Dag life

At the winter dance I won a prize for Best American Accent, though mine was the only one in the room. Being hammered on Passion Pop, a sickeningly sweet drink I luckily could not find when I returned to the US, added showers of confetti and glitter to the memory I’m sure were not there.


The prize was a gift certificate for a clothing shop in town catering to women over 70 or anyone in need of obscenely large packages of tube socks. Someone called it a “dag” shop and I figured out what that meant without google, which had not been invented anyway. You could buy lace trimmed handkerchiefs and bobbie pins or those slippery, translucent scarves to cover hair curlers, but I had a dickens of a time finding something, anything, to buy with my major award.


Dag was an affectionately insulting term I learned while living in Australia. It refers to someone or something that is unapologetically unfashionable and is maybe the American equivalent of Dork, though it derives from Daglock, or the dung-cake lock of wool around the hindquarters of a sheep, which we call Dingleberry over here, though not often. Language is heady, complicated business.


I fell in with a crowd that may have been described as dags, mild misfits less concerned about social status than I was accustomed to. I was recruited by the leader in the restroom in a case of mistaken identity (naturally). My doppelganger lives in Australia, you see, and the leader splashed sink water over the stall door thinking I was her and then recoiled in horror when she realized I was the new exchange student. And so she apologized and we became fast friends and she invited me to sit with her and her friends at lunch. Come to think of it, I also met my best friend from elementary school in eerily similar circumstances, so restrooms might just be where I make meaningful connections.

I spent the next six months feeling loved and accepted by a group of three girls and two boys. Sleepovers were always co-ed and we stayed up late watching Friday night videos, a novelty since I had grown up with MTV and took them for granted. They took me to my first concert in Sydney – Roxcette – though I didn’t care one way or another about the music. I remember my Australian friends as fresh faced and funny, innocent in many ways my American friends and I were not. I was tight lipped about my own past because it felt good to start over and be someone I should have been all along.

Although it had been sweltering July when I left the US, the east coast of Australia was in its own mild state of winter. I remember boarding the plane in a sweater and jeans and not believing they would be necessary. Everything was a mild shock to the system once I got off that plane.The house where I lived smelled like the strange, sweet oils and soaps my host mother used. A new cat curled up on my bed every night. Just beyond the house was a quaint town center with a cricket pitch and of course the dag shop and a chemist where I was forced to choose from an unfamiliar, exciting array of shampoos. The first time I ordered a hamburger I wasn’t sure I would like it with fried egg and beets, but oh I did. I took tea with my milk and sugar instead of coffee. My world had turned upside down and I fell madly in love.

What I probably fell in love with was my old self in new surroundings. As an American, I was a curiosity to others, a novelty, but to myself I was the only familiar thing around. I became my own source of comfort and expanded to become gregarious and chaste and found these traits suited me. When I returned to the US, I wondered for a long time if I wasn’t born on the wrong side of the planet. Had my doppelganger been unhappy in Australia? I found myself wishing I’d thought to ask her. We could have worked something out before my visa expired.

In recovery speak, they call that pulling a geographic. It’s when you hit the reset button by fleeing your current surroundings and it’s not supposed to work, but it did for me that one time. Of course, it didn’t really because I had to return home. The other kind of reset is much harder and takes time, often decades, and sometimes tedious effort.  Many, many years later I feel it from sobriety and middle age, a deepening comfort and sense that all we really need to do is click our heels to come home.


Me in one of the shirts I picked out at the dag shop. I still miss that damn cat.

16 thoughts on “Dag life

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  1. I never did a geographical. I considered one, a move with my old company to East Coast USA was on the cards more than once but it never was the right time for the family. In the end when I could seriously have done I didn’t want to – I was sober by then and the need to run away wasn’t pressing.

    I did one similar – I moved jobs in early 90s when my son was little. It was working in the City of London that was why I drank. Clearly. I moved to a new job, had a long drive of a commute so couldn’t be drunk on a train, it had no pubs on the doorstep (actually in the building where I last worked in the City) etc. etc. All it did was change how I drank and I drove drunk most work days for years after and despite a couple of small prangs I never got caught or did anyone any serious damage. I’m very grateful to whatever looked after me that I don’t have to add that to my list of guilts.

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  2. Always wondered where the term dingleberry came from….. Moving definitely increased my drinking and I became more isolated every move. I still have the feeling that the next move will be the one where I become a new person. Since my house is on the market, I need to review some thougts. What a great story.

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    1. My favorite are snow dingleberries, which are the little white balls you get on cuffs and mittens after playing in the snow. And hey, we all do that with new houses and jobs and haircuts, etc. Nothing wrong with hope and anticipation though nothing wrong with exploring motives either.

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  3. Wow, what a tale. Really got its coils around me, those vignettes from you living down there. The note about feeling less innocent than they rang true for my kids and their German friends, how their German friends appeared that way to me. Perhaps it’s small town, too. I like the story of where the term dingleberry comes from, that was something. Would like more please if you’ve got some in the back! Bill

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    1. So this was a piece I started right before you made the call for 90s music posts, and chronologically it happened the summer just before smashing pumpkins drown. And not quite sure what to do with it I ‘drafted’ it, and reading your old piece yesterday loosened it. So thanks for the inspiration, it’s why we blog and don’t scribble in spiral notebooks for the burn barrel (though I do that too). Thanks for the ideas and encouragement!

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      1. That’s awesome Kristen! So glad it loosened up that story…that’s a constant challenge for me, and why I try to push myself to keep writing regularly, even if it’s just on the blog. It’s a similar process to any writing I think (get idea, write, edit) — and if you never send it well, there you go.

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  4. I have heard of dingleberry, but never knew what it meant!
    That sounds like a really cool time you had!
    We moved from Wisconsin to Berkley, California when I was in 6th grade.
    That was an awakening!
    Yikes! Things were a lot faster the coast.
    As an adult, I have only lived in Wisconsin and Minnesota, so I sure didn’t have a geographical cure!
    One state is just like the other one!
    Although Wisconsin people do like their Friday fish fries, and lots of beer!
    Minnesota, in the big city, likes Happy Hours and lots of wine!

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  5. Now I can tell my kids I am a Dag, and they will likely tell me I am a Dag for calling myself a Dag. My son once told me the first rule of being savage is not calling yourself savage, so I assume the same logic applies.

    Love this story, and it is cool that I am still learning things about you, years after knowing you.

    To be painfully honest, I still dream of pulling a geographic when my life walls start closing in (read: in-law’s). And even though I know what I doing, thanks to my recovery education, I still dream of it. I figure it’s kind of like window shopping… no one gets hurt if I’m just dreaming it. I hope.

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  6. “Pulling a geography” – I never knew the term for the very thing that has stirred in my heart off and on for the last several years. But, I find it when I travel to new cities and go exploring on mountain trails that I have no business being on by myself.
    This story was warm and nostalgic and will stay with me all day as I set out on four hours of driving.
    I absolutely love your writing – I’m a bit behind, but I know your stories are waiting for me.
    Keep them coming, sister.

    ps: “She’s got the look” has been on rapid repeat since I read about your Roxette concert!

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    1. “Exploring on mountain trails that I have no business being on by myself”…I do that too often, though locally, and it makes me feel alive, possibly because I know better. Thanks for the sweet comment, Michelle. I’m enjoying your IG posts that show you’re busy writing.

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