So I’ve lived in London now for as long as it takes to gestate a baby human, which is a fitting analogy considering I’ve barely left the womb (otherwise known as the circular path from my home to school and home again). I laughingly tell the girl–and anyone else who will listen–that I feel less like I moved to London and more like I moved to her house, which could essentially be located ANYWHERE for all I’ve seen of what’s outside of it.
School took up a mammoth portion of the last nine months. This is due in part to my ginormous learning curve and also because I am less interested in rote memorization than I am actual comprehension and general ass-kickery. Getting back into studying was less like remembering how to ride a bike and more like figuring out how to slap a fish with a watermelon — totally starting from scratch with zero previous study skills to draw from in a completely foreign educational environment (save the common language) with about 5-10 years of life experience on the majority of my professors. One seminar leader actually giggled and said “OMAHGAWD! You’re like, TEN YEARS OLDER THAN ME! That’s so WEIRD!” I laughed with dead-eyes and secretly wished her random hairs growing from weird places on her body, plus also gas pains.
I picked up some skills along the way that will help me next year, though many of them I didn’t actually figure out until the end of the last term which meant that my first year was quite a bit harder than it needed to be.
Stuff I Learned Too Late:
– Slides are available online! I knew this, but it took me two terms to figure out that this meant I didn’t need to waste time copying their contents during lectures.
– Also maybe don’t transcribe the ENTIRE ARTICLE into your notebook. Not everything is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.
– Perhaps most importantly: Joint Honours = Double Major = TWICE THE WORK. It doesn’t mean a nice mesh of two subjects so you get the best bits of both, it means learning ALL THE THINGS plus also TWICE THE EXAMS.
For a smart girl, I can be a little slow on the uptake. (We’ll revisit this theme again later in the blog post.)
The last slog to final examinations this year was pretty intense. For nearly a full month, the only time I left the house was the five minute walk around the corner to purchase more caffeine. I turned a sickly, pallid shade and began to refer to my laptop as ‘the precious.’ But I managed to write two essays and memorize 12 sets of very intense flashcards for my 3 unseen essay exams. Unseen Essay Exams, by the way, suck. Here’s the math:
2:1 ratio of subjects covered to questions on the exam.
This means half the stuff you learn ISN’T represented by a question on the exam. BUT – you don’t know which half will be left off.
This ensures that you study twice as many subjects as you’ll actually be answering questions on and might still possibly find that you studied for the wrong things, at which point you’re basically hosed.
Plus, this isn’t multiple choice – you need to be able to write a fairly long, insightful, detailed, coherent essay with dates, authors, key theoretical points and ideally some originality – from memory, in an hour.
Thankfully I picked correctly for all three exams, though I’ll have to wait until mid-July to find out how I did. The lowest grade I received throughout the year was a 60% – which sounds bad when you think in American terms, however the UK system looks like this:
A first (A equiv.) equates to the student having an average of over 70%
An upper second (2:1) (B) is between 60% and 69%
A lower second (2:2) (C) is between 50% and 59%
A third (D) is between 40% and 49%
So basically, I got a low B. And it about KILLED me, especially as it was simply a lack of understanding about how much definition they wanted in the essay vs. how much application. I applied the knowledge but I didn’t define it so even though they mentioned that it was a passionate and well-written essay, they marked me down a full grade because I didn’t engage enough with the text. Infuriating. But lesson-learned. Every other paper came in at 70% or above and, for the first time in my life I actually got the highest grade in a course (78% – which is consider ‘publishable’). NERD CRED!
I went back to Portland in April for a quick visit which was largely amazing, yet also consisted of me being hit by a truck (I’m OK), finding out about a death in the family (RIP Uncle Aaron) and being informed that I was about to lose my job at some near but indefinite point in the future. Pretty unhappy-making, all-around, although my uncle was suffering quite a bit so his passing was a mixed bag. Sad, but grateful he’s no longer in pain. As for my pain, it took me a few weeks to get my body back in workable shape from being shoved out of alignment but the stress of the impending job loss was slightly more complex to deal with. Admittedly, after putting in 11 years with the company, getting canned simply because they wanted someone in the office for bureaucratic reasons was infuriating. More importantly, being outside the USA means that I’m not entitled to unemployment compensation there, nor am I able to collect the ‘dole’ here, so as soon as my job ended I faced absolutely zero income. Pretty terrifying.
