Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Hero’s Journey - The Real Year In Review

Our mythic life

Common World
Call to Adventure

It has been just over a year since we moved to London. We left our safe, comfortable world. We left our play group and the exquisite quality of people who formed it. We sold our house. We embraced the call to adventure.

Refusal of Call
Once we got here. We regretted our decision immediately. I often found myself looking around, weeping and saying we left everything behind for this? We didn’t meet many people. I called my husband everyday at 3:00 to let him know that I was leaving him.

Supernatural Aid
Crossing First Threshold

But, finally we met Amazon. One friend was enough to sustain Winston. Then he fell dreadfully ill. (See past blogs.) I put out the call to our crazily diverse communities. Pray for us! Pray for us! I begged.

An immense projectile of positive energy was thrust out into the universe on our behalf. Our Born Again Christian friends prayed, our Catholic friends prayed, our Protestant friends prayed, our Unitarian Universalist friends prayed, our Wiccan friends prayed, our Muslim friends prayed, our Santeria friends prayed, our Kemetic friends prayed, everybody challenged that cosmic decision on their own terms and in their own ways....

And Winston recovered. And we thought - okay we have one friend and a living son. Surely we’ll be okay. As the proceeds of the house sale were winnowed away by the high cost of living in London, we looked google-eyed at the sky and said, Now what?

It was then that I was offered the jobs at UEL and CityLit. I wasn’t seeking work. Somehow, a message was sent out and we were provided for. God/dess love us this I know. Our world reopened. I had some truly excellent students. I met some truly extraordinary people.

Road of Trials
Then, I broke my toe. Still, I hobbled off to class. In the dead of winter, in a place when the sun sets at 3:30. And the cold - while nothing like where we are from - chills more in the walking, being refused by bus-drivers, loneliness and despair that falls upon London in this season. Especially - with a broken toe.

Winston did not take to my working well. The first minder didn’t help at all. She was so lost in the idea of getting paid to put her own children’s needs first...but in ways that Ofsted would look askance at. So, he wept and wept and wept. And I paid for it by holding him every night while he slept fitfully in my arms.

Supreme Ordeal
Then the miscarriage. And limping along to class after oozing blood and bleeding class in the dark..

The Ultimate Boon
But, CityLit gave me three classes filled with superb people. There is nothing more profound than serving as the literary midwife at the birth of a new voice. I was privileged to serve at many births. Voices which have something truly wonderful to share with the world. Just you wait people - I’ll be claiming this new wave of British super stars in just a few years!

And also came Alice. Alice - super nanny - she who arrives with her black nanny bag filled with activities - just like Mary Poppins - only better...because she is real. Sensible, no nonsense, filled with love and compassion Alice.

Refusal of the Return

Yesterday, the tadpoles hatched at our pond. We observed them flicking and wriggling in the murky mud. Only a week or so has passed since we carefully pushed the algae back into the pond. One scoop of muck contained so much life: water spiders, snails, minnows, newts, and frog spawn. I believe we will miss the transformation of tadpole to frog. But, there is always next year. And the summer promises us so much.

One some level, Winston understands that there is so much beneath the surface of life. Still, it amazes me. London’s parks demonstrate a rich example of the importance of bio-diversity. I can’t imagine that they spray pesticides or weed killers everywhere. When I think back to walks in The States, I don’t remember such a wide range of life forms. I enjoy the privilege of observing such a complete, complex ecosystem - in the middle of the city.

It feels as if there is so much to do before we go. I worry about Little Dude and our other squirrel friends. Construction proceeds at a rapid pace. They are still skittish and shy. I hope they remember us upon our return. Three weeks is a long time in the life of a squirrel and a toddler. Ages and aeons pass in three weeks - for both of them.

His nanny took him to see his duck friends today. So, we don’t have to worry about our good-byes to them.

Spring is a glorious time in London. It is as if everyone and everything in the city is stretching its arms, blinking, sighing, and shouting hooray. Everything feels wide open and imaginable.

The holly bushes are blooming. Winston is fascinated that something so prickly can bear such lovely soft blossoms. He strokes and strokes them. Then he feels their waxy deep green leaves. Gently he presses his finger against the stickers at the tips. One bush with so many sensations and textures. It says something about the world to him. And he remembers the red berries. How he loved those berries in the Autumn.

We’ve been walking around a lot - like we always do. But - now he is noticing the remnants of the berries and watching the buds for next season’s berries unfold. He remembers that we didn’t pick the berries because the birds needed them to get through the winter. The birds are abundant and active. We can’t help notice them. They are loud and busy and active. I think, he feels a certain amount of satisfaction that he helped them get through that hard, dark time.

And oh glory! The bugs have woken up! He has found numerous ladybirds, spiders and ants. He really missed them throughout the winter. On some level, i think he was worried that they had disappeared forever. But, I promised him that with the flowers would come the bugs again. I am delighted to have made something better than a pie crust promise.

The best part of all of this - is that I think he is beginning to understand the circle of the year. But - he understands it in such an organic manner. He understands it through light, temperature, weather, plants, animals and insects. I look forward to being able to translate these natural rhythms into our manmade notions of an hour, a day, a week, a season, a year. But - I’m happier that he understands them in this way first. What a lovely gift London has given me!

Crossing the Return Threshold
Master of the Two Worlds

As sad as I am for the reason to return to my home in Pittsburgh. I am happy that we are undertaking the journey now. We travel into the warmth of wide arms, good souls and hearts larger than giant hibiscus. I have missed that way of life.

Only now - with London peeling itself open like a pomegranate offering her million seeds - am I beginning to understand how much this interpretation of The Hero’s Journey has reflected our life this past year.

I will eager to return - I almost called it home - to London in three weeks. So many more adventures await us here. And when we leave Pittsburgh, we will let go of so many other kinds of wonder.

And I realise - we might just master two worlds.

MISSION: NHS CO-OPERATION, a play in 5 scenes

inspired by Super Hero Otto and Winston The Boy

Christina - a frumpy pit bull disguised as a human being taking on the physical appearence of an African-American 40-something woman who has been a former administrative and poetry diva turned teacher and devoted mum. She wears baggy grey trousers which no longer fit properly, topped it with a raggedy black and tan fleece jumper.
SweetIndia - 20-something NHS Dental gatekeeper of Indian or Pakistani descent
SistaFriend: 40-something, NHS Dental gatekeeper of African descent.
Doreen - 50 something, NHS dental gatekeeper of European Extraction
Victoria - 40 something, NHS Administrative Dental Facility Manager of European extraction.

