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Rip it up and start again

I was feeling angsty, so I started peeling at my wall. And then I kept going. With a wholly inadequate tool and in improper footwear. With bad lighting and no real plan. With only half a strong beer and no dinner in me.

It took a few weeks after I moved in for it to occur to me that I didn’t really need to consult anyone about this. This is my wall. I own it. And if I want to start peeling at the layers, then the only thing stopping me is… me.

These layers are topped in painted-over woodchip wallpaper – my hatred for which is only outrun by my hatred for removing it. The last time I found myself in this position, I said never again. Never again! would I bother removing woodchip from a wall on my own.

There is only one full wall of the stuff in the sitting room. Its bulges and buckles have been tempting me from the minute I walked in the door. And today I walked in the door feeling unsettled and unsatisfied. A good time to start tearing things down.

Physical progress does wonders, even if it means setting yourself up for a whole lot more physical progress when you get to the bit with Polyfilla and paint. Perhaps especially if it means.

The wrong tool

Also: gouging at your wall with a blunt razorblade is a lot cheaper than therapy. Woodchip is stubborn. There are a few layers of other stuff under it too. But sometimes one big strip banana peels off and it’s satisfying as hell. Which is I think what makes you keep going at it til it’s done.

This place is already home. That also happened the minute I walked in the door. No work necessary. I spend all day working on projects you can’t touch or hold or walk through. I spend a lot of time organizing things for other people. But this is mine to sit in and cook in and make work perfectly for me (and my future dog). I’ve been doing all the planning, but tonight I started the digging.

While I’m at it, I think I’ll start showing up a bit more around here too.

‘very knowledgable, but never a snob’

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, but Getting Where owes a lot to Anthony Bourdain.


Five years ago, I went to eat at The Kitchin in Leith – my first, and so far only, Michelin starred restaurant experience. As we were seated I looked up to find that I was put directly under a photo of the chef with Anthony Bourdain. I was happy about this, and I know at the time I definitely commented on it. It’s as though he was there to remind me that, while eating in such a lauded restaurant was an incredibly tasty and amazing experience, the really good stuff was elsewhere, and much more accessible.


Would I have jumped onto the back of someone’s motorbike in rainy Hanoi, zoomed to the outskirts of the city in some of the most incredible traffic I’ve ever seen wearing a borrowed helmet that didn’t really fit my massive western head, half terrified, half amazed as I watched my host buy ingredients from a local market without ever leaving the bike? Would I have sat on the floor of a stranger’s one-room apartment with a group of friends who didn’t speak my language, laughing, eating fried frogs legs, being shown how to wrap my own spring rolls? Would I have ignored my mother’s cautions in my head and put myself in for such an amazing, home-cooked meal if not for Anthony Bourdain’s influence?

I think it’s unlikely.

Bourdain was on my mind quite a lot when I was travelling, but particularly in Vietnam. I ate in a small handful of restaurants, but none of them were anywhere near as good as what I got walking in the street or sitting on tiny plastic stools. Not by a long way. Anthony Bourdain was the first person to put the idea in my head that that sort of thing was worth seeking out.

And thank god. There’s the kind of food you make at home, and the kind of food you get in a fancy place with a sommelier, and all manner of things in between. But what I really want when I go away from home is the kind of food other people make at home.


It’s weird to tell people you’re sad about someone famous dying. Particularly when that’s not the sort of thing you usually get affected by. No one really knows what to say to you. Not unlike when anyone else dies you’re sad about I guess. But there’s no point of reference when people don’t know what someone might mean to you.

I didn’t watch him much on TV, but Bourdain’s writing and opinions on food and travel had a tremendous influence on me. That influence continues to lead me to some of the best experiences and flavours in my life.

But the thing about this that tears me up even more is how our brains can sometimes win against us. And that we still haven’t worked out what to do about the more sinister parts of our inner chemistry.

The drive to create and explore makes you better, but in my experience, it also often comes with crippling self-doubt and all manner of other hard stuff to fight through. And my experience doesn’t even include addiction, so I can only imagine how that amplifies and twists a challenge.

You can be smart and honest and creative and prolific and kind and thoughtful, but you can also be disintegrating from the inside. I try as hard as I can to remember this about people, particularly when I’m feeling awful myself. But it’s very hard to remember the inner lives of others when your own is so loud.


