Ch-ch-ch-changes

Time goes by pretty fast if you don’t take the time to look around.

(Time also goes by Clichepretty fast after 40.. how is it almost July??? And where are my glasses).

Grey hair, sore knees, sad eyes and that’s just the dog. Its true I’m starting to resemble him these days, but I refuse to resort to spending my days lying on the sofa farting and snoring… no matter what I feel like.

A few data points from the last year or so to catch you up:

  • 3 new bosses, 13 keynotes, 6 conferences, 18 town halls, 300+ powerpoints and 1TB of new content created.
  • 2 heads of state, 2 ambassadors, 6 tech icons and many of the Fortune 100 CEOs. (Favorite was the Dutch Prime minister who was delicious, weird and still lives with his mother. Wonderful manners).
  • $$$$$ earned. I mean ridiculous.

And in non work life;

  • 11 procedures via 2 shoulder surgeries, 32 weeks of PT, knee cartilage busted
  • 7 glorious weekends in St. Helena, CA
  • 3 dates with men who turned out to be married.
  • 3 apartment moves
  • 1 old flame
  • And I finally saw BRUCE in concert (Springsteen not Hornby and the Range)

And the best thing of all?

I realized I prefer working with and being around nice people over most everything else.

Life is just too short to run behind Mr.Big in 4 inch heels hoping that you’re having some positive impact on someone somewhere. No matter the astonishing people you meet, the innovation you’re absorbed in, the resources available and the learning you do… nothing beats working with a team of people who have your back, who treat you well and who share your values. Seeing the impact of your work. Having a team who knows you and doesn’t think its weird when you lend a hand, offer or ask for help. It makes all the difference.

I’m sure this reads like every cliché in the book.. but its been an eye-opening, life changing 18 months for me.  I’ve always been independent, up for an adventure and embracing of change.. and this time might be the ultimate challenge. Putting my values first and building the life I want around them.

Now.. does anyone have a use for some slightly used high heels?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The family you choose

friendsI once had a brush with death.

Some sore patches on my leg emerged a few weeks after a surgery. Ignoring them until I was limping. I headed to my doc, who assured me, “no big deal”. Phew.

2 days later , out on a run I realized I couldn’t breath. My leg was throbbing and I suddenly remember a former friend who dropped dead while running due to a blood clot. I walked the rest of the way and headed to the doctor. 3 hours later I was told my weird sore patches had actually been signals of a 3 ft long blood clot that reached from my ankle up through my groin and up towards my heart. 1 hour later I  learned I had a pulmonary embolism (PE) in my lungs;

“But the BEST PE you could get” according to my hematologist.

Not really thinking about what this meant, I headed off on a date.

Only later, when telling friends, did I realize how lucky I was. How my bike fitness had probably helped break up the PE in my lungs.. and how ‘heading off on a date’ wasn’t probably the best response to a fairly major medical emergency.

That’s what your support network, aka your friends and friends of friends, are there for when you’re single. To remind you not to be a half-wit. To point out the sometimes obvious. To make sure you’re taking care of yourself.

Married folk have husbands who do that (or other moms who nurture everyone).  They kill the spiders, know when you’re sick and support you no matter what.

Singletons, well we have friends for this (or we do it ourselves in the case of those terrifying spiders). These friends become our chosen family. They’re the ones who we lean on when we’re feeling down, who support us, and who help us out in a crisis. They’ll listen to your wittering, and hand you a drink or a bar of chocolate when you need it. Family is family and while your biological family might be awesome, for many of us it’s not practical to ask them to pick you up from the hospital when they live 4,000 miles away.

I love my chosen family. They consist of my riding gals, current and former work colleagues, friends or friends, Facebook friends, old neighbors, school mates and the random people you meet as part of your everyday routine.

This week I lost one of my chosen family. The guy who calmed me down with whiskey after a slippery motorcycle ride. Waited with me for first dates. Raised his eyebrows at some of them. But who always, always had a smile and a ‘what’s up?’ for me as neighbor patron. I spent my last night in Denver at his bar, and many evenings collecting my thoughts and shooting the shit over a nightcap.