Scene 1: Black Stage - Opening Monologue
I have much to learn from these small people. Super Hero Otto and Winston The Butterfly/Giraffe/Tiger/Leopard Boy. They can put on costumes and make a light day of play.

This morning I have to go to the Royal London Hospital Emergency Dental Clinic. I knew I had to go there. I don’t want to. I’m almost fully human now and this will be a real setback. But, in order to save money and not irradiate my son twice in a 2 week span - I have to obtain....THE X-RAYS.

My true self - the pit bull - is hungry for blood. She wants to gnaw and gnaw at the legs of those who’ve harmed her master. She’s howling. I feel her clawing at the inside of my rib cage.

But - I have muzzled her. Her head twists from side-to-side in outrage. Her paws scrape across my jowls. I fear she will claw her way out.

But - we must save the boy. And this is England. We may not be unforgivably rude or alien, else all is lost.

Scene 2: Gate 1 - Royal London Hospital Ground Floor
(Christina enters ground floor reception and approaches the window)

Christina: Hi, I don’t know if you remember me, we were here last week?

(SweetIndia nods.)

Christina: Yeah - umm, thanks for the tip on different emergency rooms last week, but, having all of his teeth pulled is unacceptable. You thought so too. Remember?

(SweetIndia nods:)

Christina: I think we’re out of time for dilly-dallying. So, I’ve arranged for my son to be treated in America, next week.

(SweetIndia raises her eyebrows.)

Christina: Yeah, it’s really incredible, our friends and family have all helped us raise the money so he can have a normal life with teeth and everything. So, I need to pick up his x-rays.

(SweetIndia looks surprised, amazed, delighted, ruffles through some files, grabs mine and then frowns.)

SweetIndia: I’m sorry. I can’t give them to you.

Christina: Pardon me?

SweetIndia: Only a dentist can let you have them.

Christina: You do realise, I’m going to America on Thursday to fix this problem?

SweetIndia: I would if I could. But, wait...I’ll call upstairs. (She dials phone. Mutter, mutter, mutter. She looks up at Christina) You’ll have to go upstairs and see if they can help you.

Christina: Okay, thanks. And I really appreciate your support last week!

Scene 3: Gate 2 - Royal London Hospital 3rd Floor
(Big queue at reception. Christina patiently waits her turn. Sistafriend hurries in from her break. )

Sistafriend: Oy? You aright?

Christina: Long story - tell you when you get to your desk.

(She waits. She graciously (and manipulatively) lets others in front of her. Sistafriend sits at her desk. Calls next. Christina hurries to her place.)

Christina: Hi! Thanks for all of your help last week. You’ve made a tremendous impact on my son’s life. Truly. Listen. Surely you understand that it is impossible for my son to spend age 3 until 7 toothless.

Sistafriend: Yeah?

Christina: It will have a horrible impact on his speech development, peer relationships, self-esteem...

Sistafriend: I know. I know...I have a son.

Christina: Oh, great. He must be wonderful. (She nods and smiles.) So, I’m here to get my son’s x-rays. My friends and family have managed to get us back to America. We can save the teeth. The dentist is a paediatric specialist and really wonderful over the phone and can treat him right away. We leave on thursday. The dentist just wants the x-rays. He knows how much this will cost and said it would be healthier for my son and cheaper for me if I just brought the x-rays with me.

Sistafriend: I’ll check. (She goes back to a room. She look sad. ) It will cost £24.

Christina: I’m skinned. i don’t have £24. Do you know how much money has had to be raised in less than seven days.

Sistafriend: I’d give them to you, but, I’d get in trouble. I’m really sorry.

Christina: I understand. Is your supervisor here?

Sistafriend: (looking doubtful) I’ll get her for you.

(Doreen enters.)
Doreen: May I help you?

Christina: Mad recap of all the events to date culminating in Surely you could waive the fees?

Doreen: No i can not. everyone pays the fee. these x-rays cost The Trust money, you know.

Christina: Yes, i understand that. I see that money every week coming out of my paycheque. And I’ll be saving The Trust money by having the procedure done outside of the country.

Doreen: These x-rays are the property of The Trust and they cost us money. Everyone pays the fees, solicitors, everyone.

Christina pauses...you can see solicitors cross her face. “Maybe, I could finish this conversation with your supervisor.

(Christina frantically writes down all of the information in her notebook and exits.)

Scene 3 - Gate 3, Royal London Hospital - Floor 1

(Christina stands in front of an imposing door with a complex lock on the front. She knocks once lightly. She waits. She knocks again a little louder this time. The door opens. Christina pastes a winning grin on her face and strides in.)

Christina: Ms. V?

Victoria: yes?

Christina: Hi! (sticks her hand out and shakes.) My name is christina Springer. My son was seen here last Wednesday and I’m here to see you because you’re the next one on my list.

Victoria: (looks shocked) Is this a complaint?

Christina: More of a request.

Victoria: (quickly steps out of the way . Christina steps in. Victoria quickly closes both doors.) How may i help you?

Christina: (Mad recap ineptitude, transAtlantic flights, good American dentist, NHS expenses saved, incredible community support. Christina sighs. Tears well up in her eyes, she is feeling very frustrated.) So, but for the fact of my background in public relations and fund-raising for charities, my son would be toothless until age 7 simply because the system is broken and all of you are forced to do the best you can. All I want are his x-rays. We have no more money. We can not pay for them.

Victoria: (Pulls up his file. She validates all of the mistakes to date on the computer system.) I’ll see what I can do. Will you wait back up on the 3rd floor.

Christina: Sure, thanks so much!

Scene 4 - Gate 2, Royal London Hospital - 3rd Floor

(Christina enters and sits in the waiting room.)

Sistafriend: You aright?

Christina: Thanks, yeah, Ms. V asked me to wait here.

Sistafriend: (surprised) Oh! Okay.

(Time and time passes.)

Sistafriend: I can call her for you?

