I forget how tiny newborns are, tiny human burger patties that cry and make faces. On Monday I went to see B at the hospital. She’s had twins. The Foxes have gone from two to three, to five, virtually overnight.

I was starving afterwards and I made our way back to the city center, ate french fries by Jiriho z Poděbrad, and went to sleep in the same nearly unbearable funk I’ve been in since last Saturday.

Yesterday MPDB wrote from across the sea and said let’s drop everything, let’s run away for a while, let’s go to Morocco.

Lena, who is an actress and who is pregnant with her second child, and in whose Chelsea apartment I stayed one December while visiting New York, sent me a nod, said she understood. About the blue hair thing. And that made it — well, not OK exactly, but better.

Leevi, who went to the same high school I went to except the one in India instead of mine in Norway, and who sat with me during our first lecture ever at the London School of Economics, wrote to say he quit his job and is now training as a massage therapist.

We’re on our first divorces, second children, third big career lurches. Maybe because we want to want to have blue hair. We’re wearing someone else’s clothes at a runway show, and they’re fitted with temporary pins and we can’t wait to get backstage and get back in our sweatpants

nothing quite fits

it’s couture, but it doesn’t fit

Last night Borek and I went to the Czech Grammys, the Ceny Anděl, in Karlin. I wore all black and put on yellow shoes, and tried not to do anything stupid on live television again. We sat between a Czechoslovak Idol winner and an organizer who looked like she wanted to vomit all over me whenever we made eye contact.

That’s the kind of first impression I make.

Or maybe it’s a Prague thing. It’s not like Toronto, which wants to flirt with you at every turn. I’ve never quite found my sea legs in coastless Prague. It’s a different culture, I tell myself, and you have to adapt to being nearly puked on at landmark contemporary cultural events out of the disgust you provoke, because they sure as hell aren’t going to adapt to you and your yellow shoes and your intrusive Mediterranean hellos and good mornings.

So I smile and clap and drink a fourth glass of wine, and think about how everything in my life is wonderful, and I want to torch it all like Nero did to Rome, and play with the ashes.

My boyfriend has blue hair now

It’s a coloring wax that comes from a pot he had sent from Japan. The English instructions are a mess, but it’s hair wax. You finger, you rub, you rub. And so now my boyfriend has blue hair.

He washes the blue off in the shower before going to bed so he won’t stain the pillows, because he’s sensible and practical (even when he rubs blue wax from Japan on his hair).

But before that he sits at the kitchen table, typing on his laptop, and I look at him and think how odd.

I used to fry my hair with colorants and I had blue hair for fifteen minutes, a million years ago, when I was a mess in London and didn’t know what to do with myself.

And then that stopped. I wanted to fit in so that I could afford to be free eventually, and instead, the half of me that craved conventionality toppled over the half that needed to do whatever the fuck I wanted and wear the consequences on my chest like a military medal. And I don’t know how to calibrate it now, any more than I know how to desalt soup.

Everything feels too tidy, I’m too punctual. I wanted to be reliable in order to hold on to what I needed and now I am, but look what’s happened.

I want things, still.

I want to have an odious, impractical little car with no heating in the winter, something like a Fiat 127, absurd like the iron spiral staircase in my loft which starts and ends inches away from a frosted glass wall. A wall someone is bound to smash through sooner or later —  because sooner or later people slip on staircases.

I want to stop pushing text around a google doc like it’s an uneaten piece of cauliflower on a plate.

I want to rewind life and do it exactly the same way, but better.

I want to cry for a reason again.

I want to want to have blue hair.

You know what I mean?

Things you forgot to take with you

A toy goat, because you liked goats. It lives on a shelf in my apartment now.

A very small mug from Cape Town.

A slight uneasy feeling whenever I look in the mirror for too long.

A pair of dark green boxer shorts, with the elastic band so worn they fall right off.

A book by Kenzaburo Oe which I’m pretty sure you never read.

A picture of the two of us and your sister.

A toothbrush, probably.

