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Posts Tagged ‘Texas’

xenu_scientology

Back in March I watched HBO’s much talked about documentary, Going Clear, which had me thinking about my own run in with Scientology over 15 years ago.

In 1999, my high school best friend and I packed up her car and drove off for the dorm rooms of the University of Texas. After unloading her car with the meager two boxes of possessions each that since then have morphed into full houses, we decided to take a stroll down The Drag.

The Drag is an Austin, Texas institution – a segment of Guadalupe Street that lines the edge of campus. It is home to MSG laden cafes, book stores, coffee houses, gimmicky shops and an eclectic mix of homeless kids, many with similarly eclectic dogs.

This is when we stumbled on the exact thing my mother feared we would find, well one of the many exact things my mother feared we would find. The Church of Scientology.

We were greeted by two employees of the center offering us stress tests on the sidewalk outside. Sure, we were game. We didn’t know what Scientology or stress tests were but we had 20 minutes to kill. We gripped onto the e-meters and prepared ourselves for a wild ride.

The questions ranged from the benign (name and age) to invasive (any past drug use and general fears). The two test administrators shared knowing glances at our answers. I sat in wonder as to whether anyone was ever going to explain to me what the heck Scientology was.

“If you could change something or improve something what would that be?” asked my test administrator.

I thought for a few seconds before coming up with something that I felt was an acceptable answer. “I wish that I was better at interacting with strangers. I wish I could talk and really connect easily with people,” I said.

The two administrators invited us inside for more info. BFF and I exchanged looks and shrugged. I still didn’t know what Scientology was and there didn’t seem any harm in going inside the building.

Once inside, my administrator began his sales pitch. “Hey. Hey. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could just…. talk to anybody?”

“Yes,” I answered. “That’s what I told you outside.”

“But… but… wouldn’t it be cool if you could.. you know. Talk to ANYONE?”

I looked over at BFF to see if her test administrator was any sharper than the one I was paired up with. My guy had one sales tactic and he was going for it.

He then showed me some basic printed information on courses that I could sign up and take through the organization, all of which would devour the $200 of waitressing cash I had in my pocket. The $200 needed to last me a few weeks, minimum. That is, if I wanted to eat.

“Um,” I said. “Isn’t there a cheaper way to just find out what Scientology is? Or maybe you could just tell me.”

Defeated, he pointed at a collection of Dianetic books written by L Ron Hubbard on display. “Oh cool,” I responded. “I can have one of those?”

“Those are actually for sell,” he answered.

“Hrm,” I said. “Maybe I’ll check one out from the library. Do they have them there?”

The man shrugged as he stood up and tucked in his chair.

I turned to BFF who was already collecting her things.

“So did you ever figure out what Scientology is?” I asked once we were outside the building.

“Nope,” she replied.

“Me neither,” I answered.

I’m not sure where we went from there. If I had to guess, I would say it was somewhere with a 99 cent menu so that we could spend 1/200th of my hard earned cash on a burrito or hamburger and ponder what it meant to be rejected by the Church of Scientology.

Obviously they were much less interested in recruiting BFF and I than Cruise or Travolta. I don’t know whether to be grateful or offended! I’ll say neither and go with amused.

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I grew up in small town Texas in the 80s. You can make some basic assumptions about the lifestyle and diet there. It’s now a haven for the world’s most amazing tacos, but before the changing demographics, it was known for fried food and BBQ, and subsequently obesity.

My brothers and I were thin by nature. Tall, lanky types who could eat an entire week’s worth of groceries in one sitting. You didn’t leave food for later, it wouldn’t be there. Even if you hid it in the back of the fridge someone would find your stash. We didn’t try to be this way, we just were. We played like normal kids, alternating between outside and the TV.

And people would comment. We were described thin, bony, tall, slinky.

“Look at that girl. She’s so skinny. Wowee! And blonde too, one day she’ll be a model.”

Skinny, dripping with more envy than smart kind or even wealthy ever held. To be described as skinny held even more status than the bible-belt mandated description of Christian.