I went to see Anthony Bourdain read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival when he was touring on Medium Raw. (I took a vegetarian with me. She loved it!) He was insightful and amusing and did a great job putting the snobbery of some question-askers right where it belonged. It was fantastic.

I did not wait in the ages-long queue to get my book signed. I never know what to say in those situations, and I also decided my time would be better spent in a pub with a beer and some good food talking shit with my friend. So I skipped the signing and went for the pint. I like to think he’d have preferred to do the same.

For me, it’s ok that I never got to say hello or thanks. The best I can do is keep eating everything I can try without discrimination, and encouraging others to do the same. And the next time I sit on a plastic stool with a hot bowl of something delicious, I know who I’ll be thinking of.

2016 playlist

2016 was a pretty awful year for the world, but I would be doing many people and things a disservice if I said it was for me. It was difficult and full and at many times incredibly bizarre, but overall pretty amazing.

The world may have been falling to pieces but I was rebuilding myself. For ten years, two fairly major things dominated my life – working towards citizenship and planning a trip I wasn’t ever sure I believed I’d take. I never really thought about the energy I was spending on those things until all that real estate in my brain was suddenly free.

Perhaps this is why my Lindy Hop obsession exploded. Perhaps it’s why I dove into freelancing without really thinking much about it. Perhaps it’s what finally allowed me to let go of having to plan every detail of everything all the time (my friends will probably not believe I’ve actually managed this, but I assure you, I only plan about 65% of things now, as opposed to, oh, 99.142%).

I started the year in a Chinese border rail station with people I’d only just met, and absolutely no idea that the next 24 hours let alone the next year would hold such ridiculous and wonderful adventures. The lows were very low, but the highs were higher and more prevalent. And everything in between was sharper.

I went to 2 international Lindy Hop camps, one of them by myself. I danced in 8 cities (well, 7 cities and one French valley). I jointly started an awesome practice group. I went into my first jam circle and didn’t fuck up. I got clients. I supported myself and lived pretty well despite a 50% pay cut. I got super awesome office space. I read more books that I’ve read probably in any other year since I graduated college. I sewed a whole lot of clothes and started teaching someone else to sew as well. I did Thanksgiving for 19 people – more than ever before – AND managed to get red wine spills out of a white carpet. I cycled more than I bussed. I went wild swimming and wandering up hills and shimmying over flooded waterways. I had a lot of bomb-ass conversations. That’s only a fraction of it. Bad things happened in the world, but good things happened in mine.

I will end the year in a cottage in the Scottish countryside with some of the people who have made it all possible, and for once I’m not even bothering to wonder what will happen in the next 365 days. I hope it’s just as awesome. I hope it’s also much better for the wider world. I’d say it couldn’t get much weirder, but I know better than that.

As it the custom, I’ll leave you with my 2016 playlist. Again, roughly corresponding to the timeline of the year, with a few deviations. (Here’s 2015 and 2014 in case you’re interested.)

Another day, another lava bomb

This is (part of) one of my favourite pictures from this year. It says more to me about that trip than most of the other ten billion pictures I took. Perhaps because it’s not a pose, as most pictures you take of yourself are by default. It’s a rest for shoes that are only about halfway done their job.

And now these shoes are waiting for me to get around to throwing them away.

The bottoms are worn flat and the whole waterproof thing is a distant memory because of holes. Three straight months of pounding two continents worth of dirt and pavement and train corridors, trails and stairs and banks of various bodies of water, often under the strain of 40-60 extra kilos on top of their wearer’s usual 80ish. Not often warm enough – laughed off as summer-wear by my Mongolian hosts – and then suddenly too warm.

No shoe on the planet was designed to cope with the shit I threw at these. You’d be ready for the footwear dumpster in the sky too. (Can you recycle hiking shoes? I should find out.)

I recently watched Werner Herzog’s Into The Inferno, during which he muses on how comforting it is that the earth gives exactly zero shits what mythologies or traditions humans assign to forces of nature. If you’re in the wrong place when that hole in the earth spews a red hot lava bomb, you are dying whether you believe it’s god’s will or not.

This of course doesn’t mean stories are worthless. You need a way to handle a hunk of molten rock flying at you. Anything is suitable and nothing is suitable. You do what you can. That’s human.