A notion of not having measured up when my birthday comes and my phone buzzes and it’s never you.

Horrible Poem No. 1

It’s Tuesday and I haven’t slept for two days, and I am sitting in the audience at Lucerna with two glasses of prosecco making their way into my bloodstream. Daniel Barenboim, a very busy man, is on stage talking about the songfulness of Smetana’s MaVlast via Kubelik.

The moment he starts bitching about Czech Airlines’ habit of playing Vltava when the airplane lands in Prague, I realized I’ve had it with this bullshit week and turn to Borek, who is sitting next to me, and tell him I hate poetry.

Then I tell him I hate a number of other things, most likely not interrelated in any way, because this is what happens when I don’t sleep. I hate poetry except that of Mario Benedetti and Pablo Neruda, and I hate asterisks that go nowhere, and people who say they could care less, and people who say no pun intended when they haven’t made any (WHY!), and many, many more things, and I try to keep my voice down because we’re live on Česká Televize.

Borek thinks for a bit. Then he begins to recite a poem:

Hey you

I hate you


Every one of you



And cranky I am

That’s why I hate you

I tell him it’s a horrible poem and I am going to put it on this blog, and that makes him very happy. So here it is.

Slack Chat, Monday 28.08.2017

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity, privacy, sanity, and decency.


Me [10:42 AM]

cause this weekend, Gay Earth was single-mindedly obsessing over Taylor Swift 

so this little glimpse into Straight Earth I just got [two colleagues talking about this weekend’s boxing match between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather] was both illuminating and confusing

Other [10:44 AM]

yeah I was lost in my I-Don’t-Own-a-TV-or-Know-What’s-Going-On World

Me [10:46 AM]

I once went on my soapbox and delivered a rousing speech about why romantic relationships are useless evolutionary hangovers, the equivalent of nipples on guys, during a prosecco-fueled dinner party

Other [10:46 AM]

but I generally agree, dogs are just much better persons than people

Me [10:46 AM]

in front of my boyfriend

Other [10:47 AM]


i wish i could’ve seen that!

Me [10:47 AM]

but everyone disagreed



Other [10:47 AM]

you shouldn’t. because you’re right, and that’s that.

Me [10:48 AM]

why thank you


also i’ll never understand the appeal of paying 100 dollars to watch two guys hit each other in the face

Other [10:49 AM]

you’re welcome (I’m scared to disagree with you)


yeah haha me neither

Me [10:49 AM]

though actually now that Ive typed that, it sounds totally logical

Other [10:49 AM]

it’s disgusting to me, and it’s like… a trend or something


all the guys watch that shit now

Me [10:49 AM]



i thought boxing was like Miss World, a super niche retro thing from the 1970s that nobody cares about

Other [10:50 AM]

so did I

Me [10:50 AM]

Miss World Boxing, now that’s an idea

Other [10:50 AM]



that would sell gazillions

Me [10:51 AM]

I would totally watch Miss Wales and Miss Botswana slap each other around in evening wear


deliciously exploitative

Other [10:52 AM]

Miss Wales would be a sheep, so that wouldn’t be a fair fight


I do not condone animal cruelty. 

Me [10:53 AM]

that’s not how it works. they don’t send their biggest exports to miss world. Miss Spain is never an olive.

Other [10:53 AM]

How cool would that be!

Other [10:54 AM]

poor, poor sheep

Me [10:54 AM]

you meant like a metaphorical sheep?

When my PhD and I broke up


I thought it was the work of my life. I tried to make it stick. I changed, and it changed, and we played mental games against each other until years of relationship snapped in half like a twig.

We met, as it so often happens,  through well-meaning friends.

"I think you two would hit it off."

“You’d make a great match.”

“Everybody wants this.”

I didn’t have much going on in terms of a traditionally conceived future, but I did have a keenness to write and a bunch of ideas, so I thought, yes. Yes, I want to do this. And then I parsed it around to This is what I want to do, which sounds the same but is absolutely not, by way of its absoluteness.

