Dec 26, 2008

Christmas in Cornwall

I fled London on Tuesday afternoon via a train from Paddington Station. I was lazily making my way toward my train when Rose from my UCL course tapped me on the shoulder. Unbelievably, we were taking the same train west outta town. We actually didn't get to sit together much because she didn't have a seat but it was a nice way to start the journey to Cornwall.

The trains were flakey but I made it to Truro, where Max and her dog Ester greeted me. We drove down to Max and Ashley's place in Penryn. Upon my arrival, United Statesians outnumbered Brits in a show of 3 to 2. I'm not counting Ester as dogs, being generally wiser than humans, place no emphasis on nationality, just on where you piss daily. Max's brother, Adam, came to Cornwall, as did Madigan (aka Bonfire Madigan ). So we have familial British traditions and three Americans who've never had Christmas in the UK. Madigan's just touring here but Ashley and I are recent-ish transplants with a fair bit of homesickness with which to contend.

As a final 'gift' from 2008, my illness became resurgent on Tuesday and I spent most of Christmas eve in a daze. I've had so little voice that talking to people on the phone is torturous, abbreviating my holiday conversations with the fam back home. But on Christmas Day I couldn't be deterred from a trip to a Cornish, neolithic, stone circle, where we drank hot toddies and played with Ester. We dashed off to cliffs over the Atlantic, where Max pointed and stated calmly, "America, is over there". I dissolved into a fit of coughing giggles and somehow fought the urge to dive off the cliffs toward my homeland.

From my limited experience, I think Max and Adam provided a thoroughly British Christmas. Our dinner conversations were probably not very traditional but the food was nearly all Cornwallian in origin and entirely weird, but delicious, to me. Though the parsnips, chestnuts, butternut, and such were great, I have to focus on the Christmas pudding. They set that thing on fire. I was nervous all day as the thing steamed in a tupperware of boiling water. Then they turned it over and set it on fire. It burns because it's about 7% alcohol. Apparently the fruit can be steeped in alcohol for up to a year in advance. Then we put FOUR types of toppings on it. Five if you count the fire, really. We used hot custard, single cream, clotting cream, and brandy butter - yep, more alcohol. Seriously.

Besides the food, I've learned a new game, called Mystic Wood. It's permeated our conversations and in my oxygen deprived coughing fits, I sometimes think I'm a knight called Britomart. I'm currently contemplating a Mystic Wood tattoo, but the options are so outrageous that I'm not sure I can narrow it down. We played the extended edition, forcing us to append a long slice of cardboard to the table just to fit the board upon it. What is Christmas without some game induced rivalry? Dare I mention Trivial Pursuit, SF?

Today we explored beaches and graveyards and debated the way Brits and UStatsians relate to the term "charity". I coughed some more and had a bit more voice than yesterday. Still not enough to do the BBC interview tomorrow morning unfortunately! ('cause what I really want is to be on the radio soundin' like a dyin' frog suffering frequent bouts of desparate lung failure.)

Tomorrow everything changes. Max and Ashley are heading to Turkey in an effort to evade the grey of England. Madigan begins a long journey back to SF. And Adam returns to Bath. I'm staying here with just Ester, the dog, for ten long days. I know zero humans in Penryn. I might freak out at some point. But for the moment I'm hoping to get well enough for bike rides to the beach and long walks with the dog. I've got some major paper writing to finish. And at some point I'm sure I'll be distraught with loneliness, but for now my heart is full of the laughter that's filled the past few days. Unapologetically queer, radical, and American, Ashely and Madigan have sort of hit refresh on my identity. Adam's a breath of fresh air and the man makes a damn fine custard. Max, an ER nurse and British queer activist, has been a total rock since I came to this country and Christmas was no exception. Not only did she give me the dykiest keychain multi-tool for Christmas, but she's also given me an inhaler! With friends like these, I feel pretty grounded in this moment.

And when I do get lonely, I'll reread all the sweet emails i've gotten over the past few days. I'll mistily gaze at the pix of Quivus and Zalaazil that my good friend, Brandy, sent me yesterday (Zalaazil to the left, Quivus below). I'll re-read Hunter's zine on the border and ponder a dissertation. And eventually I'll call some friends in London and beg them again to come down here and spend some time with me. I'm sure I can convince one of them!

Dec 22, 2008

Comparative Narratives

On Friday my new SIM card arrived and by Sunday my phone was fully functional. The new modem also arrived on Friday, thus I was reconnected that way on Saturday. The connection in my room is still amazingly shit to be about 10 feet from the modem - but I'll sit on the floor by the door if it means I can Skype my friends. Or even email them.