Christina: Thanks I’ll do anything for that boy. (She nods.) Right now what I have to do is be patient. But - no bother - when you don’t have anything else to do...you pray.

Sistafriend: (smiles) You’re right.

(Time passes and passes. Personnel come and go. Many remember Christina and Winston. They ask questions. Christina fields them. Let’s them know wee bits and pieces. They all wish the boy well. Finally Ms. V bustles in.)

Ms V: I’m sorry it took so long. I had to have a dentist sign off on them.

Christina: Thanks! I’ll bring them back!

Ms. V: No, no. These are your copies. Should I cancel his other appointment?

Christina: I thought I did this morning, but, if you’d be so kind to make sure it was cancelled, I’d be so appreciative.

Ms. V: Yes, I’ll take care of that. otherwise, it will show up in the system as another non-attendance

Christina: Sure, I understand. And I’ll phone tomorrow to make sure it all was taken care of.

She nods. They shake hands. Christina refrains from skipping out of the hospital. She does brandish the x-rays at Sistafriend who beams a huge smile and gives a thumbs up.

Scene 5 - Black Stage - Final monologue.

Feeling pretty proud of myself this morning. Not once did the following words cross my lips:
+ solicitor,
+ sue,
+ you pay, it’s your God-damned fault,
+ inept sons of bitches you’ll pay for this
+ hunt you and all your relations down,
or the dreaded
+ look for yourself in a poem which I will both publish and perform all over the world.

I’m also noticing what a long way I’ve come from being in the States. And I’m thankful for the in person and otherwise friends I’ve made since I’ve been here. And I especially cherish my quieter, more congenial friends back home.

I still feel that pit bull growling and snapping within me. But, she’s tamer now. And she knows when to let go.

Introducing - Super Hero Otto

Yesterday, at the playground, a little boy crossed the entire playground for the express purpose of befriending my son! Winston was wearing his Monarch Butterfly wings. But, I have to admit, on this particular day, he did complete his outfit with the antennae. So, he looked a right proper butterfly.

The little boy said: Hello, Butterfly! I’m Super Hero!

Winston froze - like he usually does when approached by small people on the playground.

So I translated. Winston, this is Super Hero Otto. ( I had heard Super Hero being called “Otto” by his father earlier. ) He’s saying hello to you.

Winston looked at Super Hero Otto - who was dressed in a long flashy red flannel coat with ladybird buttons, black trousers, shiny black gloves and sun glasses.

Winston had to think about this for a minute. But finally he managed to say, Hello Super Hero! I’m Winston The Butterfly.

C’mon Butterfly! Let’s slide! Super Hero Otto shouted.

I figured he could use a bit more translation, so I said, Super Hero Otto wants you to slide with him.

Winston had to think about this for a minute. Okay! He said.

Super Hero Otto dived headfirst down the slide. Winston thought that was pretty cool and did the same thing. Soon they were laughing. And making a big production out of giving each other a hand-up to the slide. It was good.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Learning From Children

Gentle In Manner, Strong In Deed was my high school motto. In raising a boy-child, I think it's a particularily good one.

I keep returning to Winston’s treatment on the playground.

And how, invariably some child will walk all the way across the playground for the express purpose of doing something mean to him. Then, I found this article that says 2 and 3 years olds are the most malicious creatures on the planet. And that this is normal - especially when improperly socialised.

So, I've been thinking about when this anti-social behavior happens. It usually happens when he and I are particularly focused on some wonderful thing. I’m chasing him. Or we are playing in the sand. Or we’re just poking a puddle with a stick. It most often occurs when we are quiet, engaged and absorbed in something special between the two of us.

And I realise that the child wants our attention. The child believes he can get our attention by doing something mean. I've also noticed that the child is usually occupying himself, rather than playing with his parent.

But, more interesting, I believe Winston has learned this also. He has learned that weeping and anger is the response that they want. He has developed a coping mechanism. He doesn’t scream, cry or carry on. He doesn’t act like a victim. He doesn’t push back or hit. He often just looks hurt and sad. (He stopped looking surprised a few months ago.) And then he resumes whatever activity he was doing before he was interrupted.

After the child’s mother has come to remove her child from our space; said sorry (that stupid word); Winston calmly and loudly announces that whatever the child did to him “is naughty.” He doesn't say it in a judging manner....more as a way of recieving affirmation from me that the behaviour of the other child was wrong.

I’ve noticed that this makes both the child and parent more embarrassed than any amount of weeping could ever generate. Especially because - someone usually makes a comment about what a nice boy he is. And the other mothers act protective when the transgressing child comes near theirs.

More importantly, we've run into these same children again. And after Winston's quiet resistance - they usually keep a wide berth.

And I’ve learned, that in his gentle manner is a certain kind of strength.

More On Christian Cox, Racism, Oppression and America

BTW - Karen - the way you are in the world is a demonstration of what it is to live gracefully. I learned from you to model the behaviour I expect from others. And this is the most powerful resistance to wrong-doing there is.

There is a difference between prejudice and oppression. And while both are unacceptable, one has a larger more devastating impact. I do believe Ms Cox has experienced prejudice. However, she is inappropriately linking her experience to larger, ongoing historical issues relating to very specific people and the overlay of institutional support systems for keeping them oppressed. And it is this that I take issue with.

Let me explain.

Back in my youth when I did a lot of diversity work, we used to play a game with workshop attendees. We’d ask for people to stand up if they were a member of a group. We’d call out Black, Asian, LBGT, Female, Physically Challenged, Not Rich, etc. With few exceptions, by the end of the list, everyone was standing. We’d have everyone look around and see the way in which everyone else was also not part of the Dominant Culture.

These are your allies. We would say. These people have similar political objectives to your own.

Often, this caused something of an uproar. For example, People Of Colour would complain that they can’t hide their skin. Other groups had similar comments about the way in which their oppression was more difficult to endure than others. The exercise made it obvious that the tools used to target their difference varied from group to group.

But - the fact that each group had experienced prejudice remained the same - regardless of the tools used by our larger dominant culture to oppress them...meaning to systematically enforce their position as less than.

At this point, we would bring out the handy-dandy oppression equation.
Power + Prejudice = Oppression

Prejudice is to judge someone based upon their colour, culture, religion, etc., but, without the institutional support for any actions based upon that belief.

