Part Five Chapter One

Part Five Chapter One

It’s not an easy thing to wake up in the wrong country. It makes that hazy moment before your eyes actually open one of low-level dread that it’s all actually happening, but you still have to crawl out of bed earlier than you’d like, and do things for money so you can eat food, in the hope that you’ll wake up to a day where things are less crap.

This is exacerbated by my unwilling repatriation. Years of living in London abruptly, and somewhat dramatically (apologies to the pub for the lingering smell of burning hair), came to an end with the United Kingdom’s (and all of its citizens) unwillingness to put a ring on it. The world is getting smaller and more connected and the first, brick to the face, result of this shift has been fear, swiftly followed by resistance. It’s working out really great for everyone. To see so many nations of world with both hands fisted in the fabric of nationalism so firmly, many of which were on the wrong side of the last pass of this wave, is devastatingly disappointing.

I’ve started my whole life over a few times now. And I’ll do it again. But I don’t want to this time. I’ll do it anyway. Piece together house, job, food, friends, and climate appropriate wardrobe. Because it’s what you do. And valleys end in peaks, right? With about half of the above in place I can honestly say I’ve learned more than I predicted about what I can live with and what I can live without. I need friends; I don’t need close approximations thereof. And I need to work doing something that I believe in.

This whole life malarkey really is a work-in-progress sort of deal. Coping.

 

 

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Cardigan of Doom

I’ve developed something of a lip product addiction, which does not on the surface seem to have much to do with cardigans. But it does. I think about which lip gloss to put in my handbag more than what shirt to wear (an unheard of anomaly) and lust after the clicky packaging on Chanel lipsticks with, admittedly, too much enthusiasm. It’s a bit extreme, a little shallow, and not like me. Or, it wasn’t like me.

The version of me with the laser focused lip preoccupation wears more make-up all the time. She wears dresses and tights more than jeans and jumpers. And only uses tote bags to carry her groceries back from Waitrose. One year ago me had a lot of cardigans. A cardigan for every day of the week, and then some. This had everything to do with being a high school teacher, because adding a cardigan to skinny jeans and metallic flats was my conception of a cute, professional, yet still recognizably feminine, and not completely irrelevant person.

When teaching started to become that thing that will be my job for a while, instead of that thing that I’m doing in between cool and creative writing jobs, a slow creeping terror began to set in. It was subtle and kind of had a poltergeist demon whisper thing going on.

“…this over air-conditioned classroom is the only place you will experience human interaction and it will be with children with the intellectual capacity of grapefruits….”

“…your only creative activity until you retire in 40 years will be to slightly differentiate the same curriculum year after year…and no one will care…”

And other funny things, like

“…you might die here. Wearing a cardigan…”

Hahaha. Not hysterical at all, really. Honestly, eating toddler ravioli cups for lunch was also getting to me. But it was the closet full of cardigans, shoving my over-indulgent dress collection into the dark dusty recesses that most clearly signified the need for change.

Fast forward a year, and I live in the greatest city in the world with amazing friends, hobbies (!), and an unscheduled freedom that gives me time and space to be spontaneous, adventurous, and wear all my dresses. With full awareness that this is a temporary state of being, I’m soaking it up for all it’s worth. Part of me knows that the cardigans are waiting in the aforementioned recesses. And their day may come given the student loan statement I’m currently ignoring. But that day is not today. And there is also a glimmer of hope that another sartorial future awaits. Fingers crossed for lots of hats.

Dreams Come with Tiny Nightmares

In this case I am not referring to dreams when you are asleep dreams (though obviously those can also be nightmares; like the one I had yesterday where all the hardware disappeared from my handbag and my laptop crumbled in my hands…*shudder*) Anyway. I’m talking about the other kind of dream. The “Dream big!” kind. The “Dream come true!” kind. The kind that has the thing(s) you really, really want in this slice of existence.

