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Sunday, November 07, 2004

I Did not "Flounce" - I Ran

I chuckled a little, reading Mark Lawson in the Guardian this morning:

Flouncing out is futile

Some emigres are heroic, but not those who just can't bear Bush

Mark Lawson
Saturday November 6, 2004
The Guardian

The words "I'm leaving" always carry a kick in relationships or workplaces but are most dramatic when aimed at a nation. In the week when it was confirmed that greater than ever numbers of Britons are emigrating, there were widespread reports of American liberals - most notably Robert Redford - threatening to go and live elsewhere during the Bush second term.

Exile is among the most egotistical human instincts and we see two sides of it in this week's stories. There's no evidence that the 191,000 Britons who left last year were directly distancing themselves from the prime minister in the way that Redford and other Kerry voters threaten to pack their bags because of Dubya. Accordingly, the almost 200,000 people lost from the native population last year can probably be categorised as expatriates driven by hope rather than despair.

Traditionally, most emigration from Britain has been meteorological or psychological: people convinced themselves that their health, jobs or marriages might be better in a country with a more reliable climate. And several experts on population mobility have suggested that the recent increase in emigration from the UK is driven by such glamorous images of banishment.


I did not flounce away from Britain so much as run towards America, though I didn't quite start out with that in mind. My original motive for moving to California can be summed-up cookie-style as "Embrace change at moments of High Opportunity." The tail-end of a dismal, gloomy five year lifeslump had just been capped by the closure of the company I worked for. Curious, really, how fearful we become of losing our jobs when the commandment "Work!" is so deeply ingrained in our psyche? It is almost the very worst thing that can happen to you, you think, until a real very worst thing happens. But honestly, modesty aside, we were none of us in any danger of remaining unemployed for long. Other companies, competitors, were lined-up round the block with leering offers of cash, and options, and - I swear - in one case, women. Even so, irrational dread persists, and I'd never been laid-off before.

It could not have happened at a better time, looking back. By mysterious conflux of events I had by then settled into a kind of philosophical acceptance of the way things were, and was, if not particularly happy, at least resigned. You've all seen Sleepless in Seattle: having small kids is a delight and a wonder, always, but although they sustain, they are no substitute for the lost, and never should be. Being of a certain middling age and being wholly unable to talk to women one is attracted to? Being reduced to stuttering, stumbling mumblitude in their presence? Priceless. That is a dreadful curse that one must come to terms with, else one sink in despair. By way of compensation I had deflected all residual anger and resentment away from life and self towards the hideous weather, as personified by a malign, mocking hole in a busy road not four feet from my doorstep. This, this twisted Sysyphus of a hole, would fill itself with icy bitter rain and empty onto me at every car's approach. Local tax-fed Council engineers would send me testy notes, claiming "no evidence of ponding was observed." Bastards.

I was fit for change, then, but needed a spur: and in those first few hours that followed our dismissal, sitting shocked in a nearby pub, we many of us realized that we knew a guy in California who would have hired us all if he could, even me. He was definitively one of us, our own lost, charismatic leader sacked some months before for being honest in his council to those less so. High opportunity, indeed, nothing more. Britain, Scotland, Edinburgh, is by no means a bad or awful place to live: there is no desire to flee. Quite the opposite - Edinburgh in particular is a marvelous, vibrant, cultured city - beloved of its inhabitants. Most of my compatriots would not countenance leaving it. But to some of us, including me, America, California, Los Angeles, were curiosities, to be explored, experienced. I wrote away that night, and he replied. "You're on!"

Some weeks passed before the interview - you, dear Reader, should realize and be reassured that no foreigner, no alien, can simply waltz his way to any kind of job in America. There is a lengthy process put in place whose intent is first-and-formost to secure those jobs for citizens, and secondarily to ensure no foreigner comes cheap to undercut the locals. Weeks before an interview, months before a visa. There are no guarantees, at any stage, for aliens seeking work until that visa is firmly in hand. Even then, you can be thrown back at the airport Immigration desk. Your return ticket has already been provided by your sponsor. There are many rules, obligations, investigations, tests, quotas that may not be exceeded. If successful, there will be restrictions placed upon accustomed freedoms which you must acknowledge and accept, up-front, from the very start. I offer no complaint, not then, not now: for it is in keeping with the magnanimous nature of this american society that it offers upgrades to those willing and persistent.

Some weeks passed before that interview, outcome still uncertain. Weeks to be filled with other, local interviews. Half-hearted, laconic, relaxed interviews, being freed of their customary tyranny by my alternate plan. Job grills can even be enjoyed when you don't think you need a positive outcome? I had High Hopes, yet still some doubt: it is no small step to throw away a settled life and move hearth and home and kids to the other side of the world. There are fearful preconceptions to be overcome, too: for a Briton's notion of America, of Los Angeles in particular, are as far from reality as yours are from ours. I had visited America many times on business, many cities, many states. I had even spent a fine two weeks in LA. I knew better by experience, but what does that count against long-ingrained prejudice? Nothing. Los Angeles, City of Angels, Hollywood: but to the protective parental imagination, city of gangs and gangstas, of riots, of high crime and drive-by shooting. The important question to be answered by my interview was not "will I enjoy the work?", nor even "will the offer be good?", but rather, "should I raise my kids there?"

Absolutely!, Absolutely!!, Abso-frigging-lootely!!!

It wasn't quite Los Angeles at all - the county line lies over a hill - but here, safest city of its size in all of America. A suburb of Los Angeles, then? A bit outside, but not too far away. Came to notoriety some years earlier because of its county courthouse, wherein a county jury, not city, decided certain LA cops were justified in beating Rodney King severely. By fine irony, this singular event is seen as the cause of those very riots I had worried over. Of course, I knew little of that then, nor of policemen blocking-off the Ronald Reagan Freeway exit ramps to all but locals on that day, nor even of the Klan, filled with expectation, being chased away from the rail depot by crowds of angry, outraged mothers and their babies some days after.

Some weeks passed before the interview, but a full eight months elapsed before the visa arrived and I - we - put Blightey well behind us. Eight marvelous, desperate months, disposing of one life, nurturing a new. For on that very first interview day a golden seed, a magic bean, had crossed Jack's palm - his very own Red Pill. And in those months it dared to grow: uncertain at first, guarded, unbelieving beyond all reason; until at last its kernel cracked, it found its root, and blossomed into something wonderful. I took way more than I bargained for out of that interview. Way more than ever I deserved.

Rather than embarass you with some grown man blubbing over L.*.v.e. and all its wishy works - though I promised her I'd shout about it over rooftops and the booming ocean surf - let us say, simply, that across eight months a Walk became a Run, that America the land became America the myth, America the beautiful. That one tired life was laid to rest but another born. A new life scripted by a poem: O, my America, my Newfound land. Before, behind, between, above, below.

Of which weeping-kerchiefed tale I'll say no more: it is not the story of this blog, but is its color, its pattern, its weave. I introduce it here to draw a hint, perhaps, at why it is I'm never going back; at why my own commitment to this land, to enjoying, and exploring, and revering this America, is complete and total?

Assimilation is a choice, an Immigrant's choice, a choice at every turn: how much of the auld we try to impose, how much of the new we allow to enclose. Being open to assimilation is a policy, governed by circumstance and driven by outlook.

Me, I've gone native, totally Tonto - almost the worst sin an englishman can commit?

But I don't care, and I don't care who knows it. I never was english. And I sure didn't flounce - I ran.


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