Monday, December 18, 2006

Bouncing around

Ah, nothing like spending six hours in traffic getting over the pass to let you know you're back in the Northwest. We would pick the night of the major windstorm to drive to Wenatchee. Seattle streets? Not a pleasant sight in heavy rain. I'm pretty sure that the whirlpool on the corner of Corliss and 40th sucked down a bicyclist.

It took us an hour to get from Phinney Ridge to the I-90 entrance in SoDo, and then we spent an additional five hours rumbling up Snoqualmie with our new chains. Want to test the strength of your marital relationship? Try hooking up chains in freezing rain on a dark I-90 onramp, sandwiched between two snorting semis, sharing a single pair of gloves and relying on a trickle of light from one decaying flashlight. I'd also recommend letting the person with no snow driving experience remain at the helm so she can spin you halfway across the road just after you leave the summit. Hey, at least I remembered to steer with the spin in time to stop a foot away from the snow-encrusted guard rail. The guy in the SUV who blitzed past us earlier? Not so lucky. After I slowly steered the car back in the right direction, we found him facing the wrong way, up to his grill in snow. Apparently, he'd done this before: he had a shovel in his hands and was lustily working on the buried front wheels. Good to know our state has such fabulous drivers.

By the time we reached the east side, we were barely functional. We greeted our monster tortoise, who is about ready to outgrow the pen we thought capable of holding him for five years, and staggered to bed. Since then, it's been a lot of random errands, family time and job hunting. Let's not talk about that last one, mmkay?

Lots to write about regarding our L.A. adventures, but that will come soon. We're off to the west side again on Wednesday for a major basketball game, and hopefully my car won't pull any figure skating moves this time.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Rolling out

Twelve sacks of clothing
Eleven presents (padded)
Ten security restrictions
Nine hours of flying
Eight hour difference
Seven o'clock bus ride
Six checked bags bulging
Five nasty snacks
Four in-flight films
Three hour check-in
Two excess bags
And one day left until I move home

We're off to LA for a few days and will be hopping around Washington after that. Updates coming whenever I can. Catch you on the flip side.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Jingle my bells, baby

I am so excited. For the first time, I actually was able to buy CB a "real" (e.g., something I know he'd want) present. I saved the dregs of my grad school stipend from the final term, which gave me enough to spring for a pair of tickets to a big-deal UW game that's happening over the break. Since it's our last long period of time together for awhile, I wanted to do some things that he'd remember -- and seeing our current b-ball roster play a top-10 team is about as good as it gets for him.

Alas, since he's my wheels this vacation, I had to tell him early...but I'm pretty sure he doesn't mind. ;) I just found out that the tickets arrived at home, safe and sound. Now, all I have to do is hope we don't have any more freak snowstorms on game day. 'Cause I would be leading a frontal assault over the Cascades to get us there by hiking trails, and I'm not too keen on getting my game gear all frosty.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Off for a few days

Tomorrow, I take the ever-wonderful 3.5 hour bus ride from Oxford to Cambridge for one final hurrah with the lasses. They better come visit me in Seattle, although I'm sure our cider selection will disappoint.

They've prepped well for my arrival. To paraphrase from an email today: "We drank a *whole* bottle of port between us after formal hall on Tuesday. But not before going to the Castle for other drinks first. What a clever idea. A lot of it ended up on X's floor and clothes, it appears ;)"

I've been assured that this floor, upon which I will be sleeping, became doused in port as a result of drunken drink spillage, not because the port made a second appearance later in the evening. The floor is now a bit "salty," but they've promised it will be clean enough that I won't stick to it tomorrow night.

If I'm well enough to get on the return bus, aka not in bed nursing a three-day hangover, I'll talk to you Sunday evening. Until then, it came to my attention that The Onion posted an incredibly un-funny story about domestic violence. Sure, they parody everything, but this one was handled in poor taste (and the mental images it conjures are disgusting). Crossed a line? Discuss.


The joys of cell phone companies.

First, you must envision all of this taking place with call assistants who have such thick Scottish brogues that I can't understand every third word, no matter how hard I try or how loud I crank the volume on my handset.

Second, I think I popped a blood vessel in my eye after the third call.

"Hello, I'm a current customer, and I'm unexpectedly relocating overseas next week. I need to find out how I can close out my account."
"You can't."
"Erm, what?"
"You can't. It's too early."
"Okay, well what if I pay a penalty?"
"You need to give us 60 days notice if you want to close your account."
"SIXTY days?!"
"In writing."
"Are you serious? Can't I give it to you over the phone, or by email?"

"Hi there, I'm an existing customer and I have to move overseas next week. I know I can't cancel my account until January, which won't actually cancel it until March, but I'm trying to find out how I can make payments when I have to close my bank account."
"Hm, that is a problem."
"Yes...yes, I'm aware of that. It is my problem, after all."
"Tricky, that."
"But surely I can't be the first customer in the history of your company to deal with this?"
"Well. Let me put you on hold."
Long period of intermittent music and static. Two voices pick up the line.
"Hello?" "Hello?"
Apparently, he's brought in his supervisor/trainer.
"You wanted to talk about making bill payments from overseas?"
There's now a lovely double-Scots/Southeast Asian echo going, in which I can no longer understand anything because she's literally feeding him every word, and I CAN HEAR TWO OF EVERYTHING.
"Yeah, that's what I said."
"Well, you can just put it in your husband's name, if he's staying here. Call back the day before you go and say you need to switch the billing info to his debit account."

I hang up, satisfied, then grow suspicious.

"Hi, I'm relocating and need to confirm something I heard yesterday. I'd like to switch the billing info to my husband's debit account. He's a customer, too."
"Oh, sure. I'll just pop the form in the mail."
"Form?? Another form?"
"Yes, it takes 28 days from the time we receive this form for the change to go through."
Me, stammering furiously: "But I was told yesterday that..."
"Ah, well you were misinformed."
"But my bank account is closing in four days! What am I supposed to do? I have his information right here -- hell, I can have him CALL you and talk with me."
"Well, that won't work."
"Because you have to send in the form."

"Hi, look, I'm an existing customer, god knows why, and all I want to do is make a bloody bank account transfer without having to hand-deliver it to wherever the hell you are."
"Ah, you need to fill out a form...."

So the short of it is that I have to fill out a form! and make a "manual payment" by phone from the U.S. on the 20th, which in theory is supposed to work.

In theory, I'm going to be sent to collections before I ever get this right.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

One more from the Christmas dinner

How can you not love that face??

proof (?) that leggings aren't the spawn of Satan

Look, when you live in the UK, you either purchase leggings or you have people mutter about you behind your back, or even to your face. ("I'd never wear what she's wearing!") So, I admit it: I caved. I caved knowing that I don't have the right skirt or ballet flats (aka, feet-destroyers) to pull it off, but I went willingly nonetheless...(I'm sorry, billygean! I know you hate them.)

...and the problem is, I kinda like it. So be honest: how bad is this? I wore them out in public already, so you're too late to save me there -- but you can save me from doing it again. Although, I warn you: the brown houndstooth with the green shirt? That's pure me, baby. It stays.

See what England does to you?

Getting ready

Four suitcases down, one to go.

Hey, you try moving most of your worldly possessions overseas and back when you weren't expecting to do so for two more years. Just wait until I get to move our apartment fixings back if I actually find a place of my own this year, which of course depends upon a) being able to pay the rent and b) being able to find a pad in Seattle's ridiculously tight apartment market. Thanks a lot, all you migrating wealth-seeking tech people, turning my old buildings into condos and driving us into hovels on Aurora. Could you go home now?

It hasn't registered that I'm down to my last week in England. This time next Wednesday, we'll be on our way back to the States. There are so many things I'll miss -- Oxford on a crisp, clear winter day; friends in Cambridge; decent beer (yes, even warm beer can be decent). The number one thing, of course, is the part of me who's staying here. Monday night was fun, but it was the first of many events where we're going to be answering the same questions over and over again. Yes, we're living apart now. No, it's not because we particularly want to. Yes, we'll be fine. And you know? We will be. We knew going into this that we were marrying young, and that neither of us was the kind of person who would be able to drop their dreams when the going got rough. If I'd stayed with the Ph.D., I'd be abroad from now until next fall anyway -- and then I'd also have an extra year in the UK, while CB would be going wherever his postdoc takes him.

Is it going to be easy? I can't lie -- sometimes, I wish that one or both of us didn't feel such strong pulls towards the things we want to do. But most times, I'm just grateful that CB is the kind of feminist man who doesn't even ask whether I could resist those impulses. He's the one who's been telling me to follow them, all along. And the good thing is that, if it really came down to this, we would both walk away from it all to be with each other. I just have to have faith in that knowledge, to find the quiet sense of trust underneath the external turmoil. I'll be blogging a lot in the future about the joys of a long distance marriage, in the hopes that all of the other professional couples I know will find a little solace -- there's a lot more company here than you think.