We got engaged right away. A long-distance race that should end up with me changing my name (Dr Starts with G!). Its friends were nice, mostly. There was a visiting professor who smelled moldy and wouldn’t look me in the eye and chewed on his own beard like it was made of sugar cane, but that was fine. I worked hard and did well on my coursework. Things were fine for a while.

I got some form of life purpose out of it. I don't know what my PhD got from me in return. No, I do know — it got my weekends. My evenings. My holidays. When you’re doing a PhD, you can’t really not think about it, even when you’re not thinking about it. There’s no natural end to it — maybe you run out of funding and you have to push a thesis out of whatever your brain’s equivalent of a uterus is, or you reach the point where you have absolutely nothing else to say, or your spouse and friends organize an intervention, and then you’re done.

But until then, you chip away at this thing and you’re never really not chipping away at it.

I defended it when people talked trash about it, calling it things like useless or pointless or demented, and reacted with self-righteousness when other former PhD students in recovery told me it would never last. "Just you wait", they'd say. "What the fuck do you know about my relationship", I'd think.

And all along I'd look at even the happiest PhD/student pairings, and feel not even a smidgen of thrill or anticipation of jealousy. Is that who I am? Who I want to be?  Teaching, writing, doing research, lather, rinse, repeat?

The teaching was my favorite. I have always loved teaching, since back in the days when I was a high school student in Norway and they plonked me in front of a group of leirskule children and told me to teach them salsa (I couldn't dance salsa but it didn't matter — I have a Spanish name and anyway we spent the entire time trying and failing to get the  boys to stand next to the girls). I loved teaching so much that I took twice the teaching credit requirements.

And I also loved the writing — no, the writing was my favorite. Let's face it, some of us don't write a packing checklist without the hope that someone will read it and think it's a fresh and daring take. So what if I had to write papers on Gayatri Spivak's 'material predication of the subject'*.

* I warn you, this is a real thing but it's best not to ask any more questions if you value your sanity.

But these things, which I enjoyed so much on their own, turned out to be terrible together — like a big gob of mayonnaise splattered onto a bowl of lentil soup.

When I searched for some inner voice to tell me what to do, all I could hear, whispered softly with the conviction of a lifetime, was Not this. Not this.

When I looked in the mirror and tried to figure out who this tired-looking, confused, gray person was staring back at me, all I could see reflected in those pupils were the words Not you. Not you.

But I felt guilty about my full fellowship, the spot I had taken from someone else who would have really wanted it. I felt useless and rudderless without it, my only skill being able to argue successfully for one thing and its exact opposite. How much does that pay? So I chipped away at it some more.

By the third year of fieldwork, I had figured out the answer to the question I was asking — that the true source of people's political power is the stories that they tell themselves. And then it hit me that I didn’t have a language to tell that story. I had to throw out my script about political opportunity or resource mobilization or institutional veto points. I couldn't compare anything to anything else anymore. I could have started again, I could have made it work, I could have gotten excited.

But I wasn't excited. I was tired. So I didn't.

We separated way before the divorce was official. I started seeing other occupations. I cheated on my PhD very publicly with a full-time administrative job for a while – it wasn't passion (my new lover was most unhot, and all it ever talked about was proper invoicing) but it was against the rules, and new, and different. Taking a job in billing made me feel alive and independent again. It was an act of defiance. It hardly matters that the sex was awful.

Eventually, I left the country and moved across the Atlantic ocean for a while. By the time I got back to Europe, I was done.

It was my fault. It was nobody’s fault. It felt for a while like a cataclysmic personal failure. It felt also wonderful, truly wonderful, to be free of it. Because that’s what happens when you leave home every morning with your good-on-paper clothes on. They feel scratchy and accentuate your lower back fat and they’re wrong, even if they’re what you’ve been told to wear, and they’re trendy and you’ve spent a fortune on them.

One day, I tossed them in the trash and left home naked. And I was cold, and scared, and vulnerable and free.

And I never, ever looked back.