Getting where?

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‘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.

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

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.

Yes, I am angry

As an American living abroad, I have been trying for a long, long time to figure out how I continue to help and even relate to a place I have voluntarily left behind. Home is not America for me. Home is Scotland and I am British, and I cannot split myself in two. We have our own problems here, and it’s impossible to devote equal care and action to both places, particularly when one is an ocean away.

But while the pitifully lacking sentencing of a convicted rapist and the mass shooting attack on a community that never gets to take a deep breath are American problems, rape culture and hateful, violent crimes are worldwide problems. They are inequality problems. And they are worth all the fight we can muster.

There’s that thing about the definition of insanity being that you do the same over and over and expect different results. But I don’t think anyone expects anything at all anymore. Not in America.

When I was about 20 and sitting in a hostel in Cesky Krumlov talking to an Australian guy who was on a round-the-world trip, he was telling me he’d love to go to the US but he was too scared. Because doesn’t everyone have a gun? Why are there so many guns?

I firmly reassured him that no way, dude, unless you’re specifically in a rough neighbourhood, on the whole, you’re pretty safe. Guns were around, but in my privileged, white, middle class experience, they were not a thing I worried about. Columbine had already happened, but mass shootings were not yet the norm.

But now? In addition to everything else, there have been incidents with guns at both my high school and, indirectly, my college. Guns ARE everywhere. I am still shocked when I hear news of guns in the UK, but gun violence, including mass shooting, is so standard in the US that as the first trickle of news of Orlando came through, before there were any details, it wasn’t even remotely surprising.

If I had that same conversation with that Australian today, I’d be more sympathetic to his views. Things have changed. They’ve gotten worse. My friends are having kids and they are worried. I do not actively fear being in public when I do go to the US, but I am uneasy in general, in a way I never was before.

Generally it is a good, sensible thing that our President doesn’t have absolute power, but it’s been obvious for a long time how frustrated Obama is about his inability to make effective changes to gun control because they won’t get through Congress.

Meanwhile the government spends so much time and energy making everything BUT getting a gun harder. Making women’s rights and healthcare a total minefield. Making something as everyday as going to the goddamned bathroom into an absolute nightmare for Trans people.

This post started two weeks ago when I was feeling rage about the joke of a sentence Brock Turner got for being a dipshit horrendous rapist. But it grew quickly to be about all of the things the US cannot seem to solve. And while I was still waffling about how to frame it, the senseless hate-fueled violence hopped the pond – last week Jo Cox, an MP who routinely stood up for immigrants, was stabbed and shot on her way home from regular office hours for her constituents. I can only hope that’s not a sign of things to come for this country.

20 years ago, there WAS a mass shooting in the UK. It was in a primary school in Dunblane. On 13 March 1996, a 43-year-old former scout leader shot sixteen school children and their teacher, Gweneth Mayor, in Dunblane Primary School’s gym. He then shot himself. Assault weapons were already banned here, but he used legally obtained handguns.

In a conversation we had just after Sandy Hook, Kristina told me about how fast the gun laws changed in the UK after Dunblane. In 1997, the UK passed laws banning private possession of handguns almost completely. Even the UK’s Olympic shooters fall under this ban and are unable to train in England, Scotland, or Wales.

Since then, there was one incident in Cumbria in 2010 where a taxi driver went on a spree killing. But mass shootings are otherwise unheard of here, and we have one of the lowest rates of gun homicide in the world. Even police don’t usually carry guns.

Yes. That’s right. Even the police don’t carry guns. Do you know how NICE that is?

How it is that a similar change has not already happened in the US baffles me.

I have been told by many, including my own father, when discussing misogyny and the bullshit women put up with, that I can’t get so angry about things. But I disagree. I can get angry. I am angry. I will stay angry.

Women are told all our lives that being angry isn’t attractive or ladylike. Fuck that. Anger is productive. Anger doesn’t make me bitter or horrible or unhappy – it makes me active.

