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Adjusting the Goalposts

About a million years ago, in another lifetime, I was a runner. I ran cross-country relays and participated in the local Tuesday Night race challenges. I'd already run a couple of half-marathons and sixteen-mile mountain runs in my career when I decided now was the time to try a marathon. Why not. Everyone else did it and I was probably never again going to be running such long distances so consistently.

So I started to train, every week increasing my long run by the recommended ten percent, as well as ramping up my regular midweek mileage. I have to say, the training was going pretty well, and as I ran my final long training run of twenty-two miles two weeks before the race, it looked like I was on-pace to run about a four and half hour marathon. Not bad, I thought. I could live with that.

But on race day, things went badly from the start. Mostly I couldn't get out of my own head. My iPod (Kids, ask your parents) soundtrack of Green Day & Red Hot Chili Peppers (ditto) was drowned out by the shouts and cowbells and airhorns of the other runners' support teams cheering them on.

Gone was my mellow Zen of putting one foot in front of the other. By the time I hit the eighth mile, I was done. Mentally. Physically. Really frustrated and feeling lost. Still, I'd trained hard for six months to be in that race, so, damn it, I was going to finish. No matter what.

And I did finish. I essentially walked the next ten miles, with little bits of jogging when I could manage it, until I emerged onto a familiar road and felt my spirits lift. "Oh, I know where I am now!" and took off jogging again, the last eight miles feeling much better than the first eight had.

My finishing time was 5:20, nearly an hour slower than I'd hoped for. And I can't quite say I enjoyed the race, but I can say I'm proud I trained for it and finished it. Sure, I'd love to click my heels and have a "do-over" to try to knock that time down by a half-hour or more, but there's just no way I'd ever train for that sort of thing again.

The reason I tell this story now is because I feel like I'm in a similar situation of needing to adjust my goals with this whole UK thing. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what I'd hoped to do or see or experience or be or achieve here, if it was ever anything that concrete. I tried, from the beginning, to regard it simply as an experiment, an adventure, with no expectations. Just fly over and see what happens.

But of course the human mind isn't really wired that way, or at least mine is not. I think I did have expectations, and maybe have them still yet. Nothing so definitive as, I dunno, a list of places to visit ("Stonehenge? Check"). Nor such grand aspirations as "feel more British," not that I'd even know what that means. But I have to wonder how I could possibly feel disappointed if I hadn't had something in my mind to be "let down" from?

When I think about the decision to move to the UK, or even preceding that, the dreams and ideas of it, mere seeds sowing themselves in my subconscious as I found myself always drifting toward British culture: music, films, comedy -- I think it was just a series of small moments that resonated with me. An understated witticism uttered off the cuff by a man I met on a Welsh mountaintop. The relative quietness of a roomful of Brits (especially as compared to Americans). The millennia of history in every street and building. Druids. King Arthur. The Tower of London. Glen Coe. Oxford's Bodleian library.

I mean, other cultures have their own histories, of course, but the Italians are so ... happy. The French, a bit sniffy. And Germans, well, that's just a culture on the completely opposite end of the spectrum from me. No, I am much more like the awkward bumbling, "Sorry, sorry, so sorry, no, totally my fault, sorry" Brits. I can, as they say, relate.

And then, of course, COVID. Well. Because of my job, I do still interact with coworkers and clients on a daily basis. So I do get bits of that British glimmer which so delights me: A colleague described somebody's meltdown as "throwing all her toys out of the pram." And a client asked if they should book an appointment "Tuesday hence" -- who says "hence"? The Brits, that's who. But of course I'm not out & about in the British culture as I might otherwise be, were it not for COVID. No bustling Saturday markets. No gentle jostling for new books at the library. This year's Hay Book Festival at end of May is unlikely to happen other than online.

And as sometimes happens with me -- does it happen with other people, too? -- even magnificence loses its luster after a time. "Ho hum, another castle." I think it was Eddie Izzard (a Brit, bien sûr) who referred to archaeology as "a series of small walls." He's right, really. There are only so many bits of nubbly stones I can look at and be impressed that maybe a Roman centurion sat there two thousand years ago.

So somehow this UK thing is not quite what I thought it would be. Even though I thought I didn't have any such expectations, I guess they crept up on me, unawares.

It's all just "living," really, isn't it. It's just doing the same sorts of things you do every day, only doing them somewhere else, like in Britain. Instead of going to Fred Meyer or Safeway, I go to Morrison's. But I'm still just buying toilet paper (loo roll) and scanning my "preferred customer" card at the till. I still try to use the self-scan lane to avoid getting aggravated at the customer ahead of me who is taking forever bagging up her goods (even during COVID where none of actually have anywhere else we need to be, still the impatience persists). I drive to work, I do the job, I go home, I make dinner and walk the dog and watch a bit of Netflix. Sure, maybe my drive home from work takes me across an ancient stone bridge that really was designed to allow perhaps two people on horseback to pass at the same time -- not so much two SUVs, even British ones -- but it still becomes a monotony the hundredth time you do it.

So, like everything else in life, it's up to me to create the experiences I want to have here, whether I stay for six months or a year or the rest of my life. As usual it comes down to effort, intention and elbow grease. Maybe the expectations I'd had were for those experiences to just fall into my lap and for me to simply have eyes open enough to see. But of course that's just magical thinking and not how life really works at all, not in America, and not here in the UK, either.


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