Back to Seattle I go, hopefully a little wiser from living here. I feel like I have a more nuanced understanding of my country now, or at least of how others view us and what I can do to offer a more balanced perspective. I wish I could stay, despite the smoke-filled pubs and manic bus drivers. There's a song that always runs through my head when I'm going through a big transition, and it's playing again tonight.

High winds blowin' in the sky will carry you away
You know you have to leave here
You wish that you could stay
There's four directions on this map but you're only going one way...
You could walk a hundred thousand miles
and never find a home
You always knew someday you'd have to strike out on your own
You look up at the clouds and you can see which way the wind is blowing
Due South, that's the way I'm going
Due South
Saddle up my traveling shoes
I'm bound to walk away these blues
Due South

Okay, so I've never once actually gone south, per se, but so what. I think it conveys the wistfulness and the fortitude pretty well.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Ah, the holidays...since there's no Thanksgiving in the UK, and since we live far enough from the shopping centers to avoid seeing all the twinkly lights, I'm actually enjoying this year's build-up. Our Friday celebration was wonderful, and I'm actually glad I cooked everything from scratch -- except the nut loaf, which I should have. Ours was good, but I bet it would have been better if it also met the home-produced standard. Below, witness our wonderful biscuits, cranberry sauce (yay for the sound of bursting berries on the stove), garlic-and-muscat-wine basted potatoes, and the aforementioned nut loaf.

The real sign of a good Thanksgiving?

We spent the ensuing hours lolling on the couch, rising only when required (e.g., when we really wanted some of the pumpkin pie we made together).

Last night was a little more adventurous, as it was the Geneticals Christmas Dinner. Ever been in a room full of 40 people who spend most of their time talking about tagSNPs and linkage disequilibrium? Oh, and cricket: a disproportionate percentage of CB's lab cohort is Australian, and the Asher's is on right now. It's a massive cricket test between England and Australia. All I know is that the English got killed -- and the ones at our table were so irritated that they got up and left whenever the Aussies brought up the subject.

Naturally, as a very non-genetical person, I'd forgotten that a "dress up" event means "wear your best jeans and leave the Lord of the Rings tie at home." At least CB humored me and dressed up as well.

Then, after being pennied (see me chugging a full glass of red wine below), it was off to the Purple Turtle, a cavernous student union bar which epitomizes the term "dive bar." Swing dancing to bad '80s British rock ensued...that's what happens when CB's good bud is a former member of the uni dance team, and when you combine him with former swing-cat me.

We left the club around 1:30 and walked back to Bryan's office, where I'd wisely stashed a pair of tennis shoes for the walk to the bus. On the way, it became apparent that my feet really didn't appreciate wearing heels for the first time in months. Dancing might not have been the best idea. And that is why any late-night stragglers saw a well-dressed girl walking in nylon stockings through wet streets, heels squishing in the sunken areas where half-frozen mud and leaf muck had accumulated for weeks. By the time we reached the office, all the bits of my feet which weren't blistered were numb, and the nylons were sodden. I can only imagine the conversations his office-mates had this morning when they came in to find a pair of torn, dirty nylons in the bin.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Feels like home to me

We're celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow, since we had a longstanding, unavoidable conflict this evening (and who really wants to eat their biscuits at 10pm with bike grease on their fingers after a maintenance class?). I'm actually attempting to cook almost everything from scratch: the cranberry sauce, the biscuits, the rosemary and olive oil-drizzled potato medley, and the veg. We gave up and purchased a nut loaf, although now we're both wishing we'd just tried making it, too. Then again, our oven is very willing but also the size of a breadloaf. Hence, we're already demanding more of it than we should.

This is the first Thanksgiving that CB and I get to celebrate together, snug under the roof of our little apartment, sharing food and enjoying the peace. I can't imagine a better way to spend the day. We will not think about how it is also the last Thanksgiving we'll share for a couple of years. Or at least, I will attribute my misty eyes to onions.

Someday, some year, we'll all be under the same roof for Thanksgiving. Until then, to my family on the west side and my family on the east, and to all of our friends in your myriad places, have a peaceful day.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Overheard at last weekend's post-formal hall party

"You say po-TAH-to, and I say po-TAH-to
You say to-MAH-to, and I say to-MAH-to
Po-TAH-to, po-TAH-to
To-MAH-to, to-MAH-to
This song's pants*, isn't it?"

*pants = mild invective for stupid

Friday, November 17, 2006

What the fuck is happening to my country?

Please, if you don't do anything else political in your life, read this story and think about where we're headed. Thanks to Dr. B for the tip. Here's part of it:

An incident late Tuesday night in which a UCLA student was stunned at least four times with a Taser has left the UCLA community questioning whether the university police officers' use of force was an appropriate response to the situation.

Mostafa Tabatabainejad, a UCLA student, was repeatedly stunned with a Taser and then taken into custody when he did not exit the CLICC Lab in Powell Library in a timely manner.
..Community Service Officers had asked Tabatabainejad to leave after he failed to produce his BruinCard during a random check at around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.
A six-minute video showed Tabatabainejad audibly screaming in pain as he was stunned several times with a Taser, each time for three to five seconds. He was told repeatedly to stand up and stop fighting, and was told that if he did not do so he would "get Tased again."

Tabatabainejad was also stunned with the Taser when he was already handcuffed, said Carlos Zaragoza, a third-year English and history student who witnessed the incident.
During the altercation between Tabatabainejad and the officers, bystanders can be heard in the video repeatedly asking the officers to stop and requesting their names and identification numbers. The video showed one officer responding to a student by threatening that the student would "get Tased too." At this point, the officer was still holding a Taser.

I couldn't even finish watching the video the first time -- I was shaking too hard and had to stop. It took a long time for me to finish it. Oh my God, his screams...they kept shocking this kid. SIX minutes worth of shocks. I don't think I've ever in my life felt so disturbed. This is what democracy looks like? Being TASED because you can't produce a goddamn LIBRARY CARD in time? Jesus, the reason he couldn't stand up is because he'd been tased! While wearing handcuffs. Because he didn't have his student ID on him. Who the fuck trained these guys?? And how awful is it that the students had no choice but to sit and WATCH because the officers had guns and so no one could help this kid? I don't really care if he was committing an act of civil disobedience, which is what some people say -- you should not be assaulted if you aren't being violent. Is that suddenly a radical proposition??

This is the symptom of a sick society. Why don't we just call this "war" a failure? We've already destroyed the way of life we supposedly set out to defend.

I don't know who to write about this or what to do, but I will find out. This is too sick and wrong to write off as "just one of those misunderstandings" that happens in a time of war. Fuck the war. If this is what we're fighting to preserve, I'd rather just quit.

I've emailed tips to the NYT and every other media outlet I can think of - please do the same with your local paper.

Update: UCLA's student paper does a much better job of analyzing the incident than I did.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Spreading wings when I don't want to fly

Today, I sent in the second resume I've submitted this week.

To Seattle.

So, here we go. As I've said before, I don't feel terribly great about any of the choices we have, but one more day of sitting in the house feeling less like myself and more like an animated piece of furniture...and I might go a little bonkers. Don't get me wrong - I do go out, but I have to invent things to do, which sounded great until I remembered that everything in Oxford is expensive, and everything which is not is usually outside (and it is bloody cold right now).

I don't feel like waxing eloquently tonight, so I'm just going to grumble and leave it at that. Thanks for understanding.

(Incidentally, I would really like to land that second job. I am rather excited about it. Crap. Can someone help me figure out a way to convince CB's department that he could complete his Ph.D. in another country?)

So *that's* why ET's parents abandoned him

I would have high-tailed it out of the atmosphere, too, if I'd seen this.

No worries about being invaded by aliens. They'll take one look at that giant monstrosity and think, "Eh? Why bother?"

Monday, November 13, 2006

But really, graduation

I did actually get to the ceremony, although it's not the funnest thing in the world to go through an entire afternoon on a couple of new potatoes and half a bread roll.

It was the perfect culmination to the year: a truly Cambridge event. The robes with hoods so heavy they threatened to strangle you whenever your shoulders shifted. The university's old guard stalking through the Senate House in red robes trimmed with white fur, stamping their silver canes and hissing for audience members to stop making noise when they sit (how dare you walk as if you actually weigh anything in this hallowed ground?!). The Latin rolling like an incantation off the tongues of college presenters. The parading through town and the kneeling and the blessing and the shivering under a mottled autumn sky where King's College stands etched against the clouds, immutable and unperturbed, silent witness to 800 years of this same ceremony.

Somehow, it also seemed fitting that our university "degrees" could have been printed out on my spastic Lexmark inkjet. Maybe the university is still miffed that it can't use dried sheepskin and hand-ground ink sticks anymore.

