Hello again

I’m ill. Not a normal sneezy feverish thing or an obvious bout of simple vomiting, but a really odd and deeply annoying exhaustion. A total weak dizziness that feels like some leech is literally sucking the life out of me, through my lungs and chest, where it also feels like someone is crushing my ribcage and squashing me into the ground. There is a great deal of trembling and breathlessness, accompanied by an irritating spaced outness and general fog about the brain.

Its been 5 days now, each one started with some defiance to go to work and get stuff done that quickly concluded in defeat as I got sent home to curl up gratefully under the duvet for the type of sleep that grabs you firmly by the face and takes you straight into a depth of dreamscape full of fantastical and frightening adventure, from which you awake breathless and trembling all over again.

The doctor said it’s probably a virus, just take some rest and come back next week if it persists. Clever Uncle Google says it’s probably Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and there’s no cure. I know I shouldn’t take Uncle Google seriously but I am beginning to wonder if there will be an end to this awful exhaustion. I have slept around twelve hours a day, in two or three shifts, and lovely people have been round with flowers, medicine, magazines and meals, for which I am incredibly grateful and unfairly fortunate.

The thing is, I am worried that I have somehow created the illness myself. It is real, that’s for sure, the breathlessness and dizziness are actual things, the ability to sleep like a rock at the first contact with a pillow – several times a day – is real, the tight pressure in the chest is a definite thing. The inability to manage basic physical tasks like turning a tap on, picking up laundry or walking to the shops without needing some recovery time is unquestionable. But there is a lovely little silver lining to all this, a side effect that is massively beneficial, which I consider might be the goal of a potentially self inflicted subconscious piece of self destruction.

The Food and River Festival, the biggest annual event of my job, is in five days. The approach of the event usually heralds a few weeks of anxiety, complete sleepless worry, sporadic bursts of tears and bitchy swearing amid a level of panicky stress that takes another few weeks after the event to recover from.

And right now, I just don’t care. While my energy level has dipped to a place where I can barely summon the strength to make a cup of tea, my brain power has dipped fantastically with it, such that my usual hyperactive super vigilant brain full of racing thoughts has slowed to a pace that can just about cope with the complex business of boiling a kettle, and doesn’t even attempt to contemplate the necessity of planning the staff rota for the event, compiling the hygiene certificates of the stall holders or writing the press release I need to get out to the local press in the preceding week.

I also can’t see the point. Why have I always taken it so seriously? Its just a field full of people selling food. Why is this such an important job? Why is this worth weeks and weeks of my time and stress? And so many other peoples? It’s just a nice event, with an inordinately immense amount of admin to make it happen. For one day. The fierce motivation to do an amazing job, to make sure everyone has a great day and that people are pleased with my work, has utterly disappeared. I can’t remember what it’s like to care what people think of me anymore, and I’m sure that used to be quite important to me.

This bizarre calmness and general indifference to the Food and River Festival is so unusual and uncharacteristic for my usually franticly busy and constantly worried mind that I wonder if the almost complete shut down of my body and mind in the week before the event is my subconscious attempt to protect myself from the usual stress at the first sign of anxiety creeping in again this year.

In which case it will last for the next 6 days. If I still feel like this at the event on Sunday I will be unable to do much more than sit on a chair and weakly instruct our team of awesome volunteers on what to do. But really if those things don’t happen who cares. If the cooking demo chef doesn’t have the right equipment then, well, he wont be able to show everyone how to cook pasta a la carbonara. And then what? People might say oh that wasn’t very well organised. And they will walk away and carry on their happy lives. It really doesn’t matter. If the chilli contestants’ vomit isn’t cleared up instantly then, well, people will step around it for the rest of the day. None of the events of the day actually matter really, the stallholders need to make a living and they’ll do that just fine, and by Sunday night, as the rubbish is cleared up and the stalls are trundling away, everyone will look at each other and wonder, again, why we put so much work into such an unimportant event.

What is important, I realise as I lie for hours on my sofa with a brain so stilled from work being so removed, is the serious business of my own existence and the fact that I was put on this earth for more genuine and beautiful and meaningful things than fields full of food.

The constant chatter of work and worry with its tangly chaos of tasks and people and responsibilities has just shut up. And finally, in this dizzy but peaceful place, my heart is heard. And my heart says hello again. Don’t you remember all your dreams and plans and loves that you discovered with such beautiful clear purpose of on the beaches of Colombia 6 months ago?

And although I have not the energy to pursue them yet, I remember them, I hear my heart again, and when the flipping festival is over next week and my health has returned, thank you very much, I will resume pursuing them.

