engine troubles

Passing Montpellier and noticing the sign on the window of charlie-o’s that reads ‘please, no life stories.’ Had to chuckle at that. It’s so easy to mistake patience as kindness after the third or fourth pint, especially if you’re the maudlin type.

Last I passed this town, also in a greyhound bus, everything was white. Even the golden dome of what must be the state house was caked in snow. Today the sidewalks are full of people in t shirts and sunglasses that dominate the face. It’s warm now; or maybe everyone’s just dressing up as the others do, regardless how they feel.

Funny, then, how different everything is two months removed. This is why my instinct is to deride the tourist – what can you know being a visitor? But there is truth in the recognition of change, too, truth not found in the perceptions of those inured. And if we should have some tourist folly, better to have it in its most literal sense. For we fuck up the most when we are tourists in academia, or relationships, or in jobs… in situations where we bear no penalty even if we lose interest, and finally find it most convenient to give up.


road trip

Trains start late from central towards ashmont/Braintree – can’t believe that there aren’t any before six in the morning. But I reached south station in one piece and in time for the greyhound so that’s alright.

Will be on the road for a full day – this bus to Montreal, and then a train to Halifax – during which time I was hoping I could finish at least one of my two papers due in three days. I’m getting carsick writing in the bus, though, and the laptop adapter keeps falling out of the socket. Taken all round it seems much wiser to just catch some rest and then worry again when I’m finally stationary and awaiting the train at Montreal.

Nonetheless, it’s a great day to be travelling. New england in the springtime sun is statuesque. No doubt it is cold out – the homeless have their hoods up and the tiny dogs of the well heeled are similarly bundled up – but from the greyhound it is a soft day, one to forget easily, but only for the kindest of reasons.

the corner of a universe

fitting that i should return here on a thursday, seeing as that was the day i was assigned back when this was in full swing. i’m back because, having gotten off facebook, i still want a place to write absent-minded notes to myself.

things don’t change. i read one of my entries (breaking the habit) from a while back, which ran:

the second habit – you know substance abuse? some people might say i’m the most incorrigible alcoholic they know, but i think that’s still not enough to say with certainty that i’m a drinker to the point of abuse… but i think, if i don’t check myself, i’ll find myself there someday. if you keep to your measure that’s all good, but sometimes i find myself drinking just for the sake of it, at first seeking a high, but after that seeking nothing except the drowsy release that transmogrifies my guilt into a laughing subconscious and leaves me utterly damned when i next come to my senses.

that has to go. when i first started (cue the laughter – i don’t know when that is), it was partially because of me being fundamentally uncomfortable socialising. i know that sounds like a stretch since i talk loudest and longest at social events, but it’s dutch courage, really. alcohol is what i go to when i want bravado, wit and the silliness to kill silences with one trite or stupid comment or another. and of course, if it’s all of us drinking, it’s the good ol’ social lubricant theory. alcohol made conversation that much more fun. we could pretend not to care if someone made a silly comment, or we could pretend our comment was not silly, through the hazy camaraderie we could laugh about something up to a point. and at home, if still drunk, i could write, stare at the result, and say ‘it’s not bad’, and hit the post button before it was too late to redeem myself. but now, alcohol as the stream of my consciousness is a raging, surging river. it’s capsized the boat, it stops me cold, it cuts my arguments into shreds, it reduces my words to primal sounds. i try to make new conversation and fail, and so i fall back on my old yarns, about moscow and japan when i’m in singapore, and about tohoku and singapore when i’m in tokyo. it’s slick if you’ve heard it for the first time. after all, those stories go through telling and retelling, and after a while they’re polished beyond recognition. but nowhere in that kind of conversation do you see a lucid mind; it’s just bobbing about with what is the mental equivalent of a life float. and when you do try to muster some kind of conversation, most likely in response to something interesting you hear from your friends, you can’t rise to the occasion. it’s just a lack of knowledge and a slow instinct lending itself to awkward responses, and you save the situation by launching into your spiel again.

