ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.

Monday

22

March 2021

1

COMMENTS

Life With Near Regrets

Written by , Posted in Adventures, Move to UK: Before You Go

I’d love to live my life with zero regrets. And for the most part, I do. Choices I’ve made when I have as much information as possible have generally been good choices. They haven’t always been popular with my family (declining my admissions offer to UCLA Law School probably ranks high on that list), but I’ve never done anything that deeply opposed my values.

I have, however, made some decisions that, in hindsight, were not the best. In nearly all of these cases, the decision would have been improved if I’d had a bit more information, or if I’d fully understood the consequences of my actions. That doesn’t necessarily mean I would have made a different choice, but life might have been a bit easier if I’d better known what I was signing up for. That’s probably not a unique experience. There are probably loads of people looking at their partners or children or careers and thinking “yeah, if only I’d known about X, I probably would have done Y, and saved us all a lot of stress.”

For me, the biggest near-regret has been moving to London for my partner’s job.

Moving anywhere new is hard. I’ve never moved anywhere that wasn’t home to at least one person I knew. Wait, that’s not entirely true. I didn’t know anyone in New York City when I moved there in the fall of 2002, but my housing was sorted ahead of my arrival, and I was there for school. I had people to help me, and it wasn’t a country with a different currency, or language, or customs (for the most part). And even when I did move to a new country the first time, I spoke the language, and I once again had a university helping me with everything from housing to banking. It was a tough transition emotionally, but the logistics were all sorted.

This time, when my partner and I moved to London over three years ago, I spoke the language and knew the customs better than the last time, but we had almost zero support in the lead-up to and after our arrival. The risks and challenges we’ve experienced are not the same as what others have experienced, but given how many of us live in a country other than the one they were born in (as of 2017, about 258 million people), I know that — even in a pandemic — there are individuals who are choosing to move to a new country.

We made the choice mostly because my partner had always wanted to live overseas. I liked my career for the most part but didn’t love it, and was definitely open to a change. We’d bought a house just a couple of years earlier, but when my husband lost his job as part of large lay-offs at his company, we agreed that it was as good of a time as any for him to look for something outside the US. My partner works in a field where workers are in high demand but not necessarily in high supply outside the US, which meant that in some ways it was easier for him to find work overseas than within the Seattle area.

I know there are many people who bemoan ‘foreigners’ taking ‘their’ jobs (these people are generally known as xenophobes), but there are a lot of reasons why companies might be open to hiring someone from another country. They might want to diversify their workforce, the job description might include skills that are harder to find in local candidates, or they just might have enough money to offer a sponsorship and so don’t want to limit their candidate pool.

In nearly all jobs in all organizations, there is a serious power differential right from the start. This is not unique to immigrants; every time a person is hired, they are taking a much larger risk than the person doing the hiring. They are trusting someone they don’t know to treat them fairly, pay them a reasonable wage, and not put their mental and physical health at risk. Potential employees need jobs, and have at most a handful of interviews with a few people to determine whether their potential employer can be trusted. In our case, making that decision when I’d also likely be giving up my career and we’d be moving away from friends and family carried a different kind of weight, and required an even higher level of trust. In the end, my partner secured three offers from companies in three different countries. With not a lot of time (about an hour)to consider the final offer, we agreed on London.

Here is where my first near-regret comes in: we didn’t fully appreciate how big of a risk we were taking in comparison to the company doing the hiring, and as such, we didn’t require adequate compensation. And no, I’m not just talking about the pay (which was, frankly, deeply insulting, but then many tech salaries outside the US are embarrassingly low considering the level of skill they demand). I’m talking about the entirety of the contract.

Once there is agreement that the potential out-of-country employee and organization are a good fit, many companies consider their job done. They will likely assist with securing the visa because they need that to comply with the law, but many treat that as the beginning and end of their moral duty to their new hire. I disagree, and if I had known at the time what all went into moving overseas when one is not a student, my partner would have negotiated his contract very differently to ensure that the company was offering proper support.

And proper support is much more than a couple of weeks at an Air BnB, some money to ship a handful of boxes, and a visa.