When someone has the power to take action on their prejudice and has the support of institutions to enforce those actions, then they oppress another.

For example - most African-American men live with the understanding that they can and most likely will be stopped for driving a car. I’m not talking about speeding or driving recklessly. I’m talking about driving a car which seems to be the wrong make or model for them or even driving at a certain time of night. If stopped, they also understand that if they do not adopt the exact behaviours necessary, they may not survive the encounter. Finally - there will be little or no sanction against the police officers who unjustly stop them, kill or maim them.

The issue of racism involves both the prejudice of individuals and the systems in place to support those beliefs through action. This issue of race is usually based upon skin colour or ethnic heritage. (That is an entire different discussion - because there is really one Race - the Human Race. And the idea of humans as different races is a new concept defined in the American courts not even 200 years ago.)

Ms Cox says Anti-Americanism feels like racism. But, it can’t. Americans are not a Race. And furthermore, there are no global institutional support systems devised for oppressing Americans. And that is what anti-racism work is about - continuing to break down the systems which allow people, groups and organisations to take actions against people of different races based upon their prejudices.

She could have easily said it feels like sexism. In that a woman who breast-feeds in public can be harassed and segregated. But, then even this is inaccurate because (in many places) the breast-feeding woman has no institutional support protecting her from discrimination based upon this function of her gender.

I’m not denying that Ms Cox has experienced prejudice. I don’t deny the pain she feels. I have experienced myself - in multiple ways all of my life. However - those experiences do not have the additional layer to them that the larger issues of racism and sexism inherently contain.

An analogy - living life as a member of a group which experiences racism everyday is like being a pond over which there is a slick oily film. Ms Cox is aware that some British folks don’t like her. But - there is not the additional layer of understanding that these people are supported in their discrimination by the police force, the courts, and the government.

And I’m not saying that Anti-Americanism is right. What I am saying is that many members of oppressed groups learn to adapt to prejudice and discrimination at an early age. We learn behaviours, attitudes and coping mechanism to minimise the prejudice we expect to experience. We learn quickly to diffuse potentially dangerous situations. We learn to somehow get along - or at least try. Code switching means finding a way for others to see past the surface and relate to our deeper self. 

She could do well to learn these coping mechanisms. I had a tense situation I diffused recently using humour. I left the person involved laughing and saying, “I like you. You’re funny. Maybe you Americans aren’t so bad. “ It reminded me of my school days when the girls would say, ‘We like you. You’re not like a Black person at all.” Racist? Yes. Hurt my feelings? Definitely. Change their perception a bit about Black people? Absolutely. And there is the difference - shifting perceptions rather than reinforcing them.

Claude McKay's poem illuminates these complexities.

by Claude McKay

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Just A Reminder

We are leaving on Thursday for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The purpose of our visit is to save Winston’s teeth. If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that we are making a transatlantic flight and paying uninsured prices for dental work because it is the only acceptable alternative.

Three months into being here, Winston had some bizarre, extremely rapid tooth decay. Our frequent trips to dentists were only a source of frustration - as they filled out forms; which were lost; which needed to be refilled out.

In addition, a dentist confiscated my specially imported children’s high fluoride toothpaste designed to manage this specific problem. (This toothpaste was from the office of the dentist who will be treating Winston in the States....a dentist who specialises in Winston’s problem.)

Recap Continued
It only took me 3 days, but, I was finally able to get The National Hell Service to see him. They presented me with an unacceptable treatment plan. Because the waiting list for fillings in his age bracket is 6 months - AND - at the rate of decay (4 months without special toothpaste, failure to treat and the virulence of the caries) - they propose to remove all of his upper teeth. ALL OF THEM. LEAVE HIM TOOTHLESS for 4 to 6 years.

This simply won't work for us. The teeth can be saved.

How You Can Help
We’ve had tremendous amount of help. But if anyone wants a better motivation....please remember:

$5 removes 1/20th of a tooth or saves 1/20th of a tooth
So, if 20 people kick up $5.00 we’ll save a tooth

$10 fills 1/12th of a tooth.
So, if 12 people kick up $10, we’ll fill a tooth $50 saves 1/4th of a tooth

If four people kick up $50, we’ll save a whole tooth.

$100 removes a tooth and kicks $5 towards anaesthesia
Therefore, if 3 people kick up $100, we’ll remove all of the unsalvageable teeth.

For my British friends - reduce the dollar by half. So £5 fills 1/12 of a tooth. And £25 saves an entire tooth. And on....

Donations are still be accepted at:
nnunley..........{at} .....gmail //////// dot ........com

We still need lots of help...We’re halfway there. Thanks my vibrant family and friends and some of you gorgeous new UK friends. We won’t go to Debtor’s Prison over teeth. You have our undying gratitude.

Ready To Travel

nervous. habit from 9/11.
always wishing planes
racing above my head,
safe journey!

I never fail to hear them
zooming. wave.
shout good
wishes. the boy

has this habit
now. old
enough to say it right,
but, before he was,

he’d observe a jet
skimming skies & shout
a journey!!!
I always wondered.

NOTE: Suddenly I contemplate what people will shout as our jet slides through the skies above their heads. I only pray that we are as well wished.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Adapting To A New Country As An Experience In Learning What Racism Feels Like?

Well...hooey, hooey, hooey, my dear.

Thanks to one email group here, who explained British concepts of rudeness to me quite loudly and clearly. They helped me grow quite a bit. They also helped me get over the culture shock and attempt to return to myself. And also thanks to Karen who explained once what it means to be a guest in someone's country. I'll return to teeth soon enough. But - I have so much hope at the moment, I can actually think about something new.

BBC news recently posted an article about former model, Christian Coxcomplaining that Anti-Americanism "felt like racism."

I just had to respond to the hooey....

As an African-American who has been living in London for a year now, I've yet to experience one iota of in-person prejudice or harassment. Then again, I'm living in Hackney. Most people feel sorry for me - even though Hackney is the most wonderful, diverse, culturally rich places I've been in London!

I think the positive energy I’ve received here is because I learnt a different set of social codes than Ms Cox did. Most successful members of ethnic groups learn to “code switch” at very early ages. Not just linguistically, but physically as well. We adopt these survival techniques almost unconsciously as adults.

