The Final Post

“It is impossible for you to go on as you were before, so you must go on as you never have.” – Cheryl Strayed


 Leaving London was like leaving home. I fell in love with the city before I even saw it, and it welcomed me into its embrace like an old friend. But it was a temporary home, and I knew that from the beginning. I could feel myself growing restless near the end of the term, not necessarily to return but to move on to my next adventure.

Walking through Hyde Park on my last weekend in London

Walking through Hyde Park on my last weekend in London

Little did I know that just trying to get back to the States would be an adventure on its own.

My flight to Portland went through Vancouver BC, but the night before I was to leave, I found out that my flight was delayed by three hours, which meant I was going to miss my connecting flight. Once my mom called up the airline and was able to get me on a later flight to Portland, the delay was less of an irritation. But then the flight was delayed even more, which meant I would have about twenty minutes once the plane landed in Vancouver to get off the plane and get to the gate for my connecting flight. There was nothing I could do at that point except wait for the plane to land, and after Tyler and Gina, my traveling buddies, told me that enough people needed to catch the plane to Portland for us to have a better chance of getting to it than if we were on our own, I let myself relax.

I had started reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail last summer and brought it with me to London thinking I’d have time to finish it there. But free time was not easily had over the last four months, so I was determined to finish it on the plane ride back. For those of you who don’t know what Wild is about, it’s the autobiography of Cheryl Strayed who hiked the PCT on her own. She started in California and ended at the Bridge of the Gods in Portland. Not only did this book make me want to sell off everything I own and live on the trails for three months, but it occurred to me as I was on the plane that, as I was reading about Cheryl hiking to Portland, I myself was trying to find my way to the same location. Cheryl had come so far since the beginning of her hike. She was a different person and she had to fight her old self to make it there. It was then I realized that, no matter what it took, I was going to make it to Portland. Even if I missed the connecting flight and had to spend the night in the airport, I was going to find my way to where I needed to go, just like Cheryl.

Of course, the rather rude pilot announced with a laugh that “those of us looking to get to the States tonight weren’t going to make it to the States tonight,” because the border control at the airport was already closed. The airline gave me a hotel room for the night with a food voucher (which only worked at the hotel restaurant, and of course the restaurant was closed by the time I arrived and didn’t open until after I left). It sounds like a rather simple process, even if it was inconvenient. But every single person that worked for the airline that I had to interact with during this experience made everything so difficult and was so rude, I felt like falling apart by the time I got to the hotel. I was supposed to be back in Washington by now, but instead, I was spending the night in a town that broke into my friend’s car and stole all of my stuff the last time I was there. This whole fiasco did not help to improve my opinion of Vancouver BC. I went out to a different restaurant, treated myself to a couple of rum and cokes, had a long shower, repacked my suitcase, and caught four hours of sleep before boarding the shuttle back to the airport. Things went smoothly from there, with both security and customs going quickly and efficiently. Then I finally found a nice Air Canada employee – the flight attendant on the last leg of my journey. By the time I landed in Portland, I was hungry and exhausted.

But I made it.

Recouping from my journey was a distraction from what I left behind – a new family and a new home with memories that are a permanent part of my heart. It was time for me to leave London, I think, even though I know I’ll find my way back someday. But it will never be the same. London will always be London, but it was the people that made this trip for me. And even when I return to my temporary home, it will be an entirely different experience. I may never see these people again, which I’ve recognized in previous posts, but I am so thankful to everyone who made these past four months what they were. We will go to so many new places in this world and make countless new memories, but no matter what happens, we will always have London.

A group of us in front of Kensington Palace on our last weekend in London

A group of us in front of Kensington Palace on our last weekend in London

5 Things I Learned in my 21st Year

As I celebrate my 22nd birthday here in London, I can’t help but think about where I was this time last year. I was comfortable with the year and a half cushion between me and the real world of post-graduation, living in Tacoma provided me with a consistent routine, and studying in London was a daydream months away from becoming reality. If someone had sat me down then and told me everything I would do, everything I would see, and everywhere I would go during my 21st year, I would have laughed at their storytelling abilities. But for me, this truly has been a year full of experience and adventure. So I have come up with a list of the 5 most important things I’ve learned since turning 21, knowing that, even though this chapter in my life is coming to a close, I still have many more obstacles to overcome and victories to gain. But for now, I’ll just keep dancing like I’m 22.