And speaking of visas, governments need to provide more information about their terms. My second near-regret is not requesting much more detail about all the restrictions and requirements associated with our visa from the immigration attorney my partner’s future employer secured. All we got was a letter telling us the dates within which we needed to enter the country, and directions to go pick up our permanent visas at a nearby post office within 10 days of arrival. That was it. There was nothing saying if, for example, the sponsored employee parts ways with their sponsoring company, they will not be able to leave the country until they secure a new visa, if they want to keep working in the UK. That’s information one can only find if one knows to go looking for it.

But back to that original near-regret: there is a huge difference between starting a new job in one’s own city or state and starting a job in a completely new country. Employment laws are different. Tenancy laws are different. Banking laws are different. It’s hard enough to jump into a new job and learn about the company culture and one’s place in it; add on doing that while not knowing where you’re going to be able to live and it can be extremely stressful. I would have required that either the company hire a relocation company to work on our behalf, or provide us with enough funds that we could fully pay for a relocation company on our own. Such a company can help find a place to live, set up necessary financial and other accounts and documentation, bring pets over, and provide support to partners who don’t have jobs lined up.

Unfortunately we weren’t offered the services of a relocation company when we moved, so I was the one who navigated the rules and regulations set up to make moving that much more difficult. For example, we needed to get an ID number from the UK so our belongings wouldn’t be taxed upon arrival. If we hadn’t done that, we might have had to pay part of the value of items we already owned just to get them back! I was the one who found an apartment via a private landlord; a relocation company would have known that we should have instead rented through an estate agent to help secure our bank account, as banks in the UK don’t accept private landlord leases as proof of address. As I didn’t have a job for the first few months, I was able to devote a significant part of my day just doing life administration and searching online to figure out what I didn’t know. It was physically and emotionally exhausting, and it was happening while I was getting used to living in a new country, far away from family and most of my friends.

Consider banking. This is where my third near-regret appears. It’s hard to do pretty much anything in a new country without access to funds. Paying for things in the wrong currency ends up increasing the cost, as exchange rates are often not favorable to the purchaser, and wire transfer and conversion fees add up. We didn’t realize that my husband’s proof of employment (and the need for an account into which his paycheck could be deposited) would not be sufficient for us opening a bank account when I arrived. We read that Metro bank, for example, was especially kind to people who moved from the US (narrator: they were the WORST), but it took us a dozen visits to four different banks and like six different branches to finally open an account. If we’d known this, we would have explored opening an account in the US at a bank that had branches in the UK so we would have an existing relationship.

But that’s not something one should have to sort out. One of us had a job, and the company confirmed that. The financial sector should allow people to open bank accounts with proof of employment OR proof of address, instead of requiring both. Someone who has just moved overseas doesn’t have an address, but they do need a bank account. If they have a job, let the employer take on the responsibility of confirming that, and allow that person to open a bank account. Allow their partners to open their own accounts without proof of employment (but with proof of address once they have found a home) to ensure they are not being financially abused.

Housing is a challenge for pretty much everyone who isn’t rich, and looking for housing was one of the biggest concerns I had when we arrived. Which is where my fourth near-regret rears its head. We basically took the first place that fit our needs and was affordable, and we paid for that. A year and a half after moving in, our gas was shut off when we learned that the gas connection to the building was illegal and could have exploded at any time. This is on top of the fact that the landlords refused to perform the paperwork required to get our address registered with the Royal Mail. If we’d either negotiated more than the two weeks the company paid for our temporary housing, or had negotiated for a relocation company, we might have been able to do more research into trustworthy landlords. And if landlords were willing to accept our rental and credit history in the US as proof that we could rent here, we might have had more options. As it was, we got our first flat by having enough money to offer to pay the first three months up front. That’s ridiculous! No one should have to do that.

After taking on all that risk, moving one’s entire life and family across an ocean, sometimes it still doesn’t work out. Perhaps the company was less than honest about what they were looking for from the employee. Or perhaps the employee learns the company is less than ethical, or is asking for work but not fairly compensating for it. Perhaps the company just loses money and has to lay people off. Perhaps the employee is struggling with the work. What happens to those visa holders?

Nothing good. We were so lucky that my partner found work and got a new visa prior to the pandemic, but if he’d been let go after March 2020? I don’t know what we would have done. There’s nothing we can do about it, but I’d have another regret to add if I didn’t include this here: the government must also allow workers who are no longer with their sponsoring company more than 60 days to sort out their lives. Currently, the sponsoring company has to immediately let the Home Office know when they have parted ways, and then the Home Office (eventually) sends a letter to the visa holder saying they have two months to find a new visa or get out. Now, with delays and back-ups that letter might not come for as many as three months, but there’s no guarantee, so visa holders have to assume that they will need to leave the country within eight weeks. That’s absurd. Six months should be the bare minimum; a year would be better.