I think the root of Ms. Cox’s difficulties are rooted in both her power and privilege. Even unconsciously acted upon - it is still read by others as arrogance. It is part of the cultural make up of almost all Americans. We almost always eagerly say, "I disagree!" or "I have an opinion and a right to it!" We see it as our heritage and right.

Then, wherever we go, we expect these utterances to be greeted with excitement. We expect to embark upon an intelligent, calm debate. That's the American way, isn't it? Well - wake up! We're not in America, Ms. Cox!

I have learned many British people find this exceptionally rude. We are guests here. To be a good guest in someone’s country means to attempt to learn something about our host and their preferred methods for social interaction.

So, when we attempt to exchange ideas - however rudely - it is because each party has a different set of expectations. When the expectations are unmet - we find ourselves in conflict. When this occurs, most people respond with some sort of defence mechanism: sweeping generalizations, an assertion of rights, accusations, opinions or firm statements of belief.

Into this mixture of social misunderstandings, we have the current political climate. We, Americans, have come from a country which is barely over 200 years old. On the world playground, some of our number are prancing about acting like the political toddlers they are.

Because our leader is an exceptionally large toddler with the potential to do real damage to others; everybody else is left scrambling about offering lollies, sweeties and other treats so he’ll settle down and play nicely.

However, there are large numbers of people who think America deserves large smack on the behind and should be sent to bed without supper. And while I don’t agree that all of us should be punished in this manner, I can certainly feel a great deal of empathy for people of this opinion. Toddlers - of any sort - are very frustrating sometimes and exceptionally difficult to re-direct.

Now, I'm not saying our transition to this country has been smooth. It has - in fact - been the worst year of my life. So bad, recently, I contemplated cutting off my dreadlocks. In 18 years, I have never felt I'd built up so much trauma - that I was unwilling to carry it with me. But - I digress.

These days, when I encounter questions about my country, I find that our way is made easier by switching frameworks and attempting to understand the other person’s point of view. I often find myself saying, “I can see how you feel that way. Would you like to know what I’ve discovered is?” or “It was a very close election, so you can rest assured that half of America agrees with you.” Mostly, I use humour.

Regardless, we Americans are all guests here. Each and everyone of us is a cultural ambassador. And we must conduct ourselves accordingly. My goal is to be the individual peace I seek for the larger world.

I am not here to defend my country. I am not here to assert our greatness. I am here to share ideas, learn, and forge those individual friendships wherein true progress can be made.

I think Ms. Cox may want to meditate a bit on Ghandi and ML King. Perhaps even learning from the experiences of her fellow African-Americans and learn to code switch. It may help her adjust better to her life here. Most African-Americans can seamlessly code switch without feeling as if they have compromised one smigdeon of their identity. Useful skill for living abroad.

Most importantly, all of Americans living abroad must align ourselves with the ideas of empathy and compassion. We serve our country best by being good examples.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Tooth Saga - Part 3

& we need to invent a new word.

We fly to Pittsburgh on April 21st.

The dentist there has made space to care for him. He’ll be all fixed up and finished in less than a 2 week span.

In less than 2 days, our friends and family have made all of this happen. We have raised a significant amount towards flight and treatment expenses. We could still use help. But. thank you - all of you - who have made this happen. I am humbled to be one of your number.

Once upon a time I thought I understood the word harambee. It means working together, pulling together.

There must be some other more specific word to describe all of you. Something that has the same energy as svaha - the sound between thunder and lightning. Something that means in one simple word, “we are everything we dream ourselves to be. we consciously construct a new reality by making small meaningful actions. everyday, we rise to the occasion of our higher selves, bow and invite ourselves to be present. we live in compassion, empathy and a profound understanding of our shared human experience.”

Because well, hey - that describes my friends and family.

Maybe we should just make a word for that. Any suggestions?


mutter-hummed softly

I control the words,
they don’t control me.
when I move my mouth
I set us all free.

repeat until calm, logical

my heart-soul holds a smiling
dandelion boy
teeth clack-clattering

happily. whole, healthy
biting, ripping
tearing up food.
Wild, winged

my forsythia riot
my floral flight fantastic
both rooted and free.

flashing skipping feet.
nutty absolutely
peanut picnicking with squirrels
mashing them with his
fine diamond teeth.

dressing up with girls - stick
fighting with his coy boys. grin faced.
vice and versa, my little Prince
knows more than his place.

mutter-hummed softly

I control the words,
they don’t control me.
when I move my mouth
I set us all free.

repeat until calm, logical

Thursday, April 13, 2006


I’ve become something of a nervous wreck. More so since yesterday. Suddenly, I have to get my son back to Pittsburgh for proper, safe treatment. We can’t afford it. But - something has to happen.

I keep flashing back to last year when we had our first run in with the NHS. I keep remembering Winston - thin as a famine victim - and the refusal of the doctors to treat him.

When I close my eyes, the image of him passing in and out of consciousness in front of them. Hearing their proper, imperious voices insisting that he simply sleeps.

I can almost feel the rage tightening my bones so stiff it felt like they would snap, when I demanded an I.V. My mouth becomes sticky and flat remembering how they eventually gave him an I.V.; drew blood and informed me hours later that he was probably 2 hours from kidney failure.

So sorry, they said, he may have some long term kidney failure. He just presented so well.

Presented so well? You mean he is an above-average kid hell bent on survival? Meaning, he has above average language skills? Meaning, he is a kid who has been given good reason to believe that the adults in his life love him and will care for him? Meaning, we have earned the ultimate trust he has placed in us? So he doesn’t have to scream, rage and carry on? Presented well? Those fat cheeks reduced to hollows? Luminous, fevered eyes? Bones showing through his torso, arms, legs, begging, begging for juice, water, breastmilk? Vomiting or passing it within minutes? This is a child who presents well?

I return again and again to trying to get the G.P. to test his urine and recommend us for an ultrasound of his kidneys. I’m trying to follow up on the damage they may have done to him. And no, his urine still doesn’t smell right. Yes, tests have not been given. It has been a year and we still can’t find out one way or the other whether or not they damaged him for life last year.

Then, I imagine submitting him into these hands for a surgery I do not want. What if I say, his breathing looks off. Or maybe, I don’t like the look of his eyes. Or maybe after the surgery, I say, He can’t identify the number 8.
What will they say to me?

