Anyhoo, I am slowly finding my way. Yes, I am sitting in a cafe in South Kensington with wet hair, a dripping umbrella, and a tube to get in 5 minutes. That makes me sound like I actually know where I am, but I don't. Since arriving yesterday I have relied on buses, taxis, and the tube to cart me around, and as I race around the city I feel completely disorientated--no clue where I am. Hey! There's Hyde Park, Ooh! and the Royal Albert Hall! I am hemorrhaging money as I wend my way. $10 quid for a sandwich and a bottle of water, no problem! £3.50 for some rank coffee? Here. Keep the change!
If that's not enough to remind me that I am 'home,' the shabby yet genteel quality of my minute hotel room brings it all back. It is the size of a postage stamp with a bed that would be termed 'suitable for toddler' back in the U.S.A. I am not a tall woman by any means, but my feet flopped over the edge last night and got a good airing. Which was fine, because the heat was on full blast, so I sweated my way through the hours. By the time I fell asleep, I was woken by the sound of the man next door cleaning his teeth and then flossing. Thanks to the flimsy nature of these here walls, not detail need go unmissed (thank GOD they are singles). All this was mitigated by the full English breakfast that was laid on this morning--slowly but surely I am reacquiring my taste for dire British sausages and buckets and buckets of tea on tap.
So now I am going to plunge back into the rain and try and avoid getting run over (I've has some seriously close misses). I wearing a suit and heels. I have a drag act as an information professional to perform.
So I spied one spare seat and wedged myself next to the poor teenage boy who had clearly been selected as School Pariah, and whose fate was not at all helped by the fact that the practically middle-aged woman sitting next to him was (according to the other kids) "his girlfriend." I sat there with my iPod on, trying to look dignified and pretend I couldn't hear any of them, but their clamour completely drowned out anything I could listen to. So I sat there pretending to listen and took note of how school buses still smell of farts and raging hormones after all these years, how they are still very much that space where pecking orders are established, where language is unutterably foul, and where teenage girls can sit on one anothers' laps and flirt outrageously with the spotty youths who are learning to be men by trying to flirt back and by calling one another "girls" to mitigate the attempts.
"One day" I thought, "One day my sons will be taking this journey, and I won't be here to help them navigate."
It was quite a ride, and not one I intend to repeat any time soon. The school bus must remain a sacrosanct space, and I am much happier on the 8:09 train with all the rest of the bourgy commuters, fiddling with my new blackberry, listening in on phone calls, and reading the paper. If nothing else, it stinks a lot less.
Tonight we will take our boys to their first Bonfire night and teach them the gunpowder, treason and plot rhyme. We'll explain where the tradition comes from, because we'll have freshly googled it during the day. Mummy and Daddy and Fireworks will be the centre of the universe. At least for a little longer.
Have you ever thought to yourself "I really must call my Mum, it's been ages" but then you don't call her, and the longer it goes, the more you keep putting it off, all the while the guilt begins to build up, and the hugeness of not having called begins to hang heavily and unspoken between you. If you call her now, you'll have to explain, or deal with a big guilt-trip, and just a quick call for a nice chat becomes a task of monumental and weighted consequence.
That's how I am beginning to feel about my blog. Which is completely unfair, as you lot are nothing like my Mum. Nonetheless, I feel like I need to say I'm sorry, that I really miss you, and would you like to come over for dinner on Sunday, as I'm doing a roast?
Why haven't I written?
1. Time (or lack thereof). This is the most obvious answer. I am now commuting up to two hours a day, and seeing my two boys for not much more than that on a week night. Finding space for "me" time seems a tad selfish considering the schedule here, especially in light of the fact that I am an unfit, ambitious, grasping type of woman who has put career before children. When all I had to do was haul my fat ass into my fat-assed minivan on a morning, and pull up into the driving lot a mere 10 minutes later, there seemed to be more time to pratt around with blogs.
2. There's too much to process. There have been many peaks and valleys in this jolly old adventure, and the thought of sitting down and composing something remotely focused exhausts me. I then feel guilty about it, and we're back in the situation where I'm treating you like my mother again. Not good. I know. We need to work on that one, don't we?
There is also a sense in which I am resisting writing so I don't have to process. Some of this has been very hard, and there have been a few days or weekends when I feel plummetted into a depression, and crave above all something familiar and ordinary. I crave home, and this place--lovely though it is--just is not home. Not yet.
3. Lack of emotional reserves (related to the above). Blogging is not just about writing is it? As we have hashed out collectively for quite some time now, blogging is about (mwah!) relationships. Frankly, people, you are not only like my Mother in this regard, but also a bit like the beloved family pet who you see as your own little baby, until actually have your own little baby, and then you could give a rat's ass about said pet, because you have nothing left to give, dammit. Sorry about that. Hey, when did I last refill your water bowl?
4. Skewed sense of audience/ complete identity crisis.
My blogging friends and community is a largely a North American one. Although I have not actually met 99.9% of you, I realize there is still a tangible sense of place connected to my blog. As I am learning how to be British again (and I know this sounds completely nuts) and negotiating how I am in this place--professionally and personally--I find it difficult to simply "walk into the other room where the old American friends are" and just be myself again. I feel completely unrooted and in flux, and it's really affected my sense of self. I'm not talking crisis here, but just a sense of constant adjustment. I am always the new person in the room. I am always having to introduce myself and second-guess myself over what type of impression I am creating. I sound like I am whining about it, and I'm really not. I guess it all comes back to craving the familar, the shared contexts and points of reference that can make you feel at home.
There's also the little matter that I am moving in completely different professional circles, some of them rather big-wiggy and important on a national level, and I've abruptly realized that you can google me under my real name and this little site comes up rather near the top. I am not remotely ashamed of anything here, and I've even used it to expand some of my own research, but I am still unnerved that Mr So and So from this particular International Consortium might enter my name into a search engine and find various posts on weak bladders and nipple thrush. Oy... For that reason, I am going to take off the profile pic.
God. I hate this post. I hate how I sound. I realize I sound quite miserable, and actually I'm not. Normal is arriving in slow and steady bursts, and I am beginning to feel much more like myself again. Or, I should say, I feel much more confident that I can be myself here. And that I can dispense with the mindf*cking bit.
So I'm sorry I've not called or been around lately. I promise to try and make it happen less. Remind me to tell you about the First UK Halloween, and the nearly doomed First Trick or Treating Expedition. It's MUCH more interesting.
My brain is officially full to capacity, what with newjobandeverything. I promise a post soon soon soon. Once some brain matter comes available....
This is Kent, and the luverly village my parents live in. Imagine birds tweeting, cows mooing, and the stench odour of lots and lots of sheep poo that squelches underfoot.
This is Castleton in the Peak District, and a mere 40 minutes from where we live. There is an massive underground cave there called the Devil's Arse, which pleases immensely.
Manchester University. Lovely isn't it? If you think my office is in one of these buildings, you'd be very wrong.
That's all for now. Blogger is barfing on my pics. (Gah!)
"Mad fer it," for those unaware of the great dialectical glottal stop that defines this fair isle, would be how certain people from where I now live would pronounce "I am mad for it" or, to translate further, "I am very excited at the prospect of X, my dear chap."
