and scared – this song carried me through.

dave matthews band – grey street

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There’s a stranger speaks outside her door
Says take what you can from your dreams
Make them as real as anything
It’ll take the work out of the courage

There’s an emptiness inside her
And she’d do anything to fill it in
And though it’s red blood bleeding from her now
It’s more like cold blue ice in her heart
She feels like kicking out all the windows
And setting fire to this life
She could change everything about her
Using colors bold and bright
But all the colors mix together – to grey
And it breaks her heart


brooklyn love story, circa 1992

by Jen at 7:59 pm on 12.02.2007 | 4 Comments
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

So in spite of the bird flu, I had to drag myself out to the shop. on the way back, i’m trudging along, laden with groceries. it’s just stopped raining and there’s a fresh breeze blowing across my face, lifting my spirits as dusk descends and the city lights emerge. ipod snugly in my ears, suddenly an old skool “de la soul” track comes on…

and i’m transported to a brooklyn rooftop in 1992, and it’s a thick summer evening with a film of smog hanging over manhattan in the background. the bulwark of the brooklyn-queens expressway overpass separates us from the glow of downtown manhattan, where *everything* happens, all we can hear and see are the cars and horns and rumble of trucks, but it’s magic just knowing it’s there on the other side. it’s me and garnett, shelly and dre – friends who chose each other to stick together and became family. and we’ve got a dime bag of weed, a cheap cigar, and a 40 oz. bottle of malt liquor (which we probably bought with subway tokens at the corner bodega, because we bought a lot of things with subway tokens in those days). that and a portable radio is our only entertainment, but it suits us just fine. we’re broke and tired from working long hours for no pay, but there’s something exhilarating about it all anyway, so we don’t mind so much. and we spend our summer evenings hearing police sirens mingled with the music and getting drunk and high and running our mouths and thinking about what we can’t see on the other side of that overpass. we spend those summer evenings being family in the way only friends who’ve fallen in love can be, and sitting on the dark rooftop in a haze, bone weary and busted, but it’s all good. because we’re high on a rooftop in new york with friends who are family.

and we’re on top of the world.

song of the day (with apologies for the quality) De La Soul – Eye Know

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(and yet more technical difficulties plague us – my internetz at home is broken, and won’t be fixed til the end of the week. grrrrr.)

(oh wait! it’s fixed! hooray!)


watching the english

by Jen at 12:32 pm on 5.02.2007 | 4 Comments
filed under: classic, londonlife

as amity was chatting on the phone to her family back in the states after the game, i was exploring her bookshelves, and stumbled across a book i’d been meaning to read for ages: “watching the english”, by kate fox. it’s a book that’s often spoken of amongst expats as an anthropological study on the unique customs and social mores of the english – recommended reading by way of imparting some insight. i’d never gotten around to picking it up, but was flipping through the pages last night and found myself intrigued enough to borrow it.

and though i am only about 50 pages in, i’m finding it really depressing. you see, after living and working here for 4 years now, i kind of felt that i’d achieved some semblance of integration. that i’d been around long enough not to stand out like a sore thumb. god help me, people back in the states even say i’ve picked up some british inflection to my words (not to mention adopted much of the vocabulary and spelling quite early on – a byproduct of needing to communicate clearly and write lots of reports for my job). i’ve never consciously set out to try to assimilate, but it’s only natural that after a certain period of time a lot of stuff has rubbed off on me. i’ve never deliberately set out to “fit in”. but i’d hoped that i did, just a little.

and now those hopes have been thoroughly dashed. the author’s insights and explorations of the “unwritten rules” of english society are so precisely accurate, yet so convoluted, that i despair of ever really hoping to successfully navigate them. so much of what i find intensely frustrating about being an outsider is a product of societal law so deeply ingrained, yet so unspoken, that a culture clash with my personality and modus operandi is inevitable. one must never appear too eager. one must never reveal too much. one must never openly disagree. one must never be overly informal or overly friendly. i can learn these rules, but i’ll never be able to live them.

but if i’m honest, none of this is news to me. in work situations, i find myself constantly trying to modulate between being too outspoken, and not piping up enough. i chime in at the wrong times, create awkward silences, inadvertently step on toes. i’m constantly second guessing myself and trying to tone it down, where “it” is my normal forthright manner of speaking/thinking/doing. i’m ever conscious of trying not to come across as the stereotypical “brash american”, but chafing inside at not being able to just be myself, no matter how others interpret that. i vacillate between trying to break free of the preconceptions that come with my accent, and just saying “fuck it – this is who i am. accept it.”

and in the end, i’m realising none of it really matters. that the way i come across won’t ever change much, because there’s a finite limit to how much *i* can change. or more accurately, i’m realising there’s a limit to how much i’m *willing* to change. i will never understand the mustn’t grumble ethos, even in the face of valid cause for complaint. i will never understand the national reservedness, or the impulse to conform at all cost. i refuse to buy into the class distinctions, and i will most likely never be able to distinguish a posh accent from a blue-collar one. it took me years to find confidence and assertiveness, and ditch the meek, awkward person i was until i hit my mid-20s. why on earth would i want to give that up just to blend in?

still, it’s discouraging to see people wince when i’m in a meeting and say something too bluntly. it’s disheartening to try to make friends yet not be able to break through the wall of reserve of people i otherwise really like. to know that no matter how regularly i say “toe-mahh-toe” people will still hear my accent and draw conclusions about me. all the studying in the world won’t get me past those obstacles, and they may never even get any better, no matter how long i am here. i just don’t know the rules. i’m not being a rebel, just a naif.