It was a very nice day, finishing with a visit to our favorite pub of all time and a brain cell-killing film (also the funniest, most cringe-worthy film I've seen in awhile). While our families couldn't be there, I was lucky enough to have part of my extended Cambridge clan in attendance. It meant even more knowing this might be one of the last times we see each other regularly (can't think about that yet, though).

So, here officially closes the year. Frustrations and heartache, yes, but also friends and fieldwork and one step further on this journey. Was it worth it, in the end?

I would have to say yes.

So, graduation

Activities I might discourage you from pursuing the night before a graduation ceremony:

Number One: Attending one of your university's notorious formal halls

Number Two: Using the formal hall as a combination "Reunion of Girl Powers" and "Thank God We Aren't the College Officers Anymore" celebration.

Number Three: Well, this one speaks for itself.

Number Four: Reaching that point in the evening where you foolishly think maybe, just maybe, you aren't completely repulsed by the taste/aroma/existence of certain alcohols anymore.

In my defense, I should note that this is the *FIRST* time I've been out partying since the last time I was with this crew in early September. Bad, girls. You are bad.

I don't think there's any need to detail how the following morning progressed, but fortunately I still appear to be clinging to the tail end of those years when you can recover from things before your 2:00 ceremony begins. Recover by the time of rehearsal? Well...not so much. I don't think anyone really bought my impending flu excuse, either.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Meanwhile, back in my hometown...

What on earth happened? How do I always miss everything? First, I love the fact that most of my town appears to be gathered around this intersection. That there's the most exciting thing to happen since they put in that newfangled Starbucks up on the main road!

This is the highway I drove most days to get to school. The town's off in the trees, and I lived up a hill behind where the photo ends.

I'm pretty sure I know where this house is, and I'll lay you good odds that I went to school with their kids.

The river reportedly crested around 34 feet and ate most of the downtown area.

Note the "flood water area" sign. This is the second prominent photo I remember involving our signs. The first, from the big flood 10 years ago, showed a water-covered landscape with half a yellow sign poking out that said, "Warning: Flood --" Helpful, those government signs.

I used to drive this road to my volunteer jobs, although only during college -- when I graduated from the local high school in 1999, the road was *still * closed due to flood damage from 1995.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Rummy resigns

The rats are leaping from the sinking ship.

The morally upright party accepts responsibility


Some of the linked blogs would be funny, if they weren't seriously that delusional. Blaming the losses on ignorant voters who are too stupid to do anything but lie around and wait for some nameless throat-cutting terrorist to come along? Come on, guys. This is *why* you lost. Because deep down, you think the public is just as stupid and malleable as any of those elitist liberals you criticize. Got news for ya: the public is sending you one hell of a message right now. If you really don't want to listen, it's fine...but don't kid yourself into thinking that "conservatism did not lose." A handful of anti-gay marriage amendments and a smattering of potentially reasonable property rights bills don't sound like a roaring victory to me. More like a squashy, low-lying fruit falling off the tree.

The best part

Do you want to know how paranoid I was last night? I was convinced that the epic floods in Washington are part of a cosmic plot to keep west-of-the-Cascades voters from getting to the polls, thereby allowing certain pro-I933, anti-Cantwell contingencies to reach out from their dry deserts to deliver the blow of the righteous.

Whew. Glad I was wrong.

I woke up this morning, and it feels like Christmas. Except for the Virginia marriage amendment part. But here's my favorite sign of the times so far -- Fox News, forced into the "no spin" zone because there just isn't a way to spin this time:

Yeah, that's right. Not much else they can say, is there?

Aw, and President Bush is really disappointed in the results. I'm sure the failure of the South Dakota abortion ban and the failure of a gay marriage ban in Arizona aren't helping his morale.

If you're curious about how the world is interpreting the outcome, check out Simon Tisdall of the Guardian, the BBC's coverage, and additional Guardian commentary. I hope Tisdall is wrong -- we have to turn around our foreign policies and regain a modicum of global respect, or else all of this electoral fanfare is for naught.

Also, based on what I heard on the radio yesterday, a lot of people in other countries didn't understand that we weren't voting for the president. I hope they aren't disappointed when they see he's still in office this morning.

I wish I were home to celebrate in the middle of a jubilant crowd. I lost my political appetite in the 2004 election, and the conservatives have been in charge since long before I could vote. It would have been great to experience serious group optimism again...I hope we still feel this good two years down the line.

At least for now, life feels pretty good. It's about damn time.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

It ends tonight

(we hope)

(we especially hope the Dems have a plan after the celebration parties)

...At least, it should end tonight. However, indications are that today's just business as usual in the wonderful world of dirty politics. (Scroll down the pages for posts on election-related problems around the country.) The phone call-instigated voter intimidation in Virginia is reportedly under federal investigation. Electronic machines are going haywire in several states -- apparently, elections officials didn't think it would be prudent to check the machines (and learn how to use them) before the morning of the big vote...which means many people are reportedly waiting in line for an hour only to leave or risk being late for work.


Monday, November 06, 2006

Haggard fails to make good

Sure, you could use the opportunity to admit that repressing your gay identity your whole life can lead to a lot of pain for everyone...but why bother when you can call homosexuality what it is: dark and repulsive?

The sad part is that his flock appears to buy it. Note that while I link to this article, I do not endorse the headline. Haggard didn't bare his soul -- he trashed the souls of people who are brave enough to be who they are regardless of what hate-mongering preachers say.

Proving why Virginia should perhaps be drummed out of the Union

Please, please read this article. Then, go join the ACLU.

An excerpt, discussing Ohio, which has a law in place like the one which Virginia may enact tomorrow:

In two appellate courts, judges have struck down the state's domestic-violence law, which protects against battery from a "family member, spouse or a person living as a spouse." The courts found, not unreasonably, that the words "living as a spouse" give an unconstitutionally marriagelike status to unmarried couples.

So, is it safe to say that the voters, legislature and judges of Ohio, as well as potentially those of Virginia, believe that:

1) If you are an unmarried hetero couple, you are immoral; therefore
2) You deserve whatever you get, including having your ass beat by your abusive partners; and
3) We are under no obligation whatsoever to protect your unrepentant selves (see 1).

Are you still convinced that gay marriage issues only matter to gays?

Tell it, sister

Bitch Ph.D. posted some thoughts on feminism, two-career relationships and making choices which resonate so deeply with my own life right now that I can't really summarize them, or the thought-provoking responses which ensued from her readers.

She gets to the core of the monsters in the closet which it seems like all couples face, unless they're both willing to partition the life roles into neat halves (e.g., "you be the breadwinner, and I'll be the homemaker"). Not that I have anything against partitioning -- it works well for some people, and it worked fantastically for my own family -- but it cannot and will never work for me. This has become painfully clear in recent months. I should be perfectly content right now: I have time to write, to think, and I'm liberated from financial worries.

Except that "liberation"? It feels a lot more like dependency. Like Dr. B says, economic dependence doth not a happy feminista make. Particularly when it's one in a cluster of little things which make you feel like it's just about impossible to balance your life and your career if you happen to be a woman -- and, worse, end up making you feel guilty if you want to try the balancing act anyway.

Here is my very serious disclaimer: none of this is intended to reflect on CB, who has been more supportive and understanding of the situation than I ever imagined anyone could be.

That said, graduate school is one hell of a reality check. It should be easier in this world for two book-loving geeks in different fields to find programs and funding in schools which aren't several hundred miles apart. So, off we went on our separate paths because neither of us ever considered giving up school for the other (having had friends with parents who did that, I'm a bit headshy of the notion). It was absolutely the right thing to do, even if my program wound up being something of a disaster. But, like Dr. B, it's all the things we didn't know to plan for which are revealing just how difficult it is to stick to your own principles in real life.

So now, here we are, unexpectedly: one of us is having a deservedly fantastic experience here, is surrounded and stimulated by a vibrant intellectual environment, and is clearly on his way to the career of his dreams. The other, well, the other enjoys having the time to write, but she spends hours scouring the job ads to no avail, is not liking the housewife-type-role she naturally falls into, as she does indeed have more time to be doing the cooking and such, and avoids going into town because she has *always* made her own money and cannot adjust to the idea that it is somehow okay for her to let him be the breadwinner. (This is different from being ungrateful, trust me -- I'm more than grateful. That doesn't mean I'm not uncomfortable, too.) Try as I might, I'm going stir crazy.

