I’ve done cool shit.

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I have done some cool shit.

I’ve spent time teaching in a well known school for the Deaf, totally immersed in American Sign Language and Deaf culture. One of my most proud moments still is when two 17 year olds thought I was Deaf – a real relief as spending eight hours a day communicating in a language I was not born to was intimidating. But amazing.

I’ve worked at an American summer camp for years and years, culminating in an excellent time being the Director there. Summer camp is sort of like you see in the movies, only deeper and funnier and harder. It helped me discover who I was, to celebrate that, to be loved for nothing more simple than just being me.

I spent one memorable winter season living alone at that camp, 400 acres of potential axe murderers and demons at my beck and call. Many hours spent hearing voices outside the window, running like hell through the woods to my little cabin, keys shaking in my hands as I pictured the hounds of hell just about to disembowel me.

I’ve been part of the editorial staff of an international magazine. I never knew how mundane something so seemingly glamourous could be. I loved it. I loved the giant proofs of each new edition, I loved the weird pressure of my work being checked by people just as geeky as me, I loved the odd man who gave me lifts out of London.

I moved across the world to another country, practically sight unseen, for love. I learned how to navigate the most effed up city ever, fell in love with that city, lived in a tiny studio flat with a toy lobster hanging from the bathroom light pull. After a year of staying up all night on the phone to Suzy, waiting for the mail to come each day, what a miracle it felt like to live with her.

I had two years of therapy; it was a requirement for my course, and what a gift it was. I spent hours sitting on a couch across from a woman who showed me such love, such understanding, such humour. How profound it was to be seen, to be known. If I offered a quarter of that experience to the many humans I worked with as a counsellor, I consider that a job well done.

I’ve been inside some notorious psychiatric hospitals, many while volunteering as a mental health advocate. One particular night of trying to get off a locked ward, then out of a locked outer containment zone, then out of endless maze like corridors that all ended in locked doors stays with me still.

I’ve been pregnant with two children, and spent an entire summer on the couch, looking out the window at white fluttering butterflies. Every year when I see those butterflies I am reminded of movement deep within, of my huge, curved belly, of the heat of that endless time of waiting and wondering.

I’ve done cool shit.

I’ve shaved my head, dyed my hair every colour of the rainbow, pierced my tongue. Met many ‘strangers off the Internet’ in a time when that just wasn’t done. I won national awards for acting when I was a teenager and was still so stupid and so brilliant. I achieved a distinction on my Master’s dissertation, and have gone back to teach other MA students.

I’ve written a book or two. Or three. These moments were among the most joyful and fulfilling of my life.

I’ve had sloppy teenage kisses and made messy teenage mistakes. I experienced true love at a very young age, and those memories still sometimes creep into the nighttime landscape of my dreams. I’ve kissed boys, and girls, and my own arm before I was confident in my abilities when lips met lips. All those things led me to here – married just about fifteen years. Safety, laughter, ease, contentment, love.

I quit teaching right before starting a plum job that was hotly fought for. I dropped out of my PhD programme to pursue a career in counselling. I qualified as a high ropes course instructor despite spending three hours crying in a tree, trying to work up the courage to step off a twenty foot high platform. I’ve been in more Halloween haunted houses, haunted woods, and haunted hayrides than you can imagine – and wet myself in fear on more than one occasion. I’ve also wet myself lavishly while laughing.

I’ve survived hard stuff. I spent two years in a wheelchair, unable to walk. My grandmother’s death led me to what, looking back, I can only class as a breakdown. I had a very unstable parent, with many problems, and my choice to cut all contact troubles me still.

I spent time in the room where Anne Frank hid. I’ve stopped my car to let a bear cross the road. I lived without electricity or walls five months every year. I’ve seen meteor showers, I’ve survived tornadoes, I’ve danced in the rain at the tail end of Florida’s hurricane season. I’ve swum naked in a lake filled with dubious creatures. I’ve found friends who feel more like family. I got a qualification as a sexual health worker with young people, and had some of the most…interesting…conversations of my life as a result.

All these things I’ve done, and more, crept into my thoughts while I was driving home today. And I wondered: where is my cool shit now? Ten years from now, will I be able to add onto this list?

I’ve done cool shit. I want to do more.

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The great storm of October 2013?

For the past few days, all I’ve been hearing about is the storm that is about to hit this evening/tomorrow. Multiple reports from good sources predicting hurricane force gusts, localised flooding, etc.

