Posts Tagged ‘London’

“The irony of commitment is that it’s deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.” – Anne Morriss

My friend posted this quotation on Facebook the other day, and I’ve been thinking ever since about the relationship between commitment, fear, and change.

Commitment is, in a way, about leaning into the fear. Because once we become wholly committed to something, then we have something to lose in a way we didn’t before, and that can be really freaking scary. And commitment is about change, because even if it doesn’t cause any outward differences, it transforms what’s going on inside our minds and hearts. It alters our personal stories.

To commit fully is to feel naked and exposed. It is to drop any facade of insouciance or nonchalance. It is almost a confession, that this, this is something I’ve chosen to pour my heart, my energy, my time, and my passion into.

Commitment doesn’t come with any guarantees of success. If it did, it wouldn’t be nearly so interesting, so raw, so immersive in that which is vulnerable. But it does, as Anne Morriss says, remove our heads as barriers. It allows us to throw ourselves completely into our lives. It allows us to choose the kind of lives about which we can later sit down and write memoirs.

Photo Credit: thomas_sly via Compfight cc

When I think about my life, I realize that I couldn’t have followed through on the really hard things I’ve done without deep commitment. I couldn’t have gotten my college degree or had a senior recital. I couldn’t have moved to London. I couldn’t have started my own business. I couldn’t have become a writer. I couldn’t have engaged on a personal and emotional level with the people who are important to me. And I couldn’t have changed who I am and how I relate to the world.

All of those things involved risk and the chance of failure. All of them allowed the possibility of someone saying no, of things going wrong, of heartache and disappointment and mistakes, of me wimping out. All of them scared me.

When I arrived in London with my two gigantic suitcases, just out of college and with a freshly broken heart, a friend met me at the airport and helped me get to the place I was staying. And then he left, and I sat there, and I thought, “Oh my god, what have I done?” And then I cried. But the next morning I got out of bed and I left my flat and I explored London. Because I was committed to being there and having the richest experience I could, even though I was lonely and scared and didn’t know what I was doing.

There are so many times when I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. Commitment helps me lean into the fear and discomfort of that feeling, and do it anyway. If we want to put ourselves out there in the world, if we want to try to do amazing things, I think that kind of commitment is necessary. The commitment gives us the permission we need to really go for it.

Commit and be free. I like that. It’s the kind of complex idea that requires a lot of thought to see the layers of truth it contains.

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Homes of the Heart

I drove down to Santa Cruz with my dog this weekend. I’m not sure when I had been there last, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was for my birthday last year, which would mean a whopping fifteen months between visits. I felt lighter the minute my car was in the midst of the pine trees that line Highway 17, and by the time I’d reached my favorite view of the ocean, the entire world felt like a better place.

The egregious cute dog picture here.

This got me thinking about the homes of my heart. I have two places I’ve lived in the past that have the same effect on me. I feel happier thinking about them, and when I am actually physically present within them, I feel this strong sense of homecoming. Of rightness. One of them is Santa Cruz, and the other one is London.

That’s not to say that Silicon Valley, where I live now, isn’t my home. I know a lot of people here and have some fabulous friends close enough to see often. I really like the park near my house. I know my way around. I know where to obtain goods and services. I have spent several years of my life here. But it isn’t my heart’s home. I don’t feel joy from simply living here. I feel grateful for the mild weather, but that’s not really the same thing as joy.

Now Santa Cruz, I can tell you what makes it special (even though I do not go down there anywhere near often enough). London, I can talk on and on about why I love it. I wish more people would do that, actually: give me the opportunity for a long London monologue. If we are together and you want to make me happy, bring up London, be ready to listen patiently, and we’ll be all set. But Silicon Valley, well. If you want to be involved with a tech start-up, this is the place to be.

However, I am NOT involved in a tech start-up. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it would be fascinating. But it’s not what I’m doing right now.)