Have I mentioned that last summer about half of my friends also left SF? I've got an amazing volley of correspondence going between myself and friends in SF, LA, Portland, Armenia, Cornwall, Oaxaca, etc. We're comparing notes on leaving pretty, gentrified SF. We're comparing notes on finding resources and like-minded people across the US and wherever the hell else we are. Some of us confess the ways Kirsten's death has hurt us and how it's made us feel in our new cities/countries. Some hate their new places, others love them.

I've also got a digital pile of lovely script from my people still in SF. Folks are keeping me up to date and while I know that time has lapsed, I still feel quite connected to my favorite folks. Thanks peops.

We write about it all: the weather, biking networks, queer culture, lack of queer culture, yummy food, icky food, pomegranates, universities, crappy jobs, zines, activism, squats, tree houses, oppressions, bad meetings, good organizers, future movements, high fashion, potlucks, and state of mind.

Here's a very small sampling of my favorite lines and their contexts from my correspondence over the past few months.

MJ in LA via chat: 'i know, it's rough. people's brains are different here'

BM in SF via chat, re: Prop 8 march: 'valencia st? what a hotbed of homophobia that is.'

H from Portland via email: I've been juggling school and teaching gardening and playing music and trying not to get to distracted by every other thing worth doing.'

SC in Oaxaca via email: 'In Teotitlan del Valle ... we dropped in on the town's annual "Venerable Blood of Christ" patron saint festival. No blood, but a lot of dancing and flowers.'

HJ in LA via email:
'LA is like cancer that goes into remission and then comes back, but on a much much faster time scale.'

AZ in SF via chat, responding to my assertion that 'there's fab shit going on here [London]': 'Bullshit. there's nothing. your city is cold and grey and the food looks like it's been through the laundry... it's all about dressup parties and paying ridiculous amounts of money to get around... even the punks are high fashion.'

JD in Armenia via email: 'Come visit me in Armenia! I am going to have a big potluck here and invite everyone from SF.'

RS in SF via email: 'hope all is good in jolly olde. have some cider and curry and mushy peas for me. but leave the special brew alone if you want my advice.'

Dec 19, 2008

On the Mend

Last night I was hanging out with a friend after a not so productive afternoon of studying, when we got all sorts of luxurious and decided to see a movie. We discovered that Milk was premiering at a film house fairly nearby in 30 minutes, so we dashed off to Belsize Park to this super swank theatre called Everyman. The tickets were outrageous, thank god the pound is losing value. But the place had wine service in your seats, which reclined. We had a couch actually. It was pimp.

Milk was fabulous. Though it's not exactly a pick me up sort of film, it was fantastically inspiring. It was great to see SF, including our gorgeous city hall. It wasn't like I didn't know how it would end, but I still cried a whole lot. I'm not generally one who looks for a charismatic leader to follow, but we could use a Harvey Milk right now. What a man of optimism and courage. And it was fucking awesome to see Tom Ammiano in the film as well. Another man of courage and optimism who's made us proud in SF.

I spent the night in North London last night after the film. I woke up to sunshine and fairly warm weather so I walked from Finsbury Park to UCL. It's about 5 miles and I loved it. I went through Finsbury Park and Regent's Park because it was too pretty out to resist. I've missed walking like that every day. I need to find some dogs to walk here, perhaps that would give me some purpose. Too bad I have class in the middle of the day so much.

All in all, I'm hoping I'm on the mend. I feel better physically and mentally. I'm going to try to keep some positive vibes as I try to write my essays. I'd like to finish the first before I head to Cornwall. Here's hoping.

Dec 17, 2008

A Very Grumpy Christmas List

On Friday my first term at UCL ended around 3:30. By 6:30 I felt flu-ish and left for home. Along the way I lost my phone and every number I have for any English or England based friends. I spent Saturday in fits of fever and chill, supplemented with shitty Hollywood movies available around my house. On Sunday my internet connection went out at home. Now I can’t even Skype or chat my people in Cali or Georgia. I’ve been dragging my ass to UCL because I can’t really afford to give up even one day of paper searching before I head to Cornwall for two weeks.

Today I’m writing my Christmas list.

- Reliable internet for London. Seriously, is SF just exemplary or should I expect a world class city like London to have reliable internet?

- A new-used cellphone. Absent a phone and internet I feel like I’m a planet away from my friends and family when I really need them most. Isolation.

