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

not the worst thing

by Jen at 9:57 am on 15.11.2011Comments Off
filed under: mundane mayhem

i wrote this last summer when j and i were in paris, but hadn’t published it here until now. j and i are splitting up, and as awful as it is, it is not the worst thing. keeping comments off.

we were in paris, on holiday with the in-laws, when i first said the words, whispering in the dark across to the other uncomfortable sofa where he lay.

“i think we might need to get a divorce.”

he got up without a word, got his pack of cigarettes, went out onto the balcony. i joined him, watched the red glow of the cigarette as we gazed down together at the boulevard below. suddenly the will to stand drained out of my legs, and i collapsed, weeping so hard i felt i might turn inside out. all the disappointment and frustration and anger i’d been storing for months and years, rushing out of me in wracking, violent sobs. and below, people laughing, cars passing. and me thinking, how is it possible the world hasn’t come to a screeching, crashing halt? surely that would be appropriate.

nearly seventy percent of second marriages end in divorce. i think i must’ve read that before, but i never allowed the reality of it to penetrate my consciousness. naïveté. denial.

i don’t know yet, if my husband and i will split. but in the weeks that have passed since that night in paris that ended with the two of us desperately clutching each other on the balcony, trying not to drown in the waves of sorrow, i’ve come to know why that 70% figure is so true.

even a “good divorce”, an amicable divorce for all the right reasons that makes you both better, happier people, as mine was, leaves you scarred. even a “good divorce” is hell. it rips any sense of security out from under you, makes you confront the possibility of being completely and utterly alone, drains every ounce of foolish fairytale right out of your head. a divorce, even a “good divorce”, is the death of your shared dreams for home, family, and future. it’s a death, and you mourn it, and carry guilt and shame over it for a long while.

but as time passes and you begin to emerge from the blast-shadow the explosion left behind, the world begins to right itself. time moves on, and you tuck away the lessons learned, and you stand a little straighter knowing that you have survived the worst that love can throw at you. you think yourself stronger and wiser, as hemingway would say, “strong at the broken places”.

it’s dangerous knowledge.

it is dangerous knowing that divorce is not, in fact, the end of the world. that however painful the experience of a shattered marriage was, that however much it hurt to walk through those shards and pick up the pieces, that *you were okay*. dangerous how that “d” word, that word you thought you could never bring yourself to utter, that word that choked you for so long before you could finally, actually say it (because to say “divorce” out loud was to admit that it was really fucking happening)… it’s dangerous how close that word sits to the tip of your tongue after that.

divorce, which was once the very worst thing that had ever happened to you, is now no longer the worst thing that can happen to you.

more to the point, it’s not the worst thing that can happen to me. even with all the tears, even when to untangle my life from his would feel like flaying off my own skin, i know this much is true: it is not the worst thing that can happen to me. however bad it gets, i’ll be okay.

and somehow, that just makes it worse – the knowledge that the world will keep turning, people will keep laughing on the boulevards below. i will once again face the fears and learn the lessons, adding one more statistical failure to the punchline of life, but emerge and walk on stronger and wiser.

i know what i’m in for, and i know how unthinkably excruciating the dissolution of love can be. i know all this, and still i know it will be a hundred times worse – because i loved him more.

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the good, the bad, and the hail

by Jen at 11:28 pm on 15.05.2011 | 1 Comment
filed under: mundane mayhem

things i’m already enjoying about vancouver:

  • the more relaxed feel of the city. the impact of this cannot be overstated – even as stressed as i am about trying to sort out a life, everyone else around me is so much more laid back. people aren’t rushing around like little frantic worker ants. shockingly few people are plugged into headphones, or burying their gaze in their smartphone. people make eye contact and small talk – the humanity of just those little things have a huge impact on your mood.
  • everyone being outdoors, all the time. rain or shine, people are out walking, cycling, rollerblading and running. i’m seen very few gyms, and a whole lot of people who seem to just make a point to get out in the fresh air. i need to purchase some proper weather-appropriate outdoorsy gear if i’m going to join in.
  • customer service. this is something i’ve desperately missed about north america – even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. in london restaurants, if you drop your fork, or need to ask for condiments after you’ve had your meal served, well good luck to you. you practically have to set yourself alight to get the attention of the waitstaff in most places. shops, ticket agents, phone representatives – all universally sub-par experiences in the main. i think the main difference is that even when customer service in london is *competent* (and that’s infrequent enough), it’s rarely *pleasant*. here, they may often go overboard in their attempts to be helpful or upbeat, but there is still at the core a genuine desire to make your experience a good one. just the fact that they’re usually trying, makes a big difference.
  • space. the houses are detached. the streets are wide. the pavements are uncrowded. ’nuff said.

things i’m not enjoying:

  • the cost. i never expected things to be cheap… but i didn’t expect them to be nearly as expensive as london. rent is cheaper, petrol is cheaper, public transport is cheaper, and eating out is cheaper – but that’s about it. for someone who’s trying to spend as little money as possible, it’s a challenge. groceries, in particular, are shockingly expensive.
  • the hail. now when it’s not raining, vancouver is beautiful. and i am more than used to rain by now. and the weather forecasters have made a point of saying that this weather is atypical for spring, being colder and wetter than usual – but it has hailed three separate times so far this month. in *may*. that’s ludicrous.

but really? that’s about it. that’s the worst i can come up with so far. the weather, and expense.

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echoechoecho..echoechoecho…echo…echo

by Jen at 4:17 am on 6.05.2011 | 3 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem

so here i am.

i’ve been here for almost a month, and already this is harder than i thought. there have been personal disasters, friendships crumbling, employment obstacles. i deliberately came here without a plan – but suffice to say that if i’d had one, this certainly wouldn’t have been it.

the most difficult is the loneliness. i am not good at being alone. much like a border collie left too long, i get neurotic, easily bored, and aimlessly destructive. i’ve made major moves all alone four times in my life now, and each time the stir craziness settles under my skin and drives me mad. i don’t cope well.

i try, of course, to meet people, get out of the house and do things. the sublet i’m currently in is located in a neighbourhood that j and i are keen to move to, so i’m trying to make the most of discovering the local community. i hang out in coffee shops and pubs, i go running, i go to the movies, i go to museums, i do errands and take walks. but ultimately, i spend most of my days alone, and the only thing that will remedy that is establishing a network over time.

the job search is going very slowly. turns out, vancouver just isn’t that big, and there just aren’t as many jobs as i’d hoped. it seems like most of the opportunities fall into two categories: things i’m completely over-qualified for, and things i’m nowhere near qualified for, with very few things in between. i keep plugging away, and i’ve had a few nibbles of interest – but ultimately, the work permit issue is a dealbreaker, and i’ve not yet found an employer willing to take the leap of faith that work sponsorship requires. in the meantime, there’s a plan b slowly coalescing. i’m taking a course at the local college, which would qualify me for applying to their community counseling programme this autumn – which would a) qualify me for a student visa and b) help me brush up my skills in preparation for applying to a master’s or doctoral programme for autumn next year. it’s not ideal, but it would be a means to an end, so i’m working that path as well. the course runs until the end of June, and then the counseling programme starts in September.

so, there’s that. but it means i’m here, alone, for another 8 weeks. just me and the echo chamber inside my head. i’ve always joked that i hate my own company… but right now, that’s all i’ve got.