What effect does it have, I’ve been wondering, when you spend so many years not living in one of your heart’s homes? I’ve been here for eleven years this winter, and even the first year, when I lived in San Francisco proper, was not what I’d call an unqualified success (although that might be related to the neighborhood I chose to live in). It must happen to a lot of people, living in a place because of work or family or finances or because that’s just how it worked out, even though it doesn’t resonate with them. Maybe it doesn’t really matter. Your friends and communities are probably more important in the grand scheme of things than your geographical location.

And yet, here in Santa Cruz, I look so much like ME.

But I miss looking out my bedroom window at redwood trees. I miss walking by the ocean. I miss London’s parks and the indifferent sandwiches I’d eat on the omnipresent benches, and I miss taking the Tube down to the Tate Modern on a Sunday afternoon. I miss rambling on the Heath and getting lost beforehand and afterwards, and I miss carrying my A to Zed everywhere I went (although now, I suppose, cell phones have replaced A to Zeds). I miss the late night excursions to the physics building’s merry-go-round and the cheap music concerts and the two pound coins and the inevitable pub and the scarf shops.

I could go back, I suppose, but I think there’s an element to heart’s homes that is related to time and context. I don’t think we can simply return to living in our heart’s homes whenever we feel like it. They might no longer fit exactly right. Sometimes we may be lucky and another right time to live there may come along. Other times we have to discover new ones instead.

Where are your heart’s homes?


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I will be attending FOGcon this weekend in San Francisco, and I’ll be moderating two panels. Please feel free to find me and say hello!

Here is my schedule:

No-Blah Blog: Friday, 4:30-5:45pm, California Room

In 2011, many authors are not just writing stories, novels and articles. They’re blogging. How do you create a blog readers will want to return to again and again without sacrificing your other writing projects?

Why London? Saturday, 8-9:15pm, California Room

What is it about England’s capital that inspires so many stories positing the existence of a second, evil twin city? Maybe it’s that there’s enough history there for two separate cities. Or that there’s enough ghosts that a second, spectral city is the only answer to affordable housing. Whatever the reason, London keeps authors coming back to build: above, below, instead and sometimes in ways we really don’t have prepositions for. But why?

My husband will also be moderating an awesome world-building panel (How to Build Your Own City: the Past) at 8pm on Friday night in the Redwood Room, after which I might very well get my karaoke on in Gold Rush A. Unless I run in fear in the other direction after hearing a particularly ear-splitting yodel. I’d say the chances are about 50/50.

Hope to see you there!

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1. Being in a foreign country, even one in which they speak my native language, forces me to see.  It shines a light on the world around me, but even more important, it opens myself up.  Whatever I’ve been trying to ignore, whatever I’ve been trying to leave behind me unexamined, well, there it is.  I return to the U.S. a different person from when I left.

2. The day we leave, we decide to get a cab after all because it’s raining, and slogging to the Tube with all the luggage and the wet only to squeeze into the steaming commute-time train sounds distinctly unappealing.  Plus I barely slept the night before.  Our cab driver talks to us the entire drive to the airport.  He is worried about the foreign embassy workers who won’t pay their parking tickets.  It’s mostly the Arabs, he says.  He’s been to Florida and Disney World, and he wonders if California is the same.  It’s not, I say.  Then it begins to snow in light swirling flakes.

3. It’s maybe one in the morning as I enter the large square room laid bare by its strong fluorescent lighting.  I instantly want to back out and run the other direction, but I’m an adult now and I have to deal with things like this.  I sit in the dentist’s chair in the otherwise bare room, noting how there is absolutely no high-tech equipment in sight.  No, wait, there’s a box that looks like a machine of some kind.  Until I realize it’s an old PC vintage 1998.  Not reassuring.  The assistant, wearing baggy white clothes that remind me of the gangster rapper wannabes at my high school, looks like he’s not more than eighteen.  He tells me, without knowing anything about my case, that it will either be a root canal or an extraction.  I laugh nervously and try to make a joke, only to realize that he is completely serious.  Those are the two things that happen in this room.  The dentist holds the X-ray up to the light, does a bunch of fast talking, tries to make me feel stupid and small, but luckily I’m too stubborn for that.  No way do I need a root canal in the middle of the night with old instruments and two assistants who cover themselves from head to foot with plastic bags.  I wonder about the sanitation.  I leave.  My cheek doesn’t swell up horribly the way he said it would if I didn’t get treated, so I feel pretty good about that decision.