i can watch the english, observe the customs, study the rules – but it seems i’ll never learn.

song of the day: Califone – The Orchids

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running to stand still

by Jen at 10:39 pm on 2.02.2007 | 1 Comment
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

another week gone by, a friday evening i should be relaxing into. and instead, i find myself restless. not an unusual state for me – i’m frequently itchy, edgy for something new. but when i get that bug, man, it’s bad. i’m ready to crawl out of my skin. the craving for otherness is intense – i want to be something other, someplace other, anyplace other than here. i want to eat up music and books and culture, shovel them in with both hands. sate myself on experience. the hunger goes so deep i can feel my belly touching my spine.

i want to take off. start running and feel my lungs filling on the cold sharp air, my legs burning, run til exhaustion pulls me back to earth. run so i don’t want to run any more. my feet tingle with the anticipation.

this dissatisfaction is a hollowness i never seem to fill. my boy, my home, my life – i love them all, but nothing cures me of this restlessness. i can never predict the trigger. i’ll be listening to a new song, or reading a poem, only to find myself racing through to the end, skipping ahead in search of the next new thing, not pausing long enough to enjoy what’s before me – only hoping for something better around the corner. and that twitchiness settles into my spine. the fever flushes, making me hot and bothered and irritable with the general state of everything. dreams flood my brain, dreams of what i imagine i must be missing out on, places and things i’m suddenly desperate for because i *know* they must be better than where i am right now, and damn it, i’m missing out. dreams so real i can taste them.

the problem is, i can’t keep running forever. there is always another corner i can’t see round. nothing fills the space, because i’m constantly digging the hole. missing the here and now to chase an insubstantial dream only makes it that much deeper, and if i just tried a little harder to remain present, maybe the here and now would be enough. my boy, my home, my life should be enough for anyone. they should be enough for me.

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here comes the sun. it’s all right.

by Jen at 3:59 pm on 28.01.2007 | 4 Comments
filed under: classic, mutterings and musings

it’s not even the end of january, and as ridiculous as it is, spring is here. i know this because i smelled it on my run this morning. you know the smell of spring – it’s the smell of earth warming, trees stretching, the thin hint of fresh greenery sharp in your nose. it’s so recognisable you can almost feel the sea change, pinpoint the exact day the seasons turn. a visceral intuitive knowledge.

it is also probably the most important day of the year for me – it’s the day i know i’m safe once again from the clutches of the wintery depressive bleakness which tries to invade my brain every year. those clouds that seep in at the edges so stealthily i rarely realise it until i find myself choking up at greeting card commercials on television.

i haven’t ever written here about my depression before. no reason, really – it’s not something i’m ashamed of or try to hide. there have been some really black moments in my life – times when i needed professional help. the first, darkest time was my first year of university when i spent 6 months contemplating throwing myself out a window. it’s amazing how twisted your thoughts can become without even being aware if it. how easily your mind turns traitor against you, sabotaging any hope, killing off signs of light. i honestly didn’t realise how bad it was until i was (thank god) well on the other side of it. but looking back, i can see what a bad place i was in. i vowed never to allow myself to go there again.

and it really is like being in a different world. a different planet. it’s impossible to see reality. there’s a blackness that seeps into your thoughts, your soul, slowly creating a kind of tunnel vision until you can’t see anything but darkness all around, and you no longer even know which way is up because all you can feel is that you’re getting pulled further and further down by the undertow. your life doesn’t work anymore, doesn’t make sense anymore. and you struggle and struggle against it, the gravity of it which is the heaviest burden you’ve ever known, it’s utterly exhausting, and in spite of all the flailing you just keep slipping further and further away from the shore, from sanity, from anything that ever mattered to you until finally all you want is to be able to stop struggling.

if you’ve never experienced it, that description doesn’t even begin to do it justice. and if you’ve ever experienced it, that description doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

so yeah, i’ve had some pretty bad depression. and after that first time, i decided that i didn’t deserve to ever have to feel that way again. since then, i’ve gotten help when i needed it. luckily, it’s been few and far between. luckily, i learned my lesson that first time. luckily, there are drugs and therapy which work for me.

but the thing is, it’s always part of my history, part of my genes and brain. there’s a “strong familial tendency” towards depression that means i will always be predisposed to that slippery slope. it’s something i am, and will always have to be, ever vigilant about. a constant temperature-taking of my emotions, never letting my guard down. awareness is everything. i can never take for granted that it’s just “the blues”, or a bad week. i can never just allow myself the luxury of melancholy.

and so, i have a love/hate relationship with winter. the shorter days, the desire to hibernate. sleep more, socialise less – it’s all very dangerous for me. that sounds a bit melodramatic, i know, but it’s a truth with which i am intimately acquainted, and i’m just not willing to risk otherwise. so i count the days until the solstice, and tell myself it can only get better from there on out. i check my eyes for tears, check my heart for dark spots, stick to the straight and narrow and steer away from any ruts or ditches.

and i hold on for this day. spring. renewal and rebirth for more than just the flowers. i smell that smell and know it means i’ve made it through to the other side, and come out alive and well. that’s something i will be forever grateful for.

spring is here. and god it feels good.

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