11 September 2010

Aberdeen Trip, Day Four

The end of a conference is always a difficult thing for me. Apologies for bringing it back to food and eating again, but after both BAAL last year, and the conference this year in Amsterdam, I bought a package of cookies and ate them. Not a small package, mind you: like a proper roll of chocolate biscuits: probably 1,500-2,000 kCals altogether and just ate them all. This might seem odd: it seemed odd to me when I was doing it. You hate yourself when you do things like that. It’s such an embarrassing thing, but so secret and private. No one knows unless you tell them.

As the conference ended today, I felt the same sort of emptiness. The first part of this was because there was no lunch served and I was actually very hungry, but the other part of it, the thing I think I was unable to put my finger on in Newcastle last year or in Amsterdam was how these conferences work and the natural letdown you feel when they finish. We used to talk about this when we went on religious retreats: the retreat would end and Monday was always so awful. We thought it was the devil trying to bring us down from being so close to god.

The truth, it turns out, is that people (and me in particular, being that I am rather outgoing) actually quite like being with other people who they share common interests and beliefs with. At these conferences, you have this built-in closeness with the people around you. Everyone is interested in language. Most people are academics. Everyone understands the complexities of multilingual interaction and quite a few are in intercultural relationships, with bilingual kids. At a coffee break, you turn to anyone, and you start talking. About anything, about everything.

When the conference ends, it’s suddenly back to a very bleak, real world. When we finished today, I came back to the room, slept for an hour, and then went to the city centre to eat and look around. I had this desire to talk to people, everyone around me.

You also go from spending six hours a day or more listening to talks and thinking/ talking about big issues. This is pretty demanding and even though I love it, I need a break. I have a paper I have to read for one of my tutees and I just can’t do it now. I need to decompress.

So I walked and walked and walked instead of binge eating. After I recognised the problem, it was easier to avoid. I did eat lunch and sat at Starbucks with a huge cup of coffee and some shortbread and drank it very slowly, but I didn’t eat too much, or keep eating when I was full. There was, for a brief moment, nowhere to be, nowhere to go. I was upset that I didn’t book a flight back for earlier in the day, but I realised, checking my flight status for tomorrow, that the flight out of Aberdeen to Luton on Saturday was like at 1:30, so I couldn’t have taken it anyway. I’m on the next one which just happens to be on Sunday night.

There’s more.

Someone asked me yesterday, ‘Where are you from?’ In this context, it’s hard to deduce what they mean: do they mean where I live or where I come from originally? I said, ‘That’s a difficult question’ and was about to go on to clarify, but the woman laughed and said, ‘That’s a strange answer for me as an non-native English speaker. This is such a simple question.’ I explained the problem and she understood in the end. I asked another woman the same question today, and she laughed and said, ‘Do you mean where do I live now, or why do I talk funny?’ She was a Cambridge professor, lived in the UK for 30 years, but originally from Texas. The Texas accent never fades.

All-in-all, it was a successful trip for me in a lot of areas. Yoko once told me that at the end of your twenties beginning of your thirties, your style settles and you stop buying new clothes every year. Until then, she said, it was fine to buy cheap clothes, but when you settle, you should buy better clothes that will last. I feel like I am starting to settle. Part of it is fashion. Part of it is this new body that feels less burdensome than the body I had last year. Part of it is a confidence in the work I am doing. This all adds up to a sense of peace, of getting older. I like it quite a bit. I like that my shoes fit and I look in the mirror and am not unsettled with how I look. It’s a very tangible manifestation of how I feel inside.

I didn’t get a job for 2012, as I was hoping, but the groundwork is there and I am realising that I probably don’t need to worry about it. Or rather, that it’s fine to worry about it as worrying about it will drive me to succeed, but that things will probably work out. And with the food and the eating: the problems, when you look at where they come from, are solvable. You just have to make sure you are solving the right problem. Come Monday, I will need to stop this very small intake of food that I am at now, and level off. Quickly, actually, so I don’t dip too much further. I think that will be okay: I can more-or-less go back to what I was eating before, minus the binge eating. And weighing myself regularly. I need to get back into the academic mode come Monday as I have a French final and preparations for teaching at Middlesex in October to do. But tomorrow, I will take a day off, I think. Run on the beach a last time and maybe see a film. Family and work responsibilities will come back soon enough.