It also creates opportunities for abuse within companies. If the sponsored employee is being mistreated, or the terms of employment differ than what was discussed during hiring, what can the employee do? If they quit, they may need to leave the country! And what’s to stop the company from immorally letting the employee go if the employee isn’t a perfect cog in the machine? Are employees meant to stay silent when they witness bad practices or poor employee treatment because in the first two years than can just be fired at will? These rules give employers even more power, and we know companies cannot be trusted to do the right thing when they have that much power.

There are also some pretty insidious rules related to access to benefits, as though someone who finds themselves in a shit situation should be forced to suffer because there are an immigrant when they encounter it. When the furlough scheme was implemented, I raised to my boss that someone needed to get clarification that having our salaries paid by the government wasn’t considered a public benefit; otherwise they’d need to ensure they weren’t furloughing any people working on visas. What a silly, unnecessary stress during an already challenging time.

If I knew what I know now before moving here, I think we would have done a lot of things differently. We might have chosen a different company’s offer to take. We might have picked a different country, one that is more welcoming to people who weren’t born there. I’m happy we live here, and we aren’t planning on leaving any time soon, but we know part of the reason we are able to still be here is because we have access to resources.

With all that said, things have generally worked out for us. I’ve found a decent job working with a wonderful boss and delightful co-workers who could not have been more supportive during the pandemic. I’ve gotten involved with soccer (football) again and love playing every week when we aren’t in lock down. My partner has become extremely involved in organizing and worker rights, and it’s been wonderful to see him flourish there. We’ve made great new friends and deepened friendships with those we knew before. And prior to the pandemic, we were doing wonderful things like spending Christmas in Scotland, or traveling to France repeatedly for the World Cup. Living in London has worked out, so I can’t say anything above is ultimately an actual regret, but those are some lessons I wish I’d learned before we signed on the dotted line.

Monday

15

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Emperor’s Babe by Bernardine Evaristo

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Two Stars

Best for:
Fans of the author’s previous work. People who want to have to work really hard to understand what they are reading.

In a nutshell:
Zuleika is a Sudanese woman living in Londinium in 211. She is married as a pre-teen, then eventually starts an affair with the Roman emperor.

Worth quoting:
“She moaned she had no time to herself now. I moaned that was all I had.”

Why I chose it:
It was part of a subscription box.

Review:
I want to challenge myself as a reader, to learn more, to experience different styles of writing, to get inside the lives of others. But I also want to enjoy what I read. When I flipped open this book and saw it was written in verse, my first thought was ‘but why?’ My second thought was ‘I’ve got to at least give it a go.’

Life is short, and I kind of wish I’d gone with my gut on this one.

You likely have heard of author Evaristo – her book “Girl, Woman, Other” was everywhere in 2019 and 2020. My mother in law even recommended it to me, but when I flipped through it and saw it was written in verse, I declined to pick it up. I do not have a literary background, so freely admit that this book was likely just over my head. The plot was pretty loose, and given how few words are on any page when one writes in verse, I was surprised at how long it took me to finish it.

This is not a bad book. It is also not a book I enjoyed at all; I think I’m not sophisticated enough to follow it. I would have thoroughly enjoyed the plot had it been presented as a novella or short story, but for me, it just doesn’t work here.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

Saturday

13

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

Soccer Goalkeeper Training by Tony Englund and John Pascarella

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
Coaches of goalkeepers

In a nutshell:
Authors Englund and Pascarella offer their ideas for technique, fitness, tactics, and mental preparation.

Worth quoting:
“Communicate!”

Why I chose it:
I am a goalkeeper.

Review:
I bought this back in 2018 when I started playing football (soccer) again after a couple of years off. When we come out of lock down 3 in England, I will get back on the pitch, this time with a new team, and with a five-month off-season. While I run 8-10K every day, I’ve done virtually no strength or agility training for three months.

Yikes.

I decided to crack this book and while it includes a lot of very good information, it isn’t for me as a player – it is for the coaches. And while I appreciate they use some photos of women keepers, they choose to refer to every goalkeeper as ‘he’. Not exactly an inclusive approach.