Several good things came out of it, however, not the least of which was a forced conversation about teamwork in my relationship in which my muleheaded pride and willful independence was directly challenged by the earnest, doe-eyed expressions of support and ‘in-it-togetherness’ from The Girl. She insisted on the ridiculousness of my paying rent while studying and I balked at the proposed inequality but couldn’t deny the possibility that a time may come in the nearer-than-not future where I’d have to consider her offer. If my pride was a marshmallow, it would have been bigger than both of us together – but I started nibbling at the corners of it, trying to see what humility might taste like should I have to swallow it entirely. The process of these discussions brought us closer together.
THANKFULLY, however, the reality of this shall not come to pass as I’ve managed to find gainful, ethical, part-time, homotastic, do-goodery-type work here in Ye Olde London Towne! I was hired last week at PACE which offers mental health services to the LGBT community in/around London. They are launching a new web-based project which is funded for three years and which, for the first time ever, combines both my activist and geeky skillsets into one fantastic position – and then pays me for it. DREAMBOAT. I start on the 18th and I absolutely couldn’t be happier. I’ll be keeping my current position through the end of the summer, so basically working full-time. I’m a bit sad to be losing out on a restful summer in which I actually get to explore some of London – but it’s worth it to be able to pad my savings so I can pay tuition next year and I’m lucky to have the opportunity in such a tough job market so I’m definitely not complaining.
In more processy exploration: It’s weird to think of giving up the PDX job and starting a new one in London. I’ve been straddling two continents this entire time. Picking up both feet and planting them firmly on UK soil feels scarier somehow. More real. More permanent. It’s only the illusion that’s shattering – I mean, I moved to London, who’m’I kidding – but some part of me has been taking its sweet time processing that and this puts heat under its ass. There’s also some grief about giving up my connection with the job and people there that I’ve known for so long. Change is inevitable, though – and this new job feels like a step in the new direction that this whole adventure is pointing me in.
The other big news is that I appear to be betrothed. This is where we return to that whole ‘slow on the uptake’ theme I mentioned earlier ‘cuz apparently you have to Speak. Very. Slowly. to get me to recognize that you’ve proposed to me. It took a full 24 hours for that proposal to sink in. IN MY DEFENSE: she didn’t exactly get down on one knee. It was a sweet, yet subtle proposal and one that found me, the next day, stopping in mid-sentence and saying “Hey, wait — were you serious yesterday?” At which point The Girl gave me her patented “amused-yet-exasperated” look and said “Uh, yeah.” in that ‘you’re cute but I worry about you’ tone of voice. At that point, I think I still didn’t actually say Yes. I mean, I *meant* yes — but I was so surprised at her romantic turnabout that it took a minute (or 1440 of them, to be precise) to actually compute.
We’ve seen a lawyer and are working out the logistics of legal routes and visa statuses and all that complicated stuff. We’re shopping for outfits (which I actively LOATHE – shouldn’t this be a fun thing? All the fat girl wedding dresses look like a bride is literally popping out of her own cake — a cute, informal yet special dress seems to be out of the question) and considering venues and will be looking at dates once we figure out the next logistical steps re: immigration law. We plan to have the official ceremony here in London (obvs.) and then a gathering/celebration in Portland so that all friends/family can be accounted for. And don’t think you’re getting out of the wedding registry, PDX. Mama’s packin’ an empty suitcase.
I’ve made some really lovely connections here in London which I’m very happy about. I’d feared a much more isolated existence and at times, compared with the bounty of PDX, it can feel that way. The reality, however, is much less grim and the feelings of loneliness have more to do with a lack of time to engage in the connections I’ve made than a lack of connections to engage with. Reminding myself of that definitely helps and I’m hoping the coming summer months will shift that a bit!