While I was pondering ditching my shoes, I decided to re-read my trip journal cover to cover. I was amazed, not so much at the things I’d forgotten about, but at all the things it made me remember that I didn’t write down.

Will I remember the same little things the next time I read it through, or will they be lost to the ages while I recall things that I didn’t this time around? Either way, I refused to make additions. The story will keep changing, but it will always be suitable.

Hanging on to a pair of shoes wouldn’t anchor any stories. I’ve recently moved them from the floor of my bedroom to the floor in the hall. That’s about 10 feet closer to the door. But I felt they deserved some kind of eulogy before I take them all the way out.

To everyone else, they are rubber barely worthy of all this thought. But they took me through temples and mythologies of all kinds. To the tops and bottoms of literal and figurative walls and mountains. The world doesn’t have to care. For me they’re a book cover, a carrier bag, the right tool for the job, used snout to tail.

Having a rest at the Great Wall.

Vote for respect

This has been a good year, but an incredibly difficult one. (That’s how good things work, right?) I have been less active about writing here than I’d like, but that’s because I’ve had to buckle down and try to get my own business off the ground. Ripping up and starting again is hard, lonely, frustrating work. This week it’s all come to a head in more ways than one.

In the midst of this all exploding in my chest, I just watched Michelle Obama’s speech in New Hampshire. I didn’t realise just how upset I was by the possibility that the country where I was born, which regularly and somewhat disturbingly boasts that it is the greatest in the world, could elect a man who treats a majority of the population with such blatant disrespect until I heard her say the things that I was feeling.

I had my only private sector corporate job for 2 years before I picked up and left to take a train halfway around the world. I made more money than I ever have, and quite possibly than I ever will again. But that came at a pretty high price. What I have been reminded of in the past few weeks is how the culture of that company was the least friendly to women I have ever experienced and what that felt like on a daily basis. (And I know that it wasn’t nearly the worst you can get, which is horrifying.)

It took every scrap of strength I could muster to finally call out some of the sexist remarks that my female colleagues and I regularly experienced. Things that were written off as banter, jokes, no big deal. But they weren’t.

I didn’t even make as big of a fuss as I now feel I should have. But I was still aggressively verbally attacked for standing up to it. And while some people higher up went through the motions of dealing with the problem, it wasn’t really dealt with, just swept under the rug. I was, for my last few months, in the most uncomfortable situation in a job I have ever been in. I experienced firsthand why most women never bother to say anything about this kind of thing. Why we just try to suck it up and bury it. Because I was in hell just for calling bullshit on disrespectful behaviour.

So all this year whenever I’m feeling shitty about how hard doing things on my own is and what I’ve had to give up in order to make it work, one of the things I remember is what I was able to leave behind. I remember that now I can work with people who respect me, and I can make as big a fuss as I should about bad behaviour, because if someone wants to make me feel like shit about it, I don’t have to work with, near, or for them.

I, just like pretty much every other woman on this planet, have had people grab me in the street or get too handsy when passing me in a pub. I have had unnecessary, demeaning things shouted at me. I have been told to smile. I have had to shout louder to have my opinions or expertise heard. It’s tiring and demeaning and it sucks.

Between this episode of The Guilty Feminist on Anger that I listened to last week, and Michelle Obama’s words on the most recent horrendous shit coming from Trump, it’s come right back to the surface – how horrible it feels to actively field misogyny on a regular basis, and how infuriatingly universal it is to have to do so.

To know that a man who brags about sexual assault is even anywhere near the US Presidential race is physically sickening. And it’s not that he’s only just become sickening. He stepped over the line before he even had the nomination. He’s been making racist, discriminatory, violent comments for ages and I have been angry about it the whole time. This has just been a personal trigger based on my own experiences that has in some cases made my entire body shake.

I am a human being. Human beings deserve equal respect. (By the way, THAT’S FEMINISM.)

I really like Hillary Clinton and I think she will do an amazing job as President. But even if you don’t like her, I’m sure you want to be treated with respect. I’m sure you want the world to respect your country. I’m sure you want someone who has some actual qualifications in charge of things like the military and speaking to other world leaders and making laws.

If you don’t vote for Hillary, you are voting for a man who treats anyone who doesn’t look like him as less than human. Between women, people of colour, the disabled, immigrants – basically anyone who’s not a white man – that’s a majority of the population he does not respect.

A president who doesn’t respect the citizens of his country on a most basic level can’t possibly make anything great. Not even a little bit.