And yet, even though I'm admittedly unhappy, and even though I'm fortunate enough to have a partner who sees this (perhaps even clearer than I do) and who has supported the growing sensation that it is time for me to go home...I don't want to leave him. That part is fine -- I'd be more than a little alarmed if I didn't feel that way! -- but unless I find my work, it is time to go, and here is why I'm so hot under the collar: I am absolutely guilt-wracked, plagued ridiculous Donna Reed ideologies to which I've never subscribed but which suddenly haunt me whenever I seriously contemplate leaving. I don't know where these thoughts came from, but they're inside me hammering on my skull, telling me that a good wife doesn't selfishly abandon her husband for a career, of all things (and this spectre is always wearing an apron and smoking a Virginia Slim). A good wife is content to be with someone she loves because being together is all that matters. A good wife doesn't feel overwhelmed and frustrated in a situation she can't control -- she relinquishes the control, the money and the career, and she finds a job wherever she can get one AND SHE IS HAPPY.

I want to strangle this voice with her own apron strings, but the problem is that part of me wonders if she's right, even though I know better. That unconfident bit of me feeds off the responses we've been getting from well-meaning friends, classmates, family and perfect strangers since we announced that we were getting married and moving to separate cities. "But you're his wife!" I still remember one acquaintance saying with confusion, when I explained that I was thinking about moving home. Another person, who I'm pretty sure had the best intentions, gasped and cried, "Oh, that's just terrible! How awful for you both!" when we came to them with the good news that we'd been accepted into our respective programs. I swear she physically recoiled when I told her that we didn't see anything so bad about it. And now, it's starting all over again. I feel like a selfish bitch because I want to move back to the States, find a place of my own and work in the field where I'm pretty sure I belong, rather than spend two years kicking around a country where I'm not happy, where I've never been happy, and where I didn't really want to be in the first place. I know I could work at a coffee shop or as a receptionist, but *I don't want to.* And why should I feel bad about that? Hell, CB could do that, too: drop out of school and follow me to do what I want. He could work as a lab tech or a programmer and probably feel like I do now. But not one person has ever suggested that option, and people think I'm crazy when I try to draw the analogy.

Don't think I feel good about this. In addition to missing the husband, I'm worried about being a financial drain because we'll have two residences instead of one. I'm terrified that something will happen to CB, and I won't be there to help him. The little things are the worst: who's going to hold his hand when he has a bad day? What about when he has to sleep alone in our double bed? I've explained to him before that I feel like I'm being asked to tear away an essential part of myself, no matter which decision I make. And the only thing that tells me I should leave is that I know this part, this incredible man in the UK, will come back to me. When he does, he'll bring my long-absent heart with him, and maybe then I'll finally stop hurting.

These choices, these awful choices. I'm afraid they'll never end, that one of us is always going to be making huge sacrifices for the other instead of both of us finding ways to compromise which still leave us happy. Worse, I'm afraid they'll only end when one of us gives up and opts for something that one person doesn't really want in order to make life easier (historically speaking, that will most likely be me even if both CB and I fight against it with everything we have). Lord, if he gave up his dreams for me, I don't think I'd ever forgive myself. And I am deeply, deeply bitter at a world which provides no support system for couples who share a deep-seated conviction that they will move through this world as equals. Like Dr. B said in her responses to comments:

"...The stuff that both men and women have to deal with--moving a long way, asking your partner to make sacrifices, being broke--*do* affect women more than men. Women are more likely to be told they're "lucky" that their partner supports them, to have partners who make more money, their clothes and grooming cost more, they're more likely to have internalized the expectation to spend more time with the kids and want a cleaner house, etc. etc. etc."

A reader noted some of her situation-specific issues, but they're things I think about, too:

"1. He supports me, but if he is unhappy in an industry job, am I supporting him?
2. In the sciences, men just don't take time off to raise children. There is almost no map to how this would effect his chances for tenure. It is a little itsy bit better for women
3. I chose this completely 'useless' humanities degree, he chose his very 'useful' science degree."

I'll tell you one thing: if we ever have kids, we will both be working parents unless I know in my heart that I want to stay home. (Oh God, see what I just did? I didn't even consider that he might want to stay home instead.)

There's no brilliant conclusion to this, no witty rejoinder or astute observation. I've just noticed lately that an increasing number of women and men I know are going through similar situations as we find the partners who make us willing to struggle through all of this. I don't mean to sound too pessimistic -- plenty of couples get through this and find ways to make it work. I truly believe we are one of those pairs, because I don't think either of us would have gotten into this if we weren't. Nevertheless, Dr. B's post was sobering, and it clearly unleashed a torrent I've been damming up for some time. The last 1.5 years mark the first time I've truly realized how many things in life are unforeseeable and uncontrollable, and it threw me for a loop I wasn't expecting. Growing up can be a real bitch.

Friday, November 03, 2006

We resume our current programming

Oops. One dinner and four hours later, I'm feeling rather silly.

Don't misunderstand: still irate, wronged and generally discontented.

But silly. Do forgive the first-ever dropping of the mother of all curse words on CSS. I blame the heat of the moment. Or the Becherovka. Whatever. (Insert long explanation here to relatives in which I try desperately to convince them that I really don't drink more, I can't admit how seldom I drink. It's downright shameful, according to my hick root standards. Clearly, I am not cut out for the Faulkner and Hemingway Model of Writing Life.)

I go wild...cause you left me here

Let's see: angry Poe on the stereo, rapidly draining glass of Becherovka on the table...getting drunk alone is not something I do often (ever?), so what could possibly precipitate such an event? Oh, only getting screwed today after spending two fucking months trying to secure some sort of job in this country which apparently does not desire my services. I finally had a repeatedly promised meeting scheduled for Monday, and guess what showed up in my inbox at a quarter to six this evening?

"I'm away on Monday, so let's check in after the 14th, I'm pretty free at the end of that week."

Oh, really? That's great. 'Cause that officially marks three full months since we were supposed to meet. It's not like I have job offers lining up at the door here, so I have to accomodate to your flaky ass, but man I wish I could tell you to shove it. Instead, I'm stuck here like some homeless mutt, waiting for anyone kind enough to take me in for a few nights.

I have to go home in January. I have no cash, no job future, nothing. What the hell else am I going to do? But I really, really don't want to go. Leave your love behind, or postpone that calling you have for just a little longer?


Isn't it ironic...

I feel a little sick and a lot guilty for being elated at news about the leader of New Life Church...but I can't help it. I hope this is true. If you devote your career to condemning behavior in which you participate behind closed doors, maybe it's time for a job change. It's really unfortunate that his life is so screwed up, but how exactly do you garner sympathy by using your fame and power to make other people miserable when all they want to do is live as they see fit?

There's gonna be a party when the wolf comes home

Next weekend, I'm taking the 3.5 hour bus ride back to my graduate institution for my official graduation, as one of the strange rules of my institution is that you aren't officially a graduate until you participate in yet another ritualized ceremony. This morning, I'd actually started looking forward to the spectacle of it all: the stooping and kissing of somebody or other's finger (a great idea, really, at the start of the flu season); the formal lunch; the wearing of strange, furry hoods a la Harry Potter (disclaimer: no rabbits were harmed in the making of my hood. I felt excited for all of ten minutes, and then I noticed who else was graduating with me.

This is a November ceremony, which means the convocation is extremely small. Six people from my college will walk on Saturday. Of those six, two of them despise each other. Actually, "despise" is too kind a word. One wishes the other had never come into existence; the other wishes the first would collapse writhing in a blistering pool of fiery substances. And yes, of course, this all comes down to housemate disputes of yore. It would all be hilarious, if she hadn't accused me of truly heinous things which I think the school might halfway believe.

So, our entime graduate luncheon is going to be a frosty, silent debacle. Ever tried to avoid eye contact or conversation with someone who's sharing your very small table? I may have to accidentally cut off my finger with a butterknife if we're seated across from each other. Maybe I can stave off any simmering tension by blurting out what I could hear through the walls most evenings. That should encourage the others to change the subject before anyone spills blood on the steamed potatoes. Alphabetically speaking, I'm just behind this ex-housemate -- thank god, because otherwise I'd spend the entire ceremony terrified that I would finish with a knife protruding from my back.

See? This is why people should not be allowed to live together unless they know what they're getting into ahead of time.

Maybe I can say I've been deported back to the U.S. and convince them to let me graduate in absentia.

Thursday, November 02, 2006



Dubrovnik in the gloaming

No writing tonight -- I'm a little burned out for no good reason. I blame the weather: it is sunny outside, but it is also cold enough for our toes to turn white on bike rides. Evil, evil northern climates.

I hit 40,000 words today on the novel -- a milestone both exciting and frightening. That's all I'm going to say.

I'll regale you with a few more photos, then I'm off to bed. More interesting posts coming soon!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


John Kerry, you stupid, dumbass elitist idiot! You open your big clueless mouth ONE WEEK before the biggest election in the last couple of decades...and you come out with a statement that could single-handedly swing elections back to the conservatives???

Why??? Why can't you just crawl back under the from from whence you came and stay there until the people who *can* win elections are done with their work?