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into the great unknown

by Jen at 5:42 pm on 18.03.2011 | 3 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem

i fly to vancouver in less than 3 weeks, and it’s all starting to feel a little too real. i’ve got 9 days left in the office, my replacement has been hired. i need to think about what to pack. i need to think about what i’m going to do when i get there.

but at the same time, all my plans are so tenuous, i’m afraid to even talk about them for fear of jinxing it all. or for fear of having to eat a large slice of humble pie if i have to come crawling back to london in a few months. or for fear of finding a job, making the move, and then realising i hate it. or for fear of not finding a job in vancouver, not finding a job back in london, and ending up long-term unemployed and running out of money. or for fear of moving and having something go horribly wrong with health/relationship/family and having no network of support.

there’s a lot of fear. which is why i’m not talking about it.

i’m starting to look at everything as if it’s the last time i will be experiencing it. which, if everything goes smoothly, it very well might be. come april, it is all into the great unknown, so i’m doing what i do best: ignoring it.

i’ll let you know how that works out.

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holy shit – a 2011 meme

by Jen at 8:48 pm on 4.01.2011 | 1 Comment
filed under: mundane mayhem

holy shit. it’s 2011, and this whole quitting-my-job-and-trying-to-move-to-canada-thing gets underway in like 13 weeks! yikes and double-yikes!

it’s beginning to occur to me that this plan may be a little bit half-baked. it’s also beginning to occur to me that there are things in london that i will miss, or never got a chance to do. i’ve sat around here for nearly eight years now – how many weekends did i waste in front of the television and computer? if i could only have them all back!

(anticipated) absence makes the heart grow fonder.

so i’ve determined not to waste what time i may have left.

in the meantime, here’s a meme:

What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before?
traced my family history roots – that was a lifelong dream fulfilled.

Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
nope. and nope. resolutions are a waste of time. as yoda says, “do, or do not. there is no try.” however i did go back to being a vegetarian at the start of 2010.

Did anyone close to you give birth?
not this year. guess not as many people were getting busy )

Did anyone close to you die?
i lost my grandfather after many years of Alzheimer’s, and my friend beth quite unexpectedly. (that’s quite enough universe, thanks.)

What places did you visit?
Boston, Scottish highlands, Venice, Croatia, Paris (again). this was a travel-lite year for us, and Prague was postponed for the trip to Boston.

What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
more courage and confidence. it’s been an angst-y year, and i spent much of it feeling all muddled and confused and indecisive. not typical for me.

What date from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory?
the day i was scheduled to fly home to see my dying grandfather, and the volcano in iceland erupted. my plane made it out 3 minutes before the uk airspace closed, and i was just an emotional wreck.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?
finishing marathon #4 (third time is the charm) and raising a good amount of money for the ellies as well. yay me!

What was your biggest failure?
watching more than 50 movies, but reading only 12 books. that ratio is just all kinds of fail.

Did you suffer illness or injury?
just an ongoing soul-destroying battle with bursitis (the disease of the elderly), and significant injury to my wallet after (yet another) dental crown.

What was the best thing you bought?
iphone4iphone4iphone4. iphone 4.

Whose behaviour merited celebration?
J’s – for putting up with my shit, day in, day out. The boy deserves a medal. i seem to say that every year.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
fucking voters and the fucking tories they elected. gah! argh! bah!

Where did most of your money go?
sad but true: socked away in savings. b-o-r-i-n-g.

What did you get really, really, really excited about?
iphone4iphone4iphone4!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (in case all the exclamation points don’t convey my excitement strongly enough, i love my iphone 4) also: the olympics!!!!! (yes, i’m the only person in the world who gets excited about winter olympics)

What song(s) will always remind you of 2010?
joanna newsome – good intentions paving company. this strange little song tugged at my heart in inexplicable ways.

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Compared to this time last year, are you:
Happier or sadder? hrmmmm. i’m going to err on the side of optimism and call it a wash.
Thinner or fatter? I decline to answer
Richer or poorer? our savings is better off, but the fun fund has been much poorer for it.

What do you wish you’d done more of?
you know – sex, drugs, rock n’ roll. chillin’ with my homies.

What do you wish you’d done less of?
agonising about my job. frittering away time on the computer.

What was the best book you read?
too much happiness, by alice munro. i love short stories and alice munro is a master story-teller at her finest.

What did you want and get?
iphone4iphone4iphone4!

What did you want and not get?
a nobel peace prize and a lib/lab coalition government.

What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
not being made redundant. i know that doesn’t exactly answer the question precisely, but it kind of made a mockery of job satisfaction.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
“the path of least resistance.” because that’s how i get dressed in the mornings.

What kept you sane?
pretty sure this question is not applicable.

What political issue stirred you the most?
the aforementioned election, and the savage “efficiency agenda”. the current government is doing a vicious imitation of thatcherism and has the unalloyed temerity to keep doling out the platitude of “we’re all in this together”, which just makes me want to hurl.

i have strong feelings about it.

Who did you miss?
all the usual suspects back home. plus my grandpa.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010:
life moves on, with or without you. all you can do is try to steer.

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playing with the cards you’re dealt

by Jen at 9:40 pm on 14.10.2010 | 4 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem

so: changes.

thanks to the lovely new conservative government, there are cuts to be made in the public sector. big cuts. on the order of 20-40% cuts. this is what’s happening at my work right now. the first round of cuts are being made, and it’s got us all running around nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

and even where there are no official cuts, there are “efficiencies” to be made. translation: doing even more with the same (or fewer) people. no regard for actual capacity or resource – simply a mandatory understanding that however overworked you are, however thin you are spread, you *will do more* and you will like it and be thankful you weren’t part of the cuts.

what this all means for me is that my team is getting “restructured”. someone has decided that things would work better if a bunch of my team went into this other team and did something completely different. and in this reshuffle, i am likely to lose my team manager job, and get forced back into the kind of job i left last time. the worst of it is the way in which it has been handled – with completely inhuman disregard for people’s feelings. we all know the score and we are all grownups, yet it’s all been done in such a callous way, without even a pretense or nod toward acknowledgement of people’s distress. we were brought into a boardroom, and had some papers shoved at us. even knowing it was coming, i found myself getting emotional and angry, and angry at being emotional.