I now have internets, people. Not at home, but in my office, which so far is completely bare except for a table and a computer that I threw myself upon, wracked with tears of gratitude, when I arrived.
It's hard to know where to start with this whole thing. For those of you who might be newcomers--here is the story in sum:
Lived in Michigan, USA for 15 years (HOW long???).
In June, contemplated moving back to the motherland, England, along with my American family (Husband and two boys). (Thought "maybe in a year")
Applied for a job to test the waters, and got an interview (via video conference). Did not blog about it, but made furtive references which were probably dead annoying to my 3 readers at the time.
Got the fudding job offer on July 4th.
July and August were manic, and I can't quite believe (as I solipsistically look back at posts) how much we managed to achieve in such a short space of time.
And now we're here... It's been nearly three weeks, and feels like a lifetime. I am slowly coming out of the extreme shock I experienced when we actually moved into the rental house, which is completely fine, but only if you don't examine the grout in the bathroom any closer than say, ten feet away. We've grown much more used to having next to no furniture and sitting all tightly together on the revolting couch that was left with the property. Dinner time at the white plastic table and chairs in the kitchen/diner now has a certain appeal, and I am pleased to announce that a visit from new friends left a nice load of yellow curry stains on the tabletop. So it feels more like home. (And Lindy was very gracious and did not run a mile or laugh and point or anything, when I decided to trip and literally sprawl out flat on my face as we walked to pick up the Indian). (Oh, and I knew I was in England when the group of teenagers walking by cackled loudly with laughter, and everyone else ignored me)
Yesterday I got up bright and early, put on grown up clothes, and walked to the station where I got on the train and sat rather smugly crammed in among the commuters. I managed to get lost on my way to work, and immediately regretted the lady shoes I was wearing as I slogged over to the campus. I've gone from a 5-10 minute commute, sitting on my arse in my big-assed minivan, to one hour with lots of walking and sitting in very close proximity to lots of people in suits. I know the whole routine is going to get old fast, but so far I get a real thrill from taking that train ride and descending into what is turning out to be a fantastic and vibrant city. In the field behind our house there are gorgeous fields to walk, a stream, and honest-to-god horsies that Jack can pet and feed. Twenty minutes later and I am bustling about with the grown ups, grabbing a newspaper, gripping my iPod, and dashing madly across streets congested with traffic. Another twenty minutes, and I have picked my way to the University campus, which instantly brings me back to my own undergraduate college days--streets littered with fag ends, a million butty (sandwich) shops and various pubs and student union bars that smell of piss outside.
My office is in a strikingly ugly 1960s brick office building, and the women's loos are slightly rank and very cold. I have a small floor heater in my office blowing hot air at my ankles, as heating doesn't really work properly, and the building manager is surly and completely unhelpful. But my coworkers are a cheerful and friendly lot, and there's always a pot of tea on the go. So far today I have had about five cups. Partly to keep warm, but mainly because it's there. The addiction is now back with a vengeance, and the only other downside are multiple trips to The Toilet. (I am only now managing to announce that I am "off to the toilet" as opposed to the "restroom" although it still feels terribly gauche and TMI to me) (The TOILET? Well. There's only one thing she can be doing in there, isn't there?) (As if I was "resting" in the "rest room.")
Jack has started to ask "when his British accent will come?" and we have told him "soon enough." And it's creeping in in quirky ways. He refers to his new friend at school as "Amunda" (Amanda) and seems to be acquiring a touch of northern twang and glottal stop here and there. Frank and I now communicate on our "mobiles" and fill the cars with "petrol." (Although when Frank self-corrected his pronunciation of "Controversy" the other night, Lindy implored him to "not turn over to the dark side" which made us like her all the more). I, on the other hand, am asked why I didn't lose my English accent on a fairly frequent basis, which is beginning to make me feel a little bit self-conscious, so I am slipping in a "uh-huh" and a "like, oh my god" when I can.
Nothing feels normal yet, but we're getting there. I am told our shipped belongings are getting very close to Liverpool dock now, and so we should expect them in the next week or so. It will be like Christmas, methinks. You never realize how much you'll miss your own crap. I also have a swanky new camera, courtesy of my old workmates (bless) and so promise to get some sodding photos up next time.
We do, however, have all the BBC has to offer sans commercials and as many maltesers and bacon butties as we could care to eat. Which, let me inform you, is an enormous amount. Jack started at his new school yesterday, and seems absolutely thrilled with it, which was our biggest fear. My husband is taking everything into his stride, and has already taken to drinking copious amounts of tea throughout the day, and goes off on runs coming back with tales of "I found another Indian Takeaway" or "Nice looking pub. Look, it's got high chairs" and the like. And just sitting here in this library, writing this post, feels tremendously reassuring. I start my new job next week, and New Life officially begins.
I'll try and be a more faithful poster and reader, folks. Bear with me til we gets the in-home internets.
It's been a trying week, and this afternoon I am going to pay my respects to Mike and his family. Ironically, his funeral is tomorrow--at the same time we take off for England. There's something morbidly poetic about it, and my work colleagues have commented how much of a gap there is there now, with both of us suddenly gone. It reminds me how much the cliches ring true--to seize the day, to treasure each moment, to live each day to the full. You could be dead tomorrow. Remember to put on clean underwear.
Mike would have made every morbid and black joke available at a moment like this. He was relentless and unapologetic about finding something funny in the most dire of moments. The fact that the hospital shaved his head into a mullett when he was in a coma--that would have provided him with much fodder. His wife wants that trait remembered beyond anything else, and so those who knew him are taking care to make fun of one another as much as possible, calling one another pussies, even while we cry at the awfulness of it all.
When I arrive home, neighbors will be at our house ready to drink with us on our last night here. And then tomorrow we cram the very last of our worldy possessions into a few suitcases, and head off to the airport for a new beginning.
We leave behind us so many dear friends, and Mike's death brings home how much it is easy to not take enough notice of those around you who make you who you are. As someone far from home, the friendships I have made over the fifteen years here have been everything. I have grown up here, become an adult, a wife, a professional, and a mother.
I am British, but much more so I am from here, where I have truly lived and become who I am today.
My husband Frank and I, we take with us our two little Michiganders. Jack, who was five on Monday, and Sam who is about to turn 10 months.
Me and my boys--Off on life's next great adventure. We're fearful, we're hopeful, and we're gripping on for dear sweet life. Wish us all the best. We'll see you on the other side....
in my last post, a few days ago, I put in a postscript.
[Written for Mike. Co-worker, conspirator, complete asshole, and dear dear friend. You are much, much missed. You'd better show your face soon, you prick].
I keep writing and rewriting lines in this post. I have very mixed feelings about even writing a post on this, because this is not about me, and I don't want it to be. But I also feel I can't let this moment go unmarked. In years to come, when this little archive becomes a way to remember, I want to remember.
So I am here, messily remembering.
Mike has been my dear friend for a decade now. I have worked with him for eight of those. I have seen him every day in the grind. He is brilliant and hilarious and caustic and curmodgeonly. He is an a-1 asshole with a broad shoulder to lean on. Mean-spirited and big-hearted. He can be trusted to make you laugh your ass of at your own self (and, ok, various others) but is there for you at a drop of a hat.
