A friend of mine visited my blog site a few days ago and sent me, without pretext, this message:
“Bitch how derelict can you be? Your last post was almost two years ago.”
I had a handy, snark-filled reply at the ready, but then my inner Irish poked me and said, “Ah Feck sure she’s right.” I went to the site. And sure enough. March. 2018. I was writing about writing. And squids. And critics. And hearts.
In lieu of an apology for disappearing in the blog space, let me just say that I’ve been busy, bitches. My anxieties, doctoral research, and writing stresses were matched only in size and scope with my fervent accruing of frequent flyer miles.
NOTE: For those of you just joining, I left the U.S. in Sept of 2015 with my husband, who is now lovingly called BigHaggis. We lived as Ex Pats for 3-4 years as I completed my PhD. We adore Scotland. And Glasgow. And Brexit can go Fuck Itself (technically, I think it’s already trying…) but we still consider ourselves Weegie Refugees. AND NOW I’m about to cover 20 months in about 2000 words, so strap in.
Let’s catch up, shall we?
April 2018: Ireland
BigHaggis and I traveled to Dublin for a glorious 5 days of distilleries, breweries, cathedrals, crypts, and castles. Much fine Guinness was consumed. Many irreverent jokes were made. I was only removed from one pub and really? It wasn’t my fault. We made merry and adopted the phrase “fiddly diddly” from a traveling German and his drunk (but cute) girlfriend.
Also April 2018: Switzerland
While I lead a 2-day writing retreat of bright young talents, BigHaggis amused himself by loading his daypack with whisky, water, and cigars, and sending me photo evidence of his personal invasions (read: border crossings) into Germany one day and France the next. Neither country could be arsed to acknowledge these accomplishments, so he returned to our hotel in Basel each evening, a bit miffed. On our free day together we walked through some incredible museums and the Basel Kirche, drinking in the beautiful town and river all Disney-spotless and impossibly crisp…
PRO TIP: The bells will deafen you (think: Quasimodo) but the views atop the spires are worth the climb #goodshoes And if you ask nicely, you can borrow the keys to the Basel Kirche crypt (not on any tour) for a look-see. While we want to return one day (Geneva perhaps?) the whole country seems to be both pristine and expensive as fuck, so the jury’s out on that one.
May 2018: Scotland
End of the term marked the last of supervision for my PhD. Anyone who has gone through a doctoral program will have many words about the importance of not being left free-range chicken. I am no different, but let’s just say (here, anyway) that it was a challenge to both my sanity and my liver.
May-June 2018: Scotland
We hosted family for a 2-week holiday which included a day trip to Edinburgh, the Rosslyn Chapel, a relaxing highland cottage stay, the Hogwarts Express train, Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, Isle of Arran, and all the coos my wee nieces could handle without exploding (thank you Pollock House). The glorious two weeks was marred only one day of rain, and one annoying royal wedding that forced folx to fly union jacks for ½ a day. (Stop rolling your eyes. No Scot gives a fuck about the British crown or who they marry, even an American beauty. Scottish Independence can’t come soon enough.) June saw more visitors (10 days of tour guide fabulousness) including serious saturation on the Isle of Islay, where woolen mill tales and flights of whisky and chocolate pairings were magic. The smell of the 30cmx30cm plot of land BigHaggis owns can be smelt in every bottle of Laphroaig.
The Smith-Shropshire crew walking the fields of the battle of Culloden, where many of my ancestors were killed.(ClanRanald of the MacDonald of the Isles). And (below) feeding baby Heiland Coos at Pollock House, near Glasgow.
July 2018: The Netherlands
BigHaggis and I travel to the metropolis of Enschede, to the University of Twente, an engineering, science, and technology university. (Think MIT or GaTech, but much much smaller. And their students speak Dutch + at least two other languages. And they build robots and drink really good beer.) In short, not a place I would ever have been accepted to study. But they were hosting a conference on the power of narrative, and a very cool woman who had heard me speak in Berlin (Nov 2017) asked me to run a writing workshop about narrative and identity, and even offered translation, because she thought my drag life and it’s research was part-academic-part-stand-up-comedy and something folx would enjoy it. How the hell do you say NO to that? (I didn’t. And I will brag a bit to tell you that 40 signed up for the workshop, slightly more than that attended, and the Fire Marshall gave someone an ear full afterwards.) On the 4th of July, we toasted our Ex Pat lives coming to an end, in a beir garden in the Netherlands.