I was hoping there would at least be some information in there on exercises one can do to improve strength and agility outside of formal training with one’s team, but there is none of that here. The discussions around different types of tactics were, however, very useful, and I’ll likely review them again regularly to get my mind back on football.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it – some of the training diagrams might come in handy some day.

Friday

12

March 2021

0

COMMENTS

Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
Anyone who appreciates excellent investigative reporting, people who are intrigued by true crime, anyone who is interested in the Troubles.

In a nutshell:
Investigative journalist Keefe uses the disappearance of widow and mother of 10 Jean McConville in the early 70s to explore the Troubles, focusing primarily on the Republican fight.

Worth quoting:
N/A (Audio book)

Why I chose it:
I find the Troubles to be an absolutely fascinating part of history. And they are being discussed a bit more often now, as the Good Friday Agreement is at risk due to Brexit.

Review:
For some reason, I have always found Ireland to be interesting. I’ve visited the Republic multiple times, and also spent time in the North, including in Belfast and Derry, where I visited the Museum of Free Derry. I was even accepted to a Masters program in Belfast where I planned to focus my studies on The Troubles, though ultimately I chose another path. I’ve read many books on the topic, and most have been emotive and intriguing, but none have been as well-written and fascinating as this one.

The book feels almost like a crime novel, but it’s about real people. Jane McConville was a widow with ten children, living in the Catholic area of Belfast in the early 1970s, when a group came and took her away. She was never seen again. Her story is the through-line we keep revisiting as Keefe explores some of the major players in the Republican fight for Irish independence in the North of Ireland. Dolours Price is the other main focus of the book, and her story of serving in the violent Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) is much of what keeps the book together.

Keefe explores how Price enlisted in the Provisional IRA (membership in which was and remains a crime) and carried out attacks, including the bombings in London in March 1973, and then engaged in a hunger strike after her conviction in an attempt to be recognized as a political prisoner and returned to Ireland. Keefe follows Gerry Adams as well, who has always claimed he was never a member of the IRA, but who clearly was very high up within the organization.

The book explores how the IRA disappeared some individuals, such as Jane McConville, and the impact that had on their families. But it also looks at the evolution of the movement from a violent one to one that embraced politics, through to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. It then asks the question – what now? Price herself asks that question repeatedly, as she wonders what everything she did in her youth meant, given that the North of Ireland remains part of the UK.

Another intriguing part of the book is how the Belfast Project, which was housed at Boston College, plays a part in solving the McConville mystery. The Project was where individuals secretly recorded their experiences of the Troubles, with the promise that their recordings wouldn’t be released until after their deaths (spoiler: that didn’t happen). The goal was to build an archive of recollections before those with first-hand knowledge died.

I got the audio book version, and it was nearly 15 hours long but ultimately worth it, though I think a physical version would be just as good. Keefe is brilliant at spinning together tons of information without losing his reader.

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Keep it

Thursday

25

February 2021

0

COMMENTS

The Secret Midwife

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone interested in how maternity wards are run and what life for a midwife is like.

In a nutshell:
Secret Midwife ‘Pippa’ shares her time as a midwife, from starting training at age 17 through having to be signed off for stress as cuts to the NHS made staffing more and more scarce.

Worth quoting:
Audio book that I listened to while running, so I didn’t make note of any.

Why I chose it:
I find memoirs (and comedy books) to be best for running, as there isn’t a plot I need to keep track of. I also enjoy books about the medical profession and, despite not having or wanting children of my own, I find books and TV about childbirth and parenting to be kind of fascinating.

Review:
I previously read The Secret Barrister, which I found to be a great introduction to the legal system after I moved to the UK. The concept of these ‘Secret’ books is that by not sharing their names, the authors are able to provide further, more honest insight into their respective professions. One might wonder why a midwife might need to keep her identity hidden – the parents, sure, would need to be anonymized for their privacy, but the midwife?

And then you read the book, and realize it’s because if she were identifiable, she couldn’t speak honestly about the failures of management and the NHS Trust for which she works without fear of retaliation. The more I think about it, the more I get it – pretty much every worker in every field fears for retaliation when they point out the failings of their companies and managers. Why would midwifery be any different?

