Culture shock! America is so .... weird.
Heard three times before breakfast: "You aren't from around here, are you?"
Feasts were consumed, Doctor Who was viewed (again), presents distributed. I got a Moominmama cup and a barometer!
Wherever you are, whatever you believe, happy holidays & best wishes....
I found the xmas stockings! They were in the turkey pan. In the office closet. Filed under "travel books." Obviously.
The turkey is in the fridge, the cranberries are boiling, children accounted for, and when we four are together in one place I feel like everything is fine and right in the world. Even when a snowstorm closes the airports and our departure for the other home is threatened.
I can't find the xmas stockings! How will Santa know where to deliver the loot??
While on that topic: my wee sweet little baby went and grew up and now lives elsewhere.
I've never had a Christmas without her, not once in my entire adult life.
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
So long as my flight next week isn't cancelled.
In other news, Marisa Anderson is one of my favourite people in the whole wide world. And she is an excellent musician. Hurry! Get the new album!
Last summer I dragged my charming companion to a specialist to have his suspicious moles examined. The doctor was dismissive until I asserted my highly specialised personal knowledge of skin cancer. Several hundred cancerous lesions does tend to lend a certain credibility to the proceedings.
He asked me "I presume you have regular check-ups?"
I shrugged and replied "Conceptually."
"What does that mean?"
"It means I don't like to be cut."
The doctor did not approve of this wayward answer.
Unfortunately, I was telling the truth. The last time I braved the clinics I walked out with a disfiguring scar in the middle of my face. I'm not especially vain, and I have legions of other scars, so you might think the newest addition would not matter. But it did. It does.
I can't see my back, my belly is covered by clothing, the spectacles conceal the fact my eyelid has been slashed, and the scars on the front of my neck have faded. Over the course of an average day it was true that I did not see the evidence of disease, decay, disaster. Out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes.
But a few weeks after I moved to the UK a skilled and diligent British physician slashed my face open to remove a tumour, leaving me with a scar an inch long - a scar I see every time I look in the mirror, a scar I feel every time I smile.
Other people claim they notice nothing, but that is a courtesy, a kindness. Or even if true, really, does it matter? The wound is distressing to me. It is my face.
I have cancer, present tense, and I always will. If I go to the doctor, I have biopsies, and the samples are invariably positive. That is how it goes. The cancer will not kill me - the real risk is that the longer I wait to have the tumours removed, the worse the damage to surrounding tissue. I don't want to lose my nose or ears, but I am so profoundly done that I indulge in magical thinking: if I don't go to the doctor, the doctor won't cut me, and therefore, I don't need to go to the doctor.
My "feelings" are so extreme you may as well call them pathological, but why bother? That would imply the need for therapy, and therapy is just another set of appointments. I do not wish to go to the doctor. Not now, not ever.
But even my oppositional stalwart self eventually gives way to practical concerns. The nature of the NHS in general and Cambridge in particular meant that it took awhile to get a referral, longer to secure an appointment, by which time I had moved to London. But today I took the train back to that despised town, disrobed, and submitted my skin to loathed scrutiny.
The verdict: I need eight biopsies. Four of the lesions are definitely cancerous. Two of the spots are highly suspicious. The rest are just a better safe than sorry treat selection.
This was all entirely, for me, normal. Expected. Average. In fact, rather good news - at the height of treatment I had a couple dozen tumours sliced off every single month.
The only shocking part of the appointment was the fact that I have been referred to a plastic surgeon.
I can't decide: does this mean my recent ascension to the middle class is obvious? That I somehow look more ladylike, and therefore vain? That this particular doctor is more concerned about aesthetics than anyone else who has examined me? Or that these biopsies will be more invasive and destructive than all the hundreds of others I have endured?
Massive cuts to government spending so far this month include over thirty thousand state jobs lost in all sectors including police, coast guard services, severe limits to winter fuel programs for the elderly, reduction of ambulance and emergency room response times, and, oh, the list goes on and on.
Remember this is just the start: it is reasonable to assume that cuts to education will include loss of jobs and services in an undulating wave of devastation.
What next, oh mighty coalition? Take away voting rights? Reintroduce the workhouse? Embrace indentured servitude? Bring back government sanctioned slavery?
Mebbe the coalition thinks all the public sector employees should just become East End high tech entrepreneurs. Except, oh wait! My industry is also undergoing "market corrections." Sure, some unemployed bankers and quants have meandered over to Old Street. But speculative investment and a few blathering news reports do not constitute an industry.