He is 37.
Last Friday morning Mike had a stroke. He called his wife at work at and said "I think I am having stroke. I am calling an ambulance. Come home." His wife sped home to find one of her sons on the front lawn, ready to flag down the paramedics.
He was lucid in the ambulance but faded at the hospital. He suffered a stroke.
At first we thought he would rally. His pupils dilated and he responded to his name, even when under sedation. All the signs said "it will be tough, but he will be back.
But now he is bleeding and he will be lost to everyone by tomorrow. To his wife, and to his three boys. This morning his two eldest boys came to the hospital to say goodbye. Ethan, 12, and Harrison, 6. He youngest was born in June, and will have no memory of his father.
How do you write about something like this? But how can you not say anything?
Mike. I am so so so fucking sorry. You are so very loved, and you will be so very missed. If it were not for you, I would not be leaving this Friday. I'll never forget that.
Mike slipped away this evening, Saturday, September 8th, 2007. It was the night of our going away party. We ate American Fayre to mark our occasion--chicken with a beer can up its butt and mac and cheese and smoked ribs. There was much boozing.
I know he would have approved.
Let me start by apologizing for the yawning stretch between entries, especially when you know I simply *must* have shitloads of fodder to act as my muse. Shitloads is right, so many many loads of shit, I've not been able to sit and actually string a thought for an entry
(and I know, I am overthinking it when I impose the notion of "stringing a thought" onto this form of writing. Just write a flipping post. DO IT. I hear you say).
I've even received a couple of toe-tapping emails along the lines of "uh. write a post already. please. you are annoying me with your selfish refusal to post" Which made me feel both loved and mildly guilty, a mixture of emotions with which I am only too familiar.
Main reason for my absence--end of my Real Job in America. i.e. two weeks of frenetic attempts to finish up one billion tasks and not shit royally upon my co-workers with my departure. General consensus among my friends is that try though I might to leave a legacy of professionalism and "my GOD that woman had an astounding work ethic, and ran all her projects in the most efficient yet humane way" the fact of the matter is that She Who Last Leaves becomes The Scapegoat Upon Which All Future Fuck-ups Will be Blamed.
And I am, now, at peace with that logic.
So now I am free of work and at home with a house that feels empty, but apparently has an endless source of junk through which to sort. My husband just asked me what exactly was in the ten bags we just hauled to Good Will.
"Clothes" I answer defensively, even as he raises an eyebrow of disbelief that we could not have possibly accrued such vast quantities.
What did you get rid of that's mine...?
Don't worry, sweetheart, your 120 "running t-shirts" that are "worn in" and therefore
Since I last wrote, the "spacious, pared down, unfettered" feeling of rattling around a house devoid of clutter, a lot of furniture, and signs of humanity, has worn a little thin. We're a little tired of living in limbo, a holding pattern.
Also, figuring out what you can cook for dinner with an ancient frying pan and a 4 quart pot gets boring... But I will admit there is something liberating about wading into a cupboard and being utterly mercenary. Do I want to launder this, fold this, and pack it lovingly in my suitcase for England?
And so, one very lucky Good Will shopper becomes the proud owner of a Union Jack "Swinger" T-Shirts (yes. Austin Powers has a lot to answer for) some blousey, floral numbers that seemed a good idea in 1998 (thank you Phoebe of Friends fame) and a series of tanks with the scuba logo, purchased over a couple of summers where I felt that some snorkeling expeditions and "one day diving experience, no experience necessary" excursion in Key West was reason enough festoon my person with signs that I was a professional.
We leave in one week and 3 days (next Friday, the 14th). This date feels miles away and yet also breathtakingly close. I've been asked by so many friends "what will you miss about this country?" I can't voice the answer to that one yet, but I am working in it. Apart from those we hold dear, the answer lies somewhere between fried cheese and loving John Stewart in Bush's America.
[Written for Mike. Co-worker, conspirator, complete asshole, and dear dear friend. You are much, much missed. You'd better show your face soon, you prick].
So now we sit watching the the crappy tv (the Big Fuck Off TV of 10 year wedding anniversary having been sold and happily carted off several weeks back now) rugless, coffee-table-less, dining-set-less. The garage sale last weekend proved very fruitful (and my husband nary shed a tear over whoring his various power tools, miter saws, and googynad watsit machines) but lord we still have so much more shit to unload.
But now, at least, there is no choice that it is nothing but shit to unload. Suddenly, when you are faced with the option of unloading or carting as precious cargo to England in your minimal luggage allowance, you become all the more mercenary (Let's just say I chucked out a lot of lumpy bras today) (I know I should handwash) (Deep sigh...)
Oh, and uh, I have a confession to make.
we ended up not shipping the bed...
Don't leave! Let me explain! Let me present the evidence.
1. Miniature Worlde English "Master" (Master! Hahaha) Bedrooms. Stress of finding a place for it to fit and/or pay storage fee
2. Many more thousands of dollars to include it in the shipping costs.
3. My husband declaring that a) he didn't want to be lumbered with a black bed for years to come, because we shipped it, after all.. and b) I want to make another one. Better.
Whatever you say, dear.
The pitcher? Well, the good pitcher is wending its way to some dock, USA. The battered pitcher? Its fate is yet to be determined.
Seriously lacking, in that we are most definitely over-relaying on the boob tube to entertain Number 1 son as we drag stuff off shelves and out of cupboards out to the everlasting garage sale.
Seriously lacking in that we are not having those earnest conversations about every piece of cheap-ass dilapidated plastic we call "toys" that are not making it into the "ship to England for a million dollars" pile. (Hey! The stupid Burger King Shrek toy is making the cut. What d'you want from me???)
And yet. Yet, when we sit back from the dust bunnies and the carefully wiped 1996 funky tableware that we'll surely make a mint on, we ask ourselves how is he handling this? And bravado aside, we've really done our best to talk him through what this whole move might mean. Quite honestly he has been nothing but gung-ho about the whole concept, as much as a nearly 5 yr old can. But in the last week, he seemed to turn a corner.
Suddenly he was Acting Out, especially with Mommy. Flying off the handle when instructed it was time to have dinner, clean his teeth, go to bed. I mean flying off the handle more than usual, you know?
This was Our Fault. No Doubt. We are not Paying Enough Attention. We are not guiding him through the whole process as well as we should. We are relying on Noggin too much as we ransack the house for precious belongings. We totally deserved this, and we needed to do something now.
My husband and I proceeded to self-flagellate and plan lots of extra quality time one-on-one activities. Very pleasant, but still with The Behavior, you now? And so, in a flash of inspiration, Husband mentioned that the boy had been on a certain medication (Nasonex, for allergies) for about the same period of time as The Behavior had emerged.
Try googling "Nasonex and Behavioral Changes."
3 days off the drugs, and Number 1 son is back to his sweet-ass self. Yeah, he whines and pushes the limits, but he's back to his largely giggling, silly and mellow self. Thank God. Now at least I know that if I am going to fuck up my son, it's all my doing. I hate it when people blame the drugs.