So, if my bizarre illness is a subliminal self preservatory attempt to create a complete indifference to the festival, then it has worked. If it has the more noble duty of reminding me that I have a heartful of far more meaningful things to think about, then I thank it for its wisdom and promise to pay attention.

If it is just a badly timed virus then, lovely to meet you, can you go now please.

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Part Two

Things I’ve learned this week:

  • Shortcuts through the mud are not worth it.
  • But my trainers can be washed in my washing machine, so it was ok!
  • I don’t need a visa to travel to South America.
  • I like drizzle, actually, fine and lovely on my face.
  • You will struggle to find a hammock/bivvy/mosquito net combination but all three items can be purchased on their own for less than a tenner each.
  • The 234 bus to Trowbridge has changed its route, and its price, since last year.
  • The temperature in the capital of Colombia is about ten degrees right now but in Santa Marta, on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, it is thirty two!
  • There is a serious leak down one whole wall of my house in Melksham when it rains.
  • It isn’t raining in Colombia!
  • Travel insurance on the ‘silver’ package covers you for badminton, bungee jumping (only three times) and jogging, but not hockey, tree top walking or elephant trekking.
  • It is possible to feel considerably less crazy and courageous a few hours before departure as you did when you booked a somewhat spontaneous flight to Santa Marta two days ago.

I’m off in a bit. I am only slightly scared. I have paid meticulous attention to a lot of small print this time.

And having unpacked a hefty suitcase full of woolly jumpers and knee high boots (while every possible song anyone ever wrote about New York taunted me from the radio), today I filled a lightweight rucksack with tank tops and swimming things, with a generous portion of the packing allocated to medical supplies, mosquito spray and sunscreen.

I am staying with a friend so once I get there I’m sure I’ll feel fine, there’s just this 21 hour journey to get through first.

Mostly though, I am brim full of gratitude and excitement for this amazing opportunity, and the several lovely people that are making it possible.

I will be back at my desk on the 12th, but for now, it is likely that I will be out of touch.

I love you all

x

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The Not Quite New York Silver Linings Tour

Having worked eighty four hours a day in the weeks leading up to my departure to America, I had been putting off the travel admin till the very last minute. The night before the flight, all emails complete and the out of office on, I finally allowed myself to feel excited about the 21 day adventure ahead, and went back to the email confirmation of my ticket to print out all the necessary documents. And in the text of the email was the instruction to fill in the online visa waiver form that would give me authorization to travel.

As I clicked on it, a gradual gnawing of nerves began to tighten my stomach.

This is new. Last time I did this it was on a paper on the airplane. I have been to America about seven times since my visa troubles of 95 and they have always let me in. Yes there’s some extra admin, secondary inspection, allow another hour at immigration, but they still always let me in, right?

I was clicking through the questions.

‘Have you ever been part of a terrorist organisation?’

No.

‘Have you ever been convicted of a crimes against the U.S Government?’

No. Of course not. These are easy. But I know what’s coming.

‘Have you ever stayed in the United States longer than the period specified in your visa?’

And I know they have me on record, my name flashes up on their system, I can’t lie. I can’t get out of this.

I click Yes, and a small stupid tear slides down my face.

Submit.

Travel Not Authorised.

Of course it’s not.

Ah fuck.

Fucking STF in 1995. This shit does not ever go away. (Previous entry is an excerpt from the draft book that explains it)

And with my flight in a few hours, and no-one to phone so late at night, I continued packing, with this wrenching anxiety in my stomach, and set off to Heathrow the next morning, sure that I could talk to someone and explain and get on my flight as planned.

‘No you can’t get on this flight.’

‘But they’ve let me in before.’

‘You need a visa in order to travel.’

‘But it was NINETEEN years ago!’

‘Still, we can’t let you on this flight. Sorry’

I was in need of tea. I sat in Costa in Terminal 2 departures and drank tea, ate cake, and smiled out the window.

Fine. America doesn’t want me. At the moment. I can still try to sort out a visa in the next few days, but these things take time, and maybe it just won’t happen, which is OK. Actually. That’s OK. Yes of course the East Coast of America is full of all the cool people I was going to see, but how many more cool people are there in London?

I made phonecalls, laughing as I explained to people my stupidity at forgetting the small administrative detail of the visa, and making plans for the next few days. Instead of landing at the house of New Jersey big brother Hani, I was shortly at the flat of London little brother Vic, from where a week of alternative adventures began.

This included a hilarious evening of card games and giggles with Vic’s friends, a visit to Parmy and Maniyer and my gorgeous god-daughter Isla – complete with a morning making paper puppets and some running round in the mud of Mitcham Common – a really quite posh lunch in Wimbledon, a leisurely wander round Kensington Gardens, an unsuccessful but at least amusing visit to the American Embassy, and an excellently well orchestrated evening of singing and jumping and laughing along to the Decemberists at Brixton Academy on Saturday night.