You’re overreacting. He’s too young to do these things. That’s what they’ll say. And they’ll send me home with a brain damaged kid with no upper teeth until he is 7 or 8 years old.

Because, when it comes to the medical treatment of my child I know:
+ not to over react;
+ to research all aspects of the problem;
+ to engage in an intellectual, detached, almost clinical manner with health practitioners;
+ to suffer necessary treatment with a calm smile so he feels relaxed;
+ to make the giving of health care easy for the practitioner.

It is a cold, hard place to find within oneself. Every mother feels each wrenching bite of pain their child experiences. It is as if the ghost of an umbilical cord forever unites our bodies.

I do not overreact. And they will claim that I am after they have damaged him.
For financial reasons, they will end us home...

and they’ll say, Sorry. Because that word fixes everything here. It is used so often for everything from trying to get off a bus to smacking someone in the face to almost killing their child. It is a meaningless social code which really means, I am now absolved of any responsibility for damage I have done you.

This is the National Hell System.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Saga Of The Teeth - Continued

(Why the NHS sucks so much shit)

We showed up this morning at the Royal London Hospital Emergency Dental Clinic. We were actually seen! How tremendous is that?!?

We were only seen because I complained. I had sent a referral form in January. They searched their computer. Lo! And behold! We were in there...

as unresponsive to follow-up mail. I never got any mail. She checked our address. It was wrong. So, she accessed a scanned copy of our correspondence. (Thank you all geeks of the world. Thank you on bended knee.) They had put the address in wrong.

My legs needed a victory dance. But, I refrained. We would get care. That was enough of a win for me. We waited a better part of the morning. But, we visited with a dentist. She sent us downstairs for x-rays. (Glory Hallelujah! X-ray technology being made available to my son! Can you believe it? X-ray technology! In England! We warranted the expense of an x-ray!)

Must be pretty bad.

Winston was a trooper. All of this attachment parenting stuff is excellent for getting good behaviour in dire situations. Everyone made a comment that they had never witnessed a child his age who could: stay so still; was absolutely trusting when I said it wouldn’t hurt; and was well-mannered to boot. Score One for The Highland Park Playgroup and Dr. Sears

This made them want to help us. (Obviously I wasn’t some idiot, uncaring parent who needed to be told what was what about caring for children.) So they offered us the only help they could offer. I might add they did do it sheepishly and with apology.

So - basically as it stands now. Winston needs to have 3 teeth extracted. There is no help for those. The other upper remaining 7 can be filled and managed. However, the waiting list for fillings is 6 months long. Whereas, he can get treatment in 2 months if I agree to have every single last upper tooth removed. And, if I wait 6 months - with the current rate of decay - they all have to come out anyway.

They offer no replacement teeth - no denture system. He has to be toothless for the next 3 to 7 years. No top teeth. None. Not a one. Because they are too busy.

This is health care in the U.K. I am weeping here tonight. I could care less about my wonderful jobs.

Paypal donations may be made to: nnunley (at} gmail___ dot.... com

What Is Good Here

The Magic Door we helped to build.

Our friend, Little Dude

The 75 pounds that went missing - as of the last weight taking in Jan.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Said Beauchamp Tower To

St Peter ad Vincula Chapel

Like a sick tongue
she strolled

from my arches
in a white dress

to kneel and pray
herself to death.

In your shadow and his -
the man from Calais in Black

leather with his sharp
double edged sword.

Don’t interrupt! You’ve told me
182,500 times already.

She said, Good day, Sir.
to her executioner. I guess happy

to see him. A symbolic last
kindness from Henry 8 - wasn’t it?

Oh, peace!

You couldn’t have liked all that
disembowelling, quartering, axe hacking

and fuss? You’re the
God-fearing one. Stop being silly.

So swift it was!

Her lips giving glory
to God without a heart

or steepled hands to animate
those wishes. You have to respect

miracles born of mercy. What still
bother’s me, dear, is if

Henry loved the Spanish woman
and Anne disliked Francis 1

why request the fancy French death?

Queen Anne Boleyn feared the axe. So, she requested execution in the "French Manner" (with a sword.) King Henry VIII, granted that request. There were many political tensions between Spain, France and England, many of which Henry tried to resolve through marriage contracts between Boleyn's daughter to the future King of France. The marriage of her daughter to France would have cemented the child's precarious social position.

Legend has it that Queen Anne Boleyn prayed as she was being beheaded. When the executioner picked up her head to display it to the crowd, her lips were still moving.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Don't Need No Snake Bite

Down day, upper incisors succumb
to some bizarre ravaging British

caries. Melting everyday. Squishy
liquid, his teeth. Jell-O under August sun

picnic. Upper left is a stump.
Smaller than shorn Hawthorn trunks

in the shadow of St. Augustine’s Tower. Gums

pink, molars need crowns
front left tooth - dark brown

leaf mould coloured.
or shit. We’ve gotta get out of this place.

He can not eat. Three days
with no more than peanut butter

on white bread, cous-cous,
Who knew this First

World wants its children

to embrace stoicism at such an early age?
He loves the idea of a dentist.

We keep trying to see
one. Will help us if we flee. Home

remembers insurance
untaxed. Empathy & care.

Note: For 9 months I have been pursuing this so-called free dental care that the NHS provides to children. I have trekked to dentists; filled out forms, filled out lost forms and gotten nowhere.

We can't afford the “private health care insurance” we were promised on our move. If we take it, we get taxed on the income of "the benefit the company is providing." We can’t afford to receive a “benefit!” What kind of country is this?

Today, I took him to the Emergency Dental Clinic at The Royal London Hospital. His upper left incisor has completely melted away. I showed them. he is in pain. he can not eat. They said, sorry - all full up. Bring him back Wednesday at 8:00 (they open at 8:30) and we’ll be able to see if we can provide him with care by 3:00. I need to stay all day at an emergency hospital to see if I can get treatment - for a child whose teeth are now so rotten that he can’t eat?

Thank God I’m still nursing. At least he's getting some nutrients. But, still, I think gotta plan an exit strategy. Gotta get my boy home. Alive.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

When The Food Is Gone, Both Turn Away

My Little Prince

How much like fiction is life.