Literature on repeat

News of the recent passing of Bennett Lamond, one of my favourite and best English Lit professors, in combination with a particularly inspiring weekend full of theatre, spoken word, impulse book buying, and intense reading, caused me to think about the combinations of words that stick. All the snippets of literature that go floating through my head regularly. I always supposed they weren’t necessarily the most significant ones – I have a terrible brain for memorisation that doesn’t involve music, even of things I love – but then I also have to wonder why it is they’ve stuck if they’re not.

Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, he said
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun
God damn it, you’ve got to be kind

Many of these things, aside from Gatsby, I couldn’t tell you in detail about why I loved them to start with. Or exactly what happens in the course of the story. Or even what all the characters names are. I need to read it all again. But you don’t need a perfect memory to know a thing meant something. Was important. Is important. And when I read it again it will no doubt grow in that.

April is the cruelest month
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds
Olives and wax

The parts that make a whole. Or the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Whatever you subscribe to. All of these things planted themselves in college or before. I’ve surely done at least as much or more reading in the decade since I was an undergraduate than I had in the ten years before, but there are no lines from this more recent time that chum me to work in the morning or pop into my head while I shower.

In Xanadu did Kublai Khan a stately pleasure dome decree
Something rotten in the state of Denmark
Look upon my works, ye mighty and despair! Nothing beside remains

If you look at pictures of me from high school and pictures of me today, you’d barely know the difference aside from a few grey hairs. I am always jeans and a t-shirt and trainers, even when I wear nice vintage dresses. My dance shoes are flat, and when my dress shoes are not, I feel more fake than fancy. I prefer to be as close to the ground as nature intended, which is still pretty far.

Harry Potter is important to me but not a single passage sticks with me in the way the first word of Beowulf or the last few lines of Ozymandias do. The way we prepare to tell all great stories and the way all things must end.

Hwæt. (So.)
So we beat on
So it goes

The fine art of dating yourself

Last weekend was full-on in a way that can only mean August in Edinburgh is here and it’s therefore difficult to say no to events and shows and friends and the pub and all manner of great things which, when layered deep over three straight days, take the life out of you and mean you will be in recovery all week.

So this weekend I have spent largely alone, save for a few digital chats and the necessary social interactions required to buy things and exist in the world outside my flat. I’ve not had a proper, in-person conversation with a human being since Friday. Despite my previous post, this is perfectly fine.

I made a lame effort to include people in my cinema trip yesterday but no one was available, so it turned into the most wonderful and luxuriously indulgent of one of my favourite activities: going to the movies alone.

I took myself on a date and it was fucking glorious.

I didn’t limit this date to a film. Hell no. I know how to treat myself sometimes. I have plenty of that sort of energy to focus, and when you remove everyone else there is to try to take care of, you’re left with you, after all.

I eschewed the bus and took a long walk to the other side of town to listen to some podcasts. I sat in the Filmhouse Café Bar with a large glass of wine and a book for an hour and a half. Then I podcasted it up again on the walk home, bought a bad supermarket oven pizza (confirming once again my belief that chicken on pizza is and always will be wrong, just don’t keep trying it, Kate) drank more wine and watched the first episode of The Get Down on Netflix, which was hopeful and electrifying in the way only something about music can be.

But this did all orbit around my own plan to see Maggie’s Plan. It’s been two months since I’ve been to the cinema, and even longer since I’ve been alone, and that’s too long. Because here’s the wonderful thing about going to see a movie by yourself: there are absolutely no distractions or demands on your time or emotions except the thing in front of you. You turn off your phone, you sit in the dark, and you are captive. You can work through your own shit in your head in relation to what’s on the screen in front of you. You don’t have to share your snacks or the booze you snuck in. You can stay as long as you want through the credits or not at all. And you don’t have to talk about any of it right away.

I love going to the movies with friends as well, but it takes me a long time to process things I’ve just seen, and I find it difficult and intimidating to have a meaningful conversation about a movie that just ended 5 minutes ago. I am also remarkably oblivious to symbolism and subtext to an almost embarrassing degree for someone who made it her undergraduate business to read and respond to literature. In post-film-watching discussion, someone will casually refer to a detail of a plotline and I’ll be embarrassed for myself for not having noticed such a glaringly obvious feature of the story without a few hours of reflection.

