27 September 2012

Dark Times

Things are not bright at Bad Penny headquarters, dear readers. After two years of carefully setting up a life in Manchester, making friends, making a start in radio, leaving one relationship and starting a new one, after all of that... my restlessness has kicked up again. My deck of cards was in near perfect order, and over the last few weeks, I feel like I've thrown them all in the air. They're still landing all around me.

Mark and I broke up. He lives in Norwich, which is 5 hours and a £70 ticket away on the train. He can't leave Norwich for another year and a half. I tried looking for radio work in Norwich. There is essentially no hope for that. We were broke, financially and emotionally, simply exhausted, and we couldn't keep up.

I was starting to feel like I didn't even really live in Manchester, because I was away so much. We were fighting more, because we were so tired. I hadn't posted on my blog for months, because there was never any time to write. We gave up.

And I'm homesick. After 8 years of living in Bush's America, I left, only months before the world shifted. I wonder what living in Obama's America is like. I met a fella who lives in America recently; he was only in the UK for a few weeks, and I met him on his last day here. We talked about politics and the recession, and how hard it was with Bush, and how different it is now... and how much it's still the same, too. I found myself, during that conversation and in the weeks after, feeling profoundly lonesome.

I finished my freelance work at the BBC, after 3 months of the most incredible work. I have since been offered more work, but the comedown after a short contract is debilitating. I cried for hours, wondering when all that work I've been putting in would finally provide something, anything, in return.

Don't get me wrong. I love this town. I love these people. I have made friends, true, wonderful friends, that I know will be there for me my whole life. I have met amazing people in the last few weeks, sweet, fun people who inspire me to do more and be more than I am right now.

But I miss pizza. I miss American voices, and it seems that no amount of listening to NPR podcasts is helping... because I just want to be working on those podcasts.

The nights are getting longer. Dark times, stormy weather. Put your hands together.


That is not all that I have been up to in the past few unblogged months. The times I have not yet told you about, they have been incredible.

1) I was asked to write a story for Bad Language's Northern Elements event! A literary event held at the Manchester Museum, featuring such illustrious writers as Jenn Ashworth, Helen Mort, John Leyland, Alex Keelan, Emma Lannie and Anneliese Mackintosh! It was a fantastic night, in a surreal location. We were surrounded by taxidermied animals and paper cranes, the skeleton of a sperm whale hovered above the gallery. You can watch all the performances here.

And my story, embedded below:

2 ) I was hired as the series researcher for Beyond Belief. A Radio 4 programme about religion and faith in the contemporary world, it's hosted by Ernie Rea, an extremely well-respected presenter. I got unbelievably lovely feedback. It only reinforced my feelings that I'm meant to be doing radio... Catch the whole series here.

3) The Olympics were amazing. I saw a women's football game, USA v North Korea. It felt weird and really Cold-War-ish.

4) The Paralympics, though, were even more amazing.

My friend Deepali was one of the 8,000 torchbearers. The Olympic torches are beautiful sculptures, with one perforation for every torchbearer. 

Mark and I took the cable cars over the Thames, partly to get to the ExCel Arena, and partly to see the beautiful views on a sunny day. Mark and I even caught some Paralympics events, the rowing and the sitting volleyball. Bosnia-Herzegovina won the gold, and it was beautiful to see their fans cheering, even while consoling the silver medallists, Iran.

I wasn't expecting to enjoy the Olympics so thoroughly, but they really were a wonderful time. London felt different than it has on any of my previous visits, and the stories that came out of the Games were just outstanding. The woman who had only started rowing a few years ago, winning the Gold. Ellie Simmonds, winning and winning and winning. Britain, as a whole, felt different during the Games, even to an outsider like me. 

5) The Olympics was paralleled by the Cultural Olympiad!
Which involved cool cultural events in cities all around the UK. In Manchester, a pop-up sports and play facility showed up just next to the canal! It was these little white huts, each with games and creative activities.