the job i mostly really liked and believed in and was told made a real difference, didn’t actually matter after all. what i do is not valued enough to merit the consideration of a genuine discussion. my team (or what will be left of it) is just expected to pick up and carry on and no one has given a moment’s thought to how they will continue to do the work, or why they’d even want to stay in an organisation that didn’t bother to think about them. no one ever talked to us about what we actually do – we are just bodies to be moved somewhere else as they see fit.

it hurts, dammit.

never one to leave my fate in someone else’s hands, i’ve decided it’s time to leave. rather than be subject to this fucking chess game being played with people’s careers and lives, i’m opting out. i’ve let my boss (who, bless, has tried her best to manage the proposed changes, but the ball was never in her court) know that at the beginning of next year, i’m gone.

all that talk about moving i’ve done in the past few years? my hand has just been forced. january/february. that’s not that far away. and what comes next remains to be seen. j and i have a half-baked notion that i’ll go to vancouver and try to get a job. i don’t really know how that will work, but i’ve always seemed to manage to sort something out before – pulling up sticks and moving seems to be my thing. i’ve moved to new york, boston, and london without a job or much planning, and somehow always managed to land on my feet. mind you, none of that was in the midst of the worst recession in 80-some-odd years. that’s a daunting prospect – we’ve got a little savings but not enough for me to stay unemployed for too long.

oh: and no, there’s no backup plan.

i am angry and sad about my job. terrified and excited about the future. (and sad too, as well, for all that i will be leaving behind – something which i have not even allowed myself to begin to think about or feel yet.) amongst all that are a million logistical nightmares to be sifted through one at a time, and some belt-tightening to do, now that the countdown is on.

dear readers, i am predicting a bumpy ride ahead.

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crickets

by Jen at 6:14 pm on 1.10.2010 | 5 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem

i know i haven’t been here recently. guess that’s likely to happen when you’re not sure what to say.

i’ve often claimed to be an open book, but the reality is, there are just some things taking up most of my brain space at the moment, that i’m not going to share with the world. maybe when they’re in the safely in the rearview mirror, but not right now. i need time to process, decide and act, and that’s not best accomplished in front of others, nor is it interesting to others. so i’m mulling behind the scenes tending to my life and letting the weeds grow where they will.

none of which is helped by my homesickness. usually around this time of year i head back to boston and cape cod for a visit with the family, but due to the fact that i went in april, and the afore-not-mentioned current stressors, i’m not going this year. i miss it desperately.

new england fall is one of my favourite joys in life, something i don’t think i’ll ever get out of my system. pumpkins and cranberry bogs, apple picking, chilled salt air, riotous coloured leaves, empty beaches, woodsmoke, early morning fog, the first frost. they have seeped into my bones over the years, and looking out on the wet grey and brown cityscape that is a london autumn (not “fall”, but “autumn”), casts an additional dreariness over my mood. fall always makes me wistful and nostalgic, but missing out on it even more so.

so that’s where i’m at at the moment – my absence has been noticed, and unfortunately it’s not because i’m too busy frolicking in fields of unicorns, rainbows and fuzzy bunnies.

my mom always said that if you can’t say anything nice, say nothing. sage advice, and i’m following it.

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i know, you know, that i can’t get away

by Jen at 2:09 pm on 16.09.2010 | 5 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem

i remember very clearly the first time i became aware of the addictive power of the internet. the year was 1994, and i was finishing up my last year at new york university, with some extracurricular credits to fulfill, and decided to take a computer course. as part of the course, they took us to the university computer lab and introduced us to the newfangled internet.

this is a pretty good representation of what the internet looked like in 1994. and yet, one boring friday night, i found myself going to the computer lab, just to do a bit of surfing. before i knew it, i was a frequent visitor, getting caught up in usenet, following hypertext link after hypertext link. the only thing that curtailed my internet browsing at the time was the lab’s two hour limit that kicked me off the computer so people could, y’know, do schoolwork.

once i graduated in the spring of 1995, however, it quickly became clear to me that i had to get my own computer. in all honestly, i pretty much only purchased my mac (which i could not, as a broke new graduate, even afford at the time) in order to spend time on the internet. people became frequently annoyed with me for monopolising my phone line using my 56K modem (”but i can’t reach you! what’s email?”) but i was hooked, and the only thing now keeping me in check was the price of dialup time.

it’s only really gotten worse from there. i can easily spend most waking hours in front of a computer screen – even better, my addiction is now more socially acceptable than ever. no one thinks it unusual that i keep the internet on my body at all times via my iphone. no on thinks it unusual to meet people via the web or internet forums. no one thinks it unusual that i document my thoughts on a blog, facebook, and twitter. society and technology have become my enablers. the internet is the first thing i turn on in the morning, and the last thing i turn off at night.

but i can no longer deny that it is taking its toll. it’s become fashionable of late to talk about unplugging, but it’s something i’ve been pondering for a while. i’ve been reading the “your brain on computers” series at the new york times, and recognise myself in nearly every paragraph. i am unable to modulate my computer usage, and it is having an effect on other areas of my life. for example, my book reading has nosedived in the past few years. now, i actually read a significant amount during the day – i read the news every morning on my commute, i read blogs and critiques and web articles throughout the day, and in fact i have a backlog of bookmarked information waiting for me to read in my downtime. but when i sit down to read a book, even a book i am truly interested in, i find myself unable to fall into that deep well of concentration and imagination that i used to love so much. i am unable to give it my full attention for more than 20 minutes at a time, and consequently am barely making it through even a dozen books a year. for someone who used to consider herself a serious reader, that’s frankly shocking.

i am no longer able to enjoy my music. i collect lots and lots of music via various blogs, or (the dangerously immediate) itunes, and while my 25 gig music library is not as large as some, it has become far too large for me to really enjoy. i spend so much time looking for new stuff, that i rarely listen to anything i already have. i find myself incessantly clicking through my ipod catalogue, hurrying through whatever is currently playing because i want to see what comes up next. i’ve always joked that i have the attention span of a fruit fly, but it verges on the ridiculous that i am too impatient to wait for a 3 minute song to finish before checking on the next one.

i am unable to allow myself any unconnected down time. i fill all the random moments of my life (waiting for a train, waiting on a queue, waiting to meet a friend, waiting for a movie to start) with information at all times. any time i’m not actively doing something else, i’m either clicking though twitter, listening to podcasts, or checking email. hell, i can’t even just watch television without also doing something else on my phone, and i am never doing *nothing*. i am never just observing, or thinking or (god forbid) interacting with the external world. and what’s worse is that i now find the non-connected external world boring, creating further incentive to keep my headphones plugged into my ears, my eyes glued to my iphone screen. i am less and less engaged with the non-digital world. i am less and less present in both my imagination, and my real life. when i’m not connected, my brain feels empty – not in the pleasant sense of being relaxed, but in the scary sense of feeling devoid of thought.