‘Pippa’ trains as a midwife starting at age 17, becoming fully qualified by age 20. She shares stories of successful births, unsuccessful births, stillbirths, miscarriages (including her own), and angry parents who blame midwives when things do go according to plan. She also shares her own depression and stressed caused by a complete lack of support from management. Midwives are working more with fewer resources – at one point ‘Pippa’ shares that there could be as many as 40 women on the ward with only 6 midwives available! That’s absurd.

The NHS has been receiving loads of praise lately because of their herculean efforts during the pandemic. And that praise is justly deserved – doctors and nurses have been working flat out to save as many lives as possible. But the NHS has been stripped of so much funding as of late, treated less like what it should be – a public institution providing excellent care for everyone – and more like a private business. And anyone who as lived anywhere with a primarily private healthcare system knows that is NOT the model to emulate.

The Secret Midwife is an excellent storyteller, and the person who read the audio book did a great job bringing those stories to life. I’m not sure if this needs to be a listen instead of a read, but I think either option will work.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
N/A (Audio book)

Saturday

20

February 2021

0

COMMENTS

Skin by E. M. Reapy

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Women who have felt unseen – or too seen. Women trying to figure out what they want to do, and looking for ways to do it.

In a nutshell:
Natalie is a former teacher traveling, looking for what is next. She has disordered eating, binging when she is uncomfortable, sad, uncertain. She travels, lives with her family, travels some more, looking for what feels right.

Worth quoting:
“People always hoping that others will complete them, be their other half. It’s dangerous. We’re already whole. Don’t halve yourself for someone.”

“I’ve had my own body shit too. Some people carry their baggage on the inside.”

Why I chose it:
It was part of a subscription box.

Review:
When I read the description I was a bit concerned it might turn into an Eat Pray Love situation, but it doesn’t read that way. Natalie isn’t relying on ‘exotic’ locations to help her find herself; she doesn’t try on local cultures like a costume. She uses the time to try to work on herself.

The book starts in the middle – though not in a time-jumping sort of way. Natalie has already quit her job as a teacher, and is currently in Indonesia. She’s traveling alone, and is spending her evenings in her hotel room, binge eating. She meets folks on occasion, but doesn’t tend to have a lot of fun with them. She’s not a sad person, she’s just a person trying to grow and figure herself out.

I appreciate how the book unfolds – most chapters Natalie is in a new place. One chapter she’s in Australia with her Aunt; another she’s living in Dublin with friends. She spends time living with and taking care of her grandmother. She also starts working at a gym, and while I appreciate that the book doesn’t end (spoiler alert) with her suddenly becoming a star athlete, or married, she grows, learns more about herself. It’s a little two steps forward, one step back, like life often is.

Right from the start, I could relate to Natalie a bit. Me and food haven’t always had the best relationship, although I’ve not been where she is. I have travelled alone, however, and not being the most social, I’ve spent many evenings in a hotel room, alone, eating what I found at a local convenience store, watching local TV or reading a book. Most of my time alone has been spent in Ireland, so I didn’t have language barriers, but it was still hard at times. It was also wonderful – I loved the freedom of figuring out what and where I was going each day, not having to check with anyone on my plans. And I loved having the space to think, daydream, write, plan, without having chores or anything else to do. It was fun, a bit stressful, sometimes hard, sometimes sad, but I know helped me grow. That time was a real gift, and reading this book brought me back to those times, which was pretty great.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it

Sunday

14

February 2021

0

COMMENTS

Fast Girls by Elise Hooper

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Anyone interested in how women have had to fight against sexism, misogyny, and racism to do simple things like run really fast.

In a nutshell:
Three women’s stories are told starting in the late 1920s through to the 1936 Berlin Olympic.

Worth quoting:
“Getting a taste of what it felt like to be good at something and then having it taken away still left her feeling crushed when she allowed herself to think about it.”

“Rules could be broken. Judges could be wrong. People did not always do the fair thing. Final results were only as reliable as the system that produced them.”

“It is well documented that women cannot be subjected to the same mental and physical strains that men can withstand … It is important not to overburden this developing young feminine mind with the distractions of sport and competition.”

Why I chose it:
It was a birthday gift from my mother-in-law, who knows I have a strong interests in women in sports and women’s rights overall.