Also July 2018: Germany
Off to Dusseldorf to see Frau Dr Fabulous, a lifetime friend, musician, and all-around amazing human. We drank, we laughed, we walked the city and drank some more! We strolled through art shows and riverside festivals #alltheoysters, and even crashed a church service/violin performance. Standing in the front lawn of that church after the service, we watched as they assembled tables and tapped the first keg of beer, I almost found religion again. (Almost.)
Also July 2018: Monaco & Nice
We were hosted by old friends made new again. We partied like rock-stars on the Cote D’Azur and marveled at the crazy cool compassionate people in our lives. BigHaggis also discovered that copious amounts of Rose leads to him dancing on tables. (There is photo proof of these shenanigans!)
Also July 2018: Spain
Barcelona in the summer is a nightmare. Go any other time. The beaches are beautiful but like walking on the sun; the heat is only somewhat squelched by copious amounts of cold beer, but then you eat the tremendous (served in hot cast iron skillets) paella and say fuck it. I’ll just sweat until I get back to Glasgow.
August 2018: BigHaggis goes back to the U.S.
Without me. I am crushed, even though we knew it was coming. The GEE18 (Great European Exit tour of 2018) is over. He is returning to find FT work (Fuck you very much Brexit) and (hopefully) a place for us to live once I have submitted my dissertation. I made arrangements with Glasgow friends to check in on me and make sure I’ve not collapsed in the Cigarden and been set upon by hungry urban foxes. I go on a writing retreat in the Trossachs. I cry for 2 days, but then am cheered by pals at Katie’s bar and a long weekend on the Isle of Bute with fellow writers and my chin is up again.
September 2018: Glasgow
I keep busy. Mostly. I work on chapter revisions and allow a crazy woman to use my flat to film her horror movie project. I live in the Mitchell library and few pubs in our neighborhood. I binge watch Lucifer and X-Files episodes and eat tons of Tunnock’s sweeties. I crank out the 30-page bibliography of my dissertation and do nearly-naked happy dances in the wee hours in my flat. I have mini breakdowns over giving away our beloved fichus tree and when BigHaggis sends me flowers. I find someone to sublet our flat. Because after 8 weeks, I need BigHaggis. I rent a beach house at Oak Island, NC, so that I can see him on weekends. But Hurricane Florence shits on that dream setup, damaging it (and the whole island) badly enough that there are no toilets, no running water, intermittent power, and no Wi-Fi. The view was still amazing, though, the owner told me. I told him to fuck right off. I also had a hard time explaining to Scots what a hurricane is – and how large.
For my non-U.S. friends: See the long narrow state whose arse is sticking out and clearly in the path of where Flo will make landfall? Yeah. That’s where this genius rented a beach house to be a writing retreat. FML
All of Scotland fits about 2X in (square footage of) NC & SC borders. So explaining that this hurricane was 4 times the size of Scotland to somenoe who’s never ventured out of western Europe – or even out of the UK? A challenge.
October – December 2018: North Carolina & the dissertation cocoon
BigHaggis started a new job with BigPharm and found us a wee house to rent. Heaven at first, but Ex Pat Limbo is not a sustainable life. Adjustments were hard for me. Free range writing and editing. The stress. The stress-eating. The stress-drinking. These months are an absolute blur. Holidays were had, even hosted, but not much of it stuck. I’m advised to edit 12000 words OUT of my dissertation. I struggle with homesickness and self-confidence, spinning in self-doubt and a desperate longing for my Glasgow flat and the Christmas markets I know are happening in City Centre without me. BigHaggis gets a promotion and can now work from home. We go to the animal shelter and adopt a scarred pit bull that is 38 pounds, 5 years old, and shy. We name him HAMISH. It’s maybe this that keeps me from derelict danger zones of depression.
We adopted Hamish on 18 Dec 2018 and our lives are so much richer for it #AdoptDontShop #PittiesRule
January 2019: Cocoon and Classroom (Elon University)
I teach a winter term course based on my research, which I call “Lip Sync for Your Life”. I have drag queens do a “Drag 101” in class and the students and the queens are all brilliant. I am hoping my transition back to teaching in the U.S. will be this easy. (It wasn’t.)
Jan-Feb 2019: Glasgow
Burns Supper with good friends. Dissertation edits, printing, and finally. Submission.
SUBMISSION. The tears. The whisky. More tears. More Tunnock’s. I get a new tattoo.