What these mini-rants and pity parties omit to mention is how much this whole experience is bringing me to a whole new level of appreciation for the innate goodness of most people. You've already heard about the neighbors/dear friends who offered to take the dog for us until the new year, so she would not have to endure several long months of
And then there was Jenny, an American based in the UK, now returning to Wisconsin, who sold me all her electronic goods (including TV--ohthankGOD---DVD player, and Coffee Maker) . When I said "sold," she took it on faith that if she dropped off these items (Spongebob DVD included!) at the house of one of my relatives in the area (after a two hour drive across the North-West of England. Good LORD!) I would then be honest enough to deposit payment into her paypal account. (Which I did). (Honest!)
And then, most gobsmacking, there is this lady, who has been thoroughly, thoroughly exploited by me lately, despite protestations that she enjoys this sort of thing. This woman, who knows about as much about me as you do, has been an amazing source of help lately. She lives in my new neck of the woods, and has been my doppelganger (if you will). Scaling walls of rental properties to ascertain their security levels, sniffing bathrooms to divine for mould, and basically ensuring that we end up in an area where my son can truck around on his bike without me shitting a brick over his safety (because that pretty much sums up our needs right now).
Thank you Lindy. We owe you a shitload of cheezits and our 3rd born. (seriously..)
(consider yourself horribly stalked in about 5 weeks time)
Do I ship the pitcher?
If I ship the pitcher before we actually leave the house, will I need the pitcher?
Is the pitcher valuable enough to warrant shipping?
How much does Tesco's charge for a pitcher (sorry, jug...) in England?
Does the pitcher mean anything to me emotionally? Spiritually?
In England, when I use it to measure out a spot of gravy for my Yorkshires, will doing so immediately prompt a proust-like onslaught of sensory pasts? Of 4am feedings, and weening, and a time when, in my all-American kitchen, I mulled over what each and every object and whether its nostalgic resonance far outweighed its monetary value?
A time when I quite naturally called a jug a pitcher?
Four weeks and five days to go... Right now I am fretting almost constantly over what to ship to England. What parts of our life From Here do we pay oodles of money to transport Over There? Are we silly to even ship large items like our bed and our dining room table in the first place? How do we make this decision when we don't even have a clue where we will live yet, or if it will fit a gorgeous but gargantuan American King-Sized bed (made by my husband from scratch) that will likely take up every spare inch of a tiny British master bedroom?
Remember this? It became this:
How can we say bye bye to that?
My oldest and dearest friend Jill has been up to visit from St Louis this weekend, and her dogged rationality has helped me work through this paralyzing state. It's time to make a decision and just go with it. So in a couple of weeks, we will let the international movers come in and crate up those belongings that we would like to have on the other end. We will be rugless, table-less, and no doubt sore-backed from nights on blowup mattresses and days carting belongings out the house for the endless garage sale I am anticipating.
Let the culling begin.
(But tell me. Do I ship the pitcher?)
I resent the shit that we have to transform our house into a showroom at least three times a week, and although I appreciate that it forces us to keep things tidy, I have never, never, felt the urge to cave to my inner filthy pig more acutely (and yes, Husband, I can hear you right now saying, "what do you mean, inner...?")
Updated to add:
Dear person who expressed such sincere and enthusiastic interest in our minivan. No it was not a pain in the least to photocopy and fax you every single piece of sodding paperwork related to the sodding minivan, piece by piece. And no it was not a pain in the least for my husband to drive out of his way all the way to effing Detroit to let you and your hyper children crawl all over the inside of its plush interior. And no, it was not a pain in the least to go back and forth with you over price and warrantees and all manner of shit, because, "hey. this is a big decision. We understand."
Thank you for your recent email in which you state "We still have not decided... Our style is to mull things over a bit, then we'll either quietly bow out, or we'll be in a hurry again to formalize everything.... 8 ) Please let us know if you get another offer...BLAH FUCKING BLAH"
Is there an emoticon for punching another person's emoticon in the stupid sodding face?
(God. This feels good. I need to slapdown-blog much more often).
for now please to enjoy this this picture of kittens:
The only problem about using the blog as a wondrous record during this wondrous wondrous time, is that there is no fucking time in which to write anything except random fragments. But fragments I will write, because I want to get this shit down if it kills me (and it just might...)
With astonishing speed and efficiency, both sets of passports have arrived for our boys, including the U.S. ones. This is a huge load off our minds, as we were picturing last minute mad-dashes to the British Consulate and/or Chicago Passport Office. At the same time, it's unsettling, seeing both boys described as "British Citizen" on their UK passports. No they're not. Actually, yes they are, thanks to Mummy's celebrated Canterbury birth.
Seeing those little passports that will afford my sons unlimited access to all the pleasures the EU has to offer really drives it home. We're not quite going to be American any more. Jack, nearly five, is our gorgeous, golden, all-American boy. When he put on a baseball helmet the other day and started swinging around a bat and I lost it.
What are we DOING??
And everything suddenly becomes so thick with meaning. Our last Fourth of July, our last walk with the red painted wagon, our last visit to a restaurant where our boys are catered to with such cheerful spirit with all manner of crayons, chocolate milk, and chicken finger dinners.
(and on our long trip home from gramma's this weekend, what I hope will be our first and last, ever, trip to a grimy-assed McDonald's playland...)
(Because, you know, in England, a rest stop involves pulling off at picturesque country village and enjoying tea and crumpets while the children amuse themselves with tales of Narnia or by prancing around a maypole...)
We are living in limbo. Too soon to say goodbye, but soon enough to feel this sense of steady and inevitable withdrawal. I hear plans for events that will take place after we are gone. I sit and eat lunch with a friend, or make get-together plans with our neighbors, and wonder "how many more of these? Is this the last time? Is this? Is this? How can I make sure this moment is meaningful?" I end up dancing around the enormity of it all, and moan about the endless (and largely fruitless) house-showings, and make small-talk, but each time a certain heaviness presses more deeply, and I wish I could say something that makes everything more memorable, that does justice to how much I am going to miss these people who have become my family.
But it's too soon for tears.
Yeah. It's that kind of post. I'm a tad melancholy. BlogHer was Awesome, Inspiring and completely Overwhelming. When I blithely (and a bit snottily) left a post last week about how I am not shy and I am woman hear me roar I was not fully prepared for how a situation like BlogHer can make the most extrovert among us get a severe disorder of the socially anxious variety. HBM has written at her place about how she feels a sense of regret and guilt about not being able to touch base meaningfully with people she knew. I have only a fraction of Her Bad community, and I still came away with some pangs over people I had not had a chance to really have a juicy talk with. Women who write so brilliantly, and who make me laugh and think, and who I am likely to never, ever meet again (because BlogHer from the UK is likely to be rather dear and not entirely easy to justify)--it felt like there they all stood among a sea of brilliants. And the sea of brilliants was busy yak yak yaking to one another. Noisy. (insert linky love here...)
(If you were not there, you should know that the blogher "speed dating" ice-breaker exercise just about put me over the edge, and I actually had to leave the room before my head promptly exploded off my neck).
