Thoughts on America, so far

Two and a half weeks have passed so far in our settling into life in ‘murica. It doesn’t feel like it’s really hit yet because life hasn’t had much chance to normalise so far. That and I’m still doing stuff like spelling things with s’s instead of z’s (zed’s, not zee’s) and too many u’s. And our daughter has had a few moments of homesickness which is absolutely heartbreaking. It’s summer break here now though so she won’t get into any real routine til late August, so we’ll just have to get by til then and hope that the incredible heat doesn’t stave off adventure. It’s hard to get outside much because it’s just too darn hot.

Driving around though I have had just a few observations. Since leaving NC 13 years ago, having lived here the 6 months before moving to the UK, I can see that there are positive changes. I’ve seen a lot more healthy food and variety available at the grocery stores (unfortunately it’s also very expensive). I’ve also seen a reasonable sized offering of authentic Mexican food ingredients (not just taco kits) in typical grocery stores in our suburban area outside of Raleigh.

I have also seen fewer Trump stickers than I had braced for (only two so far), possibly due to being inside of Wake County for the most part, but we have taken a couple long road trips. I am sure they are waiting out there for me somewhere en force though. Maybe on our epic road trip in August through Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri and Kentucky.

During our trips to the Appalachians and to Atlanta, we have driven though a few places where I noted a strong Hispanic presence, as evidenced by signs written in Spanish or people we encountered at stops. Thirteen years ago I was hard pressed to find acceptable Mexican food (coming from a town of migrant workers in California, I like to think I know Mexican food fairly well) let alone encountering very many Hispanic communities. But this time around, many of these pockets of Hispanics were in more rural areas, making me wonder about the feelings of those who have lived long term in these areas in seeing the demographic change. I wonder if they felt afraid and responded by tribally to keep out the outsiders. I thought about the rhetoric of Trump and his colleagues and how this has spoken to people seemingly in these types of settings who are pulling up the bridges to keep themselves safe.

Being from a pretty diverse area with a large Mexican and Mexican-American population I can’t imagine having this response to another group of humans entering my community, but scientifically I can understand that it’s evolutionary to react the way they have. And it’s something I want to understand and help overcome. I hope that these specific communities have dealt with it much more graciously than I’ve reckoned, and wouldn’t that be something to learn from.

I can’t say that I feel like I’m in a ‘honeymoon period’ like I’ve been warned of in dealing with reverse culture shock. But I do wonder if, due to our current lifestyles of no jobs and not getting deeply embedded yet into a community, we are experiencing a very surface understanding of American culture not unlike a tourist’s own experience. Because so far everyone is lovely, and the country is beautiful and inviting. But it does feel like there’s an anvil hanging overhead just waiting for the moment to drop, bringing a curtain down that’s covering up a whole lot of garbage.

 

 

Thoughts on America, so far

In Praise of… Multiculturalism

London is said to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world. This may be in part thanks to Colonialism’s insidious reign, but fortunately it would be one of the positive things to work out of that grim history. The years have seen London in a consistent state of flux as new waves of immigrants of various shades, beliefs and experiences embrace the capital city as home. I live in one of the most diverse boroughs in London at present: Hackney, though, sadly that seems to be changing gradually.

I hail from Southern California, a town that a taxi-driver in Tijuana once referred to as ‘Little Mexico’ owing to the large numbers of Mexican farm labourers in particular. I grew up with friends of all backgrounds, ethnicity, income. As a child, it just wasn’t a thing to label people. We Californians pride ourselves on being different – and on not being known for our racism. However it does exist… boy, does it. I went through a spell as a teenager of racial hatred and white supremacy. As people we tend to identify someone to hang our hardships on and in my case I directed certain feelings towards certain people. If I could travel back in time I would give myself an extraordinary backhand.

But as a recovering racist* living in London now for almost a decade, its beauty in shades of skin, language landscape and tolerance for beliefs, it’s got to be one of the things at the top of my list about this place. Living here has further broken the back of my racist self, it’s challenged me to question my own beliefs, particularly where these beliefs put my back up against anyone else’s. Tolerance isn’t such a bad word in my book. Possibly not the best word, but not a bad one.