It’s the first time I’ve lost someone who propped me up. Who was there, Who provided a meeting place for other singletons and people seeking a chosen family. The oddballs, the tattoo and motorcycle nut cases, the Denver homegrown, those who loved a rockabilly band on a Saturday night. Or just to sit at a bar and chit-chat about nothing.

Today I’ve never felt more protective and appreciative of those who remain. To lean on, to reach out to, to care if they don’t hear from you, and who remind you of whats important. The surprising loss, and even more surprising impact on my heart, is a good reminder of the importance of our chosen family.

To my chosen family, much love.

RIP Gary Lee Bomar.

 

Not better, just different

sfContrary to popular opinion, I am still alive. I am also not incarcerated, incinerated or incapacitated. Sadly I have not been held captive by a silver fox off the coast of Belize and no, I did not win the lottery.

I’ve just been rearranging my life.

In the last month I found a new job, planned a cross-country move, completed my Christmas shopping AND grew my hair an inch.

NOTE: Growing the hair was the toughest. This mother will just.not.grow.  I am doomed to a shaggy pixie for the remainder of my days.

After the best summer ever drew to a close I realized that it was now or never. Things were good. Work was …okay. My little life was pleasurable and harmonious. Nothing too exciting and something too stressful. I could quite happily continue to live out my days in gorgeous Colorado, riding my bike with awesome chicas, spending my Thursdays on an ever-increasing spiral of bad dates and doing a bit of work to pay the rent..OR I could change things.

Why change things when life is good? When you’ve found friends who actually ‘get’ you and an apartment where you can leave the door unlocked. Where life has a rhythm and cadence that is soothing and predictable. Where you give Uncle Fester a second date because.. well .. he wasn’t that awful. Why risk ‘good’ for ‘different’? Especially when different comes at twice the cost, double the traffic and the need to wear actual outfits to an office on a daily basis?

I can’t exactly explain it except that I knew something needed to change when my neighbor asked why I was doing my laundry on a Friday night instead of my usual Saturday morning. When another neighbor said ‘I knew it was you walking your dog because of your pajamas’ and I found myself counting down the hours one Saturday night until I could reasonably climb into bed with my book. It was 7.30pm.

I’m 42. Not dead.

Life can be too good. Too comfortable. Too ‘nice’. Life without edges can make you sloppy and your brain fuzzy. You settle into routines that your grandmother would find boring. And when you realize you’re waiting out the days.. until…well..something different happens. Yes,  something needs to change.

So I decided to make a change.

In a few weeks, 19 years after I arrived, I’m leaving the rocky mountain state for the west coast. Back to water and Democratic majorities, GMO-hating hippies and Silicon Valley geekdom. I’m excited to use my brain again (the dust bunnies up there are something else), to explore a whole new state, to find new friends and spend a winter without thermals covering every square inch of my body.

Sure it’s going to suck. Its going to be exhausting and my expectations aren’t for some miraculous life change. Just something different. New roads, new trails, new weather, new vistas. Not better, just different. I’m 42 and we only get one time around. Going to bed at 7.30pm on a Saturday night out of boredom isn’t how I want to remember my 40s. That isn’t living.. it’s just passing time. So instead I choose change. I choose different.

I’ll keep you posted.

When does the past stop mattering?

As I was considering my eHarmony driven job perusal (long story, catch up ..).. I noticed that a lot of the jobs I was looking at required
university transcripts which – 20 years after graduation – I found somewhat confounding. Does my ‘Industrial Economics’ grade really matter 20 years after I attained it? How about Manufacturing Engineer Logistics? And how does it relate to my prospective job as ‘Communications Director’? If I only scored a 66 on my Advanced Mathematics exam back in 1990, will this eliminate me from the running as ‘VP of Corporate Communications’ in 2013? Is math even part of the job? (because I’m sure Manufacturing Engineering Logistics isn’t).
I understand that past performance is an indication of future performance,but  how far back is ‘past’ when you have 20+ years to work with? Isn’t that ‘past’ slightly more relevant than what I did in academia?  Back when computers lived in special ‘labs’ and this thing called the internet was a rumor we heard about in ‘Computer Programming 101’. When does the past get to remain in the past?