By the time Friday night rolled around, the idea of chatting in a quiet room and eating pizza while the babies slept was extremely appealing. These were the gals who had started blogging at the same time as me, and we had all cheered each other on in those early months when you don't think anyone is reading and just about shit a brick when you get a comment. Meeting them in person was so fucking affirming. (Yes. I said "affirming." Piss Awf). Anyway, we were all quite giddy with it. Some of us to the extent of passing out. Well. You all know how that went.
But I feel I should point out in regards to that incident (and perhaps I should be ashamed to say this) I was not even drunken. I was actually quite sober, after determining that I would *not* overdo it like I did the night before, when I boozed so badly I ended up buying a pack of smokes [don't tell my husband] and puffing away enough to feel absolutely dreadful the next morning.
(Just so you know, I don't smoke, but apparently being completely ass-faced on an empty stomach around a bunch of newly discovered BFFs triggers me to regress to a teenage state of rebellion where I binged on all life's evils. There's nothing quite so sobering as a 7am hangover while you "pump and dump" as discretely as possible while your (similarly hungover) roomates lope around the room looking for painkillers. But what delightful roomates they were).
Anyway. Apart from a certain person (who was wasted, wasted tired, bless her) we were all quite clear-headed. It was the food of love, you see, that made us all turn into such idiots. And yes, we were idiots, giggling, crying, peeing our pants silly people. And it was quite wonderful. When Catherine said her only regret was that she was not actually "there" to be part of it, I sensed a real pang. She totally meant it.
Because, how often do we really get to be that silly? Not often enough. I love silly so so much. I want to be that kind of silly when I am a grandmommyblogger. Please.
So now I am suffering from what SlackerMamma calls it BlogHer Lag. So much talking talking talking about blogging blogging blogging, and the idea of coming back and trying to synthesize something in words feels just impossibly exhausting. (sidenote. I now know why people don't write a lot about blogher. Blogher itself sucks the very blogging lifeblood out of you in this regard...)
But I do want to make a few comments about the panels. I was both a speaker and moderator, and on Thursday afternoon there was a training session for all of us in that boat. (There I met my co-panelists, who were so very nice, and so very smart). During the training, a great deal of emphasis was put on interactivity. That the audience should have opportunity to contribute as much as possible. That each person in the room should come away with something, a sense that they were part of it all. As a teacher, I fully concur, and as an academic I can quite honestly say that there is nothing quite worse than being talked at by four consecutive panelists, but Karrie summed up the problem with the approach much better than I could:
"While many interesting positions were expressed in other sessions, the sheer number of bloggers present made it difficult to participate, and the discussions were (understandably)somewhat limited, since so many voices were clamoring to be heard. In my personal experience with larger groups, many people will sit waiting to pose a question or share a comment, and by the time their turn to speak comes around the discussion may have veered in a completely different direction, or the participant loses their train of thought."
If I had any complaint (let's call it constructive criticism, shall we?) it was that in the interests of including everyone, a lot of extremely interesting issues that were raised ended up getting lost in the chorus of opinions. As a moderator, I myself attempted to reach every hand that was raised in the room, eager not to leave anyone out. Though it was an excellent discussion, and the time flew by, I came away feeling that we only scratched at the surface, that we flitted about various topics but did not get our teeth into any one of them. Which is probably fine. I suppose that's what blogging is for.
But an exemplary incident of this was at the State of the Mommasphere panel, which was by far the most interesting to me. Mocha Momma raised a crucial question about diversity in the mommasphere, challenging the marketers present in the room to explain why women of color were not targeted for advertising dollars. Her comment was both bad ass and incendiary (God, I love that woman) and promptly lost as the next person got to voice an opinion--on something completely unrelated (though I should say that CityMama managed to pick it up again, if fleetingly).
This is no criticism of the moderator, Jory, who was working that room and creating a fabulous energy in the process, but an observation that as the community grows and passions escalate, at a certain point it's not necessarily possible or even desirable to allow everyone to have their soundbite, you know? [Aside--Mocha and Glennia from Kimchi Mamas have both agreed to write on this topic for BlogRhet.... so, I guess the conversation will continue. Stay tuned.. ]
So. A lot more to say. But I need to click on publish before this gets hopelessly out of date.
I politely opted out a few invitations for dinner, and even refrained from overdoing it at the cash-free bar. Instead I schlepped back to the hotel with a few ladies who are pregnant or wearing babies in slings, and we ordered a pizza.
My roommate was pretty pooped too, having kicked some serious ass at the State of the Momasphere session.
Very very pooped.
Pass out comatoze on Kristen's hotel bed pooped.
And suddenly I was pissing my knickers like a 12 yr old again...
Anyone want to interview me for BlogHer? Oh, hang on. I'm not going. Is it me, or is this a weird week in the lady-blogosphere for anyone not going? Is this what being Jewish at Christmas is like? Interesting...
I felt like a right knobby-no-mates, with all my online BFFs(!) abandoning me for real life physical contact, and not blogging every detail as I had wished! This was why I determined that this year I would do without the obligatory "OMG! I am so totally going to BlogHer! OMG OMG OMG! I'm, like, so shy! OMG Will you please speak to me?" (if you are shy, then it's ok to write posts like this. Wise, in fact. But I am not really shy, see) (You are really beginning to hate me now, aren't you?)
Yep. I am going. And I anticipate you will feel my absence so very very acutely, and for that I apologize. I have tried to keep the "I am SO SO going to BlogHer" posts to a minimum, because if you are not it can be dead annoying. Well, it annoyed me anyway. Mainly because I was steaming with jealousy.
You are, however, spared from having to read some long-ass interview where someone who is also going to BlogHer interviews me (Also going to Blogher. In case you missed it before.) But I do feel obliged to do the "BlogMe 2007" challenge, triggered by the inimitable and deeply gorgeous Mocha.
ME. IN TEN SECONDS.
I like pina colada. And getting caught in the rain. I am 36 years old, and have two sons, 4yrs old and 8 months old., and they are divine. There's a husband too. He's not bad, either. I am a lefty liberal feminist with a deeply crass sense of humor. I am a teacher, researcher, and "digital media expert." I loves me some telly. Am big fan of twizzlers. Right now I live in Michigan, and in less than two months, I will be back in England, from whence I came... I talk a lot, interrupt a lot, swear like a sailor, and cannot possibly distill anything into ten seconds.
It was about a year ago that I started getting my teeth into what this whole blogging venture might mean to me personally, and also what it might mean in broader, more overarching terms. I was positively giddy with the realization that though competitive and hierarchical models for evaluating how social networking occurs in the blogosphere, when it came to the smaller communities in which I was participating, the theories could not adequately account for how these networks cohered and were successful. I was, at that time, an excellent blogizen. I diligently reciprocated all comments, added everyone who had even breathed in my direction to my blogroll, and while I still faithfully read the entries of “big” bloggers (back to “being big” shortly) I became much more invested in my own niche. It was much more rewarding. My writing improved as I became part of a lively conversation, and I gained a lot of personal satisfaction from the relationships that were emerging.