My fellow country-folk are in jeopardy of losing the benefit of such a multicultural stance on life: the way it changes you if you allow it to. It’s frightening to be vulnerable like that, to feel that your own culture and ways may be threatened. But if these ways are to be, they will remain unchanged, at least where they’re most truthfully and sincerely held. But with an openhandedness rather than a closed-off-ness. Or a balled up fist.

At any rate and having cast my absentee ballot today in favour of the other guy (not the one with the rage and bad toupee), I also cast my ballot (metaphorically speaking) in favour of a city that just welcomed its first Muslim mayor. Sorry to pigeonhole you, Sadiq but I’m hopeful you understand that I’m not trying to limit you to just that, but to help others see that it really doesn’t matter or that a bit of difference helps us all.

*Some other guy came up with this recovering racist thing on FB. Admittedly I didn’t watch his video or read his blog or whatever, but I think I get it. Racism is so ingrained in us it’s hard to ever really be free of it. I can only hope my fear or hatred of the other dies more with each passing day.

In Praise of… Multiculturalism

In Praise Of… leaving home

There are many ways in which I’ve changed in the span of 13 years of living in the United Kingdom. In part it’s down to the life changes I’ve gone through of maturing from a mid-20-something, of marrying and becoming a mother. But also it’s due to the course of my life and the decisions I’ve made and those who I’ve surrounded myself with. It’s come down to jubilations and crises.

I think if there was any piece of wisdom I, in my 38 years, could offer to anybody willing to listen, it would be to travel*. Get out of your place of comfort, away from the people you feel safe with, and let life beat you up, polish you up and change you utterly – away from home. In order for this to happen you have to spend a good while away though, not just a long vacation, not just a ‘mission trip’. But truly imbibe the new culture to which you’ve relocated, however temporarily. Don’t pine for the place you’ve left, don’t solely partake of the offerings given from your native place, whether through entertainment or reading. And given our new globally connected reality, this is easier said than done. Don’t surround yourself with only nationals of your own place who have also relocated. Become one of the locals, let it get into your bones. Talk differently. Even if you do sound like an ass to begin with.

I remember that at Bible College, before being sent to a foreign nation, the message was grafted into us, don’t become one of them, wherever you go. Always come back to the states yearly so that you don’t ‘go native’. I call bullshit. Go native. Be brave enough to let yourself become conflicted in your identity. After all, your identity shouldn’t be first and foremost as a national of any nation. But as a human, and if you subscribe to such ideology, as a child of God. Go native as a child of the universe, and smash the lenses you’ve been nurtured to wear. In less kind language I could say, the lenses you’ve been brainwashed to look through. But that’s just culture, it’s how we are, it’s what we do.

I have changed politically. I have changed in my relationship to food. My relationship to transport has changed. I garden and don’t always kill things. My faith has changed drastically. My understanding of God has increased wonderfully, even if it’s left me more puzzled overall. I have met people in this multicultural society I never would have encountered deeply – I’ve seen all continents from this place. I’ve made friends, lost friends and seen friends die. I’ve met new souls in the shape of babes. It has been rich. I am incredibly wealthy as a result.

I hope that I can share some of my impressions of living in Europe via a series of blog posts, In Praise of…

These things might exist quite obviously elsewhere, but in my journey they’ve been found here, in the United Kingdom. They’re things I’ll forever carry with me, unless my next cultural experience challenges them and allows these things to morph as well.

*As a caveat here, I realise, not everyone has the privilege to travel, not for indeterminate periods of time at least. It’s my hope that in writing this series and making suggestions about how to take advantage of our globally connected world, that wherever we find ourselves, in whatever situation, we might be able to challenge our conceptions, to live more expansively and to get out of our comfort zones, even if just by discussing a talk by a foreign speaker or reading a book by someone with an opposing view to our own. Life’s too rich not to explore.

In Praise Of… leaving home

Book Review: Your Vocational Credo

your vocational credoMy dear friend Deborah Koehn Loyd has come out with her first book, Your Vocational Credo: Practical Steps to Discover Your Unique Purpose (IVP). While I’m very proud of her and the things she’s accomplished over the last few years, Deborah has mostly inspired and challenged me, both personally and through this book. If you’ve read my blog once or twice you may have read that I struggle with my sense of calling and purpose, mostly floundering between projects and finding it difficult to identify the common themes that make me ME. I’ve had a few conversations with Deborah about this (and can recommend her for vocational counselling!) and this book has just taken those discussions further and given me the time to process through her insights.

