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Hard stuff: The Truth, Charleston, and Doing It Anyway

My brain (and limbs) have been absolutely all over the place this weekend, so what follows will sort of be too. Bear with me. It pretty much ties together.

I had my citizenship party on Friday night, during which something like 30-40 people from every corner of my life were in the same room in a bar. I barely spoke to anyone for longer than 5 minutes at a stretch because: big parties. But it was great to have SO many different people there drinking and mixing and celebrating (and eating a lot of brownies).

At some point near the start of the night, I had a brief conversation about The Impending Big Trip during which the phrase ‘this trip gets shorter every time I talk to you’ was used. As well as ‘That’s how they get you!’ when discussing work and money and possible promotions and all that rubbish.

Before I had time to think about it properly, I was whisked into another completely different conversation. But by the end of the night it had rolled around enough in my head that I went to sleep thinking THAT’S ME TOLD.

It’s like the frog in the cold pot of water slowly coming to the boil. Or something like that. I’ve been getting dragged, bit by bit, into the security of money. Without even realising it. And yeah, that kind of security is important to some people and that’s cool. But I have no one to support but me, and work drives me nuts at the best of times. The day job was never the plan. The plan was to save the money and throw that security to the wind. I’ve been shying away from that. I have been slowly CHICKENING OUT.

This is my keychain. Seriously. I SHOULD LOOK AT IT MORE OFTEN.

This is my keychain. Seriously. I SHOULD LOOK AT IT MORE OFTEN.

Saturday night I went to a social dance and was then convinced to come to the second half of a weekend of workshops with Ksenia Parkhatskaya on solo Charleston, Jazz and Blues. I had never intended to go because I figured I’d be flattened from the effects of my party-time drinkin’. But I had mostly recovered by Saturday night, and Ksenia’s performance at the dance as well as my friends’ raving about that day’s classes was enough to convince me I shouldn’t pass up the opportunity.

So I spent Sunday learning some pretty advanced 20s Charleston all morning. It was FUCKING HARD. I think I sweat enough to fill Loch Ness. I was confused and lost most of the time. It was fast and impressive and frustrating and utterly, utterly brilliant. And the Jazz and Blues workshops in the afternoon were equally mind-bending, if not quite as sweaty.

My confusion was nothing to do with the teaching – Ksenia was a fantastic teacher. I’d like to know where she gets the endless reserves of energy from because after having danced like mad all weekend, she still looked fresh as a daisy. She was fun and lovely and SO good.

The frustration lies in the fact that the moves are difficult, and despite having been doing the whole swing dance thing for a while now, I am still not super great on rhythm. It’s a difficult thing to learn. I’m way better than I was a year ago, but you just have to do these things over and over and over to get any better at them.

If you want to be a writer you have to write, if you want to be a dancer you have to dance. And you have to do it badly for a long time before you do it remotely well. Like that Ira Glass quote. Be a fucking soldier about it and be tough. And that is a hard thing to do. Especially when you’re tired and you feel your feet are gonna fall right the hell off. (Because TWISTING. My god. And I don’t even want to think about how I’m gonna feel tomorrow morning. If I can walk at all it’ll be a miracle.)

I went through these waves of discouragement and motivation all day in my head during these classes. I’d lose the beat or the steps and get completely frustrated. I’d pick it back up but only a little bit and lose it again. I’d get completely down on myself about it and want to give up. But not REALLY. Just in that way your brain feels like it canNOT cope with another variation on something you haven’t even got the basics of down yet anyway. And then it would get faster. And then I’d just try to go with it the best I could and push through the fact that I was not going to nail it. And that is totally ok.

My downstairs neighbours are going to start to truly hate me because I will be practising this shit all over my flat (once I can move my ankles again anyway). And I will be kind of crap at it. And I will NEVER be as good as Ksenia, but that is not a problem. I will get better than I am. And I’ll be better as a human for all the working at it.

All of this Doing Hard Stuff along with the realisation that I was getting too comfortable with the security of money over the things I actually want to do kicked me back into high gear on the travel prep. I need to get out of this flat. I need to store most of my earthly possessions (after getting rid of a bunch of them). I need to get out and explore. It’s going to be frustrating and hard but it will be SO MUCH BETTER than sitting around in the safe, boring world of a job with a pension and benefits and a flat and all that. And I have other kinds of security. I have the power of not one, but two countries behind me. Two embassies to call in a travel crisis!