Which got me thinking about the role of the past outside of job qualifications. If past performance truly is an indicator of future behavior, then surely we’re disallowing for any type of maturity or learning, and therefore, I probably should be spending my evenings downing 6 pints of beer and smoking a packet of 20 Camels. Because that was me 20 years ago. 18 years ago, I was working until 11pm most nights, sleeping with my boss and living on Lean Cuisine.. is this me today? Hardly.
At if you’re looking to the past as the predictor, which past do you choose? Workaholic Rachael – 1994-2001 (average week 80hrs), dating Rachael (average work week 40 hours), or last month (a hearty 50 hrs).

Which says nothing at all about performance.

Back in 1994 I’d be willing to scrub and reformat a spreadsheet all night if that’s what you wanted. Today I’m more likely to roll my eyes and tell you ‘its good’. Back in 1994 I was a terrible consultant – I didn’t listen, I thought I knew the best way to do everything and I had zero business experience outside of washing dishes and prep cooking. Hardly useful in a pharmaceutical company which needed to improve its market research.
These days I am probably a terrible consultant, but for a whole other host of reasons. My brain doesn’t function after 8pm, I have zero tolerance for nit pickers and I really really like sleeping in my bed every night. I’m a great listener and I can problem solve with the best of them, but even the idea of wearing a suit every day gives me hives. 

Which brings me back to the concept of ‘grey’. The past is, was, black and white on a transcript, or a resume or even that dreaded resourcing spreadsheet you spent 3 months building. It is a series of facts. But we experience it, and remember it, all in shades of grey.
Maybe that project was really awesome for my client and really helped them be more efficient, but to me I just remember the 90 min commute drive each way through a snowy Colorado winter and hating every minute. In downsizing that organization, maybe I broke a number of ‘behind the scene’s processes that I never knew existed and really balls things up… but I got a great rating on my performance review. Its all very very grey, and the shade is totally dependent on who’s remembering.

Which is why the concept of references is hysterical, and  someone asking me for my university transcripts makes me bizarrely anger. I did well in university and but its so irrelevant to who I am today, how I might do a job, how I actually do my job… well you might as well ask me to write an essay on ‘who I think I am’.

“We think you’re crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. are, what do you care? You see us as you want to see us…in the simplest terms and the most convenient
convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal.”

And I, apparently, am someone who failed Electrical Engineering 101 in 1990.

My standing O

 

I’ve always been a highly motivated person. Since the age of 8 or 9, I’d rush home to my room to get my homework done, and the idea of a ‘late’ anything caused me to break out in hives. I was never happier than working for extra credit or finding ways to get a A++.
These days I work from home and I’m even more motivated than ever. I check my mail before I brew the first cup of the day, and I don’t stop between 8 and 5, picking up again after dinner. I could be taking myself out for a ride, lazing by the pool or using the flexibility of my job to actually enjoy the day, but I can’t help myself. I need to get stuff done and the guilt of not putting in my 10 hours would eat away at me. I might not be Catholic, but I seem to have been deep dyed in guilt somewhere along the line.

And its not just work. I will drag myself out for a run whether its 16 degrees and sleeting or 80 degrees and I’m nursing a deep vein thrombosis the length of my left leg (yes, it happened). I feel guilty skipping a yoga class and if I don’t eat vegetables with every meal (even cereal), I’m convinced my mother will find out. Yes, that’s me trying to eat edamame and Cheerios.

Which goes to say, I don’t need much encouragement to ‘do’ stuff – whether I want to do it or not.

And, being raised in a traditional British household, I learned early on that you  never expect recognition. We’re not a nation that’s big on praise or shows of effusive ‘go get em’ encouragement.  In fact when I declared my intent to attend university (the first in my family to do so), I was met with blank stares and questions of ‘why?’  That guy who pulled the emergency landing in the Hudson last year? If it was the UK, the main question would have been why he didn’t land closer to a tube stop.

Its a sickness. What can I say. We’re afraid of praise.

‘Spare the rod, spoil the child’ is a saying most of us Brits grew up with.. which roughly translates to ‘don’t baby your baby’. I think we’re scared that if we felt good about ourselves there would be anarchy on the streets and the milk certainly wouldn’t be delivered on time.