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Visiting Deborah & husband Ken in 2010

To be perfectly honest, I’ve not made my way through the book entirely as I’ve encountered some reasons that I have struggled to identify my strengths, weaknesses, emotions and calling, so these need working through in parallel. But the book speaks for itself with its insights and stories from Deborah’s own vocational trajectory and that of others generous enough to share their journeys through her book. Deborah uses humour, compassion and issues challenges through these stories and pointed reflective questions at the end of each chapter.

 

I particularly have identified with her labelling of ‘toxic skills’ as I have settled into many jobs I should excel at due to my skill-set but which have robbed me of life and fulfillment. Knowing that this is what I’m experiencing and not just my own struggles with bucking the system or laziness is like a paradigm shift. I look forward to pressing into her questions in due course but thought it would be good to get word out while it’s hot off the press.

You can get this gem via Amazon (US or UK). Please do write a review when you’ve read it!

Book Review: Your Vocational Credo

Brushes with Tipper Gore, or Music Appreciation

I was only 12 and had no idea what it meant let alone felt like to be horny. Yet there I was, in the line at Warehouse Records shyly palming Two Live Crew’s controversial single, wrapped up tightly in its shrink wrap sleeve, boasting a black and white label warning me that what I held was highly inappropriate. Mom was waiting outside in the car, a move I was surprised she accepted willingly, as I said I wouldn’t need long. I must’ve bought a Tiffany single alongside the offending merchandise in order to justify my time spent in the store.

After returning home I promptly tore into the crinkly plastic wrap that stood between me and everything Tipper Gore and the American Family Association railed against in that day. Oh sweet explicit lyrics here I come. I ejected whatever was in the double cassette player at the time, likely a blank cassette used to record from the radio and put in the single, turned the volume down and pushed play with a ‘thunk’. The crisp white noise of the cassette reel came over the speakers ahead of the song. And then, the naughty boys of the crew chimed in, merrily talking about their (s)exploits followed by a super catchy bass line, then, ooh… that’s exciting, groaning and moaning in the background and finally, the chorus got right to it: “Me so horny, oh oh, me so horny.” My gyrating bottom set to dancing and I giggled like only a mostly-innocent but aptly curious and rebellious pre-teen could. I would find a place to store the cassette, the most censored music I would ever purchase, and camouflaged it in Precious Moments type propaganda.

Music has always held an important place in my growth, as it has for most teenagers, songs, albums and musicians acting as shrines set up along my life path to mark passing events, preferences and moods. I never quite understood growing up why older people were stuck on the music of yesteryear. My parents listened to old-timey gospel tunes that caused them to slap their knees and sing embarrassingly out of tune. On occasion they’d also listen to what we called back then ‘oldies’ and a small part of their imagination seemed to flit off back to the soda shop which was an actual thing for them, not just a set for a film. Now, when I turn to an oldies station the music of my youth- MY YOUTH!- the 80s and 90s makes an appearance. Grunge alongside doo-wop for goodness sake! I am old and have no idea how I ended up here. Either that or ‘old’ is just something being brandished about by those young’uns like Britney Spears and …. Oh wait. She’s old too.

For the most part, the music of my teenaged years is pretty much all I listen to these days. I’ve gone through periods of re-acquaintance with recent music in sync with hard moments in life, yet the exploration of new music has very much become peripheral to everything else in life. I am those older people, set in my musical ways, shocked yet relishing the fact that at least the oldies stations recognise our contribution to music’s heritage, even if I don’t perceive it to be so long ago. To be fair, the hipsters are all about the 90s now which is kind of embarrassing, but then I did that when I was 16 and wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt. Deadheads are kinder and more embracing souls than I am.

Brushes with Tipper Gore, or Music Appreciation

Finding fulfilment once again

Over the course of the last few years I’ve gone through a very rough patch and struggled keeping up with friendships and my work in the community. I had built up a lot of resentment towards anyone doing anything remotely interesting or fulfilling as I felt I was rotting away inside from doing work that just paid the bills. The work had lots of merit on its own and I do believe it was a case of me being involved for a short time to accomplish a lot of truth-telling to these organisations, however it rotted away inside me and I became judgmental and increasingly unhappy. I’ve had a hard time pinning down what it is I did actually want in life. I think I just wanted a break from life and thankfully we were able to take a three-month hiatus recently with family, friends and nature in America.