The American part of me quietly rejoices – of course I don’t want people to get hurt, buildings to get blown down – but I miss storms. Some of them, anyway. At the same time, I find myself skeptical.

In what now feels like another lifetime, I lived and worked in the woods. As a camp director at a large summer camp in the middle of nowhere, I found myself addicted to checking hourly weather predictions. This one website would say a storm would start at 3 pm, and at 2:58 black clouds would roll in. I took to printing out a little forecast for every day so we could adjust activities accordingly – though life at camp went on pretty much as normal unless it was a prolonged thunderstorm, severe thunderstorm, or tornado.

You see, I grew up in a part of the world where we were hit with severe thunderstorms multiple times a summer…often more than one per week. The winds were strong enough to uproot massive, old trees, leaving six foot craters behind. Hail was heavy and large enough to break windows and cause bruises. I personally knew one child (though this did not happen at camp, thankfully!) who was struck by lightning and had both kneecaps blown out at the age of five.

Thunderstorms, even severe ones, were my secret delight – especially at camp. Elsewhere, you had a chance to just enjoy booming thunder so loud your teeth would vibrate in your head…for hours on end. At camp, as a part of the supervisory staff, we rode golf carts around, wildly careening to make sure each and every child was safe in a building or basement. We tied down tent flaps to try to save possessions. One on memorable occasion, I went into a platform tent that had a downed tree on top in order to get the kids’ stuff out.

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Tornados were another matter – they hit the area I live a good few times each summer, leaving more uprooted trees, damaged buildings, power outages for days. It was just part of my life to notice when the skies went green, when the air went deadly still in the middle of a howling thunderstorm, when the leaves on the trees flipped upside down to reveal the silvery undersides.

I spent hours of my childhood in the basement of our family home. Where I’m from, you see, every house has a basement. While they have evolved into awesome rec rooms, extra lounges, and storage spaces – they exist because of the severity of the weather. And it should be noted I’m not from a part of America that gets totally destroyed by tornadoes.

One of my earliest memories is being shoved in a cardboard box under the stairs with my baby sister, my mother throwing a mattress over us and lying on it to hold it in place.

One year while I attended camp as a child, a tornado hit my neighbourhood. My sister and birth father were locked out of the house, holding onto the handle of the door in the garage that led into the house, and they were literally lifted off their feet and almost sucked into the tornado. The large RV parked a foot from our house was lifted, and twisted like a wet cloth being wrung out, before being thrown hundreds of metres away in a neighbour’s garden. A huge tree was thrown through our roof and my parents’ bedroom was full of leaves and branches….a real live treehouse.

So you can see why I am a bit skeptical about the UK. This started my first year here, with snowfall. I lived in South London, and we had less than a centimetre of snow AND THE WHOLE CITY SHUT DOWN. My father in law was scared to drive, workplaces were closed, and I was just amazed. A few years later a ‘bad’ snowstorm caused people to be trapped on a motorway for hours, and food and water had to be airlifted in.

I don’t wish to minimize people’s suffering. Certainly a country that has year round moderate temperatures (compared to where I grew up, which was much hotter in the summer and MUCH colder in the winter, with snowdrifts that seemed miles high) and minimal experience with severe weather cannot be expected to deal efficiently with bad storms. Of course people who hear thunder MAYBE twice a summer get excited about the ‘thunderstorms.’

The storm predicted for tonight/tomorrow seems to consist of gusts of gale force  and heavy rain. Like many in the UK, we have cleared the garden of (most) toys in preparation. Unlike other people, we have not bought extra food, batteries, candles, etc. I don’t doubt severe winds could cause absolute upheaval in the UK – and I also imagine a power outage would take a considerably long time to repair, compared to America, where we had storm related power outages around the year. But I can’t imagine a storm so bad that we’d be trapped at home for days, unable to get supplies if needed.

I don’t want anyone to get hurt, to lose their roof, for a flood to damage a business. But I wouldn’t mind some real storm action.

We’ve planned to stay in tomorrow, to wear pyjamas and watch films and play. To basically hang out and watch the rain and wind.

If the storm is as bad as predicted, much of the country will be facing what the UK terms as severe weather. I hope those of you living in this country remain safe, your homes and loved ones secure. Suzy will be going to work tomorrow in all likelihood, a half hour drive on narrow roads along massive drops, up and down hills. I secretly hope the weather is obviously bad enough for her to stay in and play with us, as I will be genuinely worried during her drive to and from work.

But assuming we all stay safe….well….the truth is, I wouldn’t mind a big storm. They are one of the things I get homesick for.