Depending on personal philosophy, parenting, mental imbalances, and available cash we all have different perceptions of how possible acquiring or fulfilling our dreams will be, and deciding what our dreams are. Sometimes our dreams choose us, but either way people and circumstances are going to get in your way and every challenge presents the possibility of giving up on the dream, or getting past what’s in your way and getting a little bit closer. This part we’re all familiar with.

But what about when you find out you are finally going to meet your dream and you’re plagued with a month-long panic attack that you are going to completely fuck it up in some way? No one talks about that part. That’s where the wands come in during Disney movies. And upbeat music montages are edited in during all other movies. No one shares the step between trying your hardest and singing on the mountain top, where you hyperventilate, and eat chocolate with every breath, and you develop a twitch trying to suppress crazy eyes every time someone asks if “you’re excited??” (It is also possible I have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, but lets ignore that for the time being).

girl-crying-2

To be clear, I am not saying “be careful what you wish for”  because I do not believe that dreaming is the time to be careful. I believe the opposite in fact. Dream as if there are no consequences whatsoever. But this phase, the post-struggle-pre-having stage is the time for care and planning and details. Evidently it is also the time for alcohol. Or whatever form of relaxation and heart rate reduction you prefer. Because the reality of something that has only ever manifested in your imagination is overwhelming and feeling all the feels associated with its fruition is part of the experience. I wouldn’t give up these moments of helpless emotional and physical gasping (even if I will self medicate them) because it just goes to show how monumentously great it is to wrap your hands around the object of your obsession/affection/heart’s desire.

If it isn’t an overwhelmingly great thing to have, is it worth wanting in the first place? I’m calling it a win. I’m also calling my mother. If you haven’t let anything get between you and what you want, don’t let fear be the thing that does.

Do Not Open Until

Pretend for a second that these are your favorite pair of underwear (this may be awkward for you if you are a male person, but just go with it). What scenario would justify wearing them? A date? Your birthday? Tuesday? Not until your 20th wedding anniversary?

How we include our favorite things in our lives can be very telling about how we are as people, I think. For a very long time I have had a favorite everything- shirt, plate, lipgloss, scissors, pen, and, of course, underwear- and got a weird sense of satisfaction out of not using it. I would come up with elaborate fantasy scenarios for the circumstances that would give me the permission to use or wear whatever it was. This nail polish is so perfect and beautiful, and cost three dollars more than any other nail polish I own, so I will only wear it when I go out for strawberry milkshakes with my true love. Cut to finding this four dollar bottle of nail polish in the back of a drawer (which it was fused to) looking semi-exploded and a completely different color than it started because it is so old and gross.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

 

I do still believe it’s nice to save some things for special occasions, but what qualifies as a special occasion should be something that is likely to occur in the regular course of your life at least two or three times a year, or more depending on the longevity of the item. The logical reasons for this include expiration dates (not always just a suggestion), value, and the very nature of indulgence. Lots of things are at their best when they’re fresh, and not just the perishables. Clothes go out of fashion and handbags get much less dusty if you use them. And if you’ve bought something because you love it more than the usual things in your life then it’s purpose for existing, and your purpose in buying it, are squandered by it’s being put on a pedestal of seclusion.

It took  me a long time to realize this was stupid, and even longer to do something about it. Now that I have consciously become someone who does and uses what they like I’m extremely aware of it and hyper appreciative when I do. And I have to say it’s so much better than not doing it or using it- as you probably knew, because you are not a freak with a five year old sample pouch of luxury shampoo.

While “you’re worth it” (and you are), “life is short”, and “YOLO” these extreme philosophies shouldn’t be necessary to get into the practice of enjoying your life. Definitely keep a nice bottle of champagne in the fridge in case something exciting happens, but if no one has commited their lives to you or decided to give you more money by the end of the year, then drinking it while you eat pie and watch your Buffy the Vampire Slayer box set in novelty leggings is a worthwhile special occasion.