i don’t like what the internet is doing to my head. i feel that when i am not connected, i must be missing something, and when i am paying attention to one thing, it means i must be missing out on something even better. when i want to sit down and read a novel, i find myself too distracted by everything else to do so. when i want to listen to a new album, i find myself too distracted by everything else to do so. when i want to write a blog post, i find myself too distracted by everything else to do so. i find myself fantasising about being able to leave my iphone home for just a day, and yet i can’t. in my head, i negotiate how long i’ll spend on the computer, and then i break my own agreement.

part of the difficulty is, of course, that we can no longer live unconnected lives. not in a westernised, modern world. we are required to spend time on computers for jobs, everyday communication, etc. much like a food addict cannot just stop eating, i cannot just stop using technology. and i don’t really want to. i mean, i can’t see much point in spending a month offline like this guy did in his experiment, when, as soon as he got back online, he found himself back in the same rut.

what i crave most is balance. i am jealous of people who have it because i don’t know how to find it, or more accurately, enforce it. i haven’t, as yet, neglected my relationships, friends, work or social life, and i haven’t yet suffered any real adverse effects – but i know that the importance of the internet in my life has become completely lopsided, and perhaps even (to use the language of addiction) unmanageable.

i fear i may need to just go cold turkey in an attempt to press some kind of imaginary reset button, but an all-or-nothing stance doesn’t seem like a reasonable solution to the problem of digital addiction when we live in the internet age. in short, i need help. if you’ve managed to find some semblance of balance, how did you do it? i welcome any advice.

i can’t get away – stardeath and white dwarfs

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moving on

by Jen at 3:18 pm on 11.09.2010Comments Off
filed under: mundane mayhem

everyone has a story about the day.

i have my own as well. in the grand scheme of things, it’s completely unimportant. i, and everyone else, felt like the world was collapsing around my ears. people who were there. people who watched it unfold in front of their unbelieving eyes. everything crumbled, and everyone everywhere felt the reverberations.

there was even more sadness in the aftermath. the morning the bombing started in afghanistan, it was the beginning of a chain reaction of further killing and atrocities that even today, nine years later, has yet to stop. nine years later, there is still innocent blood being shed in multiple countries as a direct result of that singular day.

and it exposed the nasty underbelly of hatred, both against americans and perpetuated *by* americans. a disgusting display of vitriol which people continue to ratchet up for political means. hatred is so often just a veneer for fear, and fear has always been the most effective tool of political manipulation.

how much has changed since then? looking around the political landscape, you’d be hard pressed to identify much. there is still quick anger over the wounds in the ground. there is ignorant fear in abundance. there is intolerant rhetoric being flung around like so much dirt. there is extremism tarted up as populism.

these aftershocks seem to just keep coming, and the fear continues to crescendo unabated. it continues to change more than the skyline, more than the political landscape – it continues to change americans as a people, and not for the better.

yet we seem to want to hold onto that grief. each year, we emblazon stuff with flags, tune into the mawkish memorials, wallow in the losses over and over again, year after year. and while remembrance is important to our collective history, the excessive nature of such hyper-sentimentalism holds us back. i think we want to “never forget” because it feels like letting go of who we were before – before we knew it as “before”. the reality is, that country, that world is long gone.

i can, if i want to, easily bring up tears for that day. i could, if i wanted to, tell my story as if it were yesterday. for a long time, it felt appropriate to hold on to that emotion, that moment that everything changed. for a long time, it felt inappropriate to move on.

but as long as we continue to consider ourselves a wounded country, we will never be healed. reliving the fear keeps us fearful. every year that we recount the stories as if they were fresh, keeps us stuck in the raw fury of that moment. as long as we continue to war, with others and with ourselves, we can never be at peace.

nine years on, we deserve some peace. but we have to try to move on in order to find it.

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neither here nor there

by Jen at 2:04 pm on 30.08.2010 | 7 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem

this is a picture of the last tattoo i got, 4 years ago – it’s a bit abstract to some, but for the purposes of moving things along i’ll tell you it’s an elephant. (ah, there’s the lightbulb!) i got it in thailand for what were, at the time, very meaningful, very sincere reasons. a) i love elephants to a completely illogical extent and b) it was meant to remind me of my travels. or, to be more specific, it was meant to remind me of who i was during my travels.

sounds silly, right? i mean, “who i was during my travels”. clearly, i am me. i harbour no illusions of being some mysterious person, nor do i have any additional personalities that live in alternate realities. i guess what i meant was that part of me that i was able to be during a time when i was unfettered by the grind of daily life. because without any ties or responsibilities, it turns out, i’m actually quite a fun, easygoing (!), adventurous person. (i know, i know – i too was shocked by this discovery!) when footloose and fancy free, i can be very laidback, whimsical, and confident. who wouldn’t want to keep that jen?! she’s much more appealing than the set-jawed, furrowed-brow, anxious, and unhappy person than i am these days.

so as i am contemplating how to break out of this rut that i’m in, and suppressing an overwhelming desire to run away, i made the mistake of re-reading our round-the-world travel blog. big.fucking.mistake.

i’ve been here in london for over seven years now, and fairly soon, i will have lived here longer than i’ve lived anywhere else as an adult. i lived in new york city for eight years, and i loved new york. i’ve lived in london almost as long, and i’ve never loved london.

but even if i did, i would be feeling itchy. i’m convinced that wanderlust is in my nature. in fact, i have a theory that those who grew up in one place as kids, are drawn to a mobile lifestyle as adults, and those who were bounced around as children, want nothing more than to put down roots.

i spent 17 years in the same house, wanting desperately to leave america behind, and my ideal lifestyle would be to move to a new city or country every few years. jonno moved about 30 times as a kid, has lived here in london for 11 years and *still* says that he feels like he’s living out of a suitcase. i would love to do more extended travelling, jonno has to be forcibly dragged on holiday for a few weeks every year. i go to places like paris and rome, and find myself saying, “i’d love to live here for a few years.” i turn to him and say, “wouldn’t you?” his answer is always a flat, unequivocal “no”. i see my maroon passport and think about all the places we could retire to. jonno is emphatically *done* with europe. i have never been interested in owning a house, jonno browses the real estate listings in vancouver. i still daydream about joining the peace corps. jonno has made it clear that while he’s happy for me to do that, he would not be joining me.

how do you reconcile those incredibly disparate desires? i don’t know.

neither of us wants to be here – and moving there is proving much harder than we thought. this difficulty is compounded by the fact that my idea of where “there” should be, seems to change every few days. do i want to live in vancouver? yes. am i also terrified of finding myself feeling trapped in vancouver? undeniably. and in the back of my brain, i still have all these wild impulses to just go somewhere (nyc, nz, spain), find a job, and make it all work. (don’t ask me what “it all” is, by the way, or how exactly i would make it work – details are the devil of dreams.) or alternatively, to cash in my half of our savings, throw on a backpack and head off into the unknown (or as much of the unknown as one can see with that meagre amount of money – in other words, a few weeks of seeing not much!) these may not be realistic or mature impulses for a late-thirties-woman-with-husband-job-and-cat, but these days they predominate my brain nonetheless.

it’s all making me feel so mixed up i can’t think straight. i look at the tattoo on my wrist, and feel such a desperate desire to get back to that person i was. that warm, laidback, wide-open jen is locked inside this uptight, unhappy, pinch-faced facade i see staring back at me in the mirror, and she’s being starved of oxygen. something has got to happen, but i don’t know how to break her out of the shell…and i don’t know what that means for our future plans.

and yes, i’m going to leave that big giant question mark hanging there. there is no other way, at the moment, to end that thought.

