August 2 —
On the train from Edinburgh to London. This will be my final train journey, probably. except for going to Gatwick on Saturday morning. And I’ll go on the tube, probably, not the train. I lost my wallet with my passport in it sometime between Saturday afternoon (when I went on a tour of Mary King’s Close, a cavern of streets and shops and small dwelling places running beneath modern Edinburgh) and Sunday morning. There was also a bunch of cash in it, too. dammit. Oh well. I have my credit cards and my driver’s license and my debit card, too. It could be much worse. ALSO! if the bureaucracy runs on the same kind of schedule as the trains do, I might be here a little longer. About which I will not complain.
I’ve met some wonderful women here. Connected with some family here — the genetically related variety and the politically and spiritually aligned variety. I hung out with lively sweet cousins and dead grandparents, ancestors from all the ages. I landed in a a nest of feminists and lesbians, and sought out some other family in recovery. I took a million pictures! English, Welsh and Scottish sheep, Scottish cows–the ones with the Viking-looking horns– Welsh ponies, grand workhorses, little stone cottages and great grand cathedrals. Underground passageways said to be haunted by the ghosts of old women and little children, broad hillsides sweeping down to ocean cliffs and pressing up against the wind. It feels like home here. Not in the way home feels like home –but something different. Like I belong here, somewhere. It’s a place of return, even though i’ve never been before. We’re almost at king’s cross now. then it will be a big trip to Trafalgar Square.
Later that day….dear god it’s humid! now i have a gazillion forms to fill out and a bunch of money to lay upon the good people at the Canadian embassy. They only do the passport thing between 9:30 and 12:30, so i have to just hang in till then. Took me FOREVER to find a passport photo place. that was fun, though. I went and had a burger at Byron’s, it hasn’t been a very nutritiously enlightened day for me. the only green and crunchy thing i’ve had all day was the pickle with the burger. Sweet pickle, at that. I was expecting dill. I’m glad i left my luggage at King’s Cross. For a king’s ransom they will hold your stuff for you. £25 sounds MUCH nicer than $45. Which was what it cost. oh well. no way I could have struggled all the way to Trafalgar Square, Canada House, to the closed photo place, back to Canada House, to the burger place, to the post office, then to Piccadilly Circus where there WAS a photo place, and then back to King’s Cross with 520 lbs (what is that in stone?) of ‘fridge magnets, tea towels, coasters, calendars and Cornish fudge. Anyway, I’m doing alright, i’m happy that god made credit cards. kind of. and my picture doesn’t look nearly as sweaty and disheveled as i feel.
Alright. On Friday morning i can pick up my emergency travel document, and then when i get home i can apply for another passport. I was sad to lose my old passport, I think I looked kind of fierce and wild in the picture. It was one of me with long hair. I am not all that good about my hair — i just kind of leave it to do what it will. sometimes i look like a cartoon character. When i told my parents that i was a lesbian (thirty years ago! so long), Dad wanted to know what they had done wrong. Mom said, “Oh, John, we didn’t do anything wrong, she’s an adult, making her way,” but she was devastated by the news. She was worried I would be lonely, told me that I was either born ahead of my time, or behind it. She said, when she told me ab0ut Dad’s reaction to my letter, that she would have done some things differently (not connected to preventing my lesbianism, of course, just in general). I asked what she would have done–“Well. I would have spent less time on your hair…”
I still think that’s funny. Anyway, the old passport photo, that was at the tail end of the “i’m not getting a haircut until I finish my damned dissertation” days, so it’s about three years long. And you’re not allowed to smile, right, for your passport photo anymore. And I remember it was a very sad day when i had that picture taken. So i looked kind of serious and “braveheart”-ish. This new one, though, I’m wearing the labrys I got in Wales. and a t-shirt that says “Scotland” on it. Still stern, not as sorrowful. tidier hair. It’s so fraught, isn’t it? getting these ID photos.
I’m staying in London with a new friend — a radical feminist lesbian academic, that rarest of creatures — I tell you what, in Vancouver, I have been feeling a bit — marginal, you know? I have lots of friends, a good number of allies and a few women I count as intimates — sisters in one way or another. But I’m kind of peripheral to political feminism. Oh, I go to the events and demos and write letters to newspapers and politicians and so on, but i’m not part of a group, a movement. And at work, I’m certainly an anomaly. There are very few radical feminists anywhere in the university (as is the case in all “big I” institutions), nearly all the lesbians i’ve met are “queer” or in varying states of fluidity, and my students seem to regard me as kind of anachronistic. Every semester there are one or two of them who find my opinions and analysis relieving and interesting — and a few more who find me threatening and/or ‘close-minded’ (I respond, ‘you don’t want to be too open-minded, after all, a lot of good stuff will fall out, then’). I wouldn’t be doing my job if people weren’t challenged and a bit unsettled by my classes. Anyway, I’m always a bit wary, a bit defensive, and usually lonely at work. It’s reassuring to know that there are other women in institutions of higher learning who are openly out of step with the mainstream promotion of gender and “diversity” (which is code for ‘assimilation’ now). She’s got a regular gig, too, has something like tenure and her employer is supportive so far. Mind you, North America seems to have reached a fever pitch of anti-feminism in a way that I don’t perceive here. Could be because I’m not from these parts, though.