Moving to the US, I was horrified at the culture of extensive praise, especially around mediocrity. 6 year olds being heralded for pooping in the toilet, teenagers handed BMWs for getting A’s and don’t get me started on the Kardashians. Famed and lauded for what exactly? Blow jobs?   It couldn’t be a further from my upbringing of ignoring achievement and general air of criticism or cynicism around any recognition.

With time I see that both approaches to achievement have their value. One creates confidence, the other creates humility. One incents shooting for the stars, the other incents quality and throughness.
Too much of either creates the need for pharmaceuticals and extensive therapy.

Sadly in adult life, the two cultures seem to achieve a degree of consistency –  praise evaporates the moment you receive a pay check.
I’ve been working in the consulting field for nearly 20 years and I think I’ve been praised twice. Once for finding  away to lay off 257 people and the other was last week when I receive my first (and probably last) standing ovation (and no, no-one was laid off).

Without going into details – it was earned (sorry Brits, but it was). I worked 7 days a week for the last 7 weeks and last week I worked over 100 hours. With my team, we produced something really great. And everyone stood up and applauded.

And yes, I know its corporate nonsense, they were told to and its just clapping, but to stand in front of a room of nearly 200 people and to have that minute of recognition… well, it was probably the single most pleasurable moment of my working life. Does that make me shallow? Needy? Desiring of attention?

Yes.

Did it make me feel valued, appreciated and supported?

Totally.

Did it make up for living like a monk for the last 7 weeks and the additions to my extensive prescription collection?

On that.. jury’s out.

But as I stood there I didn’t feel embarrassed or try to decry the attention. In fact
I’ll never forget that moment of pure praise and I’ll never again underestimate the power of recognition. It felt good. And I won’t say that it made up for 40 years of silence, but it certainly filled a big hole.

And if my head grew a little bit bigger as a result.. well I always have my mother on the end of the phone.She can take care of that in an opening sentence.

Awkward breakups

Awkward Break-ups

I’d been dating and living with Tom for just over a year when things took a big turn southward. Our relationship was resembling the steamed fish we ate every night… bland, joyless and frankly, quite quite dead. When I wasn’t busy lining up the tin cans and rushing home every night to have my cellphone checked for rogue messages, I slept with one eye open and one foot on the floor. Tom had quite the temper and as someone who gets nauseous at a raised voice, I was steadily working on my second ulcer. Tense doesn’t begin to describe it.

As my weight hovered 15lbs below normal, my sister gently mentioned that I was ‘looking a bit peaky’ and perhaps I might not be terribly happy. After a nanosecond of reflection (hey, at least there was some) I decided to break up with Tom. Just saying the words allowed my stomach to unknot for the first time in weeks and the decision was so obvious I couldn’t believe I hadn’t made the move already.

Now breaking up with someone isn’t easy at the best of times. When you’re living with someone a whole other layer of complexity arises. Add a hot and violent temper into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for a very very nervous girlfriend and planning to rival any SAS exercise.

I quietly made arrangements to move out, putting down a deposit on a flat and scheduling a moving truck. I told no-one except my sister and kept the smile plastered on my face until ‘telling Tom day’.
I figured, like the army, a quick and deadly strike would leave the least casualties. I bought big new locks for my new bedsit.

What I hadn’t foreseen was Tom’s own quiet planning. In the face of a strained and silent girlfriend Tom had decided what I needed was to ‘get away from it all’ and booked a vacation for us both.

Leaving London that weekend.
For two weeks.
In Miami.

While my stomach busied itself re knitting my ulcer, I tried to look for ways out,

Work? He’d okay’d it with the  boss.
Visa? Didn’t need one.
Finances? No problem, everything was already paid for.

I claimed migraines right up to the moment the plane lifted off, at which point I actually did develop a headache. Which lasted for the entire two weeks.

There is nothing quite like being sequestered on a romantic ‘rekindling’ vacation when you’ve already mentally moved out but are too scared to say so. That it rained the entire 2 weeks didn’t help.
I’d assumed that we’d be spending the days in a lounger, uncomfortable but not intolerable. The endless rain made for lots of time for lazing in bed for Tim.. while I took the longest showers known to man. Dodging his advances with claims of migraines from hell, I was able to fake the weeping and groaning enough to keep him at bay for a week. By the second week his patience was running out and I think I might have overdone the acting when I found myself sitting in ER at Miami General. As I slid into the CAT scan machine the technician asked me if I was under any kind of stress… as Tom looked directly at me,

‘Um… no?’