- A new-used computer keyboard. I brought the damn thing all the way from SF and on my birthday I spilled water on it. I killed some punctuation, the letter P, and the all important space bar. My attempts at repair were fruitless, unless you count bringing me closer to Quivus, whose soft grey hair I found in abundance under the white keys.

- Five Minutes with Gravity. I’d like to meet the force that dogs my steps to ask what I’ve done to deserve such poor balance. Can I make amends? My knees can’t take any more and I think I might have chipped a bone in my elbow.

- 30 Minutes in the Chair of a Punk Irish Stylist. I need a haircut. And the only woman I’ve ever let cut and keep my hair short is about 5,000 miles away. Must be good with a razor.

- Warm Clothes. Crap was I unprepared. I need pants w/o holes in the knee, more long-sleeved undershirts, and a serious sweater or two. But no more red! I seem to have enough and here I feel less fiery than my wardrobe indicates.

- One 60 Watt CFL with the Pokey Connectors. The light’s been out in my room since last Wednesday. I bought a new bulb but, silly American, I got the kind that screws into the socket. I’ve never seen these alien bulbs before.

- A Better 2nd Term at UCL. Please Santa, let my course be better next term. I fight the urge to quit on a near daily basis. It’s demoralizing. Let GIS be a new beginning.

- A Better 2009. 2006, 2007 were times of fantastic passion and productivity. 2008 feels like stagnation and the rotting of my creativity, worth, and utility. 2009 has to be better or I’m going to the mall with a pocket full of plastic.

Dec 15, 2008

Gifting Prospects

It's taken me forever to write this half-hearted attempt at alternative gifting practices for those of you unwilling stuck in the wheel of Christmas consumption. You can search "gift" or "Christmas" for more coherent thoughts from years past. You might also look at the main Compact Yahoo group for the 1,000 re-uses of a plastic bag and other wild ideas. (Be warned, that list is HIGH volume, I recommend "web only" as the message setting.)

- Opt out. Explain to your office, church, school, mates, or family that you don't want to gift this year.

- Exchange time together. Rather than giving objects, a huge percentage of which will end up in landfill, share experiences. Swap yummy dinners, theatre nights, afternoons of volunteerism, days of recreation, long walks, hands of poker, or whatever you can think of.

- Give a needed service. Offer your time as a babysitter, gardener, dog walker, carpenter, bike mechanic, artistic eye, fashion adviser, statistics tutor.

- Share a talent. Play a song, read a poem, draw a picture, sculpt your affection origamically. Bake some yummy, vegan treats to share. Mix some fancy drinks.

If you feel you really have to give someone a physical thing, consider something practical, with some sort of sentiment articulated in a card. CFL's might be nice. Maybe a transit card? Eco-hints though, avoid being preachy.

And if someone gives you some useless piece of shit that makes you want to scream, don't trip. It's not worth it.

Dec 9, 2008

Cafe Marie Wednesday: Reclaim Your Food

In preparation for Reclaim Your Food in Brixton and Food Not Bombs in Whitechapel this weekend, we'll be showing films on food production at Cafe Marie tomorrow (Wed Dec 10th) at the Library House. Come over some food beforehand then cuddle up to enjoy Reclaim Your Surplus and Our Daily Bread.

Get free food in Whitechapel on Saturday, Dec 13th or in Brixton (by the Ritzy) on Sunday, Dec 14th. (I'll be in Brixton for sure, maybe Whitechapel too).

Dec 8, 2008

Biking London

When I moved to London in September, I brought a Terry Classic road bike that I put together with a new friend's tools. I was riding with Max and Ashley through central London by twilight on the way to get some curry. My rides since have often been less idyllic, but my affinity for cycling never really falters in the backwash of diesel exhaust and slippery streets. If anything, I get annoyed with the place, rather than my mode of transport. Last week at Cafe Marie I encouraged folks to speak of the joy that our lifestyles bring. So that's what I'm setting out to do here. I don't want to talk about collisions, of which I've had a few. And it's been sunny for three days so let's ignore the rain factor.

Instead, envision the independence brought by two wheels. The perfect pace of pedaling, where landscapes are on the horizon long enough to enjoy but not so long that you get bored. Your body's warm even though it's cold as hell because you're working, moving yourself along. Consider maneuvering the urban streetscape a fun technical challenge, grate by grate, pothole by pothole. Give yourself a bit of love for your knowledge of your momentum, application of precision and balance.