Review:
If you’re mostly interested in reading about the 1936 Berlin Olympics, this is not the book for you, despite the title and cover. It’s definitely in there at the end, but takes up maybe 15% of the whole book. But if you’re interested in reading fictionalized accounts of real women athletes, fighting for their rights to compete and perform and receive anything close to the same treatment as men athletes, this is a good book to pick up.

Author Hooper follows three athletes primarily – Betty, a white woman who wins gold at the inaugural women’s 100 track event at the 1928 Olympics; Helen, a young white outcast who discovers she is an excellent runner while dealing with understanding her sexuality, and Louise, a Black woman who has to deal with both the sexism and racism of the athletic world.

These women, along with nearly every other athlete mentioned, are historic figures, and the major life events they encounter (including a plane crash that Betty survives, and sexual abuse of Helen) are all real. As the author shares at the end, unfortunately Louise is the woman she was able to find the least about in her research, though all are discussed in an afterward that shares how their lives went after the Berlin Olympics.

The author intersperses point of view chapters with letters and newspaper articles and oh MY gosh do you want to get angry? That last quote from up above, about women not being able to handle mental / physical strains, and how they shouldn’t be distracted? Flames on the side of my face. I’ve been an athlete (mostly soccer) since I was about six, and while most of the time I’ve had support and the ability to play when and where I want, the reality is I’ve faced sexism individually (when I played on a co-ed team — not from my teammates, but from opposition) and collectively (I now play in women’s soccer leagues here in England and the refs are shit and both make way too many technical calls like foul throws and then offer no protection from dirty play).

I also appreciate how the author spends time specifically focusing on the ways that Louise, as one of the two Black women who is on the women’s team during the Los Angeles and Berlin Olympics, deals with overt and casual racism all the time, from not being selected for the relay in Los Angeles despite having faster times, to being forced to sleep in lesser accommodations on the way to the Olympics. Betty, Helen, and the other white women athletes are definitely facing a ton of misogyny and sexism, but for Louise and her teammate Tidye, they have racism added on top.

As I mentioned, the book is more about the lives of the women in the eight years leading to the Berlin Olympics, but they do definitely talk about the proposed boycott, and the treatment the Nazis showed to their own athletes and to athletes from other nations. I’d say it’s hard to imagine being willing to compete at those games, but like, people went to the 2014 Olympics in Socchi, where Russia has horrible laws against people who are not straight. As I get older and more informed, the way the Olympics are run makes me less and less interested in supporting them at all (I mean, did you see the comments by the now former head of the Toyko games just, like, this month?), but I do still want to support the individual athletes and teams who work so hard to complete these amazing feats of athleticism.

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Saturday

13

February 2021

0

COMMENTS

Happy Galentine’s Day!

Written by , Posted in Feminism, Random

I didn’t watch Parks and Recreation when it was first on TV, but I’ve now watched the series through a few times (on my fourth viewing right now – thanks to UK Lockdown 3). Leslie Knope is one of my picks when doing one of those ‘which three TV characters describe you’ Twitter queries (Robin Scherbatsky and Monica Geller are the other two. I mean, I’m not wrong, am I?). One of my favorite parts about Leslie Knope is her love of her girlfriends, as demonstrated in her relationship with her best friend Ann Perkins. Obviously Leslie can be overbearing at times, which she eventually works on, but she clearly loves her friends. She’s a thoughtful gift-giver, and regularly celebrates how awesome her friends are.

Hence, Galentine’s Day, celebrated on February 13th every year.

I’ve been lucky to have some wonderful friends over the years. I’ve not been one to have a giant friend group of my own – I do best one on one, or in a very small group. I’ve had lots of great chats of hot chocolate and brunch (though lately those chats have been via WhatsApp and Zoom). This year, I decided to spend some time really thinking about how amazing all my Gals are.

There’s a Gal I’ve known since 1st grade, who spent many summers with me and my family up at Lake Tahoe. We watched Wayne’s World like every day one summer. We went to the local Mexican restaurant and flirted with the bus boys. We had uncountable slumber parties.

