Impossible Second Novel (for the record)

Providence, Rhode Island. Fire hydrant and tra...

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I am tongue-tied tonight. Surely this won’t come out on the screen. Better if it doesn’t, really.

I will confess, I have no confidence I can pull this off.

It’s necessary for the record, for the Difficult Second Novel file, that I scratch on wood the fear that I can’t write this book.

I don’t remember worrying about this the first time around. I knew I would finish and I knew it would be published. I was an idiot who happened to be right. Continue reading


Unwritten rules pt. 2 (The stuff you don’t pay for…probably)

Top Secret stamp

(sorta kinda)

America continues to tolerate me. I think for the first few weeks she’s indulging me, because I do have some cute puppy-dog aspects, but soon I will need to shape up or ship out. I will have to uncover and abide by the unwritten, unspoken rules of conduct.

I covered my difficulty with financial transactions last time. But what about the rules for the things that don’t require a debit card?

As a Scot, am I inevitably more comfortable negotiating the few aspects of American life that I don’t have to open my wallet for? Let’s take for example tennis courts and public libraries:

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Unwritten rules pt.1 (Turning heads at the social security office)

Car keys, Kroger card etc

Really, what else do I need?

I have a green card. I have a debit card (also green, confusingly). I have a social security number. I have a car, I have a cell phone, I have a gym membership.

Best of all, I have a Kroger card which makes our grocery runs automatically less expensive, with no catch other than Kroger knowing exactly what I buy from them.

So I’m good to go, really, I’m all set. Except for the state drivers license (and I’m working on that).

But none of this, as it turns out, is enough to make me fit in here. There’s no key I can buy that unlocks the door to normality. Sorry, normalcy. (And on that point, “normalcy” is a horrible word that I won’t be using again, ever.)

No. Like New York, this state is filled to capacity with signs about what not to do and how much it will cost if you go ahead and do it, but the rules on how to not have everyone look at you funny have been lost, or stolen, or just filed horribly. Because I can’t find them. The more time I spend here, the more I realize there are not even subtle hints provided for the things I really need to know…

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Allergic to America (and absolutely quackers)

Rubber ducks

My medical advisors.

I look different here than I do in the UK. Take me away from British men and drop me in Tennessee and suddenly I’m paler, and slimmer.  I’m absolutely fine with being the palest person in the room/county, because the choice for me is white or scarlet.

I came prepared for Tennessee’s outside, in the shape of two bottles of SPF 50 sunscreen (one for the car, one for the house), two hats (one baseball, one floppy) and two water bottles (one to lose, one to…well, I guess I can lose both.)

And despite some toasty weather (yeah, I know, just wait until August when the state roads will be useful for anything except frying eggs etc) it’s worked out fine.  My exposed skin has begun to turn that slightly dirty off-white color that I am blessed with, and my neck is getting progressively more red.  (“Progressive red-neck”? I’m thinking of putting that on a Tee-shirt), but so far, no sunstroke, no peeling, no emergencies.

Yeah, Outside is fine. Even the bugs are manageable so far. I’ve got Skin-So-Soft for the mosquitoes and a baseball bat for the wasps. But no one warned me about Inside… Continue reading

As seen on TV (the weather might kill you)

Thunderstorm warning sign on TV

Something special when you're in the middle of your favorite daytime soap opera...Prepare to change your underwear

My first weekend in Tennessee, (a week after snow flurries in NYC) the temperature reached in 92f/33c.

This felt hot in comparison. But twice-shy from previous visits to Tennessee, the words “it’s hot” did not leave my mouth.

I didn’t have to say the words. The natives were quick to respond to my unspoken observation with “You think it’s hot now? This isn’t hot. Wait ’til August. That‘s hot.”

When we have the world of facts on our side, we discover the average high temperature for my zip code is 89 degrees in July/August, and the record high was 106 degrees back in 1952.

So the suggestion that 92f is not hot here? That would be false. But this attitude,  that the good stuff cannot last, that much worse is just around the corner? I can understand it. Feels kinda like home. Except for the “hot” part, obviously. Continue reading

Getting my hands dirty (because we’re sticking around)

So here we are.

Springfield located on USA map

That's where we're at (as close to the action as it looks)

After 3 days I can report that Springfield, Tennessee is just as I left it on my last visit four years ago. Life here looks the same, except Kroger is now fabulous, a couple of restaurants have swapped locations, and gas prices are now so high that filling your tank costs almost half  as much as it did in the UK (for which I understand that the President must take full responsibility).

We’re doing okay, Rebecca and I. She is reminded on a daily basis both why she came back and why she left in the first place, which is a rollercoaster ride for anyone. For me, I’m enjoying the knowledge that I don’t have to squeeze all my favorite guilty culinary pleasures into 10 days, while entertaining a sneaking suspicion that 10 days might be more than enough time to enjoy all that Springfield has to offer.

72 hours in, there have definitely been some highlights. There has been lows…and Lowe’s. Continue reading

In search of better dialogue (It’s the slip-ups, stupid)

Regis and Kelly

Regis and Kelly. I think one of them is retiring. Or the woman used to be someone else. Anyway, the whole thing seems kinda sacred so I'd better not be unkind.

The biggest problem I’m facing now I’m in the United States? My local Y doesn’t see fit to show Gilmore Girls re-runs on their TV screens, opting instead for a nurturing mix of cable news and network moring television.

Can I succeed on a treadmill facing a choice between Fox News or Live! with Regis and Kelly? No. I want to run in the other direction.

Gilmore Girls’ raison d’être is smart dialogue (“Life’s Short – Talk Fast”) although it made the mistake of having all the characters talk smart all the time. GGs is not filled with smart characters (based on their everyday life-choices) and their ability to wise-crack through each episode does not ring true.

This practice worked far more convincingly in The West Wing (a) because everyone was smart and (b) the issues were so complicated that having anyone but a smart person in the room would cause the show to grind to an over-explaining halt. More recently, 30 Rock has been disposably brilliant at having stupid characters say stupid things that are still funny. Continue reading