I will stay angry as long as rapists are getting away with it. I will stay angry as long as, as Mali said, it’s easier to buy an assault rifle than a golden retriever in America. I will stay angry as long as people are targets of hate because of who they love. I will stay angry so that I’m not complacent.

Anger and love are not mutually exclusive. I am full of both. What would change without anger? Without love? They the most potent motivators I know.

One of the most frustrating things about being a woman is being told by a man – and this happens ALL THE TIME – that they are a feminist ‘but…’ insert any number of things that are a woman’s fault or that we shouldn’t complain about so much or aren’t we overreacting just a little bit or shouldn’t we just be a little stronger in the face of abuse or a little more conservative in the way we dress and on and on and on.

And trying and trying and trying to make a man realise that they will never understand what it is like to feel an entire movement is resting on your shoulders. To question yourself for hours on whether or not you should speak up in return, because all your life you’ve been told to pick your battles, which is valid advice in general, but in terms of feminism, we really need to pick more of them.

If you think picking more battles makes me a pain in the ass, well, maybe you should examine WHY you feel that way.

And then think of what a pain in the ass it is to always just a little bit fear for your personal safety when you walk home alone in the dark, even if that fear is just sitting in the back of your mind in a corner. What a pain in the ass it is to feel lucky that you’ve never experienced more than low-level street harassment that all women experience.

Let me reiterate that. To feel LUCKY you have never been sexually assaulted or raped. It should have nothing to do with luck. But that’s how I, and plenty of other women, feel about it.

To constantly work against the society ingrained notion that what I’m wearing or drinking or saying is responsible for what happens to me, not the actual person DOING it. To constantly have to remind people that it is not our responsibility as women to fix the system.

To see that somehow, even today, a hateful, racist, misogynist, scumbag of a human being has managed to get as far as the Republican nomination for leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world, and to watch the Democratic nominee constantly take extra shit because she is a woman (historic! Finally!) and extra extra shit because her opponent is who he is.

To know you always have to fight a little bit harder, but that aggressively asking for what you deserve is seen as an undesirable trait for you while the man across the room aggressively asking for what he deserves is seen as strong and effective.

To do all of this anyway and take extra abuse for it in the process. Because if you don’t suck it up and handle the backlash, fewer people will join you in doing the same and nothing will ever change.

And then having men tell you you’re overreacting or taking it too seriously or being ridiculous.

Yeah. That is enough to make anyone crazy, right?

But I’m the pain in the ass.

And that’s just being a woman. You know who takes even MORE shit? The LGBTQ community. To have something as hateful as a mass shooting happen to a community of people who already have to deal with so much fear and persecution. To have the safe spaces they have worked so hard to build for themselves violated in the face of baseless hate. To see them unable to help their community because there are ACTUAL FUCKING LAWS against it.

But, you know, god forbid you take away our right to have an automatic weapon in our home. Because that is helping everyone, isn’t it?

Feminism is equality. Simple. And all of these problems come from some people’s inability to see others as equal. Because of gender, sexual orientation, mental health. We need to fix the way we look at all of these things as a society. Particularly in America.

And what am I doing? I am making noise. I’m writing to representatives. I’m talking to everyone who will listen and even some who won’t. I’m donating time and money and love. I’m being an ally. I’m being a woman.

Stop asking me what I’m doing and start asking what you can do.

My life is awesome. The lives of my female and LGBTQ friends are also awesome. But the standard, inbuilt obstacles associated with being who we are regularly exhaust and frustrate the best of us. We can’t just DO something – we have to navigate the bullshit at the same time. But we are all on the same team. We don’t stop working or fighting. We have productive anger, and we have endless reserves of love.

It is easy to be an ally. All you need to do is acknowledge what it is like for someone else. Don’t diminish them by competing with your own problems. Don’t try to one-up or match. If you feel your own problems relate, then use them as a way to understand that sure, it is hard for you sometimes, but it’s harder for someone else.

Listen. Think. Believe them. Fight WITH them.

Flawless Plans

Just a short one today, because I feel compelled to point out my friend’s fantastic blog, Flawless Plans, that everyone should be reading.