Feb – March 2019: Greensboro
Teaching. More Adjusting. Also, I sign up for dance lessons (more on that later) because the tango is fucking cool.
April 2019: Glasgow
3.5 years of research and writing and whisky. Conferences, workshops, retreats, and travel to 8 countries and countless cities, and so much of Scotland. 10 weeks of living apart. 3 intense weeks of VIVA prep. To survive a 2-hour 10-minute VIVA (oral defense of dissertation) and I AM A DOCTOR.
#DocShrop celebrations with many Harris Gins and shenanigans ensue for several days. I get a new tattoo. I cry off and on the entire plane ride back to NC.
May 2019: Greensboro
I finish my corrections and begin a new project – a collection of short stories that feature dogs. We shop for houses. The PhD limbo is over, and we are ready to stay put for a while. But first, many drams and celebratory gins and travel/graduation shenanigans must happen!
June 2019: Scotland
A two-week glorious holiday (ending at Hogwarts for graduation, of course) with my best friends in the world. Fryer Ted, Turner, and Gboy come with me and BigHaggis and we show them the country we love, the country that adopted us without reservation. Time is spent in the Highlands golfing, hiking, drinking, and fly-fishing. GBoy and I fish with flies Mackula tied for us more than a decade ago, when he dreamed in the last days of his life to see the Isle of Skye, and to go fishing with us in Scotland. There on the banks of the River Tweed, I heard his laughter in the running water, and I knew he was proud of me.
Two weeks of adventures and giggles races by and ends with a graduation day in my beautiful University, in my beloved city, shared with treasured friends. It’s almost too much. It is filled with champagne and a tremendous dinner at Curlers Rest and (appropriately) Lady Balls Bingo at one of our favorite bar/restaurants called the Hillhead Bookclub. My heart is full of love and my hair is full of glitter. The next day, I get a new tattoo.
#DocShrop’s entourage on Graduation.
(July 2019 – January 2020)
Life has been undeniably good. We’ve begun slowly unpacking our memories and filling our new home with them. We held a glorious graduation party so we could celebrate #DocShrop Stateside. We hosted family for the holidays, and it was glorious, even though it flew by. Family reunions, cooking, shopping, puzzles, Nutcracker ballet, homemade versions of “Nailed It!” (more on that later) and lounging on our deck in the warn sunshine #CackalackyChristmas). Hamish (now 59 pounds, healthy, and full of attitude) flourishes. (And by flourish I mean he is a spoiled rotten snuggler.)
Don’t let BigHaggis’s scowl fool you. He was having a “Highlander” moment at Eileen Dunan Castle.
I struggle some days to remember the anxiety attacks, the tears of frustration, and the meltdown stress of it all. But I find that the day in Berlin, when someone called me “the Drag Lady” and referred to me as an expert, is a stand-out memory. As is the first set of drag queen interviews I conducted, BigHaggis tagging along and ordering specialty cocktails with dirty names. And the sunrises on the Isle of Eigg as we walked lazily to the water’s edge, mesmerized by the colors above and below. The memory of BigHaggis blocking me so the Swiss Guard wouldn’t catch me taking photos of Drunken Moses in the Sistine Chapel.
Navigating Tesco deliveries and discovering that we could get whisky delivered. To. The. Flat. Being invited to Alasdair Gray’s home, where he poured us healthy drams with Mad Bastard Stevie, who took us to his whisky club in Edinburgh after a rugby game. And the snow falling and bells ringing in Vienna on Christmas night. Or watching a falcon land majestically of the arm of the man standing next to me on the grounds of Dunrobin Castle.
Smoking countless afternoons over books and music and playing backgammon in ourGlasgow Cigarden. Seeing whales jump next to a CalMac ferry boat. The first dinner BigHaggis and I shared in Curlers Rest. And the last. These are the memories that I mine. I get to decide which ones to share, but I could, if I wanted to, hoard them all to myself, curling up in them like a napping dragon.
Not everyone supported this grand expedition of ourse, and there were many rocky days, of course. But we fucking did it.
“Was it worth it?” is seldom asked of us. These days, it’s “Do you miss it?” Oh Yes. The homesickness for a Weegie Refugee is real. The stress is not forgotten, but it is overwhelmingly outweighed by the fabulous adventures. And the laughter. And joy. And pride. We did it. #teamshrop did it.
Not bad for a derelict debutante.