In college I didn’t end up becoming besties with my roommate, although she was lovely. But I did build three close friendships that, nearly a quarter of a century later (um, holy shit) are still going strong, despite the fact that for 11 of those years we’ve lived in separate cities. One Gal and I became friends because our boyfriends were old friends and college roommates. Neither of us are with those boys anymore, but we’re still friends. We participated in the Women’s March together and exchange texts about politics. Another Gal and her husband (an honorary Gal – he served as officiant at my wedding) took me in when I moved back to Seattle after graduate school, letting me live with them rent free for six months while I found a job and then saved up for my own place. But before that, in college, we hung out in her apartment, eating pizza and for some reason playing tag in the living room. She is the kind of thoughtful where she’ll buy Girl Scout cookies and send them halfway around the world to me based off an offhand comment about how I was bummed I couldn’t get them here. She is also the best person to take with you shopping, because she’ll definitely convince you to buy whatever you’re considering.

Another Gal called me just a couple of hours after she had her daughter (she was in Seattle, I in NYC), who is basically my niece. This Gal hosted a bridal shower for me, and was willing to throw me a bachelorette party (though I passed) even though that is not her thing. She lets me stay with her when I’m in town, and for the years I was back in Seattle, she and I had a girls night nearly every week. Sometimes it was Friday nights, when I’d join the family for dinner; sometimes it was mid-week, and we’d go grab a bite and then get ice cream or pie. We talk on the phone every week, and even if I’m a little cranky, that regular check-in brightens things. It’s not the same as a weekly meet-up in person, but it’s good enough for now.

When I went to grad school in New York, I met a Gal, and we were so close. We took trips together, hung out every weekend. Many a Saturday began with either me making my way to her place, or her picking me up, and us grabbing bagels and Diet Cokes and heading out on an adventure. She lived in Queens, and I was in Manhattan, yet even after an evening out in Manhattan I’d still get in a cab and end up back at her place on the couch. I spent a Thanksgiving with her family in Pittsburgh and a week with her parents and now-husband in Italy. She and I got sunburned in Puerto Rico, and had adventures in Barcelona.

In London, I lucked out and made friends with two amazing Gals. They are both from the US, so part of our friendship felt like home. We were in the same program so could study together, commiserate together. One is married with a little one, and we helped celebrate those milestones with her. The other is a rockstar at work, which has been awesome to see. She’s also a fantastic cook. Our WhatsApp chat can be quiet for a week or two, then lights up whenever anything big happens in the US or our own lives. I can’t wait to get together with them again when it’s safe to do so.

And then there’s the Gal I met in residence halls in London, who helped me find my job here, who receives and shares many a bitch session of texts, and has come out to see me and Austin during the lockdowns when we could still meet up with other households. And honorary Gal, who directs me to the best TV and movies. Personally I think he just sticks around because he knows I don’t always finish my lunch, which means he gets the leftovers. Our group text with Austin involves sharing absurd Tweets, knocking our respective governments, and live texting new episodes of Grand Designs. They helped me celebrate my 40th with a virtual tea.

One Gal is the wife of a dear friend, who originally thought I was his intern (we were coworkers at the time; I chose to believe it was down to my youthful good looks and not my immaturity). She’s so fun to text with, and run with! She helped me train for my first half marathon, and helped me get into my love of running, which has been so critical for my mental health. For a couple of years I was also basically the third wheel on Friday nights with her and her husband. Honestly, it’s so fun being good friends with both partners, and when I was single it was really nice to not need a date to hang out with a couple.

Another Gal and I met through our partners, and she had a spare ticket and invited me to see the musical Mama Mia (touring show, not the Meryl Streep movie), where we got to know each other better. Since then, we’ve become good friends, and we go on adventures with our partners. There was the World Cup in Vancouver in 2015, a couple of trips to New Orleans and a couple of trips to Vegas, then two summers ago we spent a load of time together traveling to the World Cup in France. They stayed with us in London, we had fun, and she was so thoughtful when I had the cough that never ended, stopping into a tiny French chemist to try to find something to help. Now she’s in Ireland, and I’m so excited for a trip to visit her.

Two Gals are married to each other, and used to be our regular double date to watch the Reign play in Seattle. I worked with one, and she made the workday so much better. We were lucky enough to also spend time with them in France for the World Cup, and I treasure those memories, especially as its unclear when we’ll get together again.

And another Gal – she is married to someone Austin went to college with. We text every few days, and even manage to talk on the phone on occasion. When we first moved out here, my partner flew her out to visit so I would have a familiar face to spend some time with, which was amazing. She keeps me honest to my values, and is a good sounding board for when I’m not entirely sure the best course of action on some things.