As I continued along in this fashion, my comments section and reader stats steadily increased. I knew this because I was quite, quite obsessive about checking them. Stats were checked daily (hourly. ok. every 5 minutes) any linky love or referrals swiftly followed up on, I went about visiting blogs and leaving comments all over the place. To boot, my pregnancy at the time was not doing my traffic any harm, and as the due date approached, I got lots of hits as people checked in to find out the scoop (want to raise your readership? Get preggers or married. Or divorced.)
I was in the thick of it, and loving it. I had been blogging for about six months and I felt suddenly extremely tuned in to how the community worked, its norms of participation. I smelled fascinating research hypotheses, and steaming hot feminist arguments about the reinvention of motherhood. And I still do.
Now an old and sage 18-month blogger, I still enjoy blogging a great deal (and could not be more delighted with the collective success of BlogRhet) but I have begun to experience some of that ambivalence about it all which is so familiar to many.
At what stage does “community participation” become obsessive? At what stage does commenting on other people’s blogs become less about reciprocity and good manners, and more about maintaining the readership, keeping that comments thread nice and healthy and full? When you find yourself slumping into a black mood because you posted one hour ago and “still no one has stopped to show me love,” then what does this reflect about the "relationships" you are cultivating? If you remedy the situation by carpetbombing a few blogs you’ve neglected lately, is that quite right?
Let me tell you a secret. After my baby was born last November, my blog became a pretty dead space. Understandably. I was not really motivated to write. I was simply motivated to function in some kind of human way. Sleep was also a priority.
Fast forward a few months, and I was ready to leap back in. And (it seemed to me at the time) in terms of my blog I really paid for my hiatus. It was like starting from scratch. I would post what were (to me) HI-LARious posts, and get only 1 or 2 responses. My STATS were pathetic, in my mind, and all those people who had been part of my community before were off enjoying other blogs. And how could I blame them? I had dropped off the face of the earth. When it comes to blogging, out of sight, out of mind can be very true. I knew this. I had observed the community norms, for chrissakes!
So I got busy. I was suddenly everywhere –at my old haunts, but also lots of newer bloggers I had not read yet. And it was a heady time. How I had missed Mama Tulip and Mom 101, those girls can write. And the more I commented, the more I saw a spike in my own comments, and while my stats did not exactly soar, they became much healthier. Then came the day when this post got linked from Zero Boss and Babble, and finally, I thought, I have arrived. Stats continued to escalate, until there was a week where I was hitting about 500-700 a day. (it was a lot for me, ok???)
The writing! The writing is speaking for itself! All my work is paying off!
Yes. My “work.” (Is it work, this thing we call “reciprocity”?)
Anyway, I did not think to check and see exactly which post was drawing the traffic. But surely it was my witty political commentary on the breastfeeding that ZB and Babble had so rightly picked up for its sheer genius.
Think again, Joy…. Try this post.
Yeah. Apparently I was the only blogger on the planet to actually think to put those funny math pictures on a blog so that people could email a link instead of forward all those jpegs about among their contacts.
That post, to this day, draws me as much traffic as pretty much everything else combined.
So, uh, the writing was not speaking for itself. [hangs head in shame...]
Don’t get me wrong. I am not putting myself down as a bad writer. I think I have some pretty good moments there, and only wish I could have the stamina to write more creatively more often, but I just don’t.
But the whole situation caused me to look hard at myself and ask “what exactly are you in this for? Because if it’s fame or status, then you are so totally SOL, woman!”
I questioned how my participation in the community—my devotion to reciprocation—was actually fuelled by less than “community-minded” goals, and more about traffic traffic traffic. Yes, it was about maintaining ties with writers I enjoy and respect, but the more feverish part of it was driven in part by a fear that if I don’t, they will forget about me. This was combined with a heavy sense of guilt and obligation.
And suddenly it wasn’t so enjoyable any more.
So I stopped. Not completely. (Obviously). But I stopped worrying about reciprocity quite so much. I came to a realization that the weight of obligation was entirely about me, and that even if I didn’t visit someone whose blog I adore on a regular basis, this didn’t mean they’d written me off. And if they had written me off, then tough shit for them, you know? Life was too short.
As Tere notes, this topic of “inclusion” and the appropriate rules of conduct in blogging communities has produced some in depth and even (politely) heated conversations at BlogRhet. It is obviously something that many of us feel very strongly about. Concerns over how blogging “cliques” might emerge, where only certain parties can be included. What this reveals to me is how emotionally invested we are in this whole process. So many of us started blogging as a means to write for an audience, then we discovered that with audience comes community. And despite my story, I will maintain that it is this community dynamic that is to me the most meaningful aspect of blogging. Nonetheless, there are some interesting and potentially sticky issue to raise:
Reciprocal commenting is a primary means through which certain blogging communities—small clusters of blogs—interconnect and gain strength.
Are these communities grow in size, are they also potentially jeopardized? Is there a critical point here in which a healthy and densely interconnected smaller community cannot sustain itself? I am thinking here not just in terms of people’s experiential relation to blogging (a sense that a community that was once quite tangible has disintegrated or shifted) but also, empirically, about how clusters and nodes in social networks might emerge or break down as they grown in size (I will be boring people with this at BlogHer, and no doubt in a few posts beforehand).
As I argued before, when we look at this through the lense of social networking theory, these individuals become dense nodes around which many of us cluster and coalesce. For example, I might not have a direct relationship with whom I perceive as a Big Blogger, but I observe other bloggers like me in the comments thread, and so I go and visit and make friends).
I do believe, that as certain bloggers “mature,” develop a following, embark on entrepreneurial ventures, their status in the community will automatically shift. They will become outsiders to some degree, dense nodes or connecting points, and though they might undertake very significant work to strengthen the community, they will not be able to participate in the same way that those of us who occupy the “long tail” of the blogosphere can.
This, I believe, is an issue of scale more than anything else, though the perceptions about status and inclusion are very real, and possibly contribute to this hierarchical dynamic. Of course they do. For as we go about looking for community (validation? traffic?) we forge relationships with those who can return the favor, and move away from those who do not. We seek peers, other people "like us" who can endorse this whole blogging thing and say "hey! I'm here! I"m listening!" And this is very meaningful.
The question of how the "like us" aspect of this dynamic works remains, but I'm going to end here. But the issue Tere raises about inclusion, and especially how race, sexuality and class figure into these equations is worthy of a post of its own, and I'll be returning to it pre- the panel at BlogHer (The Politics of Inclusion and Exclusion in Online Communities) where this question, among others, will be of central importance.
It goes something like this:
Euphoria --> Anxiety ----> STRESS -----> o.ooo2 seconds of calm ------>Abject Fear....
Part of our problem here is having so little time to process all of this. While I know that all will be fine in the end, there are so many variables in this whole thing, that it's very very difficult to switch the brain off. Hence the whisky (wine vodka, beer, anything-will-do-really-just-pour-the-damn-thing) drinking. I would stop and consider whether this is becoming a potential problem, but who has time to ponder one's potential alcoholism when one has so much to do?
Same logic goes for "watching one's figure." At one stage late last week, I had this sudden thought "my GOD! I am hardly eating a thing, and seem to be bouncing around on nervous energy! I MUST be losing WADS of weight." I then made that familiar yet fatal error. I reached into the closet (wardrobe) for the "When I am less squidgy" jeans which surely, surely, will be hanging off me now.