What i mean to say, here, is that no matter what, no matter where I’ve gone (this trip, or others over the years), I’ve found other women who know, women who are not fooled by the emperor’s clothes, women who can imagine a path to freedom (if not freedom itself, at least the way toward it). These past two years have been pretty tough in many ways. More losses and endings than beginnings. My confidence has been shaken, I’ve been flailing about a fair bit. Not only solitary, but lonely. Not at all sure of myself, and filled with grief.
You remember a couple of months back, when i wrote about my ex lover’s impending death? As she was dying, those last few months, I checked her facebook page almost daily. Several of her family members and friends sent pictures of beautiful things every day, and notes of sweetness and love. We all knew we were walking with her, as close as we could, to that final doorway. She had been a proud lesbian and feminist during the time we knew each other, and I admired the way she thought, and how she communicated with others. She was very smart and generous, and had a way of bringing out the best in others. Our lives went in separate directions after we broke up, though, pretty fast. She started dating men, and I fell in love with a woman who — well, it’s complicated — less said about that, the better. I last saw Joanna in July of 2014, at the party my advisor threw after my defense. that was when she told me about her new boyfriend. She was pretty determinedly straight by then. Within a year, they became engaged, then she found out she had cancer and then they married. She had no room anymore in her life for feminism. I think she knew. She knew she had to use all her energy to attend to her treatment and her closest relationships. I was inspired by her grace and courage in the face of her impending mortality, and saddened by the erasure of her feminist and lesbian past.
I decided then, in late May, about two weeks before she died, that I wanted to shake the grief and sorrow that had come to characterize my Vancouver life, and go somewhere I’ve always yearned to go. So, Ancestral Homeland, here I come. I bought a ticket, a train pass, and sent word to friends I knew lived there, and the two cousins I knew about (one family I had met 33 years ago, the other, I knew only from Mom and Uncle Tom’s stories). Everyone responded. My brother and I made plans to bury Mom’s ashes, gathering some cousins to meet us at the Regina cemetery. I think i posted about that, some of it, earlier.
Anyway, this has been a journey of renewals, discoveries and beginnings. Finally! I discovered that some of our ancestors, on Dad’s side, had been loyalists during the American Revolution. Our cousin Bev digs around with genealogy a bit, and told me that. So those Scots have been gone from the land of moors and heather for many generations. In Wales, my cousin Alun showed me the house in which my grandpa grew up, and told me a bit about their relations — Alun’s father was Thomas, and Thomas was the younger brother of Tudor, David and Katie Williams — who were the children of Tom and Edith Williams who took Grandpa in when he was orphaned at nine. Grandpa was David as well, so whenever Alun talked about him, he said, “Uncle Dave Morgan” to distinguish him from “Uncle Dave”. who was a tailor, and who never married and lived in the Brynna house until he died in the late 198os (I think, maybe the 1990s). I saw the graves of Grandpa Morgan’s mother, Mary Williams Morgan, and his father, John David, and of their infant son, Thomas William. They are buried on the grounds of an ancient priory at Ewenny. I said hello, and thank you, and i told them i loved them, and i loved their son my grandfather. I told them that he had a hard life, but he made good, and he had been a wonderful grandfather, and I’m proud to share some traits in common with him (stubborn, opinionated, competitive, impatient, loyal, generous, honest, loving — in case you’re wondering). I put £10 into the donation box in the medieval church, took a couple of cards and wrote a little thank you note in the guest book. I cried all the way to the highway on my way out of town.
oh! i rented a car for four days! that was exciting. I drove through a torrential rainstorm, on the left side of the road, and stayed in some guest houses in North Wales that were absolutely charming. North Wales is kind of like the wild west. except with those delightful little Welsh ponies.
right. I told you about my new friends in Edinburgh, right? Radical feminists, lesbians, holding to a fierce and difficult vision of freedom, steeped in history, never far from their ancestors, not really. There is something solid about them. Rooted in a way that settlers in the new world can never be — squatting, as we are, in someone else’s living room. Of course it’s home now, Canada. Vancouver is home. As much as any place can be, I guess. Soon i’ll return. I fly out on Saturday morning, back to Calgary, and then i’ll drive back to Vancouver on Monday or Tuesday. I’ll arrive in time to attend a celebration of Joanna’s Vancouver life. Her death was part of the catalyst for this trip.
I didn’t know what I wanted to find, but I did know that I wanted to rise through a tender grief into a different vision of possibility. I still don’t know what freedom is like, of course not. But now I am not so lonely. Solitary, yes, that will be the case for a while yet. But I belong now. Again. I’m bigger than i was before, more confident, more solid than when I left. The beautiful people here to whom I am related by blood and political commitment, those proud, ferocious radical feminist lesbians — radiant and flawed — know I can depend on the gifts we have shared. If we never see each other again, (and I’m sure we will), we will always be in each others hearts.
now i’m gonna go looking for a meeting….