I borrowed a rowboat for an hour, and tried my best to navigate around this tiny bit of the canal. Me, trying to row a boat. I am incredibly poor at rowing boats. Don't ask me to again.

6) Mark and I took a day-trip to Cambridge, his Alma Mater.
Alexis, a friend of Mark's, lives in Cambridge, and he spent the whole beautiful day with us. We even passed Stephen Hawking in the street, which means my list of 'things to do in Cambridge' is nearly finished!

Alexis and Mark traded sunglasses in a beautiful park.

And yes, I suppose King's College is simply stunning.

I rather liked Clare College's smaller prettiness. 

And Cambridge had all of the gorgeous sky that day. 

I made another pilgrimage to St. John's College, as I must whenever I'm in Cambridge, to pay homage to Paul Dirac.

Alexis pointed out this lamppost, which is coloquially known as the 'Reality Checkpoint,' marking out the intellectual, friendly, idealistic world of Cambridge from the rest of East Anglia.

The sky, oh, the big huge sky.

7) And I've been spending a lot of time in Norwich, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post.
I love Norwich. I think it's a lovely town, with cute coffeeshops and great cafes. Adorable bars and great food. One of the best bookstores I've ever seen, and a quiet, peaceful riverside walk. I know I'm going to miss visiting Norwich. I'll miss The Window Coffee, run by the friendliest barista in the world, Hayley Gosling. I'll miss Tony Harding, my 85 year old pal who is always dressed like Don Draper.

I'll miss the lovely architecture.

I'll miss my goat friends on Goat Lane.

I'll miss Norwich's arts scene, which is a thriving and exciting. St. Gregory's Centre for the Arts is such a great venue.

I'll miss the delicious local, organic market fruits and vegetables.

The cathedrals, the inspiring cathedrals.

I'll miss Hayley's new puppy, Daisy, who is the calmest, sweetest coffeeshop dog a girl could ever hope to meet.

But most of all, I'll miss Mark.
As for now, I'll be in Manchester more, and I'll have more time on my own, so expect a better blog from here on out. I'll probably try to visit the States fairly soon, so Atlanta, get ready for the annual whirlwind adventure known as "When Nija Visits" to strike. 

I talked to a friend about this yesterday, one of my MA teachers. I was telling her that I'm feeling antsy, and maybe it's just because I've been here 2 years. Maybe I should wait the restlessness out, see if it goes away. She said, "Or maybe that restlessness will never go away, and that is what you are. No matter how much you move. And maybe your life isn't about a happy ending with the right man. Maybe it's just about happy encounters." 

That shut me right up.

So, I don't know what's going to happen with me. I might decide that four years abroad is enough. I might try to make it somewhere else. Right now, all I know is that I'm feeling lonesome and tired. My deck of cards is a mess all around my feet, and I don't even feel ready to pick them and start over yet.

It's nearly October, and I'm nearly 31. It's autumn, and the nights are getting longer. Dark times are getting darker.  


  1. Dearest n*,

    Please know that the Varner household will be anxiously awaiting the phenomenon known as "When Nijas Visit" as we always enjoy it. In fact, I think we shall go ahead and start battening down the hatches in anticipation of a particularly exciting visit! (Atlanta gets Nija-sick too, just so you know...)

    Also - thank you for getting Put Your Hands Together in my head ... it is really quite a pleasant thing to have rattling around in there for the rest of the day.

    We *will* nail down this time to have talkies soon!

    Much love from across the way,

  2. Nija, I'm so sorry about your breakup - that sounds really rough. Know that you are not at all alone, things will pass and you will feel better, and the States can be pretty great. Also, there are fantastic radio stations all across the country, so I have full confidence that if you were to think about moving back, you'd find something somewhere in the States. Here in Chicago the local NPR station is just tops, bee's knees, or whatever your pals over there say. Being away is nice, but it's even nicer to come back. Sending you hugs,