For someone who writes a travel blog, I don’t really read a lot of travel blogs. I tend to hate them. I find single entries really useful for planning things but I don’t like a lot of the writing I find enough to add travel blogs to my regular interweb reading roster.

Then my friend Mali, who I went to college with, started tracking her family’s drive across the US and eventual flight to New Zealand to live and work for a year. And I am so in love with it. I have been reminded again how talented the people I went to school with are, especially in the writing department, and that makes me really happy.

It’s hard work keeping a regular post schedule going. To do it while traveling is even harder. And to do it with two small children to take care of, and do it WELL, is incredible and commendable, and has been producing on-point and often deeply hilarious results.

I have been able to relate to a lot of what Mali is writing even from a completely divergent life path. This may be partially because she is my friend, but I think it’s mostly because she is (and always has been) blisteringly honest and willing to deal out some pretty personal, internal stuff in a beautifully-written way.

I won’t ramble on more about it. Just do yourself a favour and go read Flawless Plans. It is genuinely fantastic.

A love letter to Lindy Hop

It’s Frankie Manning’s birthday today, and also World Lindy Hop Day. And since dancing has done so much for me in such a relatively short period of time, I’m going to gush for a minute.

Perhaps a lot of these positive personal changes are a result of age and experience, but I’m pretty sure Lindy found me at the exact right moment, so there’s something to be said for the perfect storm.

Sometime in the summer of 2013 when I was finally coming out of a pretty dark place, Duncan showed me a Movits! video that had some of the Harlem Hot Shots in it (SO MUCH CHARLESTON). I immediately fell in love with a random Swedish hip-hop swing band in a way I’d not fallen in love with a band since I was a teenager, and the ‘oh-swing-dancing-is-a-THING-and-wow-it’s-kind-of-awesome’ wheels started turning.

It took 9 months (and my friend Kate mentioning she’d been thinking about trying swing dancing while we were eating ice cream) for me to go to my first lesson. And another 6 months to the tipping point, when I was considering giving up, but the perfect combination of circumstances and people landed me in ESDS, and something clicked.

I met, and continue to meet, some of the best humans I have ever known. I have incredible friends – family, really – that have come from dancing. I discovered a worldwide community where I’ve been welcomed with encouragement and enthusiasm. I now know such a huge variety of instensely intelligent, introspective, strong, and talented-in-all-kinds-of-fields people that I may have never known if we weren’t all doing this crazy dance together. How lucky is that? On its own.

But there is so much more. For one thing, body image. Lindy is for everyone. You don’t have to be some model perfect looking human being to be a good dancer, you just need some rhythm and an ability to have some fun. People of all shapes and sizes and ages do this dance and they all look awesome because they are freakin’ enjoying themselves. It’s a nice big ‘fuck you’ to the imagery we’re constantly bombarded with about what’s good-looking and happy.

And personally, after dancing for a while and realizing my body could do all this stuff I never thought I’d manage even a year before, my self-image got a lot more positive. Of course I have days where I’m like, oh my god, I hate all my clothes and I feel like garbage, but for the most part, I feel pretty damn good. I am the same size I’ve always been, I’m just stronger, healthier, and happier about it.

After my first full weekend event (ELX 2015), I felt so badass, I went out and bought the first bikini I have ever owned. (I did need a new bathing suit, it wasn’t just a random decision.) I was 31. I never, ever thought I’d feel comfortable enough to wear a bikini in my life. Then I christened that sucker in Lake Baikal.

So the confidence boost in general is pretty transformative. I mean, in addition, if you had told me a few years ago that I’d regularly be going up to strangers asking them to dance, I’d have looked at you like you were an alien from a strange and distant universe. I am so not that person. It’s still pretty hard to be fair, but I do it all the time. I’m constantly amazed at this. (And at the fact that I can do Suzie-Qs, which is like some kind of disconnected foot magic.)

I also know that mustering up the chutzpah to do the whole quitting my job and finally going on this massive trip I’d thought about for so long thing had a lot to do with the nerve, direction, and general belief in myself that was not previously present in such high doses.