Stuff Sick

Now that I am in the very throes of Autumn in London people have started to ask me if I’m homesick at all, if I miss where I came from. My first instinct, of course, is to look at them as if they have suddenly grown another head because we are standing in London when they ask me this. What is there to miss when you’re in the greatest city in the world?

But anytime you do something different and new there are always going to be things about what was old and the same that you do think might be nice to have from time to time. When I actually stopped to think about these things, for me, it really amounts to stuff. I miss the crap that wouldn’t fit in the suitcase. Not enough to fly home and get it. Or to even try to find a reasonable facsimile here, just enough for an “Aw, shucks” moment.

I’m in wild, passionate love with London and have no desire to be anywhere else, but these are the little things I kind of wish were here with me:

1. Mac and Cheese.

2. Driving. Not that I want to drive or park a car here, but the efficiency of tube, bus and feet will never be as much fun as driving.

3. In-N-Out burger and other food that is both delicious and genuinely cheap (damn you currency conversion)

burger

4. Mexican food. Made by Mexican people.

5. My jewelry box, and its contents, but mostly the box.

6. Having a living room. With a TV.

7.  My mommy (only sometimes) Umm, I mean, the beach, yeah, the beach is cool.

8. That one dress that I didn’t think I would need but would be totally perfect for this thing and is now uselessly sitting in a box 8,000 miles away.

9. Cake. And pie. And cookies. Brits think they know how to make these, but they are wrong.

10. Target. And really just the concept of going to one store to get all of your essentials. But, exercise is good, too, I hear.

Of course there are things that would make life just a bit more perfect, but that would be true no matter where I am. Also, I may or may not have chosen a few boxes of Mac and Cheese instead of that dress when it came to packing my suitcase, and that’s a decision I may or may not have to live with. And I can bake my own cookies and steal cars if I need to.

Beyonce of Britain

They warned me. And I didn’t listen. I should have known better. Every time I travel somewhere, for any length of time, I get a bit more attention then when I’m back where I grew up. You know what kind of attention I’m talking about. This may or may not have anything to do with the fact that my happy quotient dramatically increases when I’m somewhere new and exciting and amazing. Leading up to my intercontinental move, certain of my friends and family, while supportive, told me to be careful because the male population was going to prostrate themselves at my feet (the unsupportive ones said I would be kidnapped and stabbed – but same idea). And I laughed. Because that would never happen.

I had to think for a long time how best to explain this. Now it isn’t as if I’ve never inspired surprising behavior from men before in my life, or women for that matter, and anyone who has been in public with me knows that I am a crazy magnet (like that guy with one eye who pet my hair in line at the grocery store…and…that’s another blog). But I have not been at university for a while now and working early hours with an early bedtime has meant that I’m used to being treated mostly normally in a professional setting. I naturally assumed that those days of leaving lustful insanity in my wake were in my past.

Wrong. So wrong. Saying it out loud sounds like a lie. I would think I had imagined it if it weren’t for the physical evidence to hand and the baffled looks on the faces of passersby.

I have been undeniably stalked on five completely separate occasions in the last two weeks. Even for someone whom weird things happen around this seems excessive. And because we live in a gender biased world full of assumptions we should be embarrassed by, let me just say that I was not wearing anything particularly provocative and none of these occurrences were in a bar or a club. And I tell you this not to explain or defend myself, but to illustrate the whole picture. One in a shop, one at dinner, one on the tube, one on the street, and one while I was sitting next to a fountain. After the second one it was really hard not to say, “Again?? Really?!”

And the things they said… “Are you sleeping with anyone right now?” “We’ll go to dinner tonight.” (Not a question.) “Where are you going right now?” “So, where is your house?” “You’re so attractive I had to try.” How did they imagine this going?? I don’t know you! I don’t know what the charming way is to approach a complete stranger with an appeal to spend time with them, but I know that these were not it.