and so drinking – it’s got to give, at least for now (i can hear some of my closest friends sniggering in the background – ‘how long will that be? last you did it it didn’t last a week’. well, i don’t know – for as long as it takes for me to get used to the idea of drinking a beer or two and stopping there, without getting irritated or thirsty or both). one day i will go, bottle in hand, to the ball game, or i’ll be nursing it in the company of good friends, and i won’t feel the need to spend half my time spinning the latest yarn and the other half gulping liquid fire. i’ll be at ease with myself. mightn’t be comfortable with the fact that i’m still prone to silly gaffes and stupid responses, but you know, won’t feel the need to atone for it. perhaps facebook and alcohol share something in that they’re stages for me to do my song-and-dance routine, a smile and a wave, a retiring behind the curtains only to come out again seeking the next encore. that’s probably an intensely stupid analogy. but the message remains the same: i’m breaking the habit.

and re-reading it again, it’s mortifying that i haven’t changed a single bit. i’m still the same yarn-spinner, still the same person pontificating, still the person who can hold forth as long as he wants between the fourth and the ninth pint. the kennedy school has not helped; but then again, i have not helped myself either.

writing will occur sporadically on this website, quietly.


So, it’s been six months already. Friday messaged me and reminded me. Have been thinking about this. Did I get out of this what I wanted? Yes, I’m glad I did this. It was true that at the beginning entries were a lot more regular and there seemed to be a lot more going on. But there was also the reflection that for a lot of us, this period was a time of flux. And I appreciated being able to see some of that through here. I wasn’t as regular as I should have been, but I appreciated what it helped me become. I looked at articles not just in the sense of “Do I want to read this?” but also “Would other people like it too?” and I think that was useful for me. And I’m glad that everyone, everyone here, really was someone who I wanted to know more about. Every entry I enjoyed, every entry that was posted was guidance to me. And I am happy.


So thank you all for a good run, and good bye! God bless!


I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. Two weeks ago Friday I did something I’d never done in my life. I called a helpline.

I found that I really couldn’t handle the fact that at the school I like, a lot of the people I liked were going on diets. And not just women, but men too. And my deep, deep seated horror at this wasn’t just at the fact that they were dieting, but at the part of me that was like hey, I should do this too.

I’ve really never talked about this. It has taken me a very long time to realise that a lot of my issues around eating are not just me being weird. They are issues. Most of my teenage years I literally could not eat a full meal in front of other people. I could eat some things like fries, chocolate, ice cream (but only in a cup, not in a cone), occasionally prata or a hamburger (but never bigger than one layer), never rice ( I LOVE RICE), rarely spaghetti only fusilli. Never noodles in soup even though I love them. I worried a hell lot about the fact that while I knew I was thin, I never thought I was any kind of attractive, and to be honest I didn’t think I was that thin. To be honest, it’s difficult for me not to think these things now. I ate at home, so I wasn’t any kind of anorexic or bulimic. I was just really really hung up on the idea that if people saw me eat they would somehow hate me.

In JC I was in a class with boys who would inhale their food in absolutely disgusting ways and they were totally okay with it. And some of them I still hang out with, and eat with, and the fact that they would think this is totally bizarre and they really don’t care is one of the reasons why I am grateful for my friends. But there were also boys who enjoyed reminding me that I wasn’t pretty enough, wasn’t smart enough, and wasn’t really much of anything and really, the only reason they hung out with me was because all the smarter girls weren’t interested. Which, really, isn’t good for anyone.

So really it was university, and living alone and realizing that hey, eating can be enjoyable if you’re doing it with people you feel safe with. It’s okay to enjoy your food with other people, not just secretly at home in the middle of the night after picking at fries you’ve shared with your friends. So university was good. The fact that most British people are way bigger than I am also helped a lot.

But then I came home and compared poorly to the shorter, thinner people I was surrounded by, and got comments like “I really think you should lose some weight”, and I was off again. But this time it wasn’t so bad because I started exercising, and exercise really does give you endorphins and endorphins really do make you happy.

Then, here, I lost weight last year after an awful bout of stomach flu (3 days of not being able to keep down solids can do that to you) after which I went back home to a chorus of “Wow! You look great!” And resisting the temptation to go back to being damn weird about food was difficult.