(Also also, I bought a bike, which I’d never have done if I hadn’t started dancing, but that’s a whole other life-massively-improved-by-self-reliant-transport story.)

All of this from just going out and dancing 2-3 times a week. It has been better than any gym or therapy or medicine you could ever offer. I am still the same person and I have as many shit days as anyone, but I bounce back faster, and my good days are even better. And I’m only ever a day or two away from being able to swing out and forget any stupid thing that’s bothering me, even if only for 3 minutes at a time.

So. I am relatively certain, in a way that I am not often about many other things, that, barring injury or illness, I will be doing this for the rest of my life.

Frankie said that if the whole world danced the Lindy Hop, there would be no wars. Obviously that’s some wishful, utopian thinking. But a big part of Lindy is connection, and if you can connect to another person long enough to enjoy a swingout, a circle, and some quality lindyface, you can think a little further than your own wants and beliefs. That’s a damn good start.

The things I’ll never get to

It’s Record Store Day.

It’s Record Store Day and I have this sourdough starter I took on as an afterthought staring me in the face every time I open the fridge. And I’ve been thinking about the X-Men since last night when Tessa mentioned her daughter was getting way into them.

These are tied together by the fact that they’re all part of the long list of things I have not, and may not ever, get to. The sourdough will probably happen. At least once. But I’ve already secretly deep down come to terms with the fact that I’m probably not going to be a constant artisan bread maker. But. But! I am a baker! Of course I’ll bake bread!

It’s unlikely that it will happen with the regularity needed to keep a starter alive though.

And while music is pretty much half my blood and I lust over Kristina and Yann’s impressive vinyl collection and absolutely amazing turntable every time I’m in their flat and I miss the high school thrill of hanging out in Record and Tape Traders even when I felt not nearly cool enough to be there, Record Store Day is probably not a thing that will ever happen for me either. I hate to say it. I’ve been listening to 6Music talk about all the lovely events and shops around the UK all day and thinking, well, that could have been my life. I could have been queuing since 4am geeking out with my fellow music nerds.

But it’s not. There are just too many great things I have to be getting on with to allow myself to add even more.

This is how I feel about comic books and theatrical set design and stage management. It’s how I feel about curling and archery. It’s how I feel about the massive store of bookmarks pointing to cool project ideas sitting in Firefox I never look at again and all the books on my shelf I still haven’t got to.

I have dabbled and I have turned my back. I love a lot of things I have to turn down. I can’t throw myself full-force into every single cool thing I’ve ever done, though believe me, if I found a way to do so without dying of exhaustion and insanity, I absolutely would. I mean, when JK Rowling chucked that Time Turner in there, I was RIGHT THERE WITH HER.

I get so into the things I DO stick with that they have their own nested priorities. My to-do list grows at an exponential rate. My Lindy Hop Trello board alone is an incredible exercise in ambition and daydreaming.  Even my ‘ways to get some freakin’ actual paid work’ plans have grown far beyond my abilities to carry out.

I have to tell myself at least 3 times a day: ‘No. Stop. What is the one thing you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO DO right now? OK DO THAT THING. But I could just also maybe… NO. (Also: eat something, then do it. (Also also CLOSE THOSE FUCKING TABS.))’

Because trying to do ALL THE THINGS is the number one way to send my anxiety levels right up to danger zone and I’ve been trying pretty hard to train myself to keep them out of there whenever possible.

There’s definitely an element of Fear Of Missing Out in all of this, but it’s like, self-FOMO, which isn’t even what that shit is all about.

Since I got back from the grand adventure, this has been a bigger problem that I ever expected it would be. For someone so underemployed, I am crazy stupid busy. It’s all great stuff I’m busy with, so that’s fine, but I have been writing this post in my head all day and I’ve probably lost the best of it because it materialised this morning while I was moving boxes and I have not had a single moment in the past 12 hours to sit and even jot a short, undeciperable-later-on-but-made-sense-at-the-time list of the ideas buzzing around up there. I’ve just had to try to remember it all because it’s far more important to me than any writing that I am fully present when thanking people for moving and storing my shit, and drinking coffee and learning what the deal is with kefir, and sewing an exciting resurrected tailoring project and (badly) playing football with the world’s best puppy.