I wanted to die with embarrassment and humiliation.

I used the excuse of ‘girlie bit pain’ as a means to tell the doc that not only was I not dying, but I was just trying to soldier through a 2 week vacation with a guy I was dumping next Tuesday. He was not impressed but gave me a prescription for Valium and told Tom ‘no excitement’, essentially eliminating any more advances for the remainder of the trip.

I could see the light, finally… the home stretch.. until Tom told me the last surprise of the vacation…

Not only were we not going straight home from Miami, he’d booked tickets for us to go and see U2 in Paris on the way back to London. For the whole weekend we’d be able to wander the most romantic streets in the world and I’d be able to see one of my favorite bands.

Great!

I wondered what special hell I was in and what I’d done to deserve it.

Lets just say it wasn’t the best weekend and no, breaking up in Paris isn’t any better or worse than you’d think. Just take it from me, you break up after the flight home, not before. 

So if the guy you’re planning on dumping mentions any special surprises, run….

Nothing matters.. (or nothing you thought matters, actually matters)

We’ve all heard or read about those people who have had brushes with death or disaster then claim ‘nothing really matters except … a) the people you love b) family c) living in the present d) the money I’m getting from this interview.  But then those people go onto live the rest of their lives with no real substantial changes, except maybe increasing the frequency of ‘I love yours’ or not flying with anyone called Sully.
Since I turned 40 I’ve not been in any disasters or had any close shaves (excepting my dating life), but last year I reached a similar conclusion. Nothing really matters. Actually no-thing.  People matter. Experiences matter. But no things actually matter. And this realization caused me to suddenly feel suffocated by my carefully constructed,tastefully arranged, credit card financed Room and Board landscape.

So I got rid of it all.

10 years of furniture, rugs, frames, chairs, tables, bikes, crap I didn’t need, stuff I didn’t like but thought I needed.

Why?

It – the stuff – was mattering more than anything else. The search for the perfect chair, bed linens for the spare room, an ottoman for the library chair. I was working to pay off the things that I thought that I needed. And in the midst of my debt, looking for new things to replace the things that were slowly ceasing to please me. The things were my everything. In lieu of people, I was finding comfort in things, pleasure in things. Until I was defining myself by my things.

How did I get this far from who I am? I’ve always been a person defined by my actions. What I did (who I did?), or what I have done. And through fear, apathy, introversion, lack of funds (all those things are expensive), I stopped doing and started buying. At the age of 40 I found myself in debt, lying awake at night trying to find the money for the next thing and wondering when I last had fun.

So now I am without things.  Not, I’m not living in a padded cell or on the street, eating out of a can or eschewing clothing but I these days I don’t have much except somewhere to sleep, somewhere to sit, somewhere to work and some things to play with (no, not crayons.. grown up toys). I have enough seating in my apartment for a cozy night with friends or a game of Jenga on the floor. I can watch movies and cook a decent meal. Listen to jazz, take a long bath or sit on the balcony. But you’ll be eating off your knees and my house probably eliminates any agoraphobics from my circle.

It sounds very Tyler Durden but without the stuff, it feels free-er. Lighter. I have less to worry about, less to clean and less to get in the way of a good game of ball throwing with the dog.  I have time and funds to get on my motorcycle, on a plane to visit friends, to plan an adventure.  Sure, its not for everyone and I’m sure my friends/ family are horrified, but I like it. No, I love it. Maybe with less things in the way, I can get back to the no-things that do matter.

However if I start making soap, someone call the medics.

The tattoo mystery

Tattoos are like scotch. You try it when you’re 15 and its disgusting, never to be repeated, ‘who does this?’ type of experience. You look at people who drink scotch – out of choice – and think they’re batshit crazy. But those who like it, wow, they like it. The same goes for tattoos.

Girls in college with little dolphins on their ankles or butterflies on their necks.. this tattoo was like their first taste of ‘scotch.’ It declared ‘I’m a little bit crazy!’, ‘I’m alternative‘ or ‘I’m grown up’. Most of the women I know with tiny tattoo memories went with their sorority sisters (an image which makes me shudder for a host of reasons), were hammered (ditto) and wouldn’t repeat the experience. Its their one lasting memory of a wild night and mostly they titter and change the subject when you bring it up. They prefer red wine these days… scotch isn’t for them.