Yep. You know the drill. I pull on said jean, and find that while they can be zipped up, the spillage factor ocurring above *the jean was less "muffin top" and more **"industrial waste."
And so I reflected upon my so-called "lack of eating" over the last few days, and realized that this was actually "lack of paying any kind of attention to what I am cramming in my mouth because "who gives a shit?" and how much longer do I have to enjoy twizzlers anyway?" And, of course, the booze helps loads in retaining that girlish figYURE.
Anway. Back to the Abject Fear part of this post. The fear that is plaguing me and Mr Ginga right now concerns The Boys. My eldest will be starting school for the first time in September, and I have no clue where he will be going. To get into a school, we need an address. To get an address, we kinda need to be in the country. (Apparently it helps). And there's no guarantee that he'll get into a good school, because all the places are likely to be gone at those. (and by "good school" I mean those where learning actually takes place and the kids actually like school enough to stick around...)
Suddenly, overperforming parents who dilligently went to all kind of kindergarten roundups in January, and had his place carefully picked out and signed up for in February--a place that would nurture his creativity, and provide a nourishing environment where his desire to learn would thrive, blah blah blah---well suddenly we're gaping down the jaws of the Great Unknown, which is fine when it comes to us grownups, but what are we doing to our childrens??
I'm just thankful as all hell that is he only a malleable and good-natured 4 (nearly 5) and not 12 or something, as this would be merry fucking hell with a preteen or teenager...
It'll be all right, it'll be all right, it'll be all right....
*notice my use of singular for "jean." I have picked this habit up from Stacey from "What Not to Wear." What's with that usage, lady? I hate it, and yet I cannot help but absorb your fashio-savvy lexicon....
**As a feminist, I hate submitting to the "I'm such a fat girl, waaaaah" post impulse. But as a female product of this culture, I cannot help it.
p.s. why does blogger keep putting huge spaces in my posts. me no likey.
Two British Passports for your lovely boys (so that they can actually Live in England Legally): $350
One Spousal Visa for Spousal Unit Who is Totally Spousal and so Really Should be Legal too: $1050
Various photos from Kinkos for various visas and passports ("can we suggest JC Penney's for the infant photo, we really don't specialize in those...well. If you insist."): $55
Air Tickets for family of 4 (one on lap): $2,000
"Cargo" Ticket for Doggie (who had better effing know how effing lucky her stinking ass is): $1,500
Vet bills for above dog to get her certified rabies free...: who the fuck knows????
Realtor Fees for Realtor who might be able to sell the house, maybe for this price: $Fucking shitloads
Shipping life's possessions because it's actually cheaper than buying all new at some UK based IKEA: $2,000-$5,000
Deposit and first month's rent on accommodation in UK as of yet to be secured. $Also shitloads.
5 quarts of Mrs Butterworth's Syrup I realize today we had better buy as they sure as shit do not have that in the UK. Oh and I had better buy some Monistat while I'm at it, as you need a prescription (and exam) to get it there: $let's say $150
Mental power tallying as of yet unthought of costs that will surely surely cost millions...: Who knows?
....Fat bottle of Irish Whisky to CHUCK LIBERALLY DOWN ONE'S GULLETT WHILST WATCHING AMERICA'S GOT TALENT
(and also learning that where you are moving to currently has air tickets to Dublin for 49p ($1)
Since getting the news and posting that, we've been with friends at their cottage on a gorgeous lake in Michigan--the same friends who live next door to us in our neighborhood, and the same friends who christened it "the enablerhood." The last few days have been sun-drenched, kids galore, and all rather experienced through an alcoholic haze of "what the.....?" and "I can't believe you guys are leaving" and [breaks down sobbing] "You'd really take care of our dog so she doesn't have to go through quarantine, and cost us many many pounds????"
(Yeah. This is the kind of friends we're leaving. The kind who offer, completely unprompted, to take care of the mangy pestilence ridden doggie so she can be chipped and tested for rabies, and then do her time on this side of the Atlantic before being shipped to Blighty in January, and thus avoid doggie prison on the other side.
There is so much to do, and so much emotional processing to do spending these few days next to water and a well-stocked fridge has been extremely well-timed. And the nice thing is that now I have a date, a goal, and sense of what to move towards, the last few weeks or months of living in limbo seem to have finally passed, and I can (to echo my mother) get on... And by "get on" I mean, of course, obsessively stalking rightmove.co.uk and drooling over cottages (that we likely could not swing a cat in) and trying to figure out where in the hell our boy will start (not kindergarten) primary school in (motherfudding) September. And I realize he'll wear school uniform and have to learn to say "Zed is for Zebra." It's that small stuff that does me in--not the small matter of selling a house and figuring out how to ship our life's possessions, and then live without them in a strange(ish) land for two months. And then I become anxious about furnished rentals with velour settees and whiffy shag pile carpets.
But it feels right. We suddenly feel that life, for good or for bad (uhm, let's say good, shall we?) will be moving forward, and something that seemed unattainable, a pipe dream, and even frightening, is going to happen. And what is life without some reckless acts of
Much water under the bridge still to pass. And yes, I am blogging it. Forget all that shit about this blog not being therapy or a journal, ok? This, my dears, will be my shrink's couch for the next few rollercoaster months. Hold me...
Job Interview last week with Manchester University--via video conference.
Formal Job Offer Yesterday. Independence Day (oh ironies of ironies).
We're doing it.
Moving to England in September.
My baby boys are going to Northern Accents, ala Wallace (of Wallace and Grommit)
More soon. I promise!
I bring you Mr GingaJoy, PhD:
Late in November of 2002, according The New York Times journalist Donald G. McNeil, Jr’s article “When Parents Say No to Vaccinations (30 Nov. 2002), Vashon Island, a small, somewhat prosperous enclave across from West Seattle via a 20-minute ferry ride, experienced an outbreak of the measles. Not really a big deal overall, but the scenario is increasingly less rare these days, not because measles is becoming immune to the common vaccine, but because, like the residents of Vashon Island, many parents and guardians are becoming, in the common idiom, “philosophically exempt” from normal vaccination requirements: “exemptions that in Washington and several other states, including California and Colorado, can be claimed simply by signing a school form” (McNeil, 2002).
Vashon Island is, as I said above, no longer atypical; I have repeatedly heard on news reports and in articles in various newspapers and magazines, concerns over health problems that many parents directly attribute to vaccinations: mercury in the vaccine, a terrifying correspondence between the rise in vaccinations and the increase in autism, and horrifying side effects that often include illnesses worse than the disease treated by the vaccine. Although I firmly believe any of the pharmaceuticals available should safer and better, what the well-intentioned parents and guardians fail to realize, largely because most of them did not live prior to the vaccinations we take for granted, particularly those that give us the upper hand against polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, hepatitis B and chicken pox, is that what may seem just minor illnesses remain potent dangers and are still possibly deadly.