I am a bad critic and I am less observant than people give me credit for. Perhaps this is related to my inability to recognize people in the street. But it makes the dissection of something I’ve just watched, film or theatre, into an anxiety-inducing prospect. So August in Edinburgh is, for me, simultaneously wonderful and internally terrifying. I usually just feel like an idiot who walked into the wrong classroom. Thank god there’s beer in just about every one.

I read a review for Maggie’s Plan a few weeks ago in The Skinny and it sounded like it fit nicely into the broader subjects dominating my life at the moment, so I needed to see it. It wasn’t a great film, but it wasn’t bad. It was predictable but some of the writing was so perfect it made up for its larger flaws. Julianne Moore’s character was such a badass. I love Greta Gerwig since seeing Frances Ha (and I wanted all her shoes in this film). And it’s impossible to dislike Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader. So in general, it was an appreciated and much-needed diversion.

I forget the specific phrasing, but there’s a bit where Maggie is talking to John about always talking his ex wife down from her meltdowns, and says, you’ve got me to talk you down from yours, but what about when I meltdown? And he says don’t worry, obviously you’ll talk yourself down. So she says something like, ‘So just because everyone thinks I have it all together, I don’t deserve any attention?!’ And it was like someone ripped the dialogue from my deepest-seeded insecurities.

realpersonI liked Frances Ha because of the illustration of how it feels to be completely scattered among people who seem to have it together in ways you feel you never will, and maybe don’t even need to (and also: ‘Unnnnn-datable’). But aside from a few tiny details, I’m nothing like Frances. I’m much, much more like control-freak Maggie. With the undying compulsion to take care of everyone and impose a ‘things organized neatly’ frame on everything I touch, often to the detriment of my personal sanity. I enjoy it, but it would be the death of me if I didn’t work on reining it in all the time.

Maggie later says, tearful and breaking-point overwhelmed from failing to fix everything just-so, and in a more funny than depressing way, ‘I’m just so tired of being… ME.’ To which, my inner dialogue said, ‘Oh, I FEEL YOU, SISTER.’ This is some exhausting shit and it is no one’s fault but my own.

Sometimes you need this sort of comedy to laugh at how ridiculous you know you are.

The Atomic Hypothesis

Because I am a weirdo and I have a compulsion to keep my gmail inbox down to a tightly-curated one-page group of things that constitutes an extended and occasionally aspirational to-do-list-slash-personal-guilt-trip, I have, since September of 2012, kept this – one of my favourite quotes – as the standing last message in my box.

If, in some cataclysm*, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.

– Richard Feynman

I emailed it to myself back then as a bookend, both for a period of my life and a little reminder I could conveniently run into every time I did a filing job on my digital everything. It’s positive and beautiful and embodies everything I love about Feynman and creativity and science and life. Of course it takes on a different meaning every time I read it.

I ran into it again last night. This time it socked me in the gut.

As a long-single, unapologetically feminist, bossy, independent woman of the world, people don’t really expect you to announce publicly that this also often equates to a lot of loneliness.

I’m quite happy with my ability to be on my own and do whatever the fuck I want, whenever I want, and make questionable financial and adventure and position-of-bedtime decisions along the way. However, I am a grown-ass woman among a sea of very good friends in committed, supportive relationships. I am overjoyed for them, because it makes me happy to see people I love happy and lucky in love. But it’s an immensely frustrating spot to be in, particularly when many of them have not been in that spot for a very, very long time, and certainly not At This Age.

This has come to the surface increasingly often lately, perhaps bizarrely because I’m living my life more the way I want to than I ever have before, which is rewardingly difficult but also makes it into something I want to share even more.

At the end of the day, I have a pen and a keyboard to talk to about the problems that come with steering your life where you want it rather than an intelligent, engaged human being. The longer this goes on, the more I fear I’m losing the ability to communicate properly with that human being who will hopefully be there at some point in the future. Sort of in the way that living on my own for 5 years has already made me much worse at being a flatmate.

A page does not have useful, informed opinions to engage with. And I can apply as much imagination and thinking and editing and consideration to written words. Not so much to realtime human interaction.

I am smart enough to know that having a partner does not solve your problems. I also have lots of very good friends (single AND partnered) who help me pick apart my often over-anxious, too-hard-on-myself brain addled with modern life problems. But the best of friends is still not the same as a partner in plenty of significant ways.