The airplay over here is not good. The BBC's been interviewing our troops in Iraq, and they are understandably (and quite rightly) pissed. Talk shows at home are on this like rabid dogs on rancid meat. Kerry played right into the out-of-touch, elitist liberal stereotype, and a halfwit apology isn't going to fix it. Oh lord...every damn time it looks like victory's in sight, they sabotage it. It's like they want to lose. They're starting to remind me less of national leaders and more of a certain purple and gold football team I won't name out of sheer filial love.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Measuring the cultural divide

Last night, our jack-o'-lanterns blazed on the front window ledge, and our porch light illuminated the short front walk. I'd donned a hasty costume to prepare for any kids who stopped by, and I have to admit that I was eager to meet a few neighbors, or at least see little ghosts and goblins running around the street.

By the time 10:00 rolled around, the candles burned out and my makeup-enhanced scars were starting to smear. I might have been severely disappointed, if not for discovering this story about England and Halloween in the NYT. Way to kill the spirit of the event, guys. And who in their right mind encourages kids to pressure adults for cash instead of candy??

Monday, October 30, 2006

Check it out

The Washington Post published a powerful feature on Garry Trudeau, the reticent force behind "Doonesbury." It's long but well worth a read, whether you're a comics fan


Oh my God.

As I lay in bed last night, I started reminiscing about high school and for some reason drifted into memories of how Cruel Intentions was one of the best films I saw my senior year. I remembered the stories Reese and Ryan told about how that final fight scene was so difficult for them, emotionally, that he spent the morning getting sick and she couldn't stop crying. That seemed so romantic to 18 year-old me that I've forever felt affection for them. "Cool," I thought as I fell asleep. "They're still together. Good for them."

This evening, I scanned the news online. Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillippe. Broke up. And it is all my fault.

I just jinxed the coolest couple in Hollywood. What kind of flowers do you send to apologize for that?

Wake the F up

For God's sake, people, what the hell is it going to take for us to realize that we are running out of time on climate change?

The Stern Review came out today and probably didn't even make the news back home (did it?). Nicholas Stern is a former World Bank head, not your typical ecogeek, and produced the massive report in his role as one of Tony Blair's senior economists. To summarize the 700-page document: we act now, or we see an average global temperature rise of 4 to 5 degrees Celsius in the next 100 to 150 years.

"It is not in doubt that, if the science is right, the consequences for our planet are literally disastrous," Stern said. "Unless we act now, these consequences... will be irreversible."

On the same morning, the UN issued a report which found that the industrialized world has done almost nothing to reduce its emissions.

Think this doesn't matter? Tell that to Katrina victims, farmers losing their crops in drought-stricken regions, entire nations in the Pacific who are being forced to relocate to other countries. Hell, tell it to your own family: Stern's report found that we could realistically witness a 20% reduction of the global economy if we let the changes continue unchecked. Thank God Tony Blair at least pays attention: he stood up today and said it's time to stop kidding ourselves by twiddling our thumbs over tiny scientific discrepancies when the big picture is painfully clear. This isn't a sci-fi scenario concocted by a bunch of America-hating Greens, people. This is reality.

Yet, it can take as little as
one per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) to mitigate the damage, Stern said. Or, we can fiddle while Rome burns and watch 40% of the planet's species disappear while millions of climate refugees stand outside our door.

I just don't get it. We should be doing something, even if it's only out of self-interest. This is going to hurt our country, our whole species, but we can't be bothered thinking about it.

Here's the cold, hard truth: acting is going to hurt. We're going to have to pay more for our products, travel less, maybe even institute taxes based on carbon consumption. But it's that or make the immoral decision to turn our backs on future generations. If that's the case, we deserve whatever we get.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Halloween Showdown

Overheard on the living room floor tonight:

Me: "So, you've never carved a pumpkin with official pumkin carving tools?"
CB: "Nope."
"Well, I guess you're at an advantage. Do you think I could use this short knife as a scraper?"
"A what?"
"You know, to scrape away the skin so parts glow."
"Oh, erm, sure."
"It's okay. All in fun, remember? It's not like we're having a contest."

Figuring that whatever I made would impress him, I set to work on a bird. Arguably, it is meant to be an English robin, but you try making one of those when all you have is a stubby knife and a potato peeler. A short time later, I showed CB my finished product:

For the record, I actually felt quite happy with my bird, considering I had not carved a pumpkin since sometime in high school. Meanwhile, CB fiddled in the corner, intent on his design, refusing to let me see. Finally, he finished and with one casual turn of the squash in my direction, he revealed my bird for what it was: a valiant effort by someone with the carving skills of a five year-old.

I looked at my pudgy bird as my artistic spirit shriveled.

"How the hell did you do that?"
CB, shrugging: "I'm good with geometric figures."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

RIP, Empty Space

I thought I was finished writing for the night, but now that I know one of my favorite theaters in Seattle is gone, I had to post. During college, I was lucky enough to see a few great shows at Empty Space, and when we lived in Fremont, we walked down to see a stunning production of 1984. This was small, independent urban theater at its finest: bold and polished with outstanding casts and a commitment to showcasing original work. ES helped keep Seattle's arts scene vibrant. A lot of small and mid-sized theaters have been struggling in recent years, and the loss of ES is a bad sign for the city. You'd think with all of the uber-wealthy people who are pouring in and making the city too expensive for the rest of us, they'd be able to support the places that made Seattle unique. Guess not.

Vaya con dios, ES. I'll miss you like hell.


I'm not entirely sure what part of the cosmos decided it would be hilarious to give me a body that can't sit in normal chairs for more than a few hours at a time without stiffening into the shape of an archer's bow, but I finally caved and purchased a dodgy-looking ergonomic chair on EbayUK. For the price, I'm guessing the extent of its ergonometry is that it comes with a broken back and a roll of duct tape; with a few sticky strips, I'll be able to make it fit my contours. Until the tape melts off, which is likely here because our apartment, while wonderful (which it is, trust me), currently resembles a tropical rainforest.

The one significant downside our older building is its serious dearth of insulation. Combine that with poor ventilation, and the windows sweat buckets on cold nights, leading to all sorts of horrific fantasies involving my clothes and cotton-loving mold. After a little experimentation, I figured out that one can reduce the condensation by turning up the heat, which warms the window glass. Alas, another downside to an old building is an eccentric heating system which *only* operates as follows:

1. Turn heat storage on at 7pm, because it is only possible to have the heater on from 7 to midnight under our council energy plan. No, I don't have the slightest clue what that means, either, but it is apparently very expensive to do anything else.
2. Turn heat storage off in the morning.
3. Wait for heater to emanate the heat it has stored. Wait about 30 seconds.
4. Stand before heater in awe as hot air pours from its innards.
5. Grow slightly dismayed when heat doesn't stop, which it won't until 7pm.
6. Open all the windows and hang out in agony
7. Repeat

It's great, really. I also purchased a dehumidifier which is supposed to be large enough to work on a place bigger than ours. It's been filled to capacity three times today, and I'm pretty sure it's about to fill my clothes aren't dripping wet, I'm not sure.

That's about all I can write tonight -- I've been writing all day, and my shoulders are protesting.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Feminism needs a comeback

Oh, the Uppity Woman is pissed tonight. In addition to Rush Limbaugh's jaw-dropping remarks about Michael J. Fox (don't worry, I'm building up a slow burn on that, too), this little gem just slipped out the mouth of a major figure in Australia:

"If you take uncovered meat and put it on the street, on the pavement, in a garden, in a park or in the backyard, without a cover and the cats eat it, is it the fault of the cat or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem....If the woman is in her boudoir, in her house and if she's wearing the veil and if she shows modesty, disasters don't happen."

Just in case anyone out there wants to argue that the battle of the sexes is over, that feminism is pointless and that equality has been achieved: half the world has just been compared to a piece of meat. A PIECE OF MEAT. The rest of the speech is just as lovely. If you feel like throwing things, you can read it here.

I'm glad that so many people in Australia and around the world have condemned his remarks; it doesn't take much to figure out the speaker's religious affiliation, but it's heartening that most people seem to recognize that this has less to do with religion than it does with misogyny, a misogyny that transcends religion and culture. A misogyny that's as at home in America as it is anywhere else.

It's a point Bob Herbert makes well in his recent column on the execution of several Amish schoolgirls. Herbert points out that, in all the coverage, no one batted an eye about the fact that the killer targeted women. "Imagine if a gunman had gone into a school, separated the kids up on the basis of race or religion, and then shot only the black kids. Or only the white kids. Or only the Jews...None of that occurred because these were just girls, and we have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that violence against females is more or less to be expected."

It's true. The only information we heard about the Amish shootings over here was a little surprise that it happened in an Amish community. Never mind that the killer released the boys before he shot the girls.

