Is not sleeping on planes genetic?

Will we sleep, as we fly through this night? Thousands of miles above our planet, crossing time zone after time zone, chasing the future while it gets impossibly late both in the land where we took off and the land where we’ll land.

Oh, we tried. We even had an extra seat. But fresh ten year olds take up a lot of space. Young enough to need sleep, old enough to cope for just a little longer.

So they both lay their heads on my lap; I wonder if I’ll be trapped and need to pee. Just as sleep steals in, turbulence hits, a baby cries. The sound of a hundred metallic clicks of people fastening seatbelts surrounds us.

We sit up. We lean heads on tray tables. I listen to music, you both watch movies. I think about the likelihood of there being tears and despair as we wait in the immigration queue.

It’s been two years since we’ve flown this far – well, only a month, technically, but two years since we overnighted on the way home. Dim glows of screens. Me wondering if I need to pee for the eighth time in five hours, if people around me assume I’ve got a bladder infection or am pregnant.

Darkness gets deeper around us as we are poised, perfectly balanced between the sunset we left behind and the sunrise we are heading for.

Do we sleep? 1522 miles remain, two hours and fifty six minutes. Memories of another flight where you stayed up all night, until the last fifteen minutes where you both passed out and I couldn’t wake you up again. The stewardess demanded we leave the plane, you were screaming, you fought each other at baggage claim while tears filled my eyes and a pair of older women – probably the age I am now – swooped in and hugged me and got our bags.

I watch a mother five rows up with her screaming baby and think I may offer to swoop in. Seeing as you’re ten, and you’re awake, and I’m thinking middle of the night movies are better than middle of the night misery.

Will we sleep?

I’ll say no. And hope it’s okay, anyway.

What if the future is even better than the past?

There’s something bittersweet about watching my children have these fleeting moments that are echoes of my childhood. I spent virtually every summer on the water, in the water, listening and smelling and loving the water. My grandparents had a boat, and I loved to sit on the front of it while the boat sped along the waves (and looking back, my life was probably at risk! But how wonderful it was.).

We are in America now. My children are on their grandparents’ boat, on the water, in the water. It smells like sunshine and water weeds. They are joyfully piloting the boat, asking to swim in the centre of a lake bigger than they ever knew existed.

It makes me happy; it makes me sad. What sort of life would they have if we lived in America? Specifically, this bit of America with water and huge lakes everywhere, lakes so big they look like the ocean.

I think nostalgia overwhelms me when I get on a boat. I could sit here all day. But I’m wary of letting that nostalgia put this life on a pedestal. Maybe one day my children will be watching their children live the life my kids had when they were little. No regular boats, no jumping off pontoons.

But maybe my future grandchildren will splash along rivers, play deep in the dappled woods, feel the magic of dancing around a campfire as the sun sets. And my kids will look, and sigh, and feel nostalgic and wonder what if, even as my grandchildren create their own childhood memories.

And so the cycle goes.

Sometimes I feel like I know what life is, but I’m still not certain I’m right.

This time forty years ago, my mother would have been nearing her due date, a tiny me inside her and waiting to come out. This time ten years ago, my belly was stretched and full, my children both waiting to come out.

I came out late, they came out early, but all three of us had the same due date.

My great grandparents also waited, on a sea rather in it, as they sailed to a new life in America. Almost exactly one hundred years later, I stepped on a plane and spent eight hours wondering what my new life in England would look like.

It feels like there are a lot of connections in life, a lot of circles. A lot of meaning.

Sometimes I feel like I need to find more meaning, or I long to create more meaning; sometimes it feels like it’s been a long time since there’s been a Big Moment, or a Big Adventure, or a Big (hopefully positive) Change.

But really, life is a series of small moments. A few are ‘big,’ but most are ‘small.’

Life is a friend threading some string through a hagstone for me, so I can hang it from my neck as we watch our children climb up sandy dunes and jump down again.

Life is laughing as another friend educates a five year old about the band on her t shirt, blasting music and us singing together while the five year old looks on with a curious combination of polite bemusement and joy.

Life is trying to stay awake as I drive across the city late at night, listening to the soundtrack of Hamilton and rapping along with the lyrics I’ve memorised.

It’s staying up talking till 4:30 am with my wife for the first time in years. It’s how tired my body feels the next day, but how energised my heart feels.

It’s walking up a river in flimsy sandals with friends, as the sky darkens faster than expected and we laugh about crazy river monsters and howling monkeys watching from the trees. It’s a text from my mother reminding me that it was my grandmother’s birthday this week, even as I think about how her death impacts me still.