Skinny was their issue.

Skinny was my virtue.

Skinny became my identity.

lanky

My brother and I on my first day of eighth grade. Make no mistake, I’m not posing. I’m standing like that because I’m uncomfortable with my height and weight. Also, fringe/bangs are an anxiety ridden bathroom DIY job and shoes are a size to big, purchased on sale at Kmart.

In 1999, I moved away to Austin and attended the University of Texas. As you do, I gained 10 pounds in beer and buffets. It was a mad slap to the face.

I started to workout for the first time in my life. Not because I was interested in being healthy, but because I had lost my value. I may have still been thin and healthy, but I was not skinny. I had fallen from grace.

I’ve spent the last 14 years dealing with some level of body dysmorphia. I am not overweight. I am perfectly suited to my frame. I have amazing long legs and a slightly protruding belly. The belly protrudes partly due to my love of food and partly due to structural hip issues. My pelvis tilts forward due to postural problems and hypermobility. I had hip dysplasia at birth. It’s me. It’s my body.

There have been times when I have tried to cheat the system to find my lost virtue. Crash diets, starvation, diet pills. and then there have been times when I have tried other solutions. Postural realignment, exercise, self acceptance. These days I manage OK.

And then there are the days when hell really is other people. I don’t just mean MTV culture and pressure to be thin. I mean other people’s constant comments on your weight. I went to dinner with a friends family, most of which were obese. The dinner chatter kept circling around to my weight. I wasn’t the one doing it.

“Eat, eat, you’re skinny! You can have more!” I wasn’t starving myself, I was full. “I wish I was that skinny, you skinny Minnie!” It wasn’t my body issues that kept an entire dinner’s conversation circling around my size. It was someone else’s.

Or the look of glee on my mother’s face when she relayed a story of my brother arguing that I was not average sized, I was thin. I didn’t share the joy. I know it was suppose to be a compliment, but I could not be comfortable with the knowledge that my family was conferencing over which category of body size I fit in.*

It is uncomfortable to have one of my most personal things, my body, under scrutiny. Uncomfortable when done by strangers and acquaintances, but more intrusively by friends and family. Your daily intake and expenditures, your most basic life choices are watched and judged. You see, once you’ve been skinny, you will only ever be skinny or formerly skinny.

My body is my body. It is what it is. Most importantly, it works. If I eat healthy and take care of it and avoid any major accidents, it will hopefully continue to work just fine. Strong and healthy. This is the mantra I tell myself daily.

For the last year I have lived in Asia where I am large by comparison. I tower above the girls and boys just like in junior high, except this time I am not skinny. I am surrounded by very slight Asian girls. This is their body type. They are not this way by virtue, just like I was not skinny by virtue at age 10.

I step onto my patio and say hello to my neighbor’s domestic helper. We are both hanging morning laundry to dry. I am dressed for an office meeting.

“Oh you look so fat!” she compliments me.

My dress choice of the day is slightly more Christina Hendricks than Kate Moss.

“Oh it’s the dress,” I laugh. I understand that her intention is to describe me as voluptuous, not fat. Her culture values curves and womanliness. I am slightly working the va-va-voom.

I go inside and change clothes anyway. It’s not my culture to aspire to voluptuousness. But then, I don’t really want to be skinny either.

I just want to be me. Healthy and capable. Preferably free from other people’s issues, expectations and judgments, but most importantly, free to pursue other things in my life than skinny.

*Editor’s note: Blessings to my mother and all her good intentions, she didn’t know she was going to have a writer for a daughter.

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You may notice a distinct lack of mosquitoes in Singapore. How can that be? Isn’t Singapore in a tropical environment? Aren’t mosquitoes suppose to thrive here?

If you miss the little blood suckers you can come over to my house. There are always a few in the backyard. Mostly, the population is controlled.

I get regular notices of mosquito fogging being done in my neighborhood. The notices warn to stay inside. After being home during one of these foggings, I understand why.