It all fits into a picture painted by Ariel Levy, the whipsmart author of Female Chauvinist Pigs. I read the book over the summer; some of it is a little "well, duh," but it is nonetheless an important book because it finally connects the dots between all of the little things which degrade women in society: our voluntary participation in shows like Girls Gone Wild; the hypersexualization of Halloween costumes, music videos and makeup ads; the ridicule you receive if you dare suggest that Eminem's wife-beating lyrics are hateful and disturbing.

Individually, sure, they aren't that dangerous. But that's the thing, and this is what makes me so angry: we aren't receiving them one at a time. We are living in a world which is saturated by misogyny. We are drenched by audio and visual stimulation which suggests that women are nothing more than hypersexualized boytoys who exploit and enjoy being exploited. We're told that we are pieces of meat. And we should celebrate it.

I can't stand it when I see girls grinding each other on bartops. Correction: go on and do it, if you want to. Hell, I have. But don't insist, between hip thrusts, that you're doing it because you're so Liberated, that somehow this ability to participate in your own sexual exploitation means that you've come a long way, baby.

Here's what matters. We still make a quarter less in our jobs than men. We are still raped and beaten and murdered every goddamn day at rates that should make us scream. Yet, how many of us would call ourselves feminists? Don't we all think feminism is a joke, something that went out with burning bras? Funny. I'm not laughing.

Pieces of meat, going merrily off to market. Just remember that when someone gives you a hard time because something just feels wrong about GGW, Marshall Mathers, Abercrappie t-shirt slogans, or women who say equality means getting to act as raunchy as frat boys. Aren't we a little tired of being on the menu?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Skipping stones

Let's face it: lately, the world's been a bleak place to inhabit. Over here, we're on the brink of national riots fueled by religious and ethnic tension; over there, a certain administration believes we'll accept anything they say if they just yell loud enough. (Seriously? If people accept the line that we never had a "stay the course" plan, I will scream loud enough for you to hear it on the West Coast. Then, I will bombard the entire Washington, D.C. core with enough copies of 1984 to bury a small nation.)

Frustrated? Entangled in existential despair? Might I recommend Red Stapler's request for people to contribute to Women For Women.

Think of life as a big, flat stone in the palm of your hand. No, don't throw it through the window. I don't care if it does look into the Oval Office. Just skip it. I've always liked skipping rocks -- although you probably can't call my staggering plashes "skips" -- because the ripples extend far beyond where your rock touches down. It's not the subtlest metaphor, but somehow it rings true to me. Supporting a group like WFW makes some ripples, or lights a candle, or performs whatever symbollic act you see when you think about changing the world. We're lucky enough to be in countries where we generally aren't restricted from work or assaulted on the streets for being born female. Whatever we have, it's probably enough to give a little bit back. Or at least link to RS's site from your own. Find a nice, shiny rock. See where it travels.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Medeni mjesec 2

I forgot to mention, dear reader, that this trip was an experiment in "packing light." Observe the size of my backpack in comparison to your standard Nalgene bottle. Yes, that's two weeks of travel gear in there. Although I admit that I was a bit nervous about the prospect of traveling with two pairs of pants and one skirt TOTAL, it worked out quite well...apart from the incident on the island of Lopud, in which Ecogrrl and her spouse were caught out in the middle of a lightning storm and sprinted madly for home across pitch-black fields...leading to the skirt's untimely demise. Yeah, running pell-mell through a tempest with lightning so intense that the memory plays like the world-ending storm at the end of a black-and-white movie? Can't say I recommend it. Particularly because passports do not like water. At all.

But the bag was great. Its innards bloated a little at the end, when I crammed in an extra couple of books because I'm insane enough to plow through two novels in the first week of a trip, necessitating the purchase of two more at a Dubrovnik bookshop and the Dublin airport. Apart from that, I'm truly impressed with how well it performed; it even emerged unscathed from the belly of a Ryanair plane.

The only real downside to packing light is the need to recycle the same clothes every few days, as demonstrated by Coalescent Boy. As you can see, however, CB remains his same handsome self -- and no one on Lopud (left) knew we wore the same things in Dubrovnik (right).

As an aside, note the ridiculous height of the aloe plants. These were not the largest specimens we saw -- the biggest were almost CB's height. Based on casual observations, *everything* grows lush and massive in Croatia's climate: figs plummet from city walls in Dubrovnik; squashes vie for space on arbors with grapes bursting their skins; limes the size of softballs droop from trees.

The only other drawback to spartan packing is doing the laundry, or, "Oh hell, we are out of socks and the ones I washed have not line-dried yet and now I must tie them to the outside of my pack so they don't make other things in my bag wet." Hey, at least you receive some amused smiles from people when you're traipsing around city streets with clean laundry streaming out behind you.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Fact, not fiction, for the first time in years.

DCFC lyrics have been running through my head lately, a sure sign that I'm in transition. Certain music accompanies me whenever I am on a physical or mental journey, and Death Cab's songs have been close companions since I discovered them seven years ago.

I'm not even sure where to begin. I find myself at a loss for words when people ask -- as they inevitably do -- what I'm up to these days. Depending on your perspective, I'm either taking a risk to pursue a dream, or wasting time when I should be focused on long-term plans. Realistically, I feel somewhere in between, but it's difficult to justify the big "U" (that's unemployed) to fast-track students here who haven't paused for breath since completing their A-levels.

My degree course wrapped up at the end of August, and I spent September in a pleasant blur, hosting my family when it came to visit, moving to Oxford, leaving for Croatia. I returned to learn that I'd done remarkably well in the program, although whether or not that will have any tangible benefits remains to be seen. Nevertheless, I'm happy that it went well, and happier still that the end result was good in spite of my very aberrant decision to turn it in a week early. AKA, *when I still had time to make it PERFECT!* Hopefully, this marks the beginning of a new relationship with perfectionism, in which I grow comfortable with finishing things when I feel done instead of scouring them for every last error, when the amount of time I spend working is too great to justify the tiny improvements I make.

So, what am I up to now? I've spent the last two weeks working from home, which means I wake up around 7:30, brew a pot of coffee, and sit down at the table by 10:00 to write. Part of me hesitates to even talk about this, because I'm afraid I'll jinx it or wind up sounding like a major flake (stupid social pressure), but there you go. I have three months on my hands with no job prospects in sight and no real way to apply for any that arise: with Christmas travel, I can't exactly take a position now. ("Gee, thanks so much for the job! I'll be gone from December 6th until mid-January, okay?") School is finished, for now and possibly forever. (Although I can't really think about the finality yet.) Volunteer opportunities are sparse. So, with some much needed support from Coalescent Boy, I'm writing a novel.

Yeah, I'm serious.

It's not a great story. At this point, I'm just hoping it will be good enough for me to do something with after I finish the second draft, even if that means showing it to friends and then sticking it in a drawer. The goal at this point is simply to begin writing, to develop a daily habit, and to understand what kind of schedule I'm going to need if I want to keep writing for life. When I'm not writing, I'm mulling over what comes next, which generally means weighing the horrendously difficult "stay in the UK/go back to Seattle" decision looming in January. But for at least a few months, I'm trying out how it feels to say "I'm a writer." (It feels freaky.)

Any illusions I had about being the next great American author have been discarded, but there's a certain amount of freedom in accepting one's capabilities for what they are. I have no idea how I'm going to milk 150,000 words out of the ideas in my head -- I'm at 19,000 right now, and that already feels monumental -- but something tells me that finishing one will make it easier to start another. Think of this as a test book. Does that mean it's a throwaway? No -- I still nurture a hope that it might be publishable with a regional press, but I am starting to believe that I won't be crushed if it doesn't happen. I'll just sit back in front of the computer and start again.

There you go. I'm writing. I'm reflecting. I'm ignoring well-intended students and staff who say, "Oh...have you tried looking for a job, though?" or, "You know, there's a good PhD program in X Department." I'm trying not to think about what I should be doing to get back into the environmental world where I know I belong. I'll get there. This just isn't the place to do it, which means I probably shouldn't expend my energy fretting over nonexistent opportunities.

I've been deliberating whether to make this a matter of public record, partially because, as I mentioned, I still have qualms about saying "I'm writing" as if that's a valid adult activity. The adult part of my brain keeps muttering about how I should be doing something I know I'm good at, something safe, like more academic research. But there's a kid inside, too, and she's jabbing at the adult with her pen, insisting the adult see that writing is valid, is legitimate, is worthwhile. That kid has secret dreams she's nurtured for the last decade or two, ambitions she isn't quite willing to speak aloud. The good thing, I suppose, is that the adult in me shares those dreams, too.

So, here we go. 2000 words per day; one day off per week, a few more when I'm traveling. Draft by end of January/early February. Revisions in early March. Reviews by kindhearted people in the spring. Redraft over the summer, if readers deem it worth redrafting, and then we'll see what happens. Maybe nothing. At the very least, it's a stepping-stone for future work. At most? Well, there's where the dreaming comes into play.