Sometimes we have to think about the joy. I've had a lot of wonky bike-ness lately. I think I've mentioned that I'm a shit mechanic ... and that I put my bike together when I got here. And I think I've told the story of Terry (see left), the bike given to me by Kim and Dan at Heavy Metal BikeShop in San Francisco - best shop EVER. This bike shifted like butter when it came into my life. Two collisions in two weeks gave both Terry and myself a bit of road rash and stiffness.

While I can manage my own injuries, this last fight with gravity damaged my lovely bike beyond my abilities. Yesterday I went to 56a infoshop to the women and trans bike repair workshop! Even before crash's one and two, it was my intention to attend this workshop as I need to become a better bike mechanic and I am personally better at learning such things from other women. It's worth saying here, that part of what I always loved about Heavy Metal was that Kim and Dan were never patronizing or sexist when I came in with my bike. That's not been my experience at all bike shops/bike events/bike rides/etc.

I've been to 56a on the regular open days to borrow tools and get some fab help with my recurrent troubles on my bearings. But I learned sooooooo much yesterday! Though the workshop was to be about brakes, when I showed up with a wonky wheel, it became bit of a focus. Carolyn, bike diva with in home tools on my first day in London, taught us about the theory and mechanics behind the wheel. My front wheel was warped for the length of about 6 spokes such that it swung over onto the brake. We marked the trouble spot with a marker and Carolyn loosened the right spokes and tightened the lefts to pull the wheel off the brake.

It was a pretty dramatic moment for me. I actually gasped audibly when on the first spin Carolyn had tweaked my wheel off the brake. You have to imagine that I'd just spent 20 minutes tenderly wiping all the nasty street grit off my bike. I'd poked into crevices of oily smut to free joints and engender complicity in my bike. It's more anthropomorphic than I like to get, but as I cleaned my bike, I was thinking that Terry had to want to get better. Uncertainty had briefly penetrated my bastion of confidence: I got a little kooky for a second. I snapped out of it as Carolyn demystified the wheel before my eyes. Does it make sense to say that the magic of bicycles grounded me?

The sound council of the bike gurus at 56a also grounded me. I was advised in no uncertain terms to take my bike in for a post collision assessment to ensure that nothing else on Terry needs attention. And while I took my own turns with the spoke key, attempting to true my front wheel, the magic of the tweaking was limited to pulling the wheel off the brake, not to bringing it into symmetry. So after I adjusted my brakes, tightened my rack, and accepted the wonky wheel, I got a reference to a bike shop.

This morning I popped into Bob's Bicycles (9 John Ruskin Street SE5 0NS) on my way to class. I showed him the wheel and bearings, described some derailleur drama, and asked if he could secure my rear mudguard. He promised to try to true the wheel before replacing it with a used one if required. I called at midday and my bike was finished! Bob quoted me about 20 pounds and I told him I'd come after class. I took a little spin down the street when I picked Terry up. The derailleurs felt weird but Bob explained that he'd adjusted everything so I should give time for everything to stretch and absorb lube. He also told me to come back if it wasn't better in a day or two. My bearings are smooth for the first time since I've been here. My wheel is new-to-me but used and true. My derailleurs smoothed noticeably on the way home.

In the end, Bob charged me 15 pounds. There were folks hanging out in the shop when I dropped off and when I picked up. It reminded me soooo much of Heavy Metal. Good mechanics, fair price, an effort to repair before selling something new, and respectful treatment of women cyclists. Cycling in London is OK.

My birthday's in an hour so I'm going to sleep. I'm hoping for sun so I can have a nice long ride before a long day of lectures about WWF and UNEP. For anyone hoping I'll write about Christmas, be patient. Christmas comes after my birthday and is particularly easy to ignore this year, what with my homesickness and general disinterest in gifting. But I am compiling some thoughts.

Dec 5, 2008

A Shout Out to My Plants

London's full of amazing people and projects, but there's a dull ache in everything I do this week. My birthday's next week and the holidays are coming. It's cold, wet, and dark most of the time ... I'm fucking homesick. Yesterday's Climate March suffers my comparisons to SF demos. I'm doing my best not to be an activist snob, because I know that's pointless. And I'm not trying to wallow in my ache for coyote bush, kitties, and radicals 122 degrees West of here.

I'm also not trying to numb myself. I could make myself feel better for a second by trying to buy something "special" for all the peops that I miss. I could painstakingly wrap trinkets in cleverly selected sheets of newspaper and mail some tokens home. Then I could add feeling even more broke to homesickness! Yippee!