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zombie

by Jen at 8:28 pm on 28.04.2010Comments Off
filed under: mundane mayhem

at what point does a person with insomnia become an “insomniac”?

this is a question i’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as i enter my sixth month of sleep struggles. just the thought of that label brings a stricture of anxiety up into my chest.

insomnia makes you feel alien, other. freakish. that everyone else can take for granted something that comes so naturally to them, and can’t understand why it’s so difficult for you, feels almost psychologically traumatic as you lie awake in the wee hours of the morning, next to a peacefully slumbering partner.

you begin to doubt your own sanity, to play mind games with yourself.

iwon’tlookattheclockiwon’tlookattheclockiwon’tlookattheclock.

or:

the striped pillowcase helps me fall asleep.

or:

i’ll think of a time when i didn’t have any trouble falling asleep

or:

i’ll think about anything *but* trying to sleep

you lie there, trying to be motionless, straining to relax, hearing your heartbeat thud in your ears, willing your brain to tumble ever so gently off the edge of the cliff of consciousness. and you finally begin to get drowsy, you finally begin to drift ever closer towards the tipping point, and then… in your last moments, you become aware that “aha! i’m finally falling asleep!”…

…which of course, wakes you up.

and each night that sleep doesn’t come, the dread of bedtime multiplies. as you stumble groggily through the days in a foggy haze of semi-alertness, you can think of nothing but how tired you are, how zombie-like you feel, how blissful it would be to rest your head on a soft, cool pillow in a dark, quiet, peaceful room and fall into a deep well of refreshing sleep. yet the more tired you become, the higher the stakes get every evening – surely tonight you simply *have* to sleep. you simply can’t continue to *not* sleep. and every night, the crushing fear of not sleeping continues to build.

you try light pyjamas and warm baths and earplugs. you follow all the rules about going to bed at the same time, about not eating too late, or drinking caffeine. you try melatonin and valerian and magnesium and camomille. you try over the counter tablets and doctor prescribed drugs. you try combinations of all of the above. sometimes something will work for an evening. sometimes nothing works.

this cycle goes on and on, until every few weeks, the desperation and anxiety and pressure and overwhelming exhaustion get to the core of me, and somewhere between night and dawn, i crack.

hysteria sets in. i scream at the ceiling, i wail, i babble incoherently – i get carried away by the waves of frustration and bone-weariness until i am a blithering, blubbering mess of tears and snot quivering in the dark. jonno tries to comfort and console me but his very *existence* as a normal sleeper feels like a personal affront. all i can focus on is my intense craving for sweet, unconscious oblivion and mad thoughts of slamming my head into a wall run rampant through my brain.

i feel utterly, out-of-control insane.

until, in the ultimate cruel irony, these bouts usually knock me out. through swollen eyes and stuffed nose, i sleep the sleep of the dead.

and when after actually sleeping, i awake, a small bubble of hope rises with the sun. maybe i’ve broken the cycle, maybe i can somehow claw my way back towards some semblance of rested normalcy. maybe my bout of insomnia is over. maybe i’m not doomed to flail sleeplessly amongst the bedsheets forever.

because i can’t be an insomniac. i just can’t.


for more on the world of insomnia, i highly recommend the “all-nighters” series in the new york times. i must admit, however, i can’t even bring myself to read them all – they make me too anxious.

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staring at the gutters and missing the stars

by Jen at 9:49 pm on 3.03.2010Comments Off
filed under: londonlife, mundane mayhem

warning: what follows is a rant. a petulant, self-indulgent, unkind, stomp-my-feet-temper-tantrum kind of rant. look away now if you don’t want to read further.

it’s the kind of rant borne of two cruddy, miserable days. it all started yesterday morning when the tube was suspended – i had to walk to the rail station with blistered feet in heels, and when i arrived, i was greeted with the sight of a massive hoarde of people bunching up and spilling out of the station.

this is one of the things i hate about brits: the tendency when everything goes tits up, to just wait like a herd of lowing, passive cattle, waiting for someone to tell them what to do. (told you i was going to get nasty.)

and the fact that i hate that characteristic just irritates me even further when a service like the tube (a very expensive and ill-run public service) seems to go haywire far too often. and people just put up with it.

so i was in a crummy mood. they weren’t letting people into the rail station (even though the rail *was* running, unlike the tube), and they were letting a bunch of people out a side exit, and i saw a few people slip into the station through the side exit. hell, i had a rail pass (and therefore didn’t need to validate my ticket at the gates) so i tried to do the same.

only to get violently shoved by the rail employee. yes, i was physically assaulted by a guy in a fluorescent vest on a fucking power trip who shouted, “what’s wrong with you?! you’re jumping the queue!” (i wonder if he would have dared lay a finger on a male passenger?)

because really, that’s all he cared about. not the fact that i pay through the nose for a tube service that never functions properly. not the fact that i was severely inconvenienced and made late for work. not the fact that the rail service which *was* running, was being curtailed in the name of crowd control rather than expediency.

no, no. the fact that i jumped the fucking queue gave him the right to shove me with his shoulder like a linebacker and scream in my face.

(my formal complaint of being physically assaulted, is now being dealt with – had i not been so shocked, i might have had the presence of mind to call the cops at the time.)

so i got home, and i was annoyed all evening. then today, i walked out the door to see this:

books

this is the shit from the neighbours. they don’t seem to understand that the front of my house is not a rubbish dump, so they regularly engage in what’s called “flytipping” here – illegal dumping of garbage, refuse, waste, etc. they dump their household rubbish bags in front of my house. they dump their old furniture in front of my house. they dump computer monitors and old ironing boards in front of my house.

this morning, i was treated to several piles of accountancy textbooks they’d apparently decided they no longer wanted. so i shoved them back in front of their driveway, and went off to work.

i had another crap day at work dealing with other people’s incompetence. (gah – can’t *anyone* do their jobs properly??!) and then came home to the pile of books… moved *back in front of my house*, papers flying up and down the street. i stormed off to the hardware store on the corner (who abut the alleyway where the entrance to these people’s flat is) and asked them if they knew who was dumping the shit. turns out, they don’t have anything to do with the people living in the flat, but have just been calling the council to come clear away the rubbish every time. same as i’ve been doing.