But more importantly, I have the kind of security no money or nationality can buy: There were nearly 40 people out celebrating with me on Friday, and those were just the ones who live in this country and could make it. I know the most AMAZING people, here and around the world. That is no exaggeration. Even my newest friends are just so fucking awesome I can barely contain myself about it. They are all Just. Great. And all of these friends I have are incredibly lovely and smart and helpful and supportive, and I have no doubt I could count on so many of them in a crisis. I HAVE counted on so many of them in a crisis. I am so unbelievably lucky I could explode. I cannot overstate that.

In a world of things to worry about (and I do worry a lot), it does me some good to be reminded every once in a while that I needn’t be so concerned because I’ve got the really important stuff covered. I must be doing something more than brownies right.

So here I am, sucking it up and remembering the frustration is better than the cash. Here I am in the bit of the class where I stumble through all the scary, hard stuff where I know I look like a total wreck but I HAVE to keep going. Here I am getting quotes for self-storage and negotiating how moving out of my flat will work at the end of the year. (Yes, I have done all of these things in the past 48 hours.) Here I am finding the money. Feeling the terror and doing it anyway.

I might well need a foot massage in the morning though. Eesh.

Post-birthday/citizenship slump

So I gave myself a posting deadline off for my birthday, which isn’t the end of the world or anything but it’s already killing my momentum. To be fair though, I’m just really freakin’ exhausted.

Getting citizen-ised is hard work, OKAY GUYS?

Inspecting my key to Edinburgh with Kristina post-Citizenship ceremony. Getting citizen-ised is hard work, OKAY GUYS?

It’s been a bizarre, full-on week. I have probably pushed myself too far, emotionally and physically. I became a citizen, which is great but also really weird. I had a kind of off-kilter day on my birthday that started with a quite concrete reminder of the concept that I could get hit by a truck tomorrow so I better keep doing awesome things, so I was slightly freaked out. And there were a few other challenging moments peppered throughout the past seven days. Add to all that it took most of the week to recover from my first full Saturday afternoon in the pub for a good long time last weekend (WORTH IT, but at this point one of the only true reminders of my real age, oof), plus I did an eff-ton of dancing, which was probably the best bit but also left me feeling I’d been hit by a train come Friday.

I’ve spent the weekend walking around the city, hanging out with my favourite greyhound, cleaning the pit my flat has become while I’ve been out living, and thinking about ALL OF THE THINGS that have cropped up in my brain this week. It’s a lot of things. I’ve been unable to focus on anything long enough like reading a decent chunk of a book or watching a whole episode of EVEN The Good Wife without getting restless and distracted. It has also made me procrastinate-y about writing.

BUT I got this totally amazing book from my friend Kate for my birthday, Travel Listography. It’s basically a bunch of ideas for travel-themed lists to make yourself, but the illustrations are so, so great and Kate mentioned when she gave it to me that it might help give me ideas for the blog. Which at this point I REALLY need, because I feel like I’ve run out of steam a bit. And I think it will actually help, so hooray! I love me some lists.

When I opened the book the first time, this is the page I landed on. CAPYBARAS. I love them. They must be my spirit animal.

When I opened the book the first time, this is the page I landed on. CAPYBARAS. I love them. They must be my spirit animal.

It’s also approaching that time of year when money happens at work. This being the first full year I’ve worked in a place where you get a bonus, it’s kind of a novelty. But obviously a nice one, as it’s going to pay for my citizenship and make a proper start for my Trans-Siberian fund, so I can start doing some real planning and scheduling. That should help snap me back into action on everything.

So. Onward!

How much I’ve spent on becoming a British citizen

It’s a lot of money, people.

Cha-ching!

I have gone back through all the records I have and wracked my brain to think of all associated costs. I have not been able to find the specific figures for everything, so I’ve made best guesses in some cases. I’m sure if I wanted to, I could find the proper facts, but I’ve already spent about an hour researching what I COULD find, so I think that’s plenty.