And even if it wasn’t, I forgot to bring my notebook with me when I left the house anyway.

There are a million and nine things I’d like to work on this weekend, but I keep needing to get them in line. And the back 90% of that line needs to know it’s getting turned away at the door, because I am well past sold out before I get anywhere near considering leaving the house to go to a record store.

Europe in a single-serve pot

I had Nutella on my toast this morning, which in itself is not a rare or remarkable thing. But it came from this wee pot Miriam brought back from her hotel in Berlin, and with it came a flood of happy food and travel nostalgia.

The first time I ever had Nutella was in Germany. I was about 13 and my father had decided to bring his parents and me and my sister and mother over for a holiday so we could see where my Grandpa’s family came from and where he grew up when they lived there. My Grandpa was actually born in the US, but his brother was born in Germany and they went back there to live in Lichtenfels for a while when he was young.

Anyway, the idea was for him to get to see it again one more time, and for my Grandma and all of us to see it for the first time. It was also the first time my sister and I had been out of the country, so there was the whole exciting business of passports and wondering what a trans-Atlantic flight would be like and trying to learn bits and pieces of German (Mom says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ first, of course, we were too young for ‘beer’, but it sounds the same anyway).

We spent 2 weeks buzzing around southern Germany in a Fiat minibus with the most uncomfortable hard seats I’d ever experienced in a car up til that point. We marveled at the speedy efficiency of the Autobahn. We almost instantly turned the German word for ‘exit’ into a fart joke. We stayed in small European hotels, the like of which don’t exist in the US and so are that much more novel, specifically to a 13-year-old suddenly experiencing The Simpsons and Walker, Texas Ranger overdubbed in German on the TV and meats and cheeses at breakfast.

And Nutella. Glorious, glorious Nutella. Chocolate for breakfast! How advanced these Europeans were. Every hotel we were in had it as standard. I specifically remember my Grandpa encouraging me to swipe a few of those wee pots in the morning for use later. I was a vegetarian at the time (I know, a teenage vegetarian in Germany – my poor parents) so I lived on pommes frites, afterthought side salads (bad), spaetzle (very good!), and afternoon car snacks of Wasa crispbread with said swiped Nutella smeared on it washed down with kirsch Capri Sun.

It’s curious that I have such vivid food memories of a trip on which I’d given myself limited menu options, but then the adventure of being in Europe for the first time, even while holding up my surly teenage grunge phase business of Totally Not Being Impressed, probably had a lot to do with that. Pretty much everything was new, food or not. Fanta! Milka bars! The Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ on MTV Europe, 6 months before we ever heard it in the US!

Germany was also the first place I encountered the kiwi spoon. We went to the zoo in Köln during some sort of festival where there was all sorts of free stuff, including a Zespri booth pushing New Zealand kiwis. They were handing out kiwi halves with the little plastic spoons stuck in them. If you’ve never seen a kiwi spoon, they’ve got a pointy spoon at one side and a serrated edge on the other so you can cut your kiwi in half and scoff it with the same tool – there are even two different designs! Years later when I was in New Zealand with Scott, we got some in the grocery store. When they broke back in the UK, he was so devastated I wrote to Zespri and asked if I could buy some from them. Instead they sent a wee package of 6 of each type to me for free. How’s that for customer care? I still have a few of them. They’re pretty handy, as bits of plastic go.

German Nutella pot

How many can you cram into your bag unnoticed?

But I digress. What I’m really getting at is how nice it is to be reminded of an entire experience, and of my Grandfather in general, by nothing more than a mini pot of Nutella with a German label. I tend to think of my Grandpa when I have Nutella anyway, but this may as well have been the very pot I slipped into my pocket nearly two decades ago as he slyly encouraged sugar-related mischief, as grandparents are wont to do.