Envy

In a parallel universe I never left NYC.  MR and I waited the nine months and paid all the fees and the lawyer and decided we would be apart for the first 9 months of our marriage to settle there, even if it meant being apart

Sometimes I envy this me.

Not often, because if we had chosen to be apart, we wouldn’t have Feliciraptor, and she is worth giving up a country for.  But when I think about the mess that is the 2016 Presidential election, I miss being in America.

One of the things no one tells you about being an expat is that you automatically become an ambassador for your country.  And, man, is it hard to represent the United States sometimes, because isolated on their continent, Americans have no clue how they’re coming across to the rest of the world.  And newsflash–it ain’t good.

It was tough traveling abroad during the Dubya years.  He was not popular around the world, and the war he started in Iraq was even less popular.  In comparison with now, however, those were much simpler times.  I had to do a bit of defending against ridiculous conspiracy theories like Bush masterminded 9/11 (wtf?), but for the most part, all I had to say when I travelled to England was ‘*I* didn’t vote for him.  I pretty much disagree with every word that comes out of his mouth’ and people understood.  After all, a lot of them disagreed vehemently with Thatcher, and they subsequently drummed Blair out of office, so it wasn’t a huge stretch.

Then we elected Obama, and while I routinely faced questions about whether every American owns a gun (answer: no), things were overall better.  The world likes Obama.  I like Obama.  The gun issue was the biggest thing I had to speak to during that time, but it most people seemed to understand that it wasn’t the whole sum of the US, although Brits do think Americans are *nuts* for refusing to even examine firearms legislation.

But now things have gone crazy because Trump stands an honest chance of becoming President, and he is an insane fascist.  There is nothing that makes this man a viable candidate for President.  First and foremost, he clearly only wants to represent white men.  He reacts to insults like a child, or worse, threatens acts of free speech with violence.  This flagrant disregard for the first amendment is truly alarming, because the Constitution is one of the things that makes America exceptional.    Not only that, he is a straight up fascist.  His slogan, ‘Make American great again’ sums that up.  Make America great–how?  What does a ‘great’ America consist of?  He has no real concrete ideas about this, just insults he hurts at minority groups, religions, and other nations.  Furthermore, it implies that America is in a state of complete ruin–not so.  It is rare to find any nation in a state of complete ruin.  Alongside this is the word ‘again’, as though America should turn back the clock to some unspecified point in the past.  Going back is never a good idea.  The future lies ahead.  And moreover, the whole statement implies an entitlement to greatness which is probably the most obnoxious thing about America.  No nation is the greatest nation by default, and the rabid patriotism this slogan presents is exactly what makes other nations roll their eyes in disgust at the naive ego of America.

This is the delicate line I have to walk.  On the one hand, I do not just disagree with Trump–I think he could cause a world war if elected, and that’s not hyperbole.  This man is dangerous.  Yet when British people deplore the state of the elections, when they start telling people who to vote for on my Facebook feed, or when they ask whether I am going to give up on being American should Trump get elected, my hackles raise and I feel like saying ‘It’s not your election.  Butt out.  And also, stop insulting my country.’

I am not suggesting that America should listen to the rest of the world when deciding its next President.  Part of the unique strength of Americans is that willingness to pioneer and go it alone, whether it be as a nation, as explorers in the west, or as immigrants starting a life all on their own.  Nevertheless, the opinion of the world can be a useful reflection.  Is this who we want to be as a nation?  Do we want to be more like Franco’s Spain or Mussolini’s Italy than the America which has stood for more than 200 years?  Because if we elect Trump, the nation will become Trump’s America, and frankly, that’s a nation I don’t know how to defend.

But I don’t want to have to surrender who I am, nor will I ever be able to.  People always see me as American.  Living in a quieter corner of England I’m also the only one.  And I don’t know how to represent a country with such a dangerous leader.

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt. Not sure how to participate? Here are the steps to get started.

Source: Envy

Advertisements

Never Again

I’m not a person for regrets.

Ha, I only wish that were true.  In fact, I regret a lot of things that I’ve done.  I’m the kind of person who burns with shame for years after an embarrassing moment.  I obsess over things I’ve left undone, because I am a massive procrastinator.  For example, I still have not sent out all the thank you cards for my wedding, which was almost a year ago.  Or one of my work friends retired a couple years ago, and sent me a lovely letter–an actual letter, on paper, and I never answered her.  Because I am a gigantic punk.  I hate myself for doing that.