I got back to Melksham yesterday and dropped into the office.

‘Hello.’

‘What?! What are you doing here?!’

‘Well I did what you told me to,’ I said to my boss. ‘I came back!’

I had thought that I would be eager to get back to my computer and check all the emails and read all the papers that were piling up, but I glanced at my desk, was not even tempted, chatted with Lorraine and Steve a bit, and then quite happily walked away.

So, week one of my Non American Adventure has been packed with silver linings of happiness. I have two more weeks, and among other things, and other wonderful people to visit, I will be mostly writing my book.

🙂

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1995

[This is taken from the first draft of my book, which charts the surreal and convoluted journey from passionately indoctrinated fiercely obedient Moonie to the eventual triumphal emergence many years later. 1995 features the stupidest errors made at the height of my religiousity]

Towards the end of the seventy day workshop in the lovely leafy woodland of Camp Sunrise in the mountains north of New York, I had a conversation with one of  the elder brothers in which they convinced me I would be no use to the England Church without a good solid year of STF to train me in leadership and responsibility.

‘But Miriam, your A-levels?’ My mum, on the phone, was not happy.

‘Yeah, can you talk to Clarendon and ask about me going into the next year instead?’

‘You’re already a year behind, love, because of Korea.’

‘I know, so what’s one more?’

‘What does STF even stand for?’

‘Special Task Force, I think, or something. It’s a one year mission and it’s really important for my spiritual growth, mum.’

‘Oh right.’

‘It’s only the second year they’re doing it, there were just three second gen children who did it last year, and this year there’s 22 of us.’

‘But where will you live?’

‘In a CARP centre, you know, with the first generation members who are full time witnessing. Like you did, mum, it’s gunna be an amazing way to understand your heart and how hard all the first generation worked back then and everything.’

‘But you’re only seventeen, love.’

‘I know, I’m the youngest on STF, cos the school system’s different here.’

‘But you’ll need to come home for a visa at least, I mean, you can’t stay in America for more than 90 days without a visa.’

‘No I spoke to the leader here, he said people do it all the time, come in on a tourist visa and then just stay. They’re never gunna check me cos I’m not like, Chinese or something.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yeah, it’s God’s Will, mum, I’ll be fine.’

And, as the first chills of New York autumn tinged the air, with my suitcase full of the summer’s shorts and t-shirts, and around $25 in my pockets, I got the Greyhound bus north, praying that God would prepare my 17 year old soul for a year of saving His lost children in Boston.

There were 4 STF teams that year, Atlanta, Chicago, Berkely and Boston. These were the cities with established CARP centres who were happy to accommodate, educate and tolerate a group of young second generation pioneers amidst their full time moonie membership. Boston was a tiny centre, 6 brothers and me, in various pokey rooms of a freezing student house in the windy suburb of Allston, Massachusetts. My team was led by Shota San, a chubby, cheerful Japanese brother who would sometimes surprise us with a box of a dozen Dukin Donuts for breakfast.  Full time mission involved daily trips to the University of Massachusetts to set up our book table in the corridor from where we could talk to students, give out fliers for CARP introduction evenings – under enticing guises like a Mexican Cultural Evening or ‘Halloween Party (Sober and Clean!)’ where they would have the chance to hear about a new truth that would change their lives. ………..

In the middle of my Boston winter, complete with mornings shoveling waist high snow from the porch, afternoons in the University trying to entice young students to the next witnessing event, and evenings on the radiator while I chatted for hours with lovely James, I was given permission to go home for Christmas. This was a rare treat, as no-one else had such a luxury, but since the whole purpose of my year in STF was to train as a spiritual leader for the British minimoonies, a little kids workshop in London was deemed a significantly providential reason to warrant the $200 flight home. Since the return leg of my original flight to America had been abandoned in the happy excitement of staying on for STF, Shota San bought me a return ticket from Boston to Heathrow, leaving on Christmas Day and returning in time for the great God’s Day celebrations of January 1st. Following a Christmas marred somewhat by arguments with my family about what exactly I was doing in America, but made worthwhile with a useful contribution to a hall full of small minimoonies at the Christmas workshop, I hugged my mum at the airport and got my flight back, full of flu, landing sleepily in Boston Logan Airport on the eve of 1996.

The immigration officer flipped nonchalantly through my passport, smoothed the page down ready to stamp it and then paused at the red ink stamp that was already there.

‘Wait, miss, you arrived in New York in July?’