". . . One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes. . . . It’s the time that you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important. . . . You become responsible for what you’ve tamed. You’re responsible for your rose. . . .” from, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

Once a week, we visit the squirrels in the old churchyard behind Hackney Central Station. I don’t even know the park's proper name. The tower of the old St Augustine’s Church presides over the park. It is all that is left of the church. Illegible, moss covered tombs dot the paths and greens. Thin, flat tombstones lean against the walls, stacked four or five deep. It’s an ill-cared for little park. A forgotten place. A mere path to the local Tesco's. But, there is a certain beauty to it.

It became one of our favourite places to visit after I broke my toe in December. Winston and I could grab the bus in front of our gate and get off at the entrance. Door to door service works very well for a person with a broken toe. Winston could run and play. I could sit on a bench. We would feed peanuts to the squirrels. They were really grateful.

Sometime around late January, we realised that the squirrels knew us. Winston skipped into the park - singing and laughing. I’d hobble along behind, rustling my bag. The squirrels ran over to us. They have little ‘hand gestures.’ They’ll run towards you. Stop. Stand up on their back two paws. Tap one of their front paws to their chest. If you cluck or rustle the bag, they’ll run to you and get their peanut. Then, they run off and eat it. Eventually, they took the peanuts right from my hand. Finally, they’d just sit and eat the peanut right next to us.

On occasion, they displayed bad manners such as: chasing other squirrels off or being greedy. At these times, we’d move off. We’d find the poor little fellow who’d been run off and feed him. Sometimes Winston ran around and screamed. They learned that this had the benefit of getting rid of the pigeons. Eventually, the squirrels only ran a small distance away and let Winston take care of their competitors.

At the beginning of March - right when I had begun to despair that Winter would ever end - the squirrels frolicked madly. Their crazy happy dance of Spring gave me great joy that day. And hope - something I’d been missing for a long time. Winston and I laughed a lot that day. The Squirrel Ballet was an excellent production.

But, in mid-March, tree and bush cutting began. The squirrels became skittish and scarce. So we were forced to try to find them. Since my foot is less painful these days, we ambled a little deeper into the park.

There we found a walled garden. Its gates were open, so we went inside. Winston loved it. One day, we spent an entire afternoon sitting on the edge of an abandoned old pool or fountain. We poked the three inches of water that were inside. We pushed leaves around and found stranded worms. We rescued about five worms, that day.

Once we’d rescued the worms, we discovered a whole flock of wrens living in some thick climbing bush that grew along the side of the wall. They were excellent to observe. But, we had to keep our worms safe until they were able to get under cover.

Funny - who we choose to protect or not protect. We choose squirrels over pigeons and worms over wrens. I’m not sure why.

Each week, we noticed more and more trees coming down; rose bushes being ripped out; and the wren’s home completely obliterated. So we walked around looking for answers. We found a board describing plans for refurbishing the park. It seems like a great idea. They are even putting a playground in our secret garden! We’re just sorry our friends are getting displaced.

Things became busy. The weather lifted and we didn’t visit for awhile. Yesterday, Winston and I went to visit our friends again. They aren’t as comfortable anymore. All of the habitat destruction has made them wary. Can you blame them?

It took about a half hour of keeping our bodies quiet, but we managed to help them remember us. They were eating out of hands again! I was really proud of Winston. He has learned when to be still and when to be frenetic.

A nice older couple came along with their grandchild. They observed us for awhile. I offered them some peanuts. But, the squirrels wouldn’t take them from them. Not to be outdone, the man got some chocolate. Squirrels like chocolate! (Smart creatures.)

So many children pass through the park and try to chase the squirrels. Or mothers hustle their children along. They don’t stop and notice this vibrant world. But, yesterday, so many people stopped and tried to help us feed the squirrels. Most had to toss the peanut. One couple kept taking pictures of us feeding the squirrels. They couldn’t believe how tame they were (for us.)

Several older children discovered that it is so much more satisfactory to be in harmony with nature than in dominion over it. They learned how satisfactory it is to find the quiet inside of yourself, so that a wild animal will trust you enough to take a peanut from your hand.

I worry what will happen once the park is finished. Will they still have a home? Will they remain tame with the increased foot traffic? Are we endangering them with our friendship?

I remember that chapter from Antoine de Saint Exupery’s book where the Little Prince tamed the fox. My little prince and Saint Exupery’s little Prince have much in common. I sincerely hope, however, that they have different endings. (Given what is going on with his teeth and the NHS here, I can’t count on it.)

Still, it was a great day - observing how much Winston has learned and how much he can teach others. We are responsible for all we tame.

(I took pictures of our friends. They'll be developed soon. Stay tuned.)

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Butterfly, Blue Skies

Chrysalis Imminent

Winston loves animals. Mammals are exceptional. Perhaps it is because they are soft and share something in common with him - num num. (Squirrels will take peanuts from your hand. But, they run when you try to pet them. Talk about ungrateful!) Fish are fascinating - so lovely, dreamy, liquid swishing through the water. (But, you can’t hold them.) Birds are exciting. They fly, flap, and squawk. (But, they are hard to catch and everyone always discourages you from trying.)

So, I think creepy crawlies are his favourite. You can hold these creatures. You can pick them up. You can carry them around. You are allowed to bring them home from the park. And while they are "delicate" and do “break” sometimes, it doesn’t get the same reaction as - for example - scaring the squirrels.

We’ve been reading Eric Carle’s, The Very Hungry Caterpillar since Winston was tiny. Recently, the idea of metamorphosis has thrilled him. Then again, he is also on the cusp of a major transformation. At some deep level, he recognises that he is changing from a baby into a boy.

A few weeks ago, after reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the fifth time. (And a sixth - in Spanish - just to give Mommy a break.) He said I would like to see a caterpillar be a butterfly.

I thought about that; went on the internet and viola! A a butterfly kit! So, I ordered one. They even let me pick the date that the caterpillars would arrive. I looked at my calendar and timed it so that (hopefully) we’ll have butterflies on Winston’s birthday. (They postman lost the first batch of caterpillars. So we’re six days off of the schedule.)