But if you ask me whether there are things I wouldn’t do again, I struggle to think of any.  Thinking about it, I’m the sort of person who doesn’t take no for an answer.  In high school, where my procrastination got the best of me in a school of overachievers, I finished in the middle of the pack and got no awards for writing or English, much to my chagrin.  So in college, I determined that I was going to work even harder and wound up with departmental distinction, magna cum laude, etc.  I say this because dammit, I worked for that.

Sometimes I’m lucky and my tenacity pays off right away.  Sometimes it doesn’t, so I just keep hammering at the target until it gives or I do.  When I auditioned for Jeopardy I got into the contestant pool on my first try.  A few years later, I decided to audition for Who Wants to be a Millionaire?  I passed the test but screwed up the interview because I innocently asked how they selected contestants.  My interviewer immediately got squinky and I wasn’t terribly surprised but was terribly disappointed when I got a card saying I wasn’t selected.  (Pro tip: If you are ever trying to get on tv, don’t ask about their selection process.  It is very secret society.)  Nevertheless, I just went back and auditioned again the next year–and got on the show.

The one thing I thought I really would never do again is move for a guy.  I did it once, after I graduated college, relocating to North Carolina to give my college romance a real world shot.  The relationship was falling apart even before I got down there, and I gave up a chance to be an English adjunct in the south of France to give love a shot, but I swore I was being brave and fighting for love.  When said boyfriend broke up with me very suddenly, I found myself in North Carolina very alone and friendless.  When I got back to New York, I vowed I would never do something so stupid again, and I held to it.  When MR and I started dating, I said very certainly he would have to move to NY if things were going to progress, and as he was fine with that plan, all seemed well.  Until a friend pointed out, “That’s not fair.  If you expect him to do that for you, you have to be willing to do that for him.”  It was one of those moments where you hate someone for being right.

And now here I am, living in England, despite all my vows not to move for love.  In the end, that was all I moved for.  But what was a mistake in 2001 turned out to be a wise decision in 2012, because although I was leaving all the same important things behind, what I was going to was much greater–not a relationship I was willing to work with all my grit and might, but a partnership we were both invested in, which has turned into a successful marriage (so far).

So in the end I’m a bit leery of saying ‘never.‘  Never closes a lot of doors, and can cause some unnecessary stubbornness.  And while some pride is good, and arguably necessary,  too much holds you back from having the things you really want.  If I  had been so proud as to shake the dust of the Millionaire producers from my feet after the first go, I would not have won $25,000.  If I had clung to a resolution I made in the flush of bitter heartbreak, I might not be married now.  I almost certainly wouldn’t have a baby on the way.

This is why I watch repeats on tv.  There is always something new to discover in something you think you’ve seen before.

Rolling Stone

The phrase ‘rolling stone’ calls to mind a couple of things:

First, the adage “A rolling stone gathers no moss,” which people tend to take as a positive thing–no baggage!  Life of freedom!

But I tend to agree with Bob Dylan’s take: “How does it feel/ To be without a home/ Like a complete unknown/ Like a rolling stone?”

It’s a pretty bleak picture, leading a nomadic life.  I’ve made the move to a completely new place four times in my life, and each time there was a long settling in period where I was finding new friends, getting used to the place (for every place is different from New York City), and trying to carve out a new life that would in some way match up to home.  This is a tall order.

Each move I’ve made has been worth it for one reason or another.  I went to college in upstate New York and found that the rest of the country, and especially the rest of New York state, does not view the City with any kind of awe or reverence–more fear and distrust.  I saw what life was like in a quiet-ish college town where the only thing open past 2am was Wal-Mart.  I learned that life outside a throbbing metropolis is very different to life in one.  Along the way, I also made some decisions that would influence the trajectory of my life–making a couple of really important friends, finding my first boyfriend, choosing French as a major, discovering that after all, I did love to teach and wanted to make that my career.

My junior year abroad in Paris was the fulfillment of a dream.  I saw Paris for two days my freshman year of college and fell in love.  I have never loved a city the way I love Paris.  The grace and beauty among the grit, the centuries of beautiful architecture clashing with the odd extremely modern building, the food, the people, the vistas everywhere I looked–it was all amazing.  In a year, I went from quasi-conversation to highly proficient in French, which I consider an achievement.  I traveled around Europe for the first time. I found the fun in being a penniless student.  I made friends in a strange land.  I loved it, but I also grew fatigued from thinking and working in another language constantly.  In retrospect, I would look at the relationship I clung to as a weight holding me down, holding me back.  But I came back from that year wiser and more confident in almost every way.