so this is what happens: we all know who dumps the rubbish. the council comes and cleans it up. then they just dump more rubbish again. and my tax money pays for it. argh!!!!! it’s beyond infuriating.

and finally, to cap it all off, the postman decided in his/her infinite wisdom, to leave my amazon parcel outside my front door – probably because they were too lazy to make out the collection card and drag the parcel back to the depot. when i found it, the two books which i was soo looking forward to, which were supposed to be inside were long gone.

this is what happens, though, when you’re an expat – a bad few days turns into a bout of effing and blinding about what a shithole of a country you live in, how you can’t believe you live in such a back-asswards place that’s stuck in the victorian era, how you can’t wait to get out because everyone and everything is supremely incompetent. how the most mundane things (transport, litter, post) can’t even get done properly, the natives are cattle, and it’s all gone to hell in a handbasket, god save us when the olympics arrive!

the little (and not so little) annoyances pile up until they become a mountain of self-pity that you can’t seem to dig yourself out from under. the difficulties of daily life become magnified until you attribute them to an entire country and people who can’t possibly do anything right, and it would all be different *if only you lived somewhere else*.

and i do want to live somewhere else. i am keening to live somewhere else. this smae thing happened with new york, and it happened with boston – the familiarity really does breed contempt. but when it’s another country and culture, it’s just so much easier to say the brits suck, than to acknowledge that urban living can be crummy sometimes. the city closeness starts to press in around you until you feel you can’t breathe, but you can’t yet escape, so let’s blame everything on the british. you can’t appreciate any of the beauty of the city (look! historic buildings and sushi restaurants side-by-side! the river and the theatre and the lights and the multi-culti populace and the palace!) because you’re so busy staring downcast into the dirty gutters and breathing the bus fumes. i’m sure vancouver doesn’t have any dirty gutters and bus fumes, and it certainly doesn’t have any sucky brits.

this will pass. i know it will. but right now i’m looking down at the gutters. the city is squeezing the life out of me, i have no books, and there’s rubbish outside my front door.

bloody britain.

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that’s *lady* poshbottom to you

by Jen at 5:07 pm on 23.02.2010 | 1 Comment
filed under: londonlife, mundane mayhem

my biggest pet peeve these days? titles.

over here in the u.k., titles are *mandatory* for practically everything. every form you fill out, every account you open, every online purchase you make, you are required to choose a title.

stop! until you choose a title, you may not pass go! you may not buy that set of plastic mixing bowls for £9.99 until you answer the very important title question!

and while most of the time, it’s the standard mr./mrs./ms./miss choice, being that we live in the u.k., often the choices will include the more exotic honourifics lord/lady/sir/dame etc. etc. etc.

i’ve always been against titles on principle – there are very few instances where my gender and/or marital status are required knowledge for a retail exchange or provision of services to be carried out smoothly and successfully. it’s really wholly unnecessary in 99% of all instances. but in such places where it was required, i have always, always used ‘ms.’ as a title – partly as a nod to second wave feminism, but mostly because it’s none of their damn business whether or not i’m married and i like being cryptic.

over here though? even though i’ve always selected ‘ms.’ every bloody time they force me to use a title? they still put ‘miss’. without fail, on every item where jonno’s and my own differing surnames are included, i am ‘miss’. but even on my own bank account, my paycheque, my junk mail… all ‘miss’, every last one of them. for some reason, ‘ms.’ in the u.k. is not widely used… or, it would seem, acknowledged.

frankly, it pisses me off to no end. the insistence on a title where none is needed (does it *really* make any difference to my veg box order if i am baroness jen, or professor jen, or mrs. jen?) is idiotic enough, but in a country where arbitrary class designations are still so rife (as if by being born into a “noble” family, lord poshbottom of earlchestertonshire is somehow better than anyone else), and where the outmoded queen still sits on her throne pretending to be important in the world, i can kind of understand it.

but to force me to use a title and then not even honour my elected honourific? well that’s just galling. i may not think that titles are important, but to blatantly disregard what i choose to call myself is downright rude.

so lately i’ve been rebelling in my own childish, but amusing way – selecting titles at random. my grocery account is under ‘captain’ jen, my cable bill arrives for ‘mr.’ jen, and so on, and so forth. if they’re going to force me to play their little stupid, bullshit, classist game, then play it i will. it’s petty and small, i know, and entertains no one but myself.

but i can’t wait to use ‘marchioness’. or hell, maybe i’ll just start making some up.

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can you make it real? more than will, more than feel

by Jen at 5:46 pm on 15.01.2010 | 3 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem

how long can you hold on to a dream?  i was talking to my work colleague the other day about our current disillusionment with our jobs.  and they’re *fine* jobs – they’re good, solid jobs that make a difference to others.  but we just sort of fell into these roles, and they’re jobs that we’re good at, but not passionate about.   we spent an hour daydreaming about the kinds of things we wished we were doing instead.  “so what do you want to be when you grow up? ha ha ha,”  – but the laughter was hollow.

then the other day, amity wrote a blog post about not knowing which direction to head in her future.   and i, (always so quick with the sage advice that i am incapable of following myself), said don’t worry! lots of people are just feeling their way along in life! you’ll get there eventually!

but those two occurrences have left me feeling very unsettled.

i don’t remember how it was that i came to know i wanted to be a therapist, but at seventeen when i was applying to university, i knew that that was my ultimate goal.  there was never any question – i’ve always just known.

and now…well, three weeks ago i turned 37.

and in talking about it, it suddenly hit me like a punch to the gut – the hard realisation that *twenty years later*, i am no closer to my dream than i was then.

fuck me. twenty years.

oh sure, i’ve got a b.a., and i’ve made two aborted half-attempts at getting into grad school.  but those jokes i make about “working on a 50 year career plan” are worn threadbare of amusement.  i look at friends who are doing jobs they really love and wonder why the hell i’m not.  i’m filled with a deep, disquieting jealousy.

how did i let this happen?  i still want to be a therapist just as much as i did those twenty eager years ago.  more so, even.  it’s all i’ve ever really wanted to do, always been my ideal.  i can even picture myself doing it – i can imagine my office, i can imagine what i would wear, i can imagine what i would say.   i know i’d be good at it too, damnit.  if there was ever anything i thought was destined to be in my life, that’s it.

and every day i spend stuck where i am now, is one more day that i’m not working towards making that dream happen.

part of the holdup is that up until now j and i have been dithering about our moving plans – i wanted to hold out for more travelling opportunities first, he wanted to get to canada as soon as possible.   back-and-forth we go about the best approach, who will apply for a visa, how much money we need in the bank, can we take off for another couple months, yadda, yadda, yadda.

it’s the paralysis of indecision, and i’m sinking in it.

so the other day when i realised it had been twenty years, twenty fucking years, since i first knew “what i want to be when i grow up”… well, it occurred to me that maybe it’s actually time to grow up.

