I arrive in Norwich from London to Couchsurf on the couch of Katherine Cofell, an American living in Norwich with her British partner Bill. They take me out to Reepham, the village where they live with Bill's Mom, and I glimpse the grass-scented sheep-filled countryside life, step on some stinging nettles, and walk through a farm field. Back in Norwich, I visit The Greenhouse for a meal and then as a volunteer. I decide to stick around for a bit.
I spend Summer Solstice at Stonehenge with the London CouchSurfers. I come back to Norwich and then take the train up to Sheringham for a day in a seaside town on the north Norfolk coast. I picnic in a park with my new workmates at Frank's Bar and come second in an English pub quiz.
I work at Frank's Bar on Bedford Street. I get a job at The Green Grocer on Recreation Road. I live at 105 Earlham Road, but I bake a cake at 63 Alexandra Road with hazelnuts and beetroot and topped with rose jam. I practice yoga in Chapelfield Gardens as under age kids drink beer and make-out in the afternoon. I bake cakes and make salads at The Greenhouse.
I attend Katherine Cofell's leaving do at Spice Paradise, the Indian restaurant where she brought me to meet Bill's family on my second night in Nowich. I bike up to Mousehold Heath and watch the sun set over the city before I get caught in the rain and come home soaking. I go to Buddafield East, a 'gathering' in a field in Suffolk where we camp, use compost loos, eat communal meals and chop communal onions. I meditate (almost) every morning and chant in a puja every evening. I tell myself emphatically that I am not a Buddhist.
September, 2008I work more at both my jobs and I spend more time at the Buddhist Centre more often - more meditation, more yoga, more volunteering on the front desk. My life is more full. I go to Brighton, the popular southern seaside destination for Britons. I walk on its pier full of carousels and skee ball games, soft whip ice cream and sugar dusted deep fried donuts. Fish and chips without the fish. Vegetarian restaurants galore. Just enough sunshine for September.
The second of the month sends me off on my first Buddhist retreat, to the Burnham-Overy Windmill just past Wells-Next-the-Sea. I squirm and go all claustrophobic, but I grind my teeth and breathe with it and make it home in one piece. I celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with a gander of friends (but no goose) at my new temporary accommodation on Press Lane in Norwich. I make perogies for the first time, in two batches; one is vegan. We sing 'Johnny Appleseed' in call and response.
I turn 27. Mair and Dad arrange a cake from across the ocean and Mom sends me pink roses. I go to London and see Annie Leibowitz's exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, and spend my birthday night at The Peasant pub. Later it's Whatton, a village in Nottinghamshire, to find a pile of horseshoes and a few castles on a handful of hills. I venture out to another retreat at the Windmill and almost enjoy the weekend.
Back to London to see Les Miserables for the second time in my life. I can't remember if I enjoyed it more or less than the first. I do think Eponine's On My Own has taken on a mythological tinge in my head that no earthly rendition can match, that she can only perfectly balance dying and hitting the high notes in A Little Fall of Rain in my head and not on stage. December the 25th in Whatton: a tree and a mushroom tart and an English Christmas for me.
The New Year rings in at Frank's Bar in my fancy frock. I read a horoscope that tells me a new occupation is on the horizon, so I apply for an administrative position at an NGO called BananaLink but it passes me by. So I hang up my suit next to my party dress for another day and keep loving waitressing on the weekends and stocking grocery shelves one day a week. I start the Foundation Course, a one year survey of Buddhism, at the Buddhist Centre.
The English winter still looms. I turn five (years sober, that is), and get a devishly sugary pink iced cake for my efforts. I go to a meeting, and while it's comforting to sit in a room of people who understand what five years means, I don't miss anything I found there. Later in the month it's London town again, this time for the New York musical Avenue Q and a walk down Portobello Road for the first time since this time last year.
My first week-long retreat. I drive with two lovely ladies out to Taraloka, a women's retreat centre on the Shropshire-Welsh boarder. I absolutely, positively, heartfeltfully, and magnanimously enjoy the collection of moments that made up all those seven days. I chant and cartwheel, meditate in the shrine room, talk the Dharma, sit in the sun in a tank top with a colouring book and rejoice in the spring to come. I ask to become a mitra, a bonafide friend of the Western Buddhist Order.
I spend most of the month enjoying snatched moments of domesticity and Norwichian relaxation. A walk to University of East Anglia and the art exhibit China! China! China! at The Sainsbury Centre. Then the month culminates in Jackie and Sam's arrival from Tokyo. After ten years of no communicado, Jackie and I reconnected in Japan in '07, and now it's her turn to visit me. We walk down cobbled streets, have coffee in cafes and dinners out on the town, wander through the Plantation Gardens and play chess on the lawn outside the Assembly House.
I finally, officially, stop with the me and become part of a we. I can't really look back at the last year without him; I have to eliminate pronouns from sentences to pretend he hasn't been here all along, not in the background but alongside me. I'm still here, still me, still the same as I've been, but everything I do is reflected in his choices, and my life isn't solitary, can't be, won't be, doesn't want to be. I'll tell you all about us in the next post, and you'll see what I mean about me and Tom.