Hmm. What a puzzle. Or, rather, basic economic principle. The Tories are just plain wrong in their policies, and the Lib-Dems are snivelling cowards to support the agenda. For what? To stay in "power" ?
Who managed to snaffle tickets to the Doctor Who Christmas Special? Me!
I even liked the Q&A, and I hate Q&A!
I've never believed people can change; circumstances, yes, people, no. We are what we are from birth until death, and people tell you everything you need to know within five minutes of meeting. Yes, experience can temper attitude, people mature or deteriorate, but beyond that?
It is wise to listen to the stories people tell. Whether truthful or fiction, the future of your relationship is all contained in the introduction.
Throughout my life I have hung out with charming reprobates, and while this choice has proved exhausting, it was, after all, a choice. Hooking up with thieves, liars, people I have evicted for good reason - hardly surprising that mayhem ensued. Heck, the first time around I married someone I met in criminal court; the consequences were easy to predict.
It is certainly true that I am exactly as advertised: acerbic, irascible, obstreperous. Caustic. Scrappy. Mean. Tricked out with long hair, lipstick, and cleavage. Some people like that sort of thing, but they are hardly ever the ones I want to talk to.
I've considered the question at length (seventeen years or so of pondering, to be precise) and finally decided to make an honest woman of him:
Finally settled in a place I love, threats material and emotional conquered and discarded, whatever should I write about?
Hmm. How about. . . food!
I had a great time but the single most impressive place we visited? The Grocery on Kingsland Road. I stood in the aisles, almost whimpering at the sight of sprouts, tempeh, Braggs, Dr. Bronner. It was small, but perfect - like the Olympia Westside Co-op in 1992! Minus group process and hippies!
Later people would drag me back for debauchery of all manner around Hoxton Square and Dalston but I always gravitated toward Jaguar Shoes, favoured at least partly because it is a few doors down from The Grocery.
When I decided to move to London I picked the property mainly for proximity to trains, and somewhat for (can you guess?) access to . . . The Grocery. By then Cambridge specifically and England in general had deprived me of nearly all the goods I consider necessary to daily life. For instance, do you know how hard it is to maintain a daily supply of greens? Do you know how difficult it is to frequent independent shops, to keep your money circulating in your own neighbourhood?
My British friends claim they are shocked at my shopping habits. Or they make fun - Iain says The Grocery is for people who think Whole Foods common.
Other friends state quite firmly that my local store, and Food Hall on Old Street, and the weekend markets are "too expensive."
This leads me to the question: what exactly are my friends eating??
My shopping and cooking habits are the same with money or without: I stock up on basics, cooking large quantities of simple food from scratch. I make, serve, and freeze various tomato-based sauces and bean-based stews. I roast chickens for dinner and sandwiches, boiling the bones for broth. I keep a ready supply of fruit and veg on hand to grab for snacks.
I'm not interested in arguments about the merits of organic certification, because organics are generally fresh and simple. I don't want wax on my apples, artificial colours in my biscuits, wheat and corn where neither belong, any sort of food shot through with preservatives. Remember, this is not an abstraction for me: I have cancer. I have a serious auto-immune disorder. Factor in growing children, or a partner with debilitating allergies? You bet I buy organic.
Beyond that, truly free range eggs and meat (if you must eat them) taste better. And if you consume in a sensible way that harkens back to the food pyramid we used in the 70's, limiting animal proteins, they don't cost that much more. I'm not going to spend an hour of my life traipsing around looking to save 30 pence on a carton of eggs. The economics don't work: I earn more than that in an hour if I sit at my desk.
Even in my desperately poor youth I bought the same basic stuff; it was often difficult, but as a budgetary category, it made more sense to buy good food than bad. I just did without elsewhere. Now? While it is true that I will occasionally buy expensive cheese, or olives, or chocolate, the luxury is still acknowledged as such: these are treats. My weekly spend on food has been the same for twenty years - it only represents a different percentage of income depending on how much I earn.
I don't buy processed foods, no matter what the provenance. I believe that juice is the devil's handmaiden. The categories of consumption not allowed in my household are a better savings measure than any chain supermarket could offer.
So of course I am thrilled that I can walk out of my building and within a block find fresh basil, kale, garlic, blocks of tofu, espresso beans, organic milk. And yeah, if you know me in real life I will either lecture or mock if you criticise my choices. All this effort, for all these years? It was fundamentally about the food.
It is so nice my daughter is an adult: the risk of kidnapping has vanished!
I can disclose my location, discuss and describe my immediate vicinity, share contact information! On my daily perambulations I can look at flowers instead of scanning for bad guys!
I no longer need to sit with my back against the wall.