An ominous cloud floats toward the house. The smell gets stronger until I run into the back room. The smell starts to dissipate and I wonder how much poison I have absorbed. I think “why didn’t I make plans to just not be at home right now?”

Mosquito truck

Mosquito truck fog

Oh, the mosquito truck. Being from the swamps of Texas, I am familiar with these monsters. My mother would make us all stay indoors for a few hours when the mosquito truck came by. For me it was cutting into play time. For my mother it was a reassurance against mosquito related annoyance and disease.

Things weren’t the same for her generation. I heard tales from my aunts and great aunts that as kids they would all run outside to dance and jump in the cool thick white cloud. The story was told with humor and nostalgia.

Did anyone see Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life? There’s a scene in the movie where the boys chase behind the mosquito truck. When I first saw the scene, something in my head clicked and I knew what the aunties spoke of.

Photo not mine

Photo not mine

I ran across this post by another blogger through a google search. Apparently, yes, the DDT truck was a Texas thing. Scary to think what used to be “good for you.”

It’s scary to think what parts of our everyday life now we will later find out are poisonous.

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I’m at the yoga studio chatting lightly with a fellow American. I ask her where she’s from and she tells me Delaware. She returns the question and I answer with Texas. This question is followed in it’s normal fashion with “what part?”

I give her the story. I grew up outside of Houston. I then spent about ten years in Austin and two in the Dallas/Fort Worth area somewhere in the mix.

There’s a man standing nearby, hanging around on the edges of the conversation. He turns to Ms. Delaware and says “I went to Houston once about ten years ago. It was awful. I took a yoga class in a hotel gym and it was like being in a competition. Not yogic at all! Ugh, Houston!”

Hello? I’m right here. What alien takes over some people’s brains when you tell them where you are from and makes them immediately insult it?

And yes, I’m sure your one experience in a Houston hotel gym ten years ago qualifies you as an expert.

I relay the story to my friend, Carolyne. Carolyne is hilarious. She has a thick southern accent despite being long gone from South Carolina and having married a British man. While I usually get asked if I’m from Canada, she gets asked if she’s from Texas. Oh, the irony.

“Girl, try being from South Carolina. At least they don’t tell you that where you’re from people marry their siblings.”

Yes. Touche.

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Since my move to London, my wardrobe has had to go through a harsh adjustment. The winter months were tough as I was  always cold and absolutely clueless on winter fashion. The summer months are difficult for another reason. The ladies are out in their spring dresses and flowery clips while I am still in full trousers and a jacket. Yet again, I am always cold.

In Texas, I developed a summer uniform. 60 consecutive days of 40° C will drain the effort out of you about the same way that too many days of dreary 5°C weather will. All you want is a short hike and a lovely cold spring to jump into. Hence, you travel light. Black tank, bikini, Reef flip flops. Before you leave the house, you check your pocket for your wallet, phone and keys. Sunglasses rest on your head. You are out the door headed to Barton Springs.

Let’s compare that to London spring/summer fashion. All of a sudden I’m not travelling very light anymore.

Rachel, a fellow former Austinite, was visiting a few months ago and commented on London street fashion. “It looks great, but there’s no way I could even think of putting together some of those outfits. It’s like they just keep adding things and somehow it works.”

And indeed, I believe that’s how it’s done. That dress is beautiful, but it’s way too cold to be wearing it. Let’s add some tights and a jacket. Also- those shoes? Impractical for commuting. Let’s put a spare pair of flats in your humongous bag. What else is in the bag? Well, first of all the sunglasses you aren’t wearing. An umbrella, because you never know when it is going to rain. Then your oyster card, a book for your commute, plasters (bandaids) for when your shoes give you blisters, your gym clothes because there’s no way you are making it home and then back out again after your day, a snack, and of course, phone wallet and keys. This is a minimum.

It’s taken a while for me to get this down and to accept the fact that the window for summer wear is so short. I think I’m finally getting there. Now if I could only figure out how to lug this bag around without having to see an osteopath later.