The caterpillars arrived two weeks ago. They were tiny! Less than a centimetre big. Winston is beside himself with excitement. He watches them everyday. He has been surprisingly gentle with their little habitat. Just like human babies, they experience a tremendous amount of growth in two weeks. They are now about two inches long.

At first, they stayed down at the bottom, eating their little nutrient formula. This week, however, they’ve begun to climb up and down the jar. We’ve been excited about the activity. They’ve also been spinning silk - which means they are happy.

Just today, though, they’ve been hanging around the top of the jar. I think I see one forming a chrysalis. (Yes, Winston can say chrysalis and it is hilarious.) So, I’m hoping we’ll have Painted Lady butterflies on April 20th. If not, the whole process has been a genuine thrill ride - and an exploration of patience.

I only wish I had documented the journey - a digital camera must be in my future.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

London Blooms. Spirit Lifting

London blooms. Not just the random patch of crocuses. Not the occasional courageous daffodil. Trees and bushes - cherry and forsythia. Two days of warmth and sunshine lift moods. People begin to connect. It’s 6:30 and the sun isn’t rapidly sliding to the horizon.

And we returned to our pond at Haggerston Park.

Ponds are magical places. There is something about a manageable body of water in the middle of green space. It says, rest awhile. It says, anything can happen. It says, there are more worlds than you remember.

Winston and I spent our entire day there. It’s funny, how even grown men see a pond and say, I need a stick. This happened five times today. Grown men would walk by the pond and everyone of them said, I need a stick. Then, they would look around, get a stick and plunge it into the pond. There is something about ponds that makes boys want a stick to poke into it.

In the nearby wooded patch, an installation artist was installing a piece. She put a door in the middle of the path leading into the woods. We watched her digging the holes yesterday. Today, Winston watch her place the door frame and then the door. He helped her spread leaves around the newly dug Earth, so that the door looked like it had been there for awhile. Winston had a great time helping.

Once the door frame was put in place, people would actually walk through it on their way in. They could have easily gone around it. But, everyone we observed used the door frame. I thought it was a fantastic idea. How something so simple as a door - even in the middle of a wood - evokes the same response.

But, most importantly, the newts have returned to our pond. The frogs have come and spawned. Their little bubbles of babies float in the murky brown water. The algae is thick and green. And the newts are frolicking - as they do in April. We saw two types of newt today - Smooth and Palmate. Delightful little amphibians - some have orange or yellow spotted bellies, others have plain yellow belly. It made me wish for a copy of The Sneeches. They were living so happily together in the pond. There were snails and water spiders which we’d find in the net mixed into the algae. Blackbirds strutted about and the occasional raven came to observe (in the event we found something interesting to it.)

Walking home tonight Winston said, “We had a great adventure today.”

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Family Has Chosen

To Return Orange to Earth.

In a private ceremony at 9:14 GMT, The Springer-Nunley Family laid Orange The Goldfish, Ladybird Liberator Of London to rest in our courtyard. “Burial At Sea” (toilet flushing) was deemed inappropriate by Winston.

Norman, Christina and Winston dug a hole near Mr. Mitch’s door. (A quiet, secluded part of the courtyard.) Orange was wrapped in a lovely black muslin shroud tied together by red satin ribbon which was interlocked into a lovely pattern by Christina.

Winston carried the shroud to the courtyard. His two tiny hands holding his friend out in front of himself. He also managed to push all of the necessary elevator buttons. Quite a feat for a not-yet-three year old child.

Together, they dug out a hole. They placed his shroud inside. Over the grave site, they placed a candle and three sticks of incense.

They prayed. They wished him a good next incarnation. A crescent moon was framed perfectly by single peachy, purple, pink cloud. For once, in London, there were stars visible.

The family bid Luna, “Good night! Take care of our sweet fishy fish Orange.”

The cloud moved along. A solo crescent framed perfectly by a cerulean blue sky.

And the family was happy that Orange would return to them....perhaps as a mammal.

Orange The Goldfish

October 2005 - April 5, 2006

Orange The Goldfish joined our family in October of 2005. The Ladybirds of London owe a great debt to this loving, humble fish. During this period, Winston frequently captured ladybirds and attempted to imprison them indefinitely in our home. Orange was our solution to The Great Ladybird Kidnapping Dilemma.

A amiable and clever fish, he eagerly kissed Winston’s finger whenever it was quietly thrust into the bowl. And no, the reward of extra food was not what motivated him. Knowing that extra little treats make for dirty water, we had to clean his bowl a wee bit more frequently. We didn’t mind the extra work. He contributed greatly to our household, not just with his loving kisses, but because his old bowl water contributed to the exceptional growth of our houseplants.

Orange took ill on April 2, 2006. Winston noticed that he was quieter than usual. He lived an active life, often zooming and swimming around his bowl. He could be very excitable when humans approached. Often, he swam to the top of his bowl when Winston approached in the anticipation of a finger to kiss. However, on April 2nd of 2006, he exhibited less of that sort of behaviour, preferring the bottom of his bowl. I didn’t think anything of it. Sometimes even little creatures need a bit of space from a toddler.

Orange’s room was on the dining table next to my computer. I usually observe Orange during the day - as I type emails, blog or during meals. However, I worked all day yesterday. I didn’t pay much attention to Orange last night when I came home. After all, I’d been away from my boy all day.

This morning, we woke up and noticed Orange floating sideways at the bottom of his bowl. Some quick internet research suggested that he either had Fluke or Swimbladder Disease. As soon as we were able, we raced out to the pet store seeking a solution. We purchased the medicine - but - the sunny day had captured Winston’s adventurous spirit. We arrived home at 1:00 p.m. We administered the medicine and provided necessary intervention.

Orange the Goldfish, Ladybird Liberator of London made his transition at 1:48 p.m. GMT. He is survived by his family, Christina and Imani Springer, Norman and Winston Ives Nunley.

Winston is taking it the hardest and is still in denial. He keeps insisting that Orange is just resting. Christina and Norman are deeply saddened and wondering what they could have done differently. The family is undecided at present whether or not they should invite another dear fishy into their lives. They understand that not all fish are heroic, and they were blessed to be embraced by such a loving, courageous soul . In addition, the cost at present of providing more suitable accommodations is prohibitive.

Orange will be missed by family and friends. Suitable memorial arrangements are currently being discussed - burial at “sea” or “back to earth?”