Then there are those of us for whom the first tattoo, that first taste of scotch, was a life changer.
We got our tattoo and liked it. A lot. And like scotch, we want more.. even if, in our heads, we’re not really scotch type people.

For those who’ve never gotten a tattoo, it may be because you think they’re ugly. Many women do and quite a lot of guys. No matter how they start out, they end up looking like blue smears after a few years and the biggest worry everyone seems to register is ‘what would that look like when I’m 80?’  Frankly for me, I’m more concerned about what my mental faculties and feet will be doing at 80, but if its your butt that’s the concern… well, I kind of get it. After all it might spoil your Miss America, Granny Edition, chances.

Other people hate tattoos because of the inference they carry. Historically the mark of carnie’s and freaks, tattoos have been around since the 1800s and still seem to carry the stigma of ‘not for normal people’.  These days tattoos are mainstream, almost a uniform for bike messengers, yoga enthusiasts, biker boys, rockabilly fans, and of course hookers, college kids and ex cons. One of my doctors has a tattoo. And yes, so do I.

Is it simply a uniform of ‘non conformity’? A way to say ‘Hey everyone.. I’m different… just like y’all’ You have to wonder. I was bare skinned until 38 and now they’re creeping up my arms and down my back. So what happened?  Is this just a mid life crisis gone permanent? What happened, to make this happen? (something I’m sure my mother, friends and lovers have questioned).

I’ve always thought that tattoos look ugly. I dated people with tattoos and the moment the shirt came off and a tattoo was revealed, I found it pretty icky (one guy’s Japanese fish turned my stomach and quite put me off sex). The only good tattoos I saw were attached to tanned, dark haired hot guys with muscles. In which case, they probably could have been wearing a severed goat head and I wouldn’t have noticed. I rarely saw a tattoo which made me think ‘I want that’ and yet. And yet. I always found them fascinating. Not fascinating enough to want one.. Jesus no, my mother would kill me. And people would think X, and boyfriends would think Y, and employers would think Z. Nope. Tattoos were for other people. I certainly couldn’t risk all those opinions. What would people think of me?

And yet… I loved the idea of permanently marking myself. I think it goes back to the fact that I’ve writing on myself since I could scribble. Anyone who knows me knows I typically have something written on the back of my hand (I have the memory of a kitten), and its extended for 30+ years. Of course no-one wants ‘pick up loo paper’ on their body forever, but I’ve written it as a reminder on my hand on more than one occasion. Seeing something written down typically triggers a thought, a feeling, a memory.. and yes, I always remembered the loo paper.

At the age of 37 and 11 months I decided to bite the bullet. Get a tattoo. I finally had cut the umbilical cord and figured I could stand the motherly rage, and I wanted to see what it felt like to be ‘inked’. Everything  on my body is heading south anyway, so adding a tattoo wouldn’t really make much of a difference. ‘But what will it look like when you’re 80?’ is much easier to respond to when you’re already half way there. If people can make it past my varicose veins, my crinkly knees and my weird toenail.. well a drawing on my arm isn’t going to change much. 

I didn’t expect the pain. Or the joy. I think its the endorphins rushing as a response to the pain, but I love it. You could tattoo me all day. Its totally addictive. The first time I practically fell asleep as the guy carved into my neck. The second time it felt better than sex. The rush. The high. The ‘going inside yourself’ that happens automatically after the first 10-15 minutes. My last tattoo took 4 hours and I was in heaven for most of it. When she finally laid down her ink, I felt as though I’d run a marathon and just had the best date of the year. I was stone cold sober, but wow I felt drunk. Thankfully I trust my artist and I know she’s not going crazy while I’m away with the fairies.  And the results are oh so pretty.

But with every good thing in life, there is always a downside. I’m only 5 ft 2 and there is only so much skin to go around. I know I can’t keep going. I have no desire to join the circus or become unemployable, and frankly, I still don’t really like most tattoos.  So why do it? Why not just join the Catholic church, or a BDSM club, ride my bike a little harder or take up needlepoint?

