Hallo beloveds! Guess what? Today is my one year anniversary of moving to the United States.
It’s been a funny old year. I think it’s been a funny old year for a lot of people, and not really an easy one. I get like this in winter, nostalgic and (even more) introspective, as anniversaries start cropping up and years start ending.
Is it just me, or do events like this always bring up one’s mortality?
Anyway, I thought, if you ever wondered what you might glean from moving to the United States, I’d share a few important lessons from my first year of being a proper, landed immigrant.
1) Change happens, whether we like it or not.
On my trip to England this year someone said I was starting to sound American. I was horrified. The concept of my accent shifting was scary, I thought losing the most prominent marker of my homeland meant I was losing my connection to it. I wondered briefly if there were ways of safeguarding how I pronounce ‘bath’, but I so easily slip into vocal mimicry anyway, I’d only be fighting a losing battle.
In 2017 I discovered Ursula K. le Guin’s ‘A Wave in the Mind.’ I read this passage last time I was in Glastonbury. It reminds me of a particular sunbeam, a Spanish one, actually, who I’ll see when I’m home again.
“Sometimes I am taken for granite.
Everybody is taken for granite sometimes but I am not in a mood for being fair to everybody. I am in a mood for being fair to me. I am taken for granite quite often, and this troubles and distresses me, because I am not granite. I am not sure what I am but I know it isn’t granite.
I have known some granite types, we all do: characters of stone, upright, immovable, unchangeable, opinions the general size shape and pliability of the Rocky Mountains, you have to quarry five years to chip out one little stony smile. That’s fine, that’s admirable, but it has nothing to do with me. Upright is fine, but downright is where I am, or downwrong. I am not granite and should not be taken for it. I am not flint or diamond or any of that great hard stuff. If I am stone, I am some kind of shoddy crumbly stuff like sandstone or serpentine, or maybe schist. Or not even stone but clay, or not even clay but mud. And I wish that those who take me for granite would once in a while treat me like mud.
Being mud is really different from being granite and should be treated differently. Mud lies around being wet and heavy and oozy and generative. Mud is underfoot. People make footprints in mud. As mud I accept feet. I accept weight. I try to be supportive, I like to be obliging. Those who take me for granite say this is not so but they haven’t been looking where they put their feet. That’s why the house is all dirty and tracked up.
Granite does not accept footprints. It refuses them. Granite makes pinnacles, and then people rope themselves together and put pins on their shoes and climb the pinnacles at great trouble, expense, and risk, and maybe they experience a great thrill, but the granite does not. Nothing whatever results and nothing whatever is changed.
Huge heavy things come and stand on granite and the granite just stays there and doesn’t react and doesn’t give way and doesn’t adapt and doesn’t oblige and when the huge heavy things walk away the granite is there just the same as it was before, just exactly the same, admirably. To change granite you have to blow it up. But when people walk on me you can see exactly where they put their feet, and when huge heavy things come and stand on me I yield and react and respond and give way and adapt and accept. No explosives are called for. No admiration is called for. I have my own nature and am true to it just as much as granite or even diamond is, but it is not a hard nature, or upstanding, or gemlike. You can’t chip it. It’s deeply impressionable. It’s squashy.
Maybe the people who rope themselves together and the huge heavy things resent such adaptable and uncertain footing because it makes them feel insecure. Maybe they fear they might be sucked in and swallowed. But I am not interested in sucking and am not hungry. I am just mud. I yield. I do try to oblige. And so when the people and the huge heavy things walk away they are not changed, except their feet are muddy, but I am changed. I am still here and still mud, but all full of footprints and deep, deep holes and tracks and traces and changes. I have been changed. You change me.
Do not take me for granite.”
I’m porous. It’s not a thing to be ashamed of. Trying to control changes is trying to stop life making marks on us. In other words, I was trying to be granite.
But I take on things around me not just because I am a soft kind of creature, but because we’re not here to go through life separated and unaffected. I use some American vernacular because I’m surrounded by Americans. My body feels different now I eat fruit instead of beer. These changes aren’t just inevitable, making attempts to control them a waste of energy, they’re good. They mean I’m turning up.
Besides, my accent shifts from middle England to north London to Cornish in the space of a few sentences anyway, what’s some Long Island and Southern Texas going to do but add flavour?
My parlance is my sweet collection of lives lived now. When I got back to England after almost a year in Italy, I must’ve driven everyone mad with my awkward outbursts of ‘dai, basta!’ I’m lucky to hear my speech shift as America touches it, like Italy and Switzerland and Catalonia touched it before. I’m happy to feel myself swayed by the music of my new home.
Besides, being mud is actually much easier than being granite. Keeping up all that hardness is tough, you’re sort of all seized up all the time, clenched. I set my boundaries, balance and all that, but I would rather be soft, impressionable mud. Even if it does mean now I say ‘how you doin?’ instead of ‘y’rite m’luve?’
2) I’ve underrated structure.
There’s a quote from Gustav Flaubert –
“Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
(December 25, 1876)
– that I’ve tried to push out of my head for years, but it’s stuck. I always hated it. It says ‘until you sit down for more than five minutes you’re not going to do any meaningful work’. I always hated sitting still as well. But I’ve never forgotten this quote, partially because I know Flaubert is right, and partially because I desperately wanted to prove him wrong.
2017 has been the first year in many that I’ve had a single stable home, as well as enough free time to make things. After moving here I had to wait for my employment authorisation, so, unable to run away on another adventure and with all my distractions left behind in England, I was forced to face the sad tatters of my creative life. It was pretty neglected. But I had all this free time and nothing to do but make art. A year on I still mainly make art, and I’m closer to my work than ever. This is thanks to a significant serving of courage, but equally it’s discipline, stability, scheduling and structure. These are not things I’m famous for, and not things I missed while flying free and solo for years. Long-term travel thrives on flexibility, and your ability to carry an entire life on your back. But now I get up at the same time and eat the same breakfast every day. I sit at my desk. I only hit the bars, like, twice a week tops. I make lists, thanks to advice from Su in my regular, scheduled critique group. I do my work. I make progress. It’s definitely slower progress than I would like, but I’m learning to be comfortable with that too. None of this progress would have happened without my regular, orderly life.
And I so wanted to outsmart Flaubert.
3) It’s hard to bring yourself around to liking someone after they do an impression of your accent the first time they meet you.
This is genuinely the worst it gets for me here. Not that bad, is it? Americans are overall fab people, especially Houstonians. Houston has so quickly become home to me. I’ve gone from being frightened and awkward to being in love with the city and it’s collection of humans in a single year.
But nah really taking the piss out of my accent before we’re friends probably means we’re not gonna be friends.
Love y’all ;P