Rubella, or German measles, according to Paul A. Offit’s Vaccinated: One Man’s Quest to Defeat the World’s Deadliest Diseases, may only cause a minor red rash on the person who develops the disease, but if a pregnant woman contracts it, her baby, more often than not, can be born blind, mentally retarded, or dead as a result. Mumps, which most people think of today as an amusing disease where the sufferer’s face simply swells up, is also very dangerous: “In the 1960s, mumps virus infected a million people in the United States every year. Typically the virus attacked the glands just in front of the ears, causing the children to look like chipmunks. But sometimes the virus also infected the lining of the brain and spinal cord, causing meningitis, seizures, paralysis, and deafness. The virus didn’t stop there. It also infected men’s testes, causing sterility, and pregnant women, causing birth defects and fetal death. And it attacked the pancreas, causing diabetes” (Offit 22). In under a decade, the vaccine worked well enough that we could laugh at Bobby Brady’s silly worries that he may get the mumps because he kissed a girl who was infected; it is amazing that a serious childhood disease could be the subject for comedy!
Offit’s book, therefore, comes at a very important time and stands, not just as an important biography of Maurice Hilleman, the man who nearly single-handedly worked to create most of the vaccines for the diseases listed above, but as a testament to our need to keep our children vaccinated. The book itself is a tour de force through Hilleman’s life and genius at being able to make exactly what was needed, and often to begin to make them before an epidemic erupted. For example, it was Hilleman who recognized that the flu virus recycled itself, so to speak, and that influenza pandemics seemed to come every sixty-eight years, realizing that “This is the length of the contemporary life-span ... [which suggests] that there may need to be a sufficient subsidence of host immunity before a past virus can regain access and become established as a new human influenza virus in the population” (Offit 19). Because of his actions at developing a flu vaccine against the virus that caused the 1889 pandemic (the H2 virus), thousands of Americans lives were spared in 1957 when it returned, whereas four million people, who did not have the proper vaccine, died elsewhere of the same virus. This same strain is set to attack us again in 2025 and Hilleman said, tongue in cheek, that his prediction for its arrival is more reliable than “the writings of Nostradamus or the Farmer’s Almanac (19); sadly, Hilleman died in early 2005.
Although the book is, in my opinion, a direct, unapologetic, and authoritative response to those who are problematically denying their children and wards the chances most of us take for granted, namely a life without worry over diseases that rampaged through prior generations, it does get quite heavy-handed in many places, and its tone too easily becomes a somewhat irritating homage to Hilleman. Offit’s sentences read more like the sentiments from Leonardo/Total Television’s 1963 cartoon The World of Commander McBragg, whose theme song claimed “With a canon in hand, he can beat any man. He can do anything ...” In that sense, the book is quite off-putting – I welcome a biography of a gifted scientist, researcher, and humanitarian, but I am skeptical of any narrative that offers a story that is so unabashedly glowing in every angle its reporting. Few obstacles, it seems, stood their ground before Hilleman.
In one case, Hilleman needed specially bred chickens to help him develop his measles vaccine (all vaccines are grown in animal or human organs, but most are initially developed in eggs). He went to Kimber Farms in Fremont, California, to ask the owner, W.F. Lamoreaux, if he could buy all of his leukemia-free chickens; he asked Lamoreaux several times for the chickens, suggesting that Lamoreaux could directly and positively affect future children’s lives, and to each request Lamoreaux refused. As Hilleman was leaving, “he stopped, turned around, and tried one more time. Recognizing a familiar accent, he asked Lamoreaux where he was from. ‘Helena’ said Lamoreaux. ‘Miles City’ replied Hilleman, extending his hand. ‘Take them all’ said Lamoreaux, smiling broadly. ‘One buck apiece.’ The first measles vaccine required a virologist and a chicken breeder. If both hadn’t been born and raised in Montana, the road to a lifesaving vaccine might have been much longer” (Offit 55). Scenes like this are often quite satisfying in movies, but in a biography, particularly a biography of a gifted scientist written by the head of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, they come across as ostensibly amateurish and unbelievable.
Another example that is actually quite disturbing shows that not even Hilleman’s use of retarded children as lab rats gets more than a sentence of critical scrutiny. I must admit, I was surprised that when working on vaccines, many scientists went to asylums where retarded children were cared for to see how their drugs worked prior to giving it to other members of the human population. The unethical practice is immediately explained as just yet another humanitarian move on the part of Hilleman – many of the children in these institutions were abused, there was rampant over-crowding, which directly helped to spread the various diseases; therefore, Hilleman presented what he had done through in the most uncompromising terms: “My vaccine gave all of these children the chance to avoid the harm of that disease. Why should retarded children be denied that chance” (Offit 25)? Seemingly to counter the ethical problem presented, Offit does explain that Hilleman and others also used their own children to test the vaccines, which is my opinion makes the research even more problematic, despite the benefits that I and all others who have received as a result of their invention.
Rather than always attempting to show how Hilleman had only the greatest intentions in every act he did, it would seem more appropriate to explain that he was a man of his time: brilliant but often myopic and clouded as a result of his own perspective, when it came to his scientific desires and his past exploits. These oversights are explained somewhat via the prologue where Offit tells that prior to Hilleman’s death, he had a chance to sit down and speak with the gifted virologist and the book is a result of those conversations. I must admit, after reflecting on that statement, it is indeed clear that Vaccinated, in many places, reads more like a companion to an oral history transcript than an objective biography. A few more revisions could solve this problem.
Nonetheless, it is a good read. The historical and medical value of Vaccinated is without question – yes, any drug has side-effects, but the possibility of abandoning vaccines altogether is, as we see in the details of what life was like for many without them, terrifying and dangerous to everyone (it is interesting to note that when some parents and guardians stop vaccinating their children, we all become more susceptible to viruses again – it is called a reduction in the “herd immunity” which is actually strengthened when a majority of the population is resistant – they act as a barrier, stopping the disease from attacking even the most vulnerable). Hilleman’s contributions to medicine are obviously unquestionable, and it is a necessary biography of someone who did so much to help maintain the general health, in the same way that we, as educated individuals, must know the names of Jonas Salk, Edward Jenner, and Louis Pasteur; however, the text’s true worthiness is its response to the many people’s problematic denials of vaccines’ usefulness and their necessity in keeping everyone healthy – that above all else is what I see as Offit’s crowning achievement in writing this book.
Meanwhile activity has been occurring here and here.
Sorry to be so absent--was "Oop North" in Michigan where it has been unrelentingly hot this last week. Cure for this heat: Lake, Pontoon Boat, Friends, and endless supply of Beer Keg. Oh, and no internets. Weeee!
And then there's the mental absence. Despite all this tranquility (although life knows no tranquility with a 4 yr old and a baby, least of all by a Lake) my head is in a rather chaotic space right now. I can't go into particulars, but suffice it to say it has something to do with this, and how the "Long Term Plan" has turned into potentially "Huge Life Changing Decision Within a Couple of Weeks." Holy crap. Extremely exciting, and just a touch nervewracking. Sorry to be opaque. Once I can write more on this I will, and hopefully it will be good news. (EVERYBODY SEND ME GOOD NEWS VIBES NOW, PLEASE)
I'll be back with more of my self-deprecating witty banter ASAP. Though if you have a meme you need to tag someone for, especially if it's an asinine one, I'm available.