Throughout my time of depression, having a new baby (which brought about coffee dates with other new mums but not much real socializing or dreaming about what life could become), I spent a lot of time washing the dishes, listening to podcasts. The Moth podcast from New York was one of my regulars*, listening to folks tell their true stories in 5 minutes in front of a live audience. It brought me laughter and I wept into the dishwater a few times, but it made me feel connected to the larger sphere of humanity in my loneliness. There was often a small fragment of each story or each session I could relate to, something that tweaked a string of my own tightly bound heart, loosening it up ever so slightly.

Last year, before I quit my day job which was supporting our family, before everything went into storage and before we ventured west with nothing but questions to ask ourselves, I had an encounter that got the wheels of my rusty mind moving. A young person was stabbed down the road from my work and ran into what use to be a working class Irish pub, seeking refuge and a bit of space to get his mates on the task of revenge. It was the first week of this new French gastro-whatever-eatery (I asked whether it was a new goth bar when I first walked by) and a hasty employee took to Twitter to make some horrendous statements about blood on the floor, etc. The Twitterverse exploded, attacking this employee, demanding a boycott of this new business. A friend of mine organised a protest outside so I wandered by after work to see what was happening. A handful of protesters stood outside with banners about ending social cleansing and the business owner was standing outside talking to them, looking a bit worried. I first chatted with my activist friend, not defending the idiot employee, but telling him that I did feel for the business owner, having grown up in a well-provided-for middle class home (dad worked his way out of the working class but we were very much still with one foot on either side of the gulf, I was just sheltered from many of the difficulties) and explained that I understand the short-sightedness of businesses cropping up, wanting to fulfill their own dreams, stepping on the toes of the long-term residents who may not feel welcome in their cafes/shops/galleries. I understand why it happens but I don’t excuse it. He was interested by my story, as a trusted friend, and it seemed to open him up a bit.

I then talked with the owner who apologized for his former employee who no longer was working there. As he explained, he welled up with tears, telling me that his brother had put his family’s home on the line for the business. If it failed they’d lose their home.

Humanity.

Just this brief 10 minute encounter with two polarised individuals left us all asking what can we do. I proposed holding a public discussion on gentrification and what it was doing to our community. Both agreed they’d like to take part. I came away from it bouncing, beginning to cry, knowing I could still be of use in my community. My head was spinning with ideas. But the time wasn’t quite right. Nor was the idea of getting people together in a shouting match, further dividing those who were at odds with one another. It needed to stew a bit longer.

I’m not sure if the idea came while sitting with my toes in the lake or while crocheting a terribly-done blanket with knots in the wrong places (it’s symbolic of my life, okay), but it struck me: telling our stories makes us more human in the eyes of the listener. Storytelling. Giving a voice to those who feel oppressed and unheard. Engaging the hard to reach listener.

A few short weeks later and I’m experiencing a ground swell of support for the idea of starting a storytelling project in E5. I am transformed inwardly. I’ve found a purpose again and a lifeline, a way to integrate myself into my beloved community. I’ve still got a zillion questions about life, but I think that’s the direction I’m going in from now on: questioning, learning, never fully knowing.

I’ve decided that growing up is less about becoming adult and more like becoming an inquisitive, creative, engaged child.

Stay tuned.

* I’ve actually got a Skype chat scheduled with the Community Program co-ordinator at The Moth next week!

Finding fulfilment once again

A Blessing

IMG_20141119_141819096_HDRMay your life be peppered with more of the whimsical.
Background tracks that make you feel light as sunlight,
Like the clear sky is the only thing on your shoulders.

May you know more colourful moments,
The shades of laughter and newborn smiles.

May it feel as though your soul were being plucked,
String-by-string, well in tune,
By a gifted player making melodies graceful as a resting breath,
Notes to fall along your path as your feet touch the dusty ground.

May your grief and insecurities ascend like bubbles,
Bursting as they hit the surface of your consciousness
With a fizz that tickles your inmost being.

May your most beloved dreams meet paths with
and become a true companion to your wandering, curious, brave heart.

A Blessing