‘Yes.’

‘And that was on a 90 day tourist visa?’ His eyes were steely grey as he stared down at me.

‘Yes.’

‘And how long did you stay in July?’

‘Well, you know, a few weeks…’

‘Let me see your ticket please.’

I handed it over, with a sinking sense of dread swirling in my head along with the dizzying flu.

‘This is a return ticket.’

‘Yes.’

‘And it says you left Boston on December 25th?’

I nodded.

‘So you were in the United States from, what is this, July 15 to December 25? That’s more than 90 days isn’t it miss?’

‘Um…’

‘What have you been doing in the United States since July, miss?

‘Well, the, um, I’m with the youth section of the Unification Church and we do mission work and community projects and, and, church activities.’

‘Church activities?’ He shook his head at me like I was a naughty little kid and shouted behind him,

‘Derrick, we have an overstay. You wanna take this one?’

I was in the Boston Immigration office for four hours as they questioned me, searched me, went through my suitcase, made me swear to tell the whole truth, made me wait in a series of cold rooms, and finally called me back to the desk. I was shivering and coughing, exhausted, and accepting sadly that I would be going home on the next flight back to London. I will have to get into my A-levels half way through the year – will they accept me? My mum will be pleased I’m home at least, Esther will say you silly girl, Hani will laugh at me… I will never see James again…or the rest of my team…

‘Right, Miss,’ Steely eyed David the immigration officer looked wearily at me as I handed over my passport for the 28th time.

‘Yes.’ My head was a buzz of pain, tiredness and fear.

‘You say you have been doing religious work with a Church for the last 6 months.’

‘Yes I have.’

‘Why should we believe that you are part of this Church. You could be doing anything here, you’re a smart young woman, how old are you?’

‘Seventeen.’

‘Seventeen. And why would you lie to us about what you’re doing here, making up some crazy story about doing evangelical work for the Unitary Church?’

‘Unification Church.’ Tears were beginning to spill out of my eyes, mostly from the head pounding flu.

‘You know we have to send you back to England right.’

‘I know.’ I nodded, biting my lip nervously.

‘Because you stayed longer than you were authorized, and you should have gotten a religious visa for what you say you were doing.’

He was holding the ‘Access Denied’ stamp over my passport and shaking his head.

‘You knew what you were doing didn’t you, you saw the notice of 90 days and you just ignored it.’

I was so tired and unhappy I willed him to hurry up and stamp it so I could get on with finding a flight home. He held the stamp over the passport, ready to bring it down, and looked up at me once more.

‘You’re, wait – there’s blood all over your face, miss!’

‘Oh, so there is.’ I mumbled, wiping it away. I had been biting my lip so hard that blood was coursing down my chin. And steely eyed Immigration Officer David looked at me, sighed, shook his head and picked up the other stamp.

‘Alright, you can stay,’ he said, and stamped my passport.

‘Oh, what?’ ‘Go on, get through before I change my mind.’

‘Oh…thank you.’ I was crying properly now.

‘But only on the condition that you get your Religious Visa in the next couple of weeks, OK?’

‘OK!’

Shota San was as tired and worried as me on the other side, and as soon as he got me back to the centre we all sped off to New York for the midnight prayer, which for my part, was full of thanks and a determination to always listen to my mum.

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America ha ha ha

With flights for 395 at this time of year you’d be stupid not to.
I said to my boss please can I have a month off.
He said yes as long as you come back.
I smiled and said probably.

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Sparkly

The New Year doesn’t really start till a few days into January anyway does it.

I shall commence mine today.

Because I’m so full of sparkles that this is the best place to start. Thanks to Sarah for running a 40 minute circuit of Melksham with me in the sun this morning, to my kitchen for being such a suitable dance floor upon my return, to Avril for a wonderful Sunday Lunch round her house followed by an impromptu art session with 8 year old Lily, complete with the painting of my nails with electric pink and orange glitter, just half my nails though, to remind me that on the one hand I’m a professional local government employee and on the other I’m creative and playful.

So playful in fact that I just belted out Hozier’s ‘Take me to Church’ across my house – why not, it’s Sunday – before settling down to write my book, thank you.

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Kingairloch

So it turns out, what a surprise, a week in a wet and windswept wilderness with wonderful people does a fantastic job of restoring your soul to it’s natural setting of positivity, happiness and love. It was so peaceful and perfect that as well as hiking, climbing, canooeing and laughing, I also scribbled out half a new notebook’s worth of plans, dreams and desires for this year and beyond, which no doubt will find themselves condensed here soon.

Not now though cos there’s too much happiness to be had before work tomorrow.

x

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