4. Shiny twinkle lights adorn every shopping area in London.  Oxford Street is a steady stream of shoppers, already laden with paper bags on every arm, prominently emblazoned with big brand names that even I have heard of.  A sidewalk vendor sells crepes.  We stop and I have my favorite, with apricot jam.  My leather gloves are covered with stickiness by the time I am finished.  Shiny red ornaments, grotesquely over-sized, hang from the ceiling at the Covent Garden market, and a large green reindeer, two to three times as tall as me, stands to one side with a red ornament nose.

5. Thanksgiving night, we are going to the theater.  We stop off at a nearby pub and both order fish and chips.  I eat my chips with gallons of ketchup.  It feels like just another night but I’m okay with that.  I’ve been doing the “five things that make me happy” exercise pretty faithfully lately, so I’m very aware of just how much I have to be thankful for.  Back home I will have pie and think Thanksgiving thoughts.  I just have to decide between pumpkin and cherry.

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Journey to England and Wales

Vacation time!  This weekend I am getting on a plane and taking off for faraway places.  If I were an especially kind person, I would have arranged for guest bloggers in my absence, but alas, I am not as kind as all that.  It’s possible I might pop on with the occasional photo, but it is equally possible I will disappear off the internet sphere for a few weeks while I go off, rejuvenate, see some amazing sights, and have a great time.

In the meantime, here are some of the places I hope to be seeing:


Idyllic Cotswolds

Thornbury Castle

Mount Snowdon

My favorite city

Have fun while I’m away, and I’ll see you on the other side of Labor Day, if not before.


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Once upon a time I lived in London, the United Kingdom.

Crouch End, London, UK

How did this happen?   I was twenty-two years old, I held a fresh-off-the-presses Bachelors of Arts degree in Music, and I needed to get out of Dodge, Dodge being pretty much anywhere in California.  What I wanted most of all was to live in the UK.

I planned my move for twelve months.  I found a program that would obtain a working visa for me (BUNAC) and I saved money for my plane ticket.  Through luck and family connections I stumbled into a prime house sitting gig in the little neighborhood of Crouch End, in northern London (Zone 3 on the Northern line, Zone 2 if I took a bus to Finsbury Park).

In London, I had many adventures, met many strange people, and obtained several jobs over the course of my time there.  Most importantly, I was living in a foreign country, which opened my mind and allowed me to discover who I was without all the external confusing trappings.

While I was living there, I was corresponding via e-mail with a friend of mine, telling him all about my new life and how much I loved living in London.  (And I did love living there.  It was a hard year for me, it’s true, but I never stopped adoring that city.)

His response?  He wrote something to the effect that my life, or in any case what I was choosing to do with my life by living in London, “wasn’t the way the world works.”

I have always remembered that e-mail, even though I received it over nine years ago.  It struck me as deeply profound.  Because of course, me being in London was exactly the way the world worked, because otherwise how could I be there in the first place?

It was profound because that sentence of his got right to the heart of the difference between him and me.  It’s all in the way we believe the world works.  In other words, it’s all in our perspective, it’s all in our minds, and it’s all in our courage.  It’s all in what we believe to be possible.  The White Queen had it right all along.

I believed I could live in London, and I did what it took to get me there.

What do you believe?

P.S. The banner on this blog?  Why yes, it’s a photo of London, and yes, it does help remind me of what is possible. 🙂

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