August 21, 2018
I wake up at 11:00 a.m., a good four hours after my usual time. Jet-lagged, back in my too-cute English town after returning the day before from three weeks with my family in the USA. My 11-year-old has already code switched from saying “sidewalk” to saying “pavement,” from saying “underwear” to saying “pants.” My nuclear family wakes up in dribs and drabs, incapable of speech or connected thought. It feels as if it will be a day empty of meaningful action or emotion, buffeted by vague waves of guilt about the chapter I have not yet written and about living so far away from my mother and siblings and my shit-for-brains country. (I know I should not worry about my family; I suspect they prefer my Facebook persona to my often irritated and irritating bodily presence, although they love seeing my kids and husband.) It will be a day of feeling hungry and sporadically nauseous at odd hours. I am psychically in Trump’s America AND in Brexit Britain. Last night I stayed up until two a.m. reading hot takes on Avital Ronell. I can’t find my sertraline; we are only partly unpacked. My brain hurts a lot.
I collect the dirty laundry and go downstairs. Laundry takes longer in Britain because we don’t have a dryer. After 20 years of living here I know that dryers are evil energy sucks and I have come to inhabit the self-righteous position of someone who likes hanging washing. I like how it smells when it’s drying. I like the low-stakes challenge when it starts to rain; can you get it back inside before it becomes wetter than it was when you took it out of the washer?
In my jet-lagged state I make a list of short-term but still unreasonable goals: I will do laundry, quit Facebook and Twitter (temporarily, until I am a better person), become a pescatarian, finish writing that chapter. In that order except that the laundry takes a while so I start quitting Facebook and Twitter during the spin cycle. This involves first sending out messages to some friends to say that I am quitting and will they please let others know so no one thinks I have defriended them? No one responds. I wait an hour, trying to avoid reading anything else about Avital Ronell. I don’t succeed. On Twitter, Laura Fisher tweets, “It’s actually incredibly easy not to abuse your graduate students and mentees,” which, thank God, is right. I found the person who is right. I read something Giuliani said and then hastily deactivate. I steel myself to being without social media, therefore saner but unloved for a couple of weeks.
I hang out the laundry. I feel like I am in Little House on the Prairie when I hang clothes on the line, or sometimes like I am in The Feminine Mystique. Did they have clothespins in the nineteenth century? Wikipedia says yes they did; modern spring-action clothespins were invented by David M. Smith in 1853, although one-piece wooden clothes pegs were used by Shaker communities from the 1700s. I hang the laundry in the late summer sunshine, feeling virtuous and informed.
I go back upstairs, register to vote online, and print out my absentee ballot request, because fuck.
My other child and I walk into town to get the things we forgot to buy yesterday when we did delirious jet-lag shopping. We currently have crème caramel but no bread. I also need to mail off my signed absentee ballot request RIGHT NOW. I need to have mailed it off YESTERDAY, but only in my mind. In reality I have plenty of time. My son and I don’t speak as we walk to Waitrose. He has noise-cancelling headphones. We split the shopping and go our separate ways, him towards home, me to renew a prescription at our surgery (or “doctors’ office”). I know I am in Brexit England because I pass by people and no one smiles or says hello the way they do pathologically at my mother’s retirement home. Jesus, don’t they know about Trump? About climate change? Actually a few people smile, because Lewes is a small town and they actually know me, but they are miserable inside, because of the Tories. Austerity is taking its toll. On the way to the surgery I start to walk by Lewes’s tiny, great, used-to-be-mostly-folk-and-Americana record store, which recently changed hands, but then I see Jon Savage’s 1966: The Year the Decade Exploded in the window so I stop in to buy it. I tell the new store owner that I was born in 1966. I fear that jet lag is making me more narcissistic than usual.
I get a prescription refilled from the surgery. It will cost me £8.80 when I go to pick it up. If I were aged 60 or over, or a child, or in full-time education, or pregnant or if I’d had a baby in the last 12 months, or some other things, it would be free. In the USA last week we paid $250 combined for a doctor’s visit and antibiotics for what turned out to be a minor child-based medical issue. Americans who live in Britain repeatedly say how much we love the NHS to each other. We get teary. It is a way we have of bonding; we tell birth stories or cancer stories or both and then say, “And we never saw a bill.”
Walking home I listen to Boots Riley’s band The Coup’s song “The Guillotine” and nobody smiles at me, which is well and good. I saw Sorry to Bother You in America and I would not stop talking about it. Also in America I saw an ad for an actual game show called Paid Off on TruTV in which people attempt to win a prize of exactly enough money to pay off their student loans. It made me hyperventilate. I can’t even bring myself to read the Atlantic article I just linked because I don’t want someone to tell me what to think about this. I just want it to go away, like everybody’s student loans. And capitalism.
When I get home from my errands I read two whole things! One chapter of 1966 on the Cold War and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. I listen to The Ugly’s, “Quiet Explosion,” one of the nuclear apocalypse songs that Savage recommends. It’s good! I then read the introduction to David Kurnick’s Empty Houses: Theatrical Failure and the Novel. I think: My attempt to write my academic monograph is a theatrical failure! I will never write an introduction this good, with arguments and everything. But I can try. Keep hope alive! I am not on social media and I have just read two complete things called “book chapters.”
Everybody is napping constantly and on screens all day. I keep trying not to think about America. Or England. I lie down and listen to “The Guillotine” again. Silk-E sings, “Don’t talk about it / It’s not a show / Be about it / It’s ’bout to blow.”
Sit up at desk. Smattering of module outline (or “syllabus”) updating. Living in England means teaching does not start until the third week in September. I remember I have make-up marking to pick up when I go into work tomorrow to do training for our new virtual learning environment. I am filled with despair at the thought of a new virtual learning environment. Remind myself that teaching is a noble profession and that lots of things actually do matter.
We go over to cool neighbours’ house for gins and tonics. Leaving them, we stand in middle of our street and see Mars. It is actually red and bright, but tiny and flickering. The moon is big and absolutely clear. Even my kids who don’t like nature very much want to stand in the middle of our street at night and look through binoculars.When I’m home cool gin-and-tonic neighbour sends me a text saying, “did you see the Cohen/Manafort news?” I check the Guardian and the New York Times. I am desperate to go back on social media. I am awake until two a.m. again, not going back on social media. I message everyone I know, “this is good news, right? Tell me this is good news.”
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