I went to Durham, North Carolina on a mission for love.  There I found a love of sweet tea, barbecue, and fried chicken, but also saw that I am definitely not a Southerner, and that urban sprawl is not really my cup of tea.  I also went thinking myself a romantic heroine and came back shattered and disillusioned–I had given so much up for love, a chance to live in France again, a chance to return home to my friends and family in New York, and it all ended up in nothing.  I thought then that I was a fool, and the bitterness stayed with me until I found a man who I really loved, and who really loved me, and then I realized that year beyond the Mason-Dixon line was only a year of preparation.

Now I’m in England for almost exactly a year, and in a way all the other moves have prepared me for this one, and yet not prepared me at all.  I know what it is to be homesick, and how to deal with it.  I know that eventually, I will make friends, even if I’m a slow mover.  I know how to navigate all the cultural differences, because in their own ways, Oneonta and Durham have the same amount of culture shock as Coventry when you come from NYC.  But of course nothing in these moves could prepare me for the other shake-ups–immigration, marriage, buying a house, having a baby.  Those are what make this journey its own.

I don’t regret any of these moves, and I value the struggles I went through to settle in new places.  But they are struggles.  I need roots.  I need to belong.  I need a home.   I cannot call myself a free spirit in that regard.  Sometimes a little weight holding you down to a place is a good thing.  It’s good to have a home.

Been there, done that

Despite the fact that I have much to say about my current state of affairs, the post I’m most inspired to write is a tangential one.

I tend to run with people who love to travel.  I suppose that isn’t too hard to do, as most people enjoy the exoticism of hopping on a plane and leaving the world behind for a few days or a week.  I can’t say if my friends travel more than most, I just know that several of my close friends make it a point to take at least one big trip a year, sometimes to far flung places like Thailand and Australia.  I have an uncle who I’ve always known for traveling, and he is making his way across the globe in a lifetime of trips, thoroughly exploring Europe, then South America, now Asia.

I love traveling too.  There is something inexplicably fascinating and freeing about standing in a city you’ve only seen on a map before, or in pictures.  Exploring the hidden corners that never make it to tourist books gives me a real sense of adventure, something that I think is hard to come by in this day and age. Continue reading

Nine months was nothing, they said

I’ve just learned that the NYC Dept of Education, in all their wisdom, decided to cut February break short this year in order to make up for lost instruction time due to Hurricane Sandy.

My first thought is that this is abysmally stupid.  Firstly, in high schools, it just throws things off.  High schools run on semesters, and teachers plan accordingly.  Getting days in February will not help cover material needed for the January regents.  In my own classroom, this would have given the kids three more days on Things Fall Apart, but we still would have lost major time in the heroes unit that I do in November as a prequel to the Odyssey.  Also, I’m sure those days could have been found elsewhere.  Plus, I’ve missed at least two days out of the schoolyear several times before, and no one’s had to make up the days.  I’m mad on behalf of all my fellow teachers and all my students that they’re being punished for something they couldn’t control.

I’m mad because I know if it had been me, I would have been gutted.  I almost always used that February break to visit friends in England.  Over this past year, I used it to visit my fiance.

This takes me back to the time when I was embroiled in trying to make the decision of what to do.  When MR and I got engaged, we blithely assumed that it would be no problem to live together in either country, so long as we were married.  Arguably, it’s one of the reasons we moved so fast, although we can never know what might have happened if I was an English girl.  It turns out that we were only half right.  The UK would let us stay together, but the US was much more complicated.  If we wanted to live there together, we had to get married there.  To get married there, we needed to apply for a fiance visa, which would be given at an indeterminate date, taking up to seven months to process.  Once issued, we would have had to get married within 90 days.  Try planning a big wedding under those parameters.  It’s impossible.

Several people suggested the City Hall option, but that wasn’t an option for me.  I know a couple who were in our position–he’s Irish, she’s American, and that’s what they did.  She described her sudden City Hall wedding as an adventure, and I can absolutely see the appeal.  But it wasn’t for me.  I was one of those girls who had planned her wedding from when she was small, and I wasn’t about to give up on that once I had finally found the guy.  Plus, by the time we found this out we had already paid deposits and started planning our wedding in England.  I already had the big white dress with a train that was begging for a church aisle.  And I’m admittedly religious.  Not crazy evangelical or anything, but having a church wedding was really important to me.  And to MR–although he’s not religious, the pomp and circumstance appealed to him, much moreso than a clandestine city hall celebration.