Life is remembering and creating and trying and being unable to move. It’s pain and obsessing and loving and messy. It’s figuring out how to honour and express your own truth while still trying to be kind and thoughtful.

It’s a lot of big figurings out, but it’s also small noticings. The way I feel when my kid is finding things rough. The way her hands look as she holds a trophy that is so much more than just a bit of gold plating, the way his words tumble out faster and faster as he tells me the plot of the latest book he wants to write. It’s observing how hard I thought it would be to stay calm when we’re running late, but how surprised I feel when I just let it go.

Life is my fingers on this keyboard. The yellow string I’ve tied around my wrist to remind me. The choice to drink Dr Pepper Zero this late at night even when I know caffeine screws me up and I might have to wake up early to go to a circus (of flipping and soaring humans, not animals).

It’s the texts I’ve just gotten from a friend we saw today, saying her children are vomiting like small explosive volcanos. It’s me, trying to not stress about an upcoming transatlantic flight with my children who may consequently be vomiting 38,000 miles above Earth, whilst hoping my friend doesn’t have a hellish, puke covered evening of no sleep.

Life is being the immigrant granddaughter of immigrant ancestors. Criss-crossing the globe, or running the palms of my hands over my belly, as my mother did before me.

It’s all the experience. It’s all growth, even when it’s so boring and I’m so exhausted I almost fall asleep as soon as I sit still. I’m learning what it means to really be human, and slowly understanding that it’s as simple as noticing, breathing, participating, and being.

I’ll probably forget this tomorrow. I’ll be rushed and I’ll be hot, we’ll be stressed and I’ll wonder why I can’t just have a few hours alone in a dark room watching Netflix. Then maybe I’ll get a few hours tomorrow night, and I’ll beat myself up for ‘wasting’ it doing ‘nothing.’

That’s hard. But sometimes, it’s hard being a human. I’m still learning. I’m still here.

All I can do is love. 

Here’s my understatement of the year:

Man, things have been politically and socially messed up lately.

Here in the UK, the vote for Brexit (for the UK to leave the European Union) has triggered a huge rise in xenophobic hate crimes. Muslims (including British born), Polish people – hell, any flavour of immigrant (except, perhaps, white and well educated) is experiencing violence, having vitriol spewed at them, living in fear and uncertainty for their futures.

Many companies are choosing to leave the UK, the pound dropped in value overnight to unbelievable new lows, and the strongly held opinions of the leave/remain camps have caused friendship and family breakups. Political leaders appear to have no plan, other than quitting their jobs and stomping their feet.

In the US, a spate of violence has occurred – and not your ‘usual’ mass shootings that seem to barely affect people anymore. I went to bed one night with the news of a black man being held down and shot point blank, and woke up to the news that yet another black man was shot in his car – with a four year old child in the back. I won’t go over the details of these horrific killings, but I will say that my facebook community has been heavily invested in these debates. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter (which I support, 1,000,000%) has people foaming at the mouths.

Most alarming to me aren’t the out and out racists, but the ordinary people left scratching their heads and saying, ‘But don’t all lives matter?’ These are the people who genuinely don’t see why the BLM movement is necessary, the people who say they are colourblind, the people who probably have good intentions but don’t realise the ramifications of what they are saying.

These are the people who went nuts when policemen were shot and killed in Dallas, following a peaceful protest on behalf of BLM. The sort of protest march that has happened twice in London in the past few days, with no violence attached. Of course no one is saying murdering police is a good payback for them murdering black Americans, but suddenly it’s turned into a big contest between ‘black lives’ and ‘blue lives.’

I straddle both worlds, having lived in America until I was about 21/22, then moving to the UK. My friends live across the globe, but most are in the UK and the US. So when shit goes down in either place, given the (shameful?) amount of time I spend on Facebook, I see all the posts and arguments and memes and misunderstandings. Many of my friends are very political, and most are very liberal.

One said this week, ‘Why are we all talking about this? Is there a point? We need to stop talking and start doing.’ She’s right, of course, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. What can I, a sole person with no wide political or social reach, actually do? I’m not going to be going into Parliament or Congress to fight for law changes – but I can help raise awareness, I can strongly support minority communities (ever mindful that I’m queer and an immigrant, which no doubt colours my thinking), I can try to participate in respectful discussions. I can STAND UP against racism.