I’m not saying this to whine about being single. I’m saying this because it’s not often addressed and that makes it feel whiney to admit in real life, and that seems unfair.

To the extent that it’s a problem at all, singledom is not a problem you can solve like most others, so it’s easy to get moody when you can’t seem to work that shit out. Especially when you’re able to work out most of your other worldly problems by applying the aforementioned imagination and thinking.

All the creativity and logic in the world cannot bring you the serendipity of being in the right place at the right time, both mentally and physically, to meet someone you click with who, quite importantly, is ALSO in that right place.

I read a lot of books and listen to a lot of smart people’s takes on this. Comfortingly, the general consensus is that finding a partner these days is REALLY FUCKING HARD WORK. Like harder than ever before. Thank you, internet. Thank you, phone life. Thank you, paralysingly endless choice. Thank you, increasingly disconnected human beings. This also makes the work of a relationship itself harder, and I fully acknowledge that. But at least if you’re in one you’re over that one massive hurdle.

And yes I have tried online dating and it is not something I look down on, but it has done nothing but make me feel like a horrible, undesirable commodity. (If you want to understand a little bit about that, listen to this episode of The Allusionist. Being yourself in the world of online dating gets you absolutely nowhere. Which funnily enough, we know because of science!)

Self-care and common sense dictates that I avoid things that make me feel like garbage, so I’m chugging along the old fashioned way, trying to live my life and let it happen.

My friends go home to their partners. I go home alone. Occasionally this doesn’t matter. Occasionally it’s even awesome. Most of the time though, it’s a sharp reminder at the end of the night. When I subsequently also have to remind myself I am in perpetual motion just like everyone else, and tomorrow will be different. And the next day. And the next day.

 

*Let us, for a moment, step aside and acknowledge what a fucking stellar word ‘cataclysm’ is. This at LEAST 10% of the reason I love this quote.

On balance

When I was maybe about 6 or 7, I was pretty into gymnastics. I did some kind of classes at the YMCA, and whenever tumbling and mats and balance beams and all that crap came out in gym class, I was well up for it.

This was before I shot up too much in height. Before I became over-aware of my above-average stature. Before I let my naturally higher centre of gravity get the better of my brain. I did cartwheels and flips and at least attempted things like parallel and uneven bars without worry of what I would look like or whether I’d be much good at it. And I looked at girls on TV in the Olympics and thought, DUDE, I COULD TOTALLY DO THAT, THAT IS AWESOME.

Then one day I was messing around and took a running jump at a knee-slide across the floor and somehow hurt my ankle. Not enough to send me to any kind of emergency room or anything, or even to mention it to my parents (I guess I thought they’d be mad or something), just enough for me to limp off and be very suddenly thrown into that period of life when fear of pain prevents you from trying things you’d not have thought twice about when completely carefree and small.

This is the first memory I have of feeling like that. Maybe that’s the start of growing up.

Then the gymnastics dream was really squashed when I started being told I was ‘just too tall’ to be a gymnast. Yeah. That. And the good old tall girl standard: ‘Why don’t you try basketball?’ That shit started EARLY. But I’ll tell you what – I’m fucking terrible at basketball. They put me on the middle school team almost certainly because of my height, and then never played me because they realised their mistake.

This was kind of a relief as far as I was concerned because I had no interest in playing, but it was also annoying because my parents wouldn’t let me quit before the end of the season. So it meant I had to go to practice with a bunch of girls who weren’t very nice to me, and then sit mostly on the bench during games, being bored but told to look involved because team spirit or whatever. This just gave a lot of those girls extra fodder for giving me shit for not being good enough. But I didn’t freaking WANT to be. I wanted to be doing flips and handstands. I wanted to be overcoming the terror of being a giant in a sea of average height. Or at least, you know, having more time to read books by myself and be on the MathCounts team.

I’m sure there was a lesson in the entire experience, but I can never help but wonder if being actively discouraged from pursuing gymnastics due to factors completely out of my control was the start of pushing my ability to maintain balance downward. Just, you know, in life, in general. Because if there is one thing I am rubbish at, it is balance, in every form and incarnation. Physical, mental, emotional, work/life, social/antisocial, eating, drinking, standing on one foot without wobbling. All of it.