But two weeks ago, in school, that really was the worst. This teacher had left for some job training course that took 6 months and came back a whole lot skinnier, with a new wardrobe, and cute makeup. And she wasn’t fat to begin with but all she can say is “I didn’t want to go back to the time when I was 8kilos heavier in high school” like it was some kind of curse. And she tells me I’m skinny and I’m dying inside because I feel like there is no way, absolutely no way she is telling the truth. And the office guy skips meals and is aiming to lose at least 10 kilos in order to be in shape for some competition two months away. Another teacher is on a 200 calories for dinner diet. The only guy I can count on is another English teacher who has a “cutely chubby” girlfriend and really likes the fact that she isn’t skinny. And really isn’t ashamed of it. But when the others get together and talk about diets and how good it is to be skinnier all I can think is “FML I hate all of you it’s hard enough to eat lunch in the staffroom and now I have to listen to this crap”. And I couldn’t deal with it.

So, I called the helpline. I didn’t tell them about myself, I told them about the other teachers, and it was good enough because the woman on the other end of the line said “You know, you sound like a sensible person.”

And I thought “Hey, maybe I can be.”

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

building something good

Hello, friends. I hope you have had a good week. I had an awesome moment last night, at the gathering of our wider student community, the Nest, of looking round the room and realising that a good handful of our student leaders from last year have really come onboard with where I see the group going. All of them were getting to know the new students, clearing up after dinner, moving the evening along, making people feel welcome – no matter what had happened in their weeks, which they were able to set aside to be fully present for that gathering.

And I know these guys – I know that some of them have some really tough stuff going on, while others are really busy and tired. They are amazing people.

It reminded me of a quote I read before, from a psychologist called Peter Kramer, who said that the opposite of depression isn’t happiness – it’s resilience. These student leaders (and good friends of mine) weren’t necessarily having the time of their lives; to them, it was just another weekly gathering, another time to serve. But they had the capacity, the tensile strength, to prioritise that mundane, but essential calling for the evening over sinking into some mire of self-pity and exhaustion and checking out.

And that choice, by these people working as a team, is making a real difference to the 40+ people who have visited the Nest these past couple of weeks. It is stamping positive memories of being in community, being loved and wanted and thought interesting, on their first weeks of living in Coventry.

I am so proud of them.

Feels like we’re building something good here.


Ps. Other interesting snippets from the week:

Related article about raising up team and shaping culture.

Watched this classic with my housemates on Monday night. How true to life is that Mexican-wave-softball-game scene?! Nora Ephron = pure genius.

Good bedtime reading that I’ve just finished. Very honest, funny, and delicious – you may need to fix yourself a midnight snack.

It’s an old album now, but she has a really great voice:

a party, with lanterns

I’ve lived with my new housemates for five days now, and it’s been thoroughly good so far. Nothing earth-shattering, just little things like eating breakfast together bleary-eyed in the mornings, asking if anyone needs the bathroom before you shower, and swapping accounts of the day before bed. But it’s exactly those little things that make us feel known and valued and like we’re not alone in the world, far away from home.

Speaking of feeling known and valued, a lovely friend of mine, Emma, had a pretty special birthday party last weekend. Besides the usual food/music/conversations, she asked each guest to bring along a story, poem, song, magic trick, craft, or just any other creative thing to share on the spot with everyone else.

This past week it was Mid-Autumn Festival, so I brought along some Chinese paper lanterns, and told the story behind the festival. Other friends composed Emma a birthday song, read from this hilarious book, sang Bruce Springsteen and the Civil Wars covers, and put a broken matchstick back together (how?! These tricks always baffle me).

It was so fun learning about friends, some old and some new, through what they had brought. And it reminded me that people carry such fascinating interests and skills with them all the time, if only we have eyes to see.

Isn’t that such a fun, simple party idea? I had a great time.


(Photo: from here, with thanks.)

Ps. In case you’re wondering how furnishing the house is going – I got given a bedframe that is (guess what) exactly the same model as the old one that got thrown out due to bedbugs months ago! Plus, two really great friends of mine have just moved in round the corner. Amazingness. 🙂