All in, I have spent approximately £15,000 on visas and all associated costs in the past 9 years. The true total is probably much higher than this because I’ve probably forgotten some bits and pieces that should be included.

The biggest chunk of that is actually the cost of my Masters degree. International fees for an MSc in Design and Digital Media at the University of Edinburgh were around £10,000 in 2007/2008. Some might say that’s not a directly related cost to citizenship, but it actually is because it got me a post-study work visa and I wouldn’t still be here without it.

Post-study work was one of the 5 visas I’ve had over the past 9 years. Visa fees alone (not including the citizenship application, as it’s not technically a visa) make up for about  £2,300 of the total.

Other costs included in that £15,000 include any travel I had to do in order to get visas, including one set of return flights to the US, legal fees for advice, checking service and biometrics appointments, Life in the UK test fees and materials, passports, pictures, and all the other little things that go along with this volume of paperwork.

And MAN is there a lot of paperwork. I still have copies of most of it.

I should also note that the route I took to citizenship literally does not exist anymore. Some of the visas I’ve held have changed or disappeared altogether. For the ones that do still exist, many of the rules around things like timings and income requirements have changed drastically, often right after I obtained them under the previous rules. I got in under quite a few wires. And I have had a lot of luck and a lot of help.

It has not been an easy or cheap endeavour, and the costs above are only the monetary ones. There is a lot of stress and emotion involved in all of this, even for the most straightforward of cases. It’s actually really hard to represent what that portion of the experience is like to people who haven’t been through the system. But people who have been, REALLY know.

There is a camaraderie among those of us who have gotten to know the head-spinning ins and outs of the UKBA/UK Visas and Immigration processes and ever-changing rules and regulations. And I am more sympathetic than ever towards anyone going through any kind of immigration process anywhere in the world. No one does this lightly. You have to really, really want it. It’s not for chancers or freeloaders by any stretch of the imagination. You need to be completely on top of it. It’s a difficult road and it sometimes feels like you will never have to stop proving yourself. It’s an exhausting and occasionally Kafkaesque way to live.

As of this Tuesday, that’s over for me. While not without it’s faults, I still believe the process was absolutely worth it. But now I can spend my money on exercising my new British passport (when it arrives)!

(And if you know someone going through any stage of this kind of process, for Pete’s sake, give them a hug or a drink or a ‘Hang the fuck in there’. It’ll be well-appreciated.)

APPROVED!

So, they’re letting me be a British citizen! My approval letter came yesterday. (SUPER FAST.)

All I’ve got to do now is schedule the ceremony and apply for a passport. My mind is kind of blown. More than enough excitement for one weekend.

So I leave you with: Britain, Britain, Britain…

Ready, steady

Signed, sealed, delivered. Not too bad a start, really.

I don’t really do resolutions. There’s plenty of stuff I want to do this year, but putting some arbitrary stamp on them isn’t really my jam. Plus, once you call it a resolution, I feel like it’s that much more likely to fade into oblivion. Much like most of my ‘look at all the stuff I’m definitely gonna do on my two weeks off!’ list.

It’s the last day of those two weeks and while I’ve done a fair few things, I definitely did a bit more relaxing than getting stuff done. This probably isn’t so bad, but it does point out, once again, my ability to look at a period of time and decide I must be able to cram more into it than humanly or even dimensionally possible. Followed by me continuing to ‘learn’ that I usually try to do WAY too much.

This makes me a little worried about everything I want to do this year. I now have ten months til my intended go time, and man, ten months can go FAST. I don’t doubt I’ll get to the Trans Siberian, but I definitely need to do some Big-List-Fu in the next few weeks so I can stop freaking myself out about ALL THE THINGS there are to do.

One thing I DID sort out on this glorious two week break was my citizenship application. It’s done! It’s away! Now all I have to do is wait (and plan the party). I’m excited about it. I’m relieved it’s out of my hands. I’m ready to move on to the next thing.

I also did a massive clear out of clothes and papers (so many papers) and just general crap clogging up my closet and my life. That felt pretty good. And in between, I watched a lot of Netflix, went to some films, drank and bitched with friends, and walked around a lot. And today I cleaned my kitchen. And decided that my next baking quest is to perfect the savoury muffin once and for all, because DAMN I love me some savoury muffins.