We went to a lawyer, and she told us that if we got married in the UK, he would have to apply from there for entry, and that process could take nine months.  Nine months.  First, it would take four to five months to approve our marriage and decide that we actually did want to be together, and then it would take an additional four to five months to get his green card.  To add to that, during that time he might not be able to visit me.  UK visitors enter the US on a visa waiver program, but of course MR would be trying to waive his need for a visa while simultaneously applying for a visa.  In a post 9/11 world, such information comes up on the border control’s computers, and depending on which border guard he got and what mood they were in (95% chance of surly bordering on scary–nobody ever smiles at me at US customs), he could either be let through or put on the next flight back to the UK.

When we found this out we tried every possible permutation of how to get around this.  We asked every question.  People were constantly suggesting things to me–what if he got a student visa? (No, you can’t have dual intent with a student visa.)  What if he came in through Canada?  All of these were complex and none of them were really helpful. I myself tried to get a leave from the Department of Education for a semester to shorten the length of time we were apart and was given a resounding no.  Thanks, Dept. of Ed.  I can see you appreciate my years of loyal service.

After a couple of months of hemming and hawing, it became apparent that we had only two choices: either I give up my job, my car (I had a gorgeous BMW which I got by luck and some very nice friends), my apartment, my life, and move to England, or we spend the first nine months of our marriage apart, that I get married and go on honeymoon, and then fly back alone.

People were shocked that I might even consider the second option.  While the school secretaries were very kindly helping me with paperwork and scheduling meetings, I remember them saying “You have to think about this, honey.  Nine months is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to a lifetime.  You don’t want to give up a good job.”

It was true.  My job was pretty fabulous–I was teaching some of the brightest, nicest, funniest kids in the city.  I had great colleagues.  I even advised a program called TDF Open Doors which took kids to Broadway shows for free, because according to playwright Wendy Wasserstein, theater is every New Yorker’s birthright.  As the advisor, I got to go along.  For free.  To see Broadway shows which I would have shelled out hundreds for, and happily.  I was teaching creative writing, which was enormously fulfilling.

But we had already done eight months apart and it felt like an eternity.  Yes, I loved my job, but it didn’t compensate for how much I missed him.  That was a pang that was with me daily.  People said to me at least I had Skype, but I knew that.  We were already using every app available to us–Skype, email, What’sApp, gchat.  I will tell you this–nothing electronic can ever compensate for being with someone.  I didn’t know how much longer I could carry on.  Nine months didn’t seem like nothing.  In fact, the time frame seemed particularly significant when it came to being with my husband.  In nine months, I could gestate a baby.  And that started me thinking–I’m in my 30’s and just getting married.  What about having kids?  I knew I wanted them.  Three in an ideal world.  Would those nine months be crucial to the planning of my family?  Then I thought of getting pregnant during one of the few chances we’d have to see each other and doing it all on my own.  Not having anyone there for the baby’s first kick.  Not having anyone there to put together a crib or choose a carseat.  Not having anyone, and yet knowing there was someone who should be there, who would be, were it not for some really stupid immigration laws.

Well.  If you’ve been reading this blog, you know what we decided.  I’m sitting on a couch in Birmingham, typing away.  I won’t pretend it’s been an easy decision.  I miss New York a lot.  I miss my family.  I really want to go out for dinner and drinks with my friends.  I miss my students–the kids I saw enter as freshmen when I started teaching at THHS are graduating this year, and I would give anything to be there.

But when I see this news, that one of my few chances to see my husband would have been snatched from me, I feel the echo of the helpless ache I would have if I had stayed.  When even the thought of something that’s never going to happen causes me that much pain, I know I made the right choice.  Marius Pontmercy, indeed all of Victor Hugo’s characters, taught me well.  I have always been prepared to make big sacrifices for love.  I was so ready that when I was younger I left a world behind to go and live in North Carolina.  When that relationship failed, I thought it meant that I had been stupid to do that.  Indeed, when I got into this relationship at first, I vowed I wouldn’t move for him, that he would have to move for me.  My friend said, “It doesn’t work like that.  You have to be willing to do for him what he would do for you,” and I realized he was right.

Now I see that failed relationship wasn’t proof of my idiocy.  It was training wheels, to show me what such a sacrifice meant.  And it’s made this leap a lot easier.  This time, I have a real partnership, someone who loves me as much as I love him, and we are happy.  I miss home, but I’m building a new life here and making another home.  Now I know this for certain: I miss New York terribly, but not half as much as I would miss him if I were still there.