About a year ago, I was reading Bobby White’s Swungover post on partnership in dancing (a fantastic thing you should read) which includes this aside that I now think about almost daily.

I want to steer us into a side alley at this point to talk about why we often feel incompetent in a dance practice. Modern middle-class people (which comprise almost the entire modern swing scene), simply put, are not good at body movement because most of us pretty much checked off walking, running, sitting, standing, and throwing a ball and then decided to take a break. Until a decade or two later when we suddenly discover swing dancing and all of a sudden we curse ourselves for not having those types of parents who shoved us into dance classes as soon as we got cocky with all the walking. We now have the incredibly infuriating process of trying to do things that are often simple in concept but incredibly hard to carry out. And as adults who’ve mastered so many aspects to life, we’re not used to that. It’s like if you’re right-handed and suddenly try to write an entire paragraph with your left hand — you feel confused and incompetent. So, in the dancing sense, because you haven’t daily trained your body to respond to complicated movements with finesse since you were young, your entire body is now a left hand.

I mean.

Nail. On. Head.

I have been thinking a lot about balance in every part of my life, mostly because I now have a regular reminder of how my own physical balance is horrendous. I can’t help but wonder if only I was encouraged in different ways when I was much younger, would I have better ways to maintain my own ability to keep my feet under me and support my own weight? Literally AND philosophically. Did I lose the tools for this as people more or less told me that things like my height meant I couldn’t possibly HAVE those tools?

I spent all last week at SwingSummit, which was hard work in the best possible way – there are exactly zero ways that practicing swingouts on an open air dance floor in the gorgeous mountains of southern France every day can fail to be incredible.

I’m not going to write about at length because picking apart a week of intense swing dance camp nerdery is just not interesting to most non-obsessed human beings. But one of the best things it did was give me some new tools for working on keeping my feet and my weight where I’d like them to be. And perhaps indirectly, a bit of training on the kind of balance I’m working even harder to achieve inside my head. Or if we’re following Bobby White’s stellar metaphor – training for full mind-body ambidextrousity.

Most people would not consider working harder on your holiday than you do in your normal life ‘balance’, but I just think of it as being a foil for people who sit and do absolutely nothing on their holidays. Plus, I already did nothing for a week on a beach in Cambodia and hated every boring minute of it. So we have established that I am not the best at sitting still.

But some things other than dancing happened last week too. I stayed away from the internet and all forms of media for seven full, glorious days. I had a whale of a time lazing in a rural French supermarket parking lot talking sweat management with a bunch of guys while we waited for our laundry to finish. I sat on a beat-up outdoor swinging bench seat idly chatting, looking at the mountains, and swatting at flies for over two hours without moving more than the swing itself.

I’ve not managed relaxation like that for longer than I can remember. Somehow this time, it came pretty naturally.

When the apocalypse comes, I know where I want to run

I just got back from an idyllic weekend up north with friends and I still can’t handle reading the interweb, or even thinking much about what the hell is going on. So instead I will tell you what I learned far, far away from WiFi and mobile reception.*

  • The Spanish can turn a phrase like none other.
    ME CAGO EN LA LECHE!
  • The Shim Sham can (and should) be done to nearly anything with a beat, but most importantly, Gwen Stefani’s ‘Rich Girl’.
  • The cure for a hangover is the top of a hill and a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer. The jury is out on whether or not hail also helps.
  • Every body of water in Scotland is warmer than Lake Baikal is in December, and this is how I convince myself I absolutely must get in when given the chance.
  • Midges are some kind of award-winning level of awful. (But they’re still better than Nigel Farage.)
  • Economies of scale are for real. I still can’t believe how little we paid for the amount of food and booze we consumed. I guess this highlights one of the only downsides of living alone. More big, communal dinners, please!
  • Watching beer freeze instantly upon opening is better than watching probably 95% of what’s on television these days.
  • 3.30am is a fine time for a walk. I recommend you bring a bottle of port, too.
  • Three words: Slow. Motion. Video.
  • This country. Let me tell you. In any light or weather, at every time of day. Scotland is beautiful.

*Note that this is not nearly an exhaustive list.

I wish we didn’t have to leave our paradise as soon as we did.

HOWEVER. I think my next project will be creating some regular forms of escape for the wider population. If everyone had weekends like we just had – even once a year – the world would be a nicer place.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to not reading the interweb for a while.

I suggest you do the same.