I got up very early this morning to see Jeremy off on a trip that I really should have been taking with him: a trip to the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas.
You may recall that I sang the praises of SxSW after returning from the conference myself a year ago. It’s a week of panels, parties, geeky talk, silliness, great ideas, friends and fun. I was so enthralled by last year’s SxSW that once it ended, I was literally counting the days until the tickets went on sale for this year’s conference. And the very day that registration for SxSW 2007 opened, I booked my ticket, and Jeremy and I booked our hotel room, and we were ready to go.
Of course, there was one thing I didn’t factor in: British bureaucracy. As I mentioned back in January, I’m applying for “indefinite leave to remain in the UK” (“indefinite”, in this case, meaning “ten years”, which sounds pretty darn definite to me, but then, what do I know…?). The week after Jeremy and I got back from Australia, I sent my passport to some anonymous office in Croydon, and I haven’t seen it since.
Up through January, I was still holding out hope that somehow I would get the passport back in time for SxSW this year. By the time Jeremy and his workmates were booking their plane tickets to Texas, I was already doubting that I’d be going with them. By the time Jeremy headed off to Vancouver without me at the end of February (a trip I was originally planning to take with him), I was fairly certain that I wasn’t going to make it to Texas either. And by the time everyone started packing their bags and getting ready to fly to Austin at the start of this week, I was fighting the urge to crawl under the covers and sulk, because it was blindingly obvious that I would be going absolutely nowhere.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a wee bit sorry for myself. It’s not that I mind being alone for a week, because I really don’t (if nothing else, I can strew my knitting around the living room with impunity—not that I haven’t been doing that anyway; poor Jeremy has spent weeks having to dodge knitting needles and rummage under piles of yarn for the TV remote). And it’s not so much that I’m irritated at missing the talks and panels (I can catch the podcasts), or that I’m bummed out at not being able to go to all the parties (to be honest, there were lots of times last year when I was just partied out, and all I wanted to do was curl up in bed with a good book).
No, what’s horrible is missing the chance to hang out with friends that I rarely have the opportunity to see otherwise. And what’s equally horrible is this general feeling of helplessness I have in the face of government bureaucracy—again. And it’s only as I’ve written this that I’ve fully realized how much my distress at not being able to attend SxSW is tied up with—or is indeed a manifestation of—my distress at being at the mercy of the immigration authorities for the past five months. I can’t leave the UK, I can’t call and ask about the progress of my application, I can’t go to Croydon in person to find out what the hell is going on, and I can’t even guess as to when this will all be over. I just have to sit…and wait…and feel angry and resentful that, after living and working here legally for six years, I’ve been inexplicably left in visa limbo—indefinitely.