There are nicer drinks than scotch. Less ‘burn-y’. Cheaper. Leaving you with less of a hangover. But people still drink it.  And there are plenty of ways to get my kicks in a less permanent way.
That’s the mystery of the tattoo. Ask anyone why they get more and more tattoos and each has a reason. But if most of us are honest, we don’t really know why, its just a compulsion to scar ourselves different. Maybe we’re wearing our insides on the outside? We’re beautifying something we don’t consider beautiful?  Or maybe we just need to remember something. A lover, a moment, a day.. or simply to pick up more loo paper.

I’ll raise a scotch to that.

Proud to be a new American

Yesterday I became an American citizen. Holding the hand of a lovely lady from Algeria (who barely spoke English), and croaking along to ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ with my hand on my breast ( who knew how hard that is to sing?) I surprised myself and truly abandoned my British heritage by blubbling like a baby. It was unbelievably emotional. Unexpectedly so.

I’m not sure if I was crying with joy or relief to finally finally be done with the process. Its a toss up.

Basically you spend 5-15 years standing in queues (or ‘lines’), getting documents stamped, reviewed, resubmitted, trying to convince administrators that yes, my hair has changed a lot in 15 years, providing x rays of your chest, verifying that you don’t have TB, HIV or Syphilis (yes, no STDs in America kids!) and hoping that the FBI doesn’t consider your numerous speeding tickets as any indication of your moral fiber.
When you finally, finally arrive at the immigration office, you sit in front of your file (mine is about 14 inches thick), and basically try not to say anything too stupid.

I’d just ended a frustrating call with my mother before my interview, and when asked by the agent ‘how is your day going?’, I casually mentioned that I wanted to kill my mother.

His eyebrows hit his hairline and I backtracked at high speed.

‘No.. not actually want to kill her… just .. well you know, drives you nuts etc etc.. not kill’

He suggested that I take a seat and stop talking.

We sat face to face as he sat and read every single sheet in my file. At least 400-500 pages. The sweat beading on my back was starting to drip down to my pants and the silence was so extended that I seriously thought I was about to be escorted out the back and shot.

He eventually looked up and asked me to start my Civics test. I giggled with relief and then swallowed my excitement with a burp.

Here’s the weird thing. Even though there are 100 questions and they’re not too tricky, you just know that they’re going to ask you the ones you don’t know. So despite me knowing the years in which the constitution was signed and who signed it, he decided that the theme of the day was civil rights.
Cool. I’m all over that, I confidentially sat up with a big grin of relief.
And got the first question wrong.
Because when someone asks you the  name of the movement that address inequalities between people the only word I could think of was segregation. Never mind that I had just heard the word ‘civil rights movement’ from his lips.. nope.. I was stuck on the word segregation. Which I KNOW is the opposite of civil rights.. but could I remember the words civil rights??? Not a hope in hell.

I even starting reciting Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech thinking that it would jar something but I still couldn’t remember the name of the movement.. and now I’m impersonating MLK, complete with Southern twang and deep baritone. The agent clearly thought I was a lunatic and starting flicking back through my file to check that I hadn’t been recently detained at a medical institution.

He gently suggested that we move on.

Thankfully the other questions were less ‘tricky’ and I was informed that I passed. The writing and oral parts of the test flew by (to be honest as a ‘communication’ pro, you’d worry otherwise), and suddenly he’s telling me that I’m being sworn in as a citizen in 60 minutes.

I swear, I now know what it must feel like to be proposed to, to receive an Oscar and be nominated as President all in the same day… I was verklempt. Floored. The tears started right there and then… I couldn’t actually believe that it was done. I was in.

An hour later I sat with 52 other citizen-to-be’s, clutching our American flags and reciting the Oath of Allegiance in unison. 28 countries were represented and not a single unlined face amongst us – our unifying identity seemed to be one of relief and tiredness. As the montage of old photos from Ellis Island flashed on the project screen, one by one, people started to weep. The lady standing next to me took hold of my hand and squeezed it as the tears ran down my face. The local area IN guy intoned that;

‘Your bank account, your social status, your parents, your race, your sex, your age, your station in life in your former country no longer matter. You are an American. Your future is yours to define’.

Amen.