Miles and years have converted the threat to piquant dinner table anecdote, but it was legitimate. Real. True. Not just a shouted refrain in a custody dispute: oh no. Someone factually held a loaded handgun to my head and made very sure I understood.
Vague instinct informs that this is the sort of thing other people would describe as "traumatic" but I of course just stared down my adversary and got on with life.
I had a kid to raise, after all. There was no need to involve her in drama, beyond a daily litany: don't talk to strangers, don't talk to relatives who show up unexpectedly at school, don't leave school with anyone except your mother. Don't go to the park alone. Don't play in your own yard unsupervised. Don't tell anyone where you live.
She was the kid who was not allowed to be photographed on field trips, the one with copies of her custody papers on file in the school office. She was the one the teachers kept an eye on, at all times, and not just because she is so lively and audacious.
I didn't take her with me on book tours, never mentioned her name in my writing, refused to have her or our home photographed while publicising my work. The work itself was influenced: keeping my daughter safe was the most important thing in the world, and if that meant I could not live and work openly, fine.
I took it as a writing exercise: how to tell the truth without stating all the facts.
My great crime in relationships is lacerating sarcasm. I am a mouthy, wilful creature. But, as is the nature of things, the amenities that attracted my various partners are the same characteristics they hated in the end.
I was not too young to be a mother. I was too young to be a wife.
But now those concerns are all in the past and it is difficult to realise that so much of my life has been tainted by the primal fear of loss, of my child being taken away. Certainly other people are willing to forget - not least the man who informed me his life would be improved by my death.
I might be willing to file the kidnapping and death threats under the heading "youthful hijinks." I can't forgive as I have never received an apology, but I could pretend. Play make-believe. Follow the etiquette: dissemble, because consensual amnesia is social lubricant. It would be much easier for everyone concerned if I just let it all go.
But doing so would be a disservice to my daughter, to myself, to people reading this who might need help, and even to the memory of that relationship. This is who I am: I remember. I report. I hold people accountable.
If you can't do the time, don't do the crime. I'm the same person at thirty-nine as I was at nineteen, and will remain if I live to see ninety-nine. Reconciliation isn't the point - I will always laugh as I tell scathing, scary stories. I will always love the same people, for the same reasons, whether I talk to them or not.
My kid is grown, independent, dazzling. She will make her own choices about knowing the rest of her family, and she has my support no matter what happens.
The first and fundamental principle is simple: always tell the truth. No matter how difficult, unwieldy, or frightening, it is better by far to acknowledge what is actually happening.
I dare you to read this interview: click for more.
While unpacking I have been reading a random assortment of books and essays that turn up at the top of teetering stacks of shit. This is consistent with my normal approach to literature, but for whatever alchemical reason I keep encountering this stereotype of the English Rose - British women with dewy, lovely skin.
I've lived here for six years and honestly, I don't see this characteristic in the people around me. Unless all of these writers actually mean the slightly moldy look of being deprived of sun most of year? Because it is true that many locals (like me) look pallid and wan. One might go so far as to say anaemic.
Though in context I presume the English Rose is code for something more sinister - a colonial or imperial (and certainly class based) assertion of worth. In these books virtue, value, and national pride are equated with white skin. Even if the author has official beliefs to the contrary.
This is absurd for all of the obvious reasons, and shocking because similar comments turn up in contemporary media. Um, in a word, no.
I've finished setting up my office:
Decision taken, tickets booked: I will be in the states for my birthday.
Last year I was stuck in Cambridge, unable to travel because of immigration restrictions, and I decided to make a list.
I sat in a cafe I disliked in a town I hated with a piece of paper and a bleary pen. I outlined where I wanted to be, and what it would take to get there. The specific destination was less important than the philosophical imperative of change - profound, brutal, transformative, necessary.
Back then I didn't like my life, so radical departure did not pose a threat. Transgressions are immaterial if you have no expectations.
The initial list of a dozen practical goals grew into a knotty, thwarted miasma, but I am both diligent and sanguinary. I had nothing to lose - in case you missed the point, my life so far, while entertaining, has been entirely difficult in every possible way.
So I did it. Here I am, on the other side. And this life is really good.
The only surprise is a shift in notional propriety. It seems that my schematic of belief was less chosen than received, and indicated not much more than a strategy for survival.
Apparently (and this was truly a surprise) I have hidden reserves of rage. What does this mean in a practical daily sense? From now on I will defend what is mine with an unexamined, reflexive ferocity. Poachers and haters beware! My time, sympathy, and material resources are fenced and guarded.
My bad reputation is deserved, and deserving.