Meanwhile, my plantings turn a year old next week. Can someone in SF liberate my Clarkia, Viola, Scrophularia, Tellima, Achillea, Grindelia, Horkelia, Sildacia, Ribes, and Phacelia from all the ehrharta, mallow, and nasturtium that have assuredly begun to encircle them? Yeah, I realize that I named a few annuals, the individuals of which are long dead, but whose seeds I've scattered in hopes of a future generation. But if anyone is going to go liberate my plants, they need to know what they're looking for. Free my plants! Best birthday present I could get would be someone ensuring that those natives will be there in the spring for the bees and lady bugs (see her on the yarrow).

We put most of these pretties in on my birthday last year because, in case you didn't know, San Francisco has just entered the planting season. While London's cold and inhospitable to baby plants right now, rains begin to sprinkle on SF, coaxing vegetation from dormancy. Land managers are shifting from invasive control to the joys of planting. It's a nurturing time of year. Less removal, more contribution. This time last year I was wrapping up the radical restoration workshops, giving away a few more plants, and laying down my own roots.

I haven't touched dirt in a meaningful way in months. That's got to change or I'm going to go nuts. Luckily, there's a gardening workparty on Fridays at the Library House. I only have one more week of class, then I can attend that too. I'm heading out of London for most of the holidays, but not to the US as I can't justify or afford the flying. I'm going to visit and document a tree sit at Titnore in about a week. And in Cornwall I should get some gardening time at Max and Ashley's allotment. I'm going to love the dirt, even if it's not Georgia's clay or SF's sand.

Dec 4, 2008

International Day for Climate: Sat Dec 6th

If you're in London, I hope to see you at the Climate March this Saturday. Assemble at noon at Grovesnor Square (previously Hyde Park so note this change). Or go on the bike ride that precedes the march. And do come to the after-party at the Synergy Centre, which is going to be fab. I can say this in part because I've met some of the promoters and a friend of mine will be playing in the chill out room upstairs!

If you're not in London, you might check this website to see if there's something going on in your country, state, town, backyard.

So much climate change talk. It's easy to get overwhelmed. Or at least that's what we were saying last night at the Library House. Cinema Libre presented one full length film, "The Planet" and two shorts, "No New Coal" and "Tipping Point". "The Planet" invoked a fairly passionate discussion that began with more discussion of consumerism and led to talk of transition towns, alternative communities, and individual action.

Several of us spoke of the enormity of climate issues. Sam, who backs Cinema Libre and was at the Climate Security talk last week, recalled the advice of Leila Deen. She suggested that we all find some way to contribute, such as pushing to ban incandescent bulbs or to restore a bit of woodland, or whatever drives you. I find this very good advice, particularly as someone who tends to take on a lot of issues from borders to gay rights to consumption to transportation to restoration. Yeah, I guess for me it's easier said than done.

But the point is that I feel better knowing that I'm not responsible for it all. And neither are you. Most of all, you're responsible for your actions. And you have to find ways to be forgiving of even your choices at times, particularly when they're made with intention.

Beyond simply taking ownership of our own impacts, those of us who give a shit need to find a way to bring others into action. I'm asking that you don't search the terms apocolypse, clusterfuck, or wasteland on this blog, but rather pretend that I have a mandate to say this: We need to demonstrate the joy to be found in conservation. We need to focus on all that we have to gain. If you're reading here, then you're probably pretty disenchanted with shopping and vapid consumption. Maybe you've found the other things in life that give you joy, like gardening, biking, creating, or whatever else. We need to bring "whatever else" to the fore. We have to demonstrate alternatives in our economics (gift economies), in our homes (transition towns?), transportation, education, etc.

We need to show people the beautiful alternatives to buying loads of plastic shit. We need to show people clever, creative, inviting alternatives to buying into an economic system built on the exploitation of Earth's resources. You get it. And we can.

For now, let's have a street demo. Come with your ideas, a smile, and a clever sign (I skipped a pole and cardboard: so can you). See you Saturday.

Dec 1, 2008

Films on Climate Change at Cafe Marie, Weds 12/3

In preparation for the Climate March on Saturday, Cinema Libre is presenting 'Tipping Point' and 'No New Coal' at Cafe Marie, this Wednesday December 3rd. The cafe is free at the Library House! We make food, watch films, and discuss them. You'll love it.

I think my coursemates and I are going to make some signs on Friday for the march. I'm feeling without creativity and wondering what we're going to put on those signs. I tried to convince my friends of the visual impact that dressing in the same color can make but I think I've failed to persuade them. We'll see.