Blogger help???

Okay, my big problem seems to have solved itself (hooray), but I still feel like I have an extra bit of padding below my header. Also, the little white margin between the header and the navbar -- does anyone know how to get rid of that? Anybody? You'd have my eternal gratitude.

Any feedback on the new layout (header too big? posts too bland?) would be appreciated, too.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Medeni mjesec (honeymoon), part 1

"Erm, dobra večer," I said, clutching a grimy mobile phone to my ear. I stood at the side counter of a compact bar in Zagreb, having just begged and plead with the bartender to lend me his phone for a minute so I could call the owner of our private room at 10:30 pm to tell him we couldn't open the front door.

Coalescent Boy -- his adopted moniker, I'll have you know -- and I had been traveling since 5:30 that morning, when we trudged out to the cab that would take us to Stansted Airport. After a shorthaul flight to Trieste and a long bus ride to Croatia, in which we were stopped at the Slovenian border so bored Croatian guards could order us all of the bus, herd us on again, and then order us off with our bags to "search for drugs," we finally arrived in Zagreb. Exhausted and famished, we successfully navigated a bewildering tram system, the route maps of which were faded beyond legibility and written in Croatian. Furthermore, they relied upon some new space-time continuum in which hours like "36.5" and "19" coexisted, a state of affairs which Zagreb residents seemed to accept, leaving two f---ing confused tourists to run back and forth across the tracks, trying to figure out which side went the way they needed. Finally, we scrambled aboard the right tram, a dingy, graffiti-strewn box that looked older than the city itself. As it rocked on the track, emitting sharp, aggravated cracks whenever it turned, Coalescent Boy and I looked at each other and grinned. We made it.

Our success was short-lived. After finding our room, the first in a series of private accomodations or "sobes" which we occupied down the coast, we set out to find a late-night dinner. The lodging itself was fine, but we were just outside the city center in a roughish-looking neighborhood (hey, for less than 30 pounds per night, who's complaining?). On a whim, I decided to check the lock after we shut the door. I turned the key. The door handle remained fixed in place. CB jiggled the key. No go. Fueled by hunger and the prospect of sleeping on concrete steps in a dingy, draughty yellow hallway, we took turns hammering at the door. The overhead light flicked off.

Great. Nice planning, Ecogrrl. I'd managed to start off our honeymoon by forcing us to sleep on cold cement. Thankfully, the bartender spoke enough English to vaguely understand what I was saying -- that, or he was a little frightened by the frantic girl waving a phone number in his face. We reached our host and convinced him to drive back out again to help us with the door. Ten minutes later, he showed up, considerably more disgruntled than he had been during our initial meeting. I launched into a detailed explanation and apology while CB handed him the key. He slid the key into our lock, turned it until the latch clicked, twisted the handle and shoved the door open.

Oh sweet lord.

"We really aren't as stupid as we look right now," I said.

"Uh-huh," he responded. "I have to go now."

Having done our patriotic duty by convincing another European that Americans are blithering idiots, we raced out to find food before everything in the city shut down for the night. Thankfully, Croatia isn't England -- we may have found the only restaurant still serving food, but a plethora of outdoor cafes awaited after we finished our pizza. We collapsed underneath a canopy of umbrellas stretching end-on-end down a wide pedestrian walkway, ordered a couple of local beers, and sat watching the crowds. Most passers-by were young, drawn to Zagreb's extensive pedestrian zone, where you can walk for several blocks in any direction without dodging cars or mopeds. Music streams from cafes and bars; gelato shops serve huge, glistening scoops of toasted pistachio ice cream; people sit and talk and call to friends walking down side streets. I've never been anywhere with a night life like Zagreb's, except for Cuba. There, too, the warm climate and communal atmosphere created a vibrant nocturnal community. As the minutes slid by, I slipped into a blissful, gelato-induced stupor. Not a bad start to things. Not bad at all.

...and we're back

Real posts start up tonight, so you may now recommence your daily routines.

Talk to you soon.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

We're experiencing technical difficulties...

AKA, we have no freaking internet connection.

Check that: we have one slow-ass 36k link that disconnects every 30 seconds, while our ISP claims that it's working on the problem. Suffice it to say that I am now a cooped-up, cranky as hell unemployed person with no links to the outside world. Our ISP is about to get a taste of my wrath.

Croatia was fantastic, and I promise that I will regale you with stories and pictures as soon as I can sit at my own terminal for more than three minutes. The blog, she is NOT dead! She's just being held against her will.

Monday, September 25, 2006


We're off on the honeymoon together, embarking from home around 6am to catch our morning flight to Trieste. (I do so love budget airline timetables.) I should have a real internet connection when I return, which means I will be able to post trip accounts right away...assuming we can find the ethernet cable under all of the boxes and miscellaneous belongings we haven't put away yet. I'm thinking about taking all of the random stuff and turning it into postmodern art: the final scene of Hamlet as depicted in two-pence coins and excess glassware, for example.

The trip is partially planned (e.g., three of 12 nights booked), just the way we like it. All should be well, provided we can learn how to pronounce mysterious phrases like, "Gdje je najbliža tramvajska stanica?" I think that has something to do with finding the nearest rail station. Mispronouncing it might result in being directed to a highly interesting species of gull.

Yes, I invented the last bit. I hope.

Regular communication will resume sometime after October 9th. Until then, zbogom!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Miss you

It's going to be a bumpy month for posts, as I'm currently hosting family. Yes, they leave in a week, but then I move somewhere which may not have internet service until the end of October, at which point I'll probably have gone mad and rendered myself incapable of writing anything. Hell, I'll barely recognize the keyboard at that point. Six weeks without internet would be...We're not going to think about that.

I was in my garden today, my long, inviting, newly mown garden, home to many a mouse and countless birds, bearer of lavender and sunflowers and holly and roses. That garden and its animal occupants have sustained me for the last year, giving me an outlet for the frustration, the homesickness, the sadness. Every day since the day I moved in, the same robin's cracked the morning open from his perch on the weathered fence beneath the roses, reminding the world that this small refuge is his castle and keep. I've become familiar with two magpies (one mysteriously balding), a family of dunnocks, a blue tit and her boisterous brood, a pair each of collared doves and woodpigeons (also with their babies), and at least three clutches of sparrows. I've had a solitary green tit pop in for a meal now and again, in addition to a dozen blackbirds, an errant sparrowhawk, and the robin, his mate, and their single chick. Where I'm going, I won't really have a garden. No long, crumbling rows of brick for scattering seed; no tumbling clumps of shade-loving ground cover where mice dash between burrows. Nothing to fill the isolation or to quell my inner fears that beat against my chest with the urgency of snared starlings.

Who's going to take care of the birds? Who'll know that the pigeons need to eat further down the hedgerow, while the blackbirds prefer the paving stones? What if that last sparrow fledgling never learns how to fly and loses the food I leave? How is it possible that we transfer all of our latent hopes and fears to the simplest things, finding it easier to displace our imaginings than to confront them?

It took a year, but I have friends, both female and feathered, as well as favorite paths and well-worn haunts. I finally feel at home here, and I'm leaving. Again. Every time I uproot, another tendril's torn from the vine, another root snags in the churned earth. I'm off again to that Other Place, another city of spires and ancient stories, a place where everyone has a history but me. I know my history, and I know where I'd like my future to lie. I'm just afraid I'll never get there, destined to shred roots and bark and leaves the rest of my life, scattering the pieces among those I leave behind.

But tonight, it's the birds getting to me. I'm going to miss hearing them and seeing them, distracting me from work, flitting between the thick undergrowth and the impenetrable holly. At some point, I'll let my friends and my future get to me, too. For now, the birds are all I can handle.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

There are good reasons I removed all identifying names and places from this blog

I'm sitting in a half-empty room, boxes and bags accruing in the kitchen, wondering how on earth I'm ever going to move the wardrobe of six people home with me when the time comes. (No, I'm not sure how five other people mysteriously stuffed their clothes into my closet, which barely qualifies as a closet anyway, given that it is the size of a medicine cabinet. I am anything but fashion-conscious, and I often find I have nothing to wear when I need to go somewhere nicer than Sainsbury', obviously, these clothes, they are capable of reproducing asexually.)

In a few days, my parents arrive for a visit. My MIL and BIL were here in July, and it was great to see them, even if I could only emerge from my pile of interviews long enough to gasp a hello and point in the direction of the tea cupboard. Hopefully, I'll be able to be a bit more social with my parents, although I am certifying my status as the world's most shameless daughter by enlisting them in our move under the guise of a visit to Oxford. Which it is. Just with boxes.