Most importantly, I am someone who DOES have one area of strong influence – my children. They are the next generation, the next brave people who will rise up and make their voices heard.

My strongest way to be and do is to do just what I am doing. I talk about difference with my kids. We have lots of hard discussions in a way that doesn’t feel so hard, because I start from the base assumptions that these things are worth talking about, and that my children are capable of having these discussions.

I want them to never be colourblind – I want them to see the richness and diversity of all our fellow human beings, I want differences to be celebrated and acknowledged, I want them to understand why when one group of people is targeted with hatred or violence, it affects all people. Keeping quiet implies tacit support of the oppressor, and I hope my children grow and learn how to navigate the tricky waters of society. I hope that even if they don’t take the waters of xenophobia or racism by storm, that they make ripples felt the whole world wide.

It’s up to us, to all of us. We need to lead by example. Black lives do matter. Immigants do contribute to our society. We can’t hope or try to erase whole communities of people from the wider social experience just because they speak another language or have skin that’s black. These people matter.

And so do our voices, and our actions. Do the little things you can. I’ve written my MP, I openly support and campaign for minorities (and gun law reform in America, but that’s a whooooolllle different story), I tell my children that we are all different, and that is okay. It’s better than okay, it’s glorious.

I am me, and you are you, and if only we all joined together, how much more powerful and beautiful this world would be.

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.

Brave and free.

I was born in America, land of the free, home of the brave.

Fifteen years ago is when I realized I wasn’t free. I packed a few bags, boarded a plane, and moved across the globe to be with the woman I loved. It was bittersweet. I left behind my family, my friends, my career, my home. I stepped into the unknown – except it wasn’t unknown. It was my wife.

We both wanted to live in America, but there wasn’t a way for me to bring her there as my wife or partner. Even that long ago, the UK had just passed provision to allow me to apply for a same sex partner visa, after my initial two years living with Suzy while I completed a graduate degree. I couldn’t bring her to my home, and actually, the fact that she loved me could bar her entry from the very place I’d always thought was so progressive and powerful.

This is the face of who marriage equality protects:

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You can barely see me. I’m the one with glasses, the one who came out as queer at nineteen to her mother. The one who was told she’d go to hell, was told how abnormal she was, who grew up with a legacy of fag jokes and classmates who played Smear the Queer. I’m not dangerous. I love reading, I’m quite gregarious, I laugh a lot, I love my family.

You see my wife? She’s the one with tears in her eyes, as she holds one of our newborn children almost six years ago. She’s smart and creative, she has a beautiful singing voice. She works hard to help young people with additional challenges blossom, believe in themselves, and achieve. She doesn’t earn much money, but she loves her job and she recognizes how important it is to fight for people who sometimes can’t fight for themselves.

One of those babies is now a small boy. He does martial arts with painted nails. He is rough and tumble, he is sensitive, kind hearted, and gifted with a talent for befriending people. He exudes an easy confidence and is joyful. He’s a storyteller and a comedian.

The other baby is now a small girl. She’s musical, she’s a perfectionist. She’s funny and dramatic and strong. She is very athletic, she has a fierce love for her friends, she is learning to ride her bike without stabilizers. She has a small Bunny she loves deeply.

This is our family. We try each day the best we can to love each other, to appreciate ordinary life. To my kids, this is their normal life. We are lucky enough to be blessed with friends, children and adult, from all walks of life – including various religions who may have traditionally been against same sex couples. My children have never experienced anything but respect and friendship from the wonderful community here in Bristol.

To live freely and safely, I’ve had to be brave and leave one life behind, rebuilding another.

Because of the ruling today in America, marriage equality becomes a federal fact. Now millions of children won’t have to grow up and be forced to become an immigrant if they happen to fall in love with someone from another country. Same sex parents will be able to jointly adopt their children. Spouses can visit their lifelong loves in hospital. Insurance companies will have to recognize and include families like mine.

I’ve been crying on and off all afternoon. When I told M about the ruling on marriage equality, he threw his arms into the air and shouted, ‘Woohoo!’ When I told S, she gave me a look of disdain and said, ‘They already had that in England.’

What a marvel to have children who see marriage equality both as a given, and as a joyful thing to celebrate. What a wonder for them to have all the opportunities in the future to live such an ordinary, happy life as the one I’ve fought for.

Marriage equality strengthens individuals, couples, families. It gives us all a chance to recognize how beautiful the ordinary is and will continue to be, to finally be free and happy without having to be quite so brave.