enough with the half-assed attempts, enough with always wanting to do just-one-more-thing first, enough with being stuck in the kind of job that makes me jealous of other people’s jobs.  i’ve been casting about for something new to anchor to, a new challenge – and i think i’ve found it.

for twenty years, it’s been there all along.

distopian dream girl – built to spill

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this year’s gonna be ours

by Jen at 5:17 pm on 8.01.2010 | 13 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem

yesterday “jen’s den of iniquity” passed its 6 year anniversary.

the form and function of this little blog have evolved so much since its inception. saying that, this has been a difficult year for me as a blogger – i’ve had more than a passing thought this last year about hanging it all up. small personal blogs like mine feel like they’ve been outmoded in many ways – unless you have a particular theme or tailor your writing for a specific audience (something i’ve steadfastly refused to do – for me it would just feel so artificial), it’s become really hard to build up a following. without concerted effort at self-promotion, the “community” of bloggers seems less organic than it was back in 2004. it’s particularly difficult if you don’t have any kids – so much of blogging seems to revolve around parents these days. that’s no knock on parents who blog … just the reality of who is reading and who is writing. for reasons i can’t quite pinpoint, i seem to have lost a large portion of my viewership this year, and (if i’m honest) spent some time sulking about that.

i spent a few months grappling with the atrophy of readers – it is difficult to feel that you are writing into a void. it’s hard not to take it personally when you spend a lot of effort writing something, only to have it go unnoticed. it makes it terribly difficult to stay motivated. i hate to admit how much even a few words of external validation mean to me. it’s *painful* to feel like you’re the last kid picked for the kickball team. this is not an appeal for anyone’s pity – just a recognition of why it bothered me so much.

but in all my pondering, sulking and mulling, i kept returning to this: it would pain me far more to not write at all. even if i only have an audience of one, writing has become so important to my daily life, so central to my being, that i could never quit it.

it’s become reflexive – i write in my head even when i can’t get to a keyboard. i write in my heart, even when it means nothing to anyone else.

i just can’t seem to quit you, my little den of iniquity.

so even if it’s just you and me and nobody else out there, happy anniversary.

last year – akron/family

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and cranky new year to you too

by Jen at 5:51 pm on 6.01.2010 | 4 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem

so 2010 didn’t get off to a great start for me. it all began back in 2009, when our boiler decided to cut out a few days before christmas, leaving us without any heat or hot water.

in an old flat with lots of falling-apart single pane windows – we’re talking stand in front of one and feel your hair blowing with the outdoor breezes.

during a 2 week cold snap with average temperatures of 0C (32F).

the thermometer read 12C (53F)… indoors.

thus began a 12 day saga to get the bloody boiler fixed. it included a mad dash for a space heater on Christmas day, waiting around for five plumbers appointments (two no-shows, and two where they didn’t actually even open the boiler) countless irate emails to our landlord, one denied request to stay at a hotel, one registered faux-legalese letter threatening to report it to the local council, and one episode of taking off work in the middle of the day to go home and identify the boiler model number. not to mention countless hours banging on the boiler fruitlessly, countless kettles boiled in order to take a lukewarm bath, countless tears of frustration, and countless hours huddled under blankets shivering.

it was hell. it was pure misery. it ruined my holidays.

finally, blessedly on monday we got our heat and hot water back. even now, two days later, i keep touching the radiators for their reassuring warmth.

imagine my reaction, then, when on New Year’s Day i awoke to an internet outage. which lasted six days. area outage, we were told – every day we would call up and be informed that it was estimated to be fixed by later that day, only to go to bed with the green modem light blinking sadly instead of glowing happily. finally they began telling us they couldn’t estimate when it would be fixed, and we stopped calling. thank god for 3g service – on those overlapping days when i was unshowered, freezing cold and internet-less, my iphone saved my sanity.

and then this morning i woke up to a happy modem light. praise jeebus and pass the beer nuts! there was a hairsbreadth line between me and the men in white jackets.

i may have previously mentioned my white hot hatred of virgin media.

this did not help.

so – not an auspicious start to the new year. but now i’m showered, warm, and fully connected again. it’s got to get better from here on out…right?

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gimme gimme gimme – the ‘09 edition

by Jen at 4:14 pm on 4.12.2009 | 2 Comments
filed under: holidaze, mundane mayhem

now that it’s officially december, and only 3 short weeks until christmas/my birthday, i like to give those who may need multiple gift ideas for me (read: jonno) a few helpful hints. with that in mind, i present my annual “gimme gimme gimme” list!

tokyomilk “honey and the moon” perfume.

tokyomilk

i very rarely fall in love with perfumes this quickly, but i love this – it’s sweet and spicy, and just a little bit complicated. unfortunately it’s only available either shipped internationally, or at the new anthropologie store on regent street. but it’s a steal at about £25

alternatively, fresh “sugar” perfume.

sugar

in a word, delicious. this has been on my wishlist for years now, and now there’s an actual fresh store in london!

the crumpler new delhi 230 camera bag

crumpler

now that i have a camera worth protecting, and extra lenses to lug, i need a new camera bag. but this also wonderfully doubles as a regular messenger bag when you remove the camera pouch! so i can use it as an all in one when i want to bring my camera but also need to stash my wallet/keys/etc, but also not look like a big dork if i use it for other stuff.

a philips wake up light alarm clock

alarm

i’ve heard people rave about these for years. in the winter, my sleep gets all kinds of messed up, and prising my eyes open in the pitch-black morning is pure torture. i’ve heard tell that these alarm clocks help wake you up gently over the course of a half hour, and you awake feeling alert. which would be a fine change from my generalised discombobulation.

sonicare toothbrush

toothbrush

i want to upgrade my electric toothbrush. nuff said.

almost forgot! some yoga blocks

blocks

i’ve been working on my jump through for a year now, and still can’t manage it with straight legs. so i need some blocks to practice. and hey! cheap present!

and finally at the other end of the spectrum: an imac

imac

i admit it, i want one. my first ever computer was a mac, and since i got my iphone earlier this year, i remembered why i loved them so much. my current computer is already 3 years old, and starting to show signs of wear. however since they start at £900, i have a feeling santa won’t be dropping one down my chimney any time soon.

so there you have it – my greedy little heart, version 2009. truthfully, though, i’d be so happy with just the company of good friends, some good food, and peace and health for all my loved ones.

but if you were on your way out to the apple store, i won’t stop you…

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writing to fill the void

by Jen at 6:45 pm on 18.11.2009 | 2 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem

i’m at that point where i’ve got about 6 or 7 half drafts sitting in the queue – the lonely stepchildren waiting for their deserved attention. the problem being that none of them seem quite worthy – they’re only old thoughts, rehashed, retreads. nothing novel, no diamonds in the rough. i give them a halfhearted pass every once in a while, but they’re just a handful of unpolished pebbles.

things in my life are starting to feel a bit like that as well. nothing new or exciting. the holidays are rolling around again in spite of my protest, and i have a feeble commitment to *do something* about them that resembles celebration and cheer. and i do mean it. sorta.

it’s this horrible sense of blah that gets me every time. give me emotional ups and downs and work and stress and drama and love and despair… but if you want to kill me properly, boring will do the trick. what other people embrace as calm and contentment is pure torture for me. it all makes me feel a bit deadened, numb. which is a problem of my personality, i freely admit (and given a big enough vacuum, will manufacture something myself) – but i just can’t help it. there’s time to be boring when you’re dead – that’s my motto.

but writing about boredom is boring. so i wait. i’m waiting for that next challenge or new glittering thing. waiting for the holidays. waiting for inspiration. waiting for boredom and winter and blahs to end.

i hope i’m not waiting too long.