It is even worse because they are moving right now, too, although this is a vast improvement over the situation last week, in which they were moving without having found a new house. They seemed cheerily okay with this, as if it is perfectly normal in one's middle age to pack up all of one's belongings and leave for a foreign country without the slightest clue where one will sleep upon one's return. Well, technically, they did have some sort of month-long arrangement involving an eccentric hippy lady with an apartment the size of a spare room. It is decorated in a manner I cannot imagine -- Mom described it as reminiscent of life in 1970s San Francisco, a period which I have chosen to deny my parents ever experienced. Although the fact that anyone from 1970s San Francisco remembers it is quite impressive. But yes, after a month or so with the hippy lady, they would have been consigned to wherever the city puts families who sell their homes and then disappear to Europe.

I did warn CB when we married that my family was a bit crazy.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mid-week misery

Occasionally, I forget that being vegetarian does not make me immune to food-related catastrophes of the medical sort, even though I feel I am largely protected from things like salmonella.

Alas, what I am not protected from, it seems, are brie-and-tomato sandwiches from a certain sandwich shop with multiple locations in my town.

I had just left the hairdressers, where my request to "clean it up while maintaining the new length" resulted in a cut resembling either a much-abused cotton swab or a furry light bulb. This produced many stares from construction workers perched on scaffolding around the colleges, along with a few comments -- one of which, I'm certain, was "What happened to her head?" Short hair is not terribly common here, and short, wiry, spiky hair attempting to grow out a few inchees is downright exotic. Or frightening, apparently, given the remarks.

I was crankily shoving bits of hair out of my eyes which were the byproduct of her efforts to "style" it in the manner of someone possessing about three times more hair than me, as hairdressers tend to do. Earlier in the day, I'd been to three bookshops which had each greeted my query about selling used books with a raised eyebrow and a, "Phwhat?" They asked me which books I wanted to sell, but I did not have them with me, as I saw no point to carrying 15 books into town (including an 800-page monster about the history of California's water development) if I simply had to turn around and lug them back again. Naturally, when I explained that I could bring them if they thought I'd have a chance at selling them, they shook their heads. I cannot fathom where they procure the used books for their voluminous secondhand collections, unless they are robbing them from Oxfam and reselling to impoverished students like me who do not realize we will have to carry said books with us on every relocation for the rest of our lives.

I'd also stopped at the department to return my keys and give the building a suitable send-off involving furtive gesturing and ancient Italian curses.

At this point, I was hungry. My hair was rapidly approaching the limp tea-towel phase. I still had 15 bloody books gathering dust in my flat. A brie baguette seemed the perfect solution, so I purchased one and sat on the low wall outside the colleges, munching away and watching a group of shirtless young men leaping from the tops of dustbins and pole-valuting over marble pillars until one of them misjudged the distance required to skip over the iron spikes of a church fence and promptly broke a limb or two smacking into one of the pillars.

The sandwich, it was a bit dodgey. Maybe they'd put too much pepper in it. By dinner, I wasn't hungry, but I assumed this had something to do with stress and my utter disinterest in doing anything creative with the lonely eggplant languishing in my veggie drawer.

Then, I woke up at 5am this morning feeling like I'd had my insides scoured with a wire brush. As it only became possible to stand up without becoming ill two hours ago, I've spent the entire day trying to find comfortable positions that would still enable me to crawl to the bathroom if needed. I ended up crouched at the foot of my bed with my arms wrapped around my shoulders while the Roommate from Hell blasted "Going to the Chapel" over and over again above my head for approximately two hours.

Since I haven't eaten in 30-some hours, I am simultaneously ravenous and put off by the mere whiff of food. The packing I was supposed to do remains unaccomplished. My hair is clearly staging a coup along the top of my scalp.

As GIS noted tonight, "You have the luck, don't you? I think Evil Uni Town is trying to spit you out."

Believe me, I'd gladly be gone.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The liver is evil and must be destroyed

I meant to post this weekend, but I instead spent the better part of both days in bed recovering from Friday night.

I assumed that having only three guests at my year-end party would prevent things from getting out-of-hand. Alas, I'd forgotten that my friends were an Irishwoman, a Scotswoman, and a Harpingdon lad with an impressive capacity for beer. In hindsight, I should have considered those factors.

It started out pleasantly enough. We ordered a bottle of Chenin Blanc and chatted over dinner. At that point, it was just the Irish and me. When the Scot and her man showed up, we naturally needed to order them a drink, which I think resulted in a second bottle of wine and two ciders. Halfway through the second bottle, we decided that I had not found a drink worthy of being used for my "end of thesis" toast, and my Scottish friend offered to buy anything I requested.

It was around 10pm. I was feeling brave. I walked up to the bar with her and ordered the one drink guaranteed to make me a very happy girl in a very short amount of time. Its only drawback is the name.

"What can I get ye?" the bartender asked. He was one of the newer employees who had not yet learned to avoid the pack of girls from up the hill who traipsed in every week.

I leaned really close, determined to describe the drink without giving it a name. My friend helped by reiterating everything I said.

"Can I have a pint of Guinness, but can you only fill it about two-thirds of the way?"

My friend -- we'll call her Sheilagh -- chimed in, "Yeah, so not all the way," pantomiming with an imaginary glass.

"And a shot that's half whisky, half Bailey's?"

"So not all whisky and not all Bailey's, but in the same glass. One shot"

The bartender looked like he wanted to be very helpful. "Well, we don't have shot glasses," he said. He looked downcast. Then, his face brightened. "I could nip across the street to t'other pub and nick one from them?"

We shook our heads gravely.

"I'll just put them in wine glasses then," he said, "but separate."

"Make it two of everything," Sheilagh said unexpectedly. She grinned. "We'll make Allie drink one, too."

"Whatsit called annyway?" the bartender asked.

Great. This called for careful subtlety in a packed pub. "Irisharbom," I mumbled.

"Come again?"


He shook his head.

"Irish Car Bomb," I snapped, in a pub which naturally went silent the moment before I spoke.

The bartender looked at me in a half-pitying, half-scornful manner and then went off to fix my Terrorist Special.

We left the bar with one almost-full glass of Guinness, a double shot of whisky in a white wine glass, and somewhere between one and two shots of Bailey's in a half-pint glass. With only one Guinness, I was going to have to drink it all.

Normally, with a Car Bomb, you take the combined shot and drop it into the Guinness. The whole thing explodes in a rising tide of froth, which you have to chug like a parched camel because it curdles in about 30 seconds, all the while gingerly maintaining contact with the rim of the glass so you can slurp the last drop and pull away before the shot glass smacks you in the teeth. It's fantastic. Drink one, you earn a little respect. Drink two, you're a bar legend at home. Drink three...well, I just wouldn't drink three unless you want to be remembered as "that girl who drank three Car Bombs and wound up dancing the tango to an Irish jig."

However, now I was faced with the prospect of pouring the drinks in to the Guinness and hoping that it would have the same effect. By this time, everyone at our table was mesmerized, and the bartender was still leaning at the side window.

"Maybe I'll just..." Damn. Thinking became difficult after your third glass of wine.

"Do y'want something to stir it with?" Allie asked. She rummaged in her bag for a pen. "Here," she said.

I dumped the whisky in and splashed the Bailey's after it. We stared in fascination as both liquids swirled ominously at the bottom of the Guinness. No bomb.

"I think it's congealing down there," Allie murmured.

"Right," Sheilagh said. "Drink it. C'mon!"

I grabbed Natalie's pen and hammered it round for a bit until I couldn't quite distinguish just how nasty the bottom bit had become. The table to our right had gone quiet. I should have just given up on the whole idea, but I was officially in Hyper-Competitive Drunk Irish-American Girl Mode. I was drinking that damned thing, and I was going to drink it faster than anyone ever had. I slammed the whole thing back, marvelling at how many textures and solids could be found in a poorly made Car Bomb. Defiantly, I slammed the glass down on the table. Hah! Didn't even feel it.

....Didn't feel a thing, actually. Hand-eye coordination seems to be fucked. Bloody wine. Had to be the wine.

The last thing I remember from the evening was being in Sheilagh's room with a few more friends and yelling, "Marine Corps, bitch! U-rah!" as I challenged one of their fiancees, a military man, to a drinking contest. He had a glass of cider. I had a bottle of Jamison's, and I'm pretty sure I actually pulled the cork out with my teeth. I really must insist that someone render me unconscious with a blunt object before I get to the drinking-from-the-bottle stage.

Saturday morning, I woke up under my covers in a necklace and two black socks. Somehow, I'd managed to hang up my coat, but everything else was on the couch in a mash of shoes, clothes, purses and jewelry. My keys were still in Sheilagh's room. Something had happened to my head, as it suddenly felt it had shrunk around my brain. None of us actually got up until sometime after 11, at which point the rest of the weekend was a wash entailing lots of silence, stumbling through grocery stores cursing the cheery flourescent lights, and refusing to go within ten feet of a pub.

Bloody thesis. I blame it for all of this.