There are other Gals who have been in my life in the past, but for whatever reason are no longer around. We may have lost touch, or just moved in different directions. But I feel lucky for having known them, as they were amazing friends while we were in touch. And obviously this isn’t an exhaustive accounting of all the awesome women I’ve known, who have made a difference, and continue to make a difference in my life.

This Galentine’s Day, take a moment to reach out to your girlfriends and let them know how much they mean to you.

Saturday

6

February 2021

0

COMMENTS

Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
All the people, but I think white men really need to read and sit with this one.

In a nutshell:
Author Oluo explores the ways in which the elevation of the mediocrity of white men harms everyone (including white men).

Worth quoting:
“What I’m saying is that white male mediocrity is a baseline, the dominant narrative, and that everything in our society is centered around preserving white male power regardless of white male skill or talent.”

“How can white men be our born leaders and at the same time so fragile that they cannot handle social progress?”

“Perhaps one of the most brutal of white male privileges is the opportunity to live long enough to regret the carnage you have brought upon others.”

(That’s just a small sample of what I furiously underlined in the first 30 pages of the book. It’s SO GOOD.)

Why I chose it:
Ijemoa Oluo is an excellent writer. I loved her first book, and knew I needed to read this one. Due to living in the UK and different release dates (and our impatience and attempt to secure a copy from the US) we now have two copies – one for me and one for my partner.

Review:
Author Oluo is a brilliant writer. She takes on topics and explores them in ways that others may not have before. She makes connections and provides context, research, and new information to every topic she takes on. When I heard she had a new book coming out, and on such an evergreen and yet extremely relevant topic, I was excited, because I knew I’d learn something.

The book has seven chapters exploring connections between everything from the white invasion of what is now the western US to American football. I found myself wanting to share so much with my partner as I read.

For example, just in the first chapter Oluo connects Buffalo Bill to the Cliven Bundy incident in the Pacific Northwest. I was like 25 pages in and found myself saying out loud ‘oh my gosh, of course, but holy shit.’ Actually I think that could be my refrain throughout large chunks of this book – nothing is necessarily brand new, especially to people who have either taken an interest in social justice issues or have lived experiences in these areas, but the connections are on another level.

I think many of us realize how white male power constantly and consistently makes the world a worse place. The assumption that white male is ‘normal’ or ‘neutral,’ and everyone else is a deviation from that norm, a special interest, is literally killing people. White men are given repeated opportunities that women and people of color have to fight for and seldom get. And at the same time, when white men don’t reach the levels of power and supremacy they’ve been promised, they lose their shit, punishing the rest of us along the way.

I could go on, but anything I would say is said better by Oluo in this book. Just trust me and pick up a copy.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it

Saturday

23

January 2021

0

COMMENTS

Break the Glass by Rachel Edwards

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Five Stars

Best for:
Anyone needing a reminder that it is okay to ask for help.

In a nutshell:
Author Edwards shares her experiences with mental health needs in straightforward but lovely writing.

Worth quoting:
“If you talk and share your thoughts and feelings, you are less, not more, likely to crumble.”

Why I chose it:
This was published specifically for this month’s “Books That Matter” subscription box.

Review:
This essay is so needed in this moment. Author Edwards starts sharing what she recalls as her first experience with mental health concerns – what she describes as her father’s nervous breakdown. She then shares that during her last year at university, she had a rough go for a bit, though she didn’t seek professional assistance from the university at the time, instead relying on close friends for support. The essay ends with a call to seek support when needed, and the benefits of allowing one’s self to be vulnerable and honest with close friends and family.

While I know it wasn’t the main purpose, given the author’s story I couldn’t help read this without thinking specifically about other university students this year. I work at one in London, and I know that students across the UK are having an especially a rough year. They haven’t had the in-person courses they and administrators thought might be possible earlier in the fall. Regional lock downs saw some students stuck inside tiny residence hall rooms for weeks at a time, with no real support system if they were new this fall. Everyone is having a hard time right now, and in unique ways. Parents are working and doing home school; essential workers are managing the stress of commutes and exposures; those who live alone are dealing with isolation.

I’m going to hold onto this essay, and re-read it. I don’t generally have problems opening up when I’m having a hard time, but who knows, that might change. But also, people around me may be having a hard time, and I want to make sure they know I am someone they can be open with, and who can offer them support.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep it.