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i’ve been wasting my days, good and reckless and true

by Jen at 9:52 pm on 10.11.2009 | 3 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem, mutterings and musings

i was reading on facebook today about my cousin applying to medical school. and for a split second, i had that stomach-plunging feeling of guilt tinged with shame. only for a split second, but it happened nonetheless. so i shook my head to banish the negative thoughts before they could take root, clicked off the page, and went on with the rest of my evening.

it’s a reflexive reaction, this guilt – the guilt of someone who was always labeled as “gifted”, who was always told how talented and intelligent she was, who was always at the top of the class without even trying… and who has spent the past 20 years doing sweet fuck all.

i remember the first time i was singled out in some way – in the first grade, my teacher took those three of us who could already read and write aside, and gave us the primers for the second grade to begin on. a few years later, i was given an iq test. by the time i got to fourth grade, i was being taken out of class once a week and bussed to an “enrichment programme” to play with computers and work on logic puzzles. by 6th grade the advanced kids were segregated into different classes altogether. by high school, we were being encouraged to take calculus and physics to beef up our scores for a demanding university application. even within in those segregated classes, i was always in the top ten with ease. i applied to two very selective universities, and got into both.

don’t get me wrong – this guilt, this pressure to achieve “great things” has always been completely internally generated. no one ever told me i had to achieve – but with an educational upbringing like that, somewhere the seed that there were *expectations* was planted. to whom much is given, much is expected, after all. so i’ve always had the idea that i was supposed to be a neurosurgeon or human rights lawyer or research scientist – some noble profession that involved academic rigours and long years of selfless sacrifice hunched over in a lab or reading briefs late into the night, but making a notable contribution to the greater good. needless to say, i’ve clearly never pursued those paths. alternatively, i also saw myself perhaps becoming a missionary-type, dedicating my life to helping the poor in underdeveloped countries, leading some important ngo, speaking 4 lanugages and wearing lots of flowing linen and silver jewelery.

yeah, that never quite happened either.

instead, i’ve turned into a middle manager. i live, by all accounts, an ordinary life. i do some interesting things sometimes. i do some boring things a lot of the time. i’m not terribly ambitious about my current career. some of what i do matters to some people – but if i were to die tomorrow, the whole of humanity would not be diminished by my unfinished work. and that’s okay.

i am, by and large, happy. i do things i’ve always wanted to do. my parents and family are proud of me. my friends think i am a good person. it’s all i would ever expect or want for anyone else i know.

yet there are these flashes of doubt. this nagging idea that i have squandered my gifts. every once in a while that internal pressure rises up into my chest and makes me feel guilty for being happy at being ordinary. so when i read about my cousin who is doing research into hiv and preparing for medical school, i can’t help but wonder if i shouldn’t be doing something more than being content with being ordinary.

until i click off the page, pour a glass of wine, settle into the couch with my husband and cat. and spend a few moments in revelling in just how extraordinary being ordinary can be.

ordinary – the alternate routes

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I’ve been wasting my days, Good and reckless and true, I have danced in the dark at the edge of the water, Swinging my hips at the black and the blue, When you die will you be surrounded by friends? Will they pray for a heaven out loud, a hope that somehow they will see you again? And at the end of the day, knowing not what it means, Will you stand in the ashes, building a flame for the rest of your dreams? Would you love, could you love to be ordinary? I know its hard but I can’t see you trying, Would you love, could you love to be ordinary? ‘Cause I can’t see you trying now

And I see strangers at war, I see strangers at peace, Still I hang my head in confusion, It’s always been a choice that’s been harder for me, And at the end of the day, knowing not what it means, Will you stand in the ashes, building a flame for the rest of your dreams? Would you love, could you love to be ordinary? I know it’s hard but I can’t see you trying, Would you love, could you love to be ordinary? No I can’t see you trying now

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i have seen fear and convenience

by Jen at 12:16 pm on 6.09.2009 | 2 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem

so: oh my god. i just manually upgraded two wordpress installations in under 15 minutes. (if you run wordpress and haven’t already upgraded to 2.8.4, you need to do it now!)

back when i first started this blog, 5 and a half years ago, very few people had self-hosted wordpress installations. and really? i had no idea what i was doing. i knew from nothing about css or php or mysql. i couldn’t tell a php declaration from a hole in the wall. and every time you upgraded your wordpress installation, you had to do it all manually. so this here, is what i used to go through each and every time. it all *sounds* easy enough. but really, it was a bitch.

the quickest way to start learning css and php and mysql? when upgrading goes horribly wrong.

the blood! the sweat! the tears! oh, the tears.

and so through much trial and error, i would spend hours figuring out what had fucked up. where the files had become corrupted. how to restore from the backup database. etc., etc., etc. it was all very painful, and i began to associate upgrading with the kind of post-traumatic stress usually only seen in shell-shocked veterans. ah, those were the good old days.

praise jeezus, upgrading these days is practically a touch-button process if you have a standard installation. a few weeks ago my friend amity was having trouble upgrading her wordpress, and we managed to do it from a starbucks. it all seemed pretty blase to her, of course. she’s only ever experienced the modern-day wordpress.

but for people like me who, by necessity, learned the ins-and-outs of the wordpress – the admin configs, the template code, the calls and querys of “the loop”, the table indexes – it all seems pretty miraculous. so while i still sat down at the computer this morning with not a small amount of dread, my upgrading fear is truly gone. i had a cup of coffee, upgraded, and sat down to blog about it )

hallelujah.

fear and convenience – thao and the get down, stay down

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r.i.p. ted kennedy

by Jen at 5:40 am on 26.08.2009 | 2 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem

i just woke to this terribly sad news.

i have always been so proud of the things ted kennedy stood for and fought for over his career. i have always been so fiercely proud to call him my senator.

the world has lost a truly great humanitarian, one of the last great liberals. he made me proud to be a liberal.

i hope that we can continue to carry on his legacy, and succeed in his last great quest: universal healthcare.

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