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When I came to London last May, I left friends,  a city I loved, and a very dear project and blog behind. I learned so much and had more fun than I ever imagined with Dining In Austin Blog. I met good friends and amazing acquaintances through it.  It was a project made out of love for life, food and community in the ATX. Best of all, I got to share it with my amazing friend, Mariah. This creative outlet designed to complement our rigid science-y careers told the stories of our lives as lived through our food. We included irreverent and offhand tales of life as a 20-something (and then 30-something) Austinite.  People started reading it and before we knew it, we were involved in the Austin food scene in a way that we’d never expected but that made us really happy.

This was a good lesson for me. Do the things you love. Success will come.

I consider Austin, Texas a home. The people and culture are unique. The city is a blend of urban cowboy, artist spirit and burgeoning eclectic beautiful city. A huge chunk of my heart will always be there, but I have wanted to experience another country and culture and the time and opportunity was right. My intuition said to go.

I have such a desire to love London with the same passion and tenacity. I’ve wanted to devour every bit of it and live it completely. I get frustrated and homesick when the impossibility of experiencing it all becomes obvious. I have had to dramatically adjust my mode of thinking.

…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.

– Samuel Johnson

The two cities are distinctively different. I found it difficult to experience all of Austin. I find it downright impossible to experience all of London. I can’t afford to. I don’t have the money. There will never be enough time. I don’t have the social network and close friends I had in Texas. My approach has to be entirely different. Friendships have to be developed. Places and experiences have to be explored for the first time. I feel less on top of everything and more like I’m swimming about, tasting life along the way. I’ve come to realize that this isn’t better or worse. It is just different.

Consequently, I can’t write about London like I wrote about Austin. I struggled with this at first. Should I create another dining blog? I couldn’t afford all the dining out and I definitely couldn’t write about London like an expert. I also wanted to expand. I wanted to write about events, art, community, food, yoga, life, travel, philosophy – the things that I love. Or just whatever happened. I didn’t want to be tied to a particular subject even though I knew successful blogs were more often singularly focused.

To hell with success. It’s ok for things to be about the process instead of the outcome.

So what did I do? I just wrote. I picked a name and I got on with it.

After a bike ride around town early on in this blog’s life, I arrived back at home and turned to then-Boyfriend “so… that’s London.” Thus a temporary name was formed.

And I wrote more. I let the blog take on it’s own personality. I let it develop organically and become what it was going to be – a reflection on life in London as told the only way I could tell it. The honest account of a Texas girl hanging out on this city along the Thames. Not quite the same Texas girl anymore. Definitely not British.

Now that I’ve found a voice, this blog has been appropriately renamed. You can now find me directly at www.TexasOnThames.com

I hope you enjoy.

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Photo not mine.

I have two modes when it comes to making it to the airport for a flight. I am either extremely early or barely make it. The other weekend I happened to be extremely early.

Husband and I went to our usual Gatwick pub for a pre-flight beverage and sub-standard reheated frozen snack. I approached the counter and made my order. The bartender squinted. “Um, can I see some I.D?”

The legal drinking age in the UK is 18. I am no longer anywhere near 18. I call bullshit on anyone who wants to tell me I look younger than 18. Nonetheless, I’ll take this as a compliment. I know bartenders in the UK are trained to I.D. anyone who doesn’t look 25. I like to believe that I can pass for 25.

I go to retrieve my passport and make it back to the counter. “Ah, American” he says when he sees it. “You know, I love some American accents. Some of them are really nice. Yours is really nice.”

“Thank you,” I reply. This is a nice surprise. I usually get told that American accents sound like a British person with a mouth full of bubble gum.

He feels the need to go on. He’s compensating with friendliness for having asked for I.D. “Some of them are really bad. Like Texas accents. I hate Texas accents. They are awful.”

I thank him again as I grab my beer.

“Where in the U.S. are you from?” he asks.

“I’m from Texas,” I reply as I prepare to walk away.

His face goes blank and he lets out a stutter.

Awkward.

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