 

When I say stalking I literally mean I was standing and walking and they would place themselves a step behind and right next to me for a significant amount of time before blurting out personal questions and eventually asking for my number, phone in hand. Now, I’ve been out of the game for a while but I’m pretty sure that this is not a generally accepted method of flirting. It can’t be. When my first instinct is to hold my purse closer and scan my immediate surroundings for witnesses you are not putting me in a frame of mind to want to spend time with you in the future. And how are you confident enough in this plan to already have your phone out? I genuinely hope that these were once in a lifetime occurrences for all of these men – even if that’s giving myself way too much credit – because I’m not ready to acknowledge a world where there is enough positive reinforcement to encourage that kind of behavior. I was led to believe that British men were more reticent than the usual and formal introductions would be necessary before any romantic entanglements could even be hinted at. And that still seems to be the case with the ones I actually want to talk to, but my goodness, the ones I don’t. I walk down the street like a normal person and somehow they see this:

Except, you know, much whiter. Most of the time I would love to be mistaken for a Beyonce-like creature, but in this instance I’m only using the simile because she’s the only reference I could think of that seems to be set apart from the typical human experience. Someone for whom this kind of insanity might be commonplace. And she might be the only one I can talk to about it, because the most obnoxious part of this experience has been not the stalking itself – which is bad enough – but the reactions of people I tell, with a few exceptions. Even in the age of #YesAllWomen and #womenshould the general consensus has been “Well, aren’t you lucky”, “You weren’t stripping when this happened?”, and “Have you tried being less pretty?”

I’m really not sure what to do with that. For now my fake boyfriend I’m always on my way to meet is developing a rather complex back story. Beyond that I’ll just have to hope you can think about how “Pretty Hurts” when you’re a “Single Lady” without too much “Resentment”, while I try to avoid those both “Crazy In Love” and “Drunk in Love” in my search for something “Irreplaceable” while I “Run the World”. “XO”.

Being a Lady While Being a Lady

There are plenty of things that are perfectly within your realm of control to ensure your perpetual perception as a paragon of class and practical perfection (that was quite a bit of alliteration- I apologize). You can plan your outfits to be weather, event, and circumstantially appropriate. In fact you definitely should, because two out of three of the above is not going to cut it. Your heeled wedges are perfect for the mild summer breezes and the grass at the afternoon outdoor wedding, but if the rustic chic barn is a mile from the freaking parking lot then you will be sweaty and angry with a broken ankle when you make it to cocktail hour. In this situation you should really go with a nice ballet flat and possibly make new friends that realize the wisdom of a shuttle bus.

You can also stock your purse with all of the hydrating mist spray, hand sanitizer, bottle openers, and pens that it will fit. But, first, remember that being that prepared makes for a very heavy bag and sanitizer is not going to help you with imbalanced weight induced scoliosis. It also means it’s really hard to find the things you really do need out of your purse, like keys. Do you really need something else in your bag that possesses the power to explode at an inopportune moment? Pen, paper, and eight tootsie pops are obviously requisite.

woman at work

Then there are the things that we can do nothing about, regardless of all the planning in the world. A door that is too heavy to open when your arms are full of important and precariously balanced papers. Spilling… well there are really an innumerable number of things you can spill. Wardrobe malfunctions. Periods. To continue being a lady in these kinds of scenarios takes commitment and calm. Raging lunatic is not ladylike, solves nothing, and looks good on no one. So put the papers down and then open the door. Asking for help is completely acceptable and is not a threat to global feminism. As for the spilling, a Tide pen should really be one of the pens in your stash- and if you’re like me then a spare shirt is not a bad idea. Wardrobe malfunctions can take many forms but most can be solved with a safety pin, some duct tape, or mole skin. As for periods- do not panic. Assess the crisis, excuse yourself from public interaction, do damage control insofar as you can, and call in reinforcements as necessary.

Maintaining your composure is the real key to being a lady. You are more than anything you have and anything that happens. And there’s always wine.