I’m missing folks back home, especially my Mom. At the same time, the distance has actually forced a certain level of commitment to and from my friends – active participation is required in maintaining the connection in both directions. I have to admit that I haven’t been great at writing/returning physical letters. Again, it’s been a simple lack of time – and I hope to rectify it over the summer. But in some ways, even though I’m further away, I feel stronger/more connected inside these friendships because I know I can trust them. I know who is in it for the long haul, regardless of the distance. It’s lovely.
There’s other stuff. Less fun stuff. Friends having hard times. People struggling in ways that I cannot even comprehend – with money, with health, with loss. The distance feels unbearable sometimes in that I can’t even offer the simple support of a hug or a ride to a doctor’s appointment. It’s a struggle that’s as selfish as it is altruistic because sometimes helping helps the helper more than the helpee. I’ve done what I can from a distance. The hard part is realizing that this choice to leave definitely means I’ll miss important things, important moments in the lives of people I love, important ways to be of service. It’s hard not to feel selfish about that sometimes. And yet we all have our own journeys to attend to. Sometimes there’s nothing for it but to trust that we’ll be able to get there when it really matters and to reach out as much as possible in the meantime.
Now that I’m re-gainfully employed, the prospects for summer fun are a bit better. There is a three week trip to PDX from July 20th to August 10th, in which we avoid the largest part of the surreal terribleness that is the Olympic Games. And then I hope to convince the girl to take one or two 3-day weekend trips to exciting places like Amsterdam, or Paris, or Barcelona. The cost of these trips is so much less than even intercontinental travel in the United States. Granted, it’s still not cheap but I plan to take advantage of this rare moment of full-time employment and skim a little off the top for life experience. Plus, The Girl and I haven’t had a proper adventure together since I moved over. She was really patient with my enforced “CONE OF SILENCE” while studying all year long. Time to whoop it up a little.
There’s also the FATTYLYMPICS, organized by Charlotte Cooper and Kay Hyatt on July 7th, which I’m very excited about. Was hoping to be able to volunteer a bit more but with the new job, chances are slim so I’ll just be attending gleefully. I’m particularly looking forward to the Rolling.
When I thought I was without job prospect, I had the idea of starting up the Fat Experience Project in earnest and trying to crowdfund the project. I figured if I had the time, I might as well use it productively. But the timeline felt forced and I was worried that the idea was still too much in its infancy to get the enthusiasm it needed. I’m grateful to have a little more time to learn more, develop my thinking on the subject and brainstorm. If all goes to plan, the video from the 2006 road trip should actually be digitized over the course of the next several months. I have permissions from most folks involved to share their video so I’ll basically be using the stories gathered on that trip as a trial run for the larger project. I plan to chop things up into short, topical snippets and organize them into searchable categories. This will take a while as, once school starts, I’ll be back to being impossibly busy again. Eventually, though, I hope to begin new interviews as well as to welcome submissions direct from folks who wish to interview themselves or each other. I will be working on a plan for grassroots promotion (of both the project itself and of invitations to take part in the project) with intersectionality at its core. This is the piece that I want to spend the most time on – inclusivity. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned over the last year of education is that no individual or collective of individuals can accurately represent the true complexity of embodiment within any community. Cultures, subcultures and communities are made up of individuals with deeply diverse backgrounds. The smallest difference can radically shift what all kinds of embodiments look like (queer, fat, of color, gender, sexuality, etc.) and this needs to be at the heart of any activist endeavor. It cannot assume to speak for all. It cannot assume common goals. It cannot assume hierarchy. I want the Fat Experience Project to be a collective of individual voices, each telling their own stories in their own ways. The Fat Experience Project will not be, nor will it aspire to be, a safe or a safer space. I feel, however, that I have much more to learn before I truly begin such a daunting prospect. And I’m grateful to have the time to do it.
There are a few other activisty things afoot. I’ve been invited into a couple of different projects that are still in their formative stages. Also I was contacted last week by a reporter from Businessweek who wants to do a piece on flying while fat. She wants to actually fly with me. I’m trying to decide how I feel about that. I’m definitely of two minds. More time is needed.
So that’s that. 9 months of update in one VERY long post. And now, back to work!
* – pic credit: Leah Strock