On top of everything, I now have an impressive list of reading recommendations from all the brilliant people I know (Facebook is good for SOME things), so when the planning gets a little too immense, I can disappear into some amazing stories.

I’ve got a few new series in mind for the blog this year, so I’m off to work on the ideas for some of those with the rest of this last day off. Watch this space!

Back to work tomorrow. Bring it on, 2015.

Citizenship

Forth bridges

Bridges! Those are good metaphors for getting citizenship, right? Right.

My plan, for a while now, has been to sort out my British citizenship as a Christmas present to myself this year. That’s a very shiny present, considering the cost. I would have loved to have done it earlier, so I could have cast a real vote in the Referendum, but Indefinite Leave to Remain put a hit on my bank account, and I’m still paying for Africa, so in the interest of financially sound decision making, citizenship had to maintain its later position on the List Of Things To Do Next.

This is important to do before heading off on any big adventure, for logistical reasons, and also because dammit, it’s been a long time coming and I want to make my home as official as it possibly can be. I am COMMITTED.

The logistics bit is mainly about time. When you apply for citizenship, you can only have been out of the country for a certain number of days in the year leading up to your application (and a larger number covering the 5 leading years). Any multi-month gallivanting I may want to do will probably scream past that number, so for me, it’s out of the question to take any such trip without a British passport firmly in hand.

I think it’s really weird, by the way, that I’m going to be the kind of person who has two passports in the very near future. It’s so fancy.

Getting that passport and the status that comes with it is about more than convenience though. For one thing, it allows me to vote. I vote in major US elections, but I’ve always done it by absentee ballot. And obviously I’ve never voted HERE. It’s kind of weird to make it to 30 without ever voting IN the country that claims you. So that’s pretty important to me. Citizenship also means I have the full rights of, well, a citizen, which means access to public funds should I ever need them and the full protection of the state in general. I’ll also be a citizen of the European Union, which means I can live and work anywhere in it. I don’t intend to move to the continent, but permission to do so is a nice thing to have in your arsenal.

Outside of all the practical stuff, it is actually important to me that I’m a citizen of my own home. I’ve been here 8 years now and I feel like I’ve proven my dedication to this place. I’ve lived in Edinburgh longer than any other place I’ve ever lived, and for all my post-college life. If I had to move back to the US, I’d be lost. It’s a different world. Not a bad one, but a little foreign to me in the bizarre way that only expats probably experience.

I’m also ready to be done with the visa process. I am WELL acquainted with the UKBA (now UK Visas and Immigration, actually). I’ve had many, many different visas. Some that don’t even exist anymore because of how often the rules change. I’ve done mountains of paperwork, spent tons of money, and had an awful lot of stress on my plate. And I’m just a white girl from America so it’s been relatively straightforward for me.

It’s easy for me to forget that most people don’t have to think about these things. When someone asks me how I got to stay or what one has to do to get a particular flavour of visa, I start reeling of info like it’s the most common of knowledge. Like my brain can’t compute that this is not just how everyone experiences the world. Lucky for them, it’s not. It does prove though, that you’ll pretty much do anything for something important to you. The visa stuff over the years has been a hassle, but I never once considered giving up on it, even in the most grim moments. (I even had a lawyer for the most recent round! A great one at that. Helping me learn that, no, you can’t ALWAYS do everything on your own, and you don’t have to. Experts exist for a reason.)

Anyway. Fighting for my place here has never been an option. And it’s not something I’d let go of easily.

My current visa is Indefinite Leave to Remain (One Visa To Rule Them All), so I don’t really need to get another one. I could stay on it forever. But I’m not interested in that kind of limbo. I’ve taken my Life in the UK test, I’ve poured a significant chunk of money into the system, and I’m ready to make it official. All that’s left is one more form, a few character references, some new (bad) passport photos, and about £1000. (And let’s be honest, probably a fairly significant waiting period. My ILR took 3 months.)

Once I’ve got it, I’ll do a bit of searching through my records and try to figure out exactly how much money I’ve spent on the process in the past decade. Facts and figures! I’ve not kept track so it’ll be an enlightening exercise. But whatever the number is, I will feel it was worth it.