1. Take a chance.

On board to Oslo, Norway

On board to Oslo, Norway – Nov. 2014

As a writer, I love having new experiences because they inspire me, and I love learning new things that end up seeping into my stories. But I think, a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been as open to trying new things. I knew what I liked and that was that. But there are so many things I never would have done in the past year had I said no when the opportunity arose. I never would have learned how to snowboard. Or taken a roadtrip to Canada. Or ran two 5k’s. Or studied abroad and backpacked through Europe. Or countless other things that have taught me about life and about myself. I think people say no to new experiences because they are afraid of the unknown – what if I fail? What if I look horrendously stupid? What if my car gets broken into and all of my stuff gets stolen? (Which is a valid fear.) I probably was able to start saying yes, though, because I stopped caring what people think about me because I was able to gain some much needed self-confidence.

2. Love yourself and be confident.

She growled first, I swear! Oct. 2014

She growled first, I swear! Oct. 2014

I’m awesome. No, that’s not arrogance. That’s confidence. Because I know I make mistakes and I let people down sometimes. I have a short temper and zero patience and if I don’t want to do something, I won’t do it until the last possible minute. But I love who I am. I don’t understand why a person would be willing to live in a world where they don’t love themselves. You’re stuck with yourself for a lifetime – that’s worse than being married to someone you don’t love, so why tolerate it? When I recognize a part of myself I don’t like, I strive to change it because I want to be the best I can be, and that’s not going to happen if I’m hating who I am. Once you love yourself, you’ll realize that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. And once you realize that, you will be confident enough to accomplish anything. (Or confident enough to fail terribly, but smiling boldly as you fail before picking yourself up and trying again.) That’s one of the biggest lessons I learned this year, I think. Be confident in who you are and what you believe in.

3. You can’t change the past, but you can learn from it.

My sister and me on my 21st birthday - Dec. 2013

My sister and me on my 21st birthday – Dec. 2013

Do you ever have a moment where you think back to something you did a week ago, a month ago, years ago, and you just cringe? “God, why did I do that? What was I thinking? Of all the things I could have said, I said that.” I have those moments on a regular basis. But the thing is, if I had to go back and redo this year over again, there is only one thing I would’ve done differently. One regret in a year full of mistakes and awkward situations. Every single choice I made, good or bad, led me to where I am today, and I would have learned a lot less. If I had turned the lights off in my truck and the battery hadn’t died, I would have gotten to work on time that morning, but I wouldn’t have learned how to jump start a car. If I had maybe one or two drinks less some nights, I wouldn’t have had a headache in the morning, but I wouldn’t have gone on some pretty unbelievable adventures (that my friends and I still laugh about). You can’t change your past; it’s always going to be part of you. It’s how you handle the mistakes of your past that matters.

4. People suck. But that’s okay because people are also wonderful.

Some pretty amazing people who I got to spend 3 inspiring months with

Some pretty amazing people who I got to spend 3 inspiring months with – Nov. 2014

Don’t deny it. People can be awful sometimes. Like when you’re holding onto a handlebar while on the Tube and someone coughs directly onto your hand. Or when a professor still doesn’t know your name after a semester of seeing you every day. But especially when someone breaks into your house and steals everything expensive you own, or into your car and steals stuff that is useless to them but valuable to you. Those are the times when I want to run away to a mountain and live like a hermit so that I don’t have to deal with the crowds of crazies. How am I supposed to trust people after experiencing that kind of stuff? But the thing is…I also love people. We are such interesting creatures, and living in London, I’ve learned how necessary it is to have some sort of interaction with people. I’ve tried to figure some of them out, but it is impossible to come to any sort of conclusion because nobody is good or bad. We are a mix of all of these different traits and our minds are so unique in how we process things and see the world. So I don’t place blame on someone for breaking my heart or for spreading gossip. I was really hit hard with this lesson this year, but I think it’s taught me to take more responsibility for my actions. Blaming people will do absolutely nothing for you, and it only prevents you from finding peace. So you have to find the good in people, because when you see the good, you’ll find that you are spending your time with some amazing people.

5. Let go.

Pack Forest

Pack Forest – Aug. 2014

There have been two times this year that I’ve understood how important it is to let go, of the past, of your worries, of the negativity. Once was while I was hiking in Pack Forest in Eatonville this last summer and the other was when I was standing at Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester. Most of the time, I have doubts and plans and questions bouncing around in my head, but in both of those places, those voices went quiet. The thing about Pack Forest is that it is not as well known, so I rarely run into anyone there. It’s like I’m wandering around an empty forest, and I think that forces me to hear and see and feel instead of think. The earth’s floor seems to just absorb all of my troubles. And then in Winchester, I knew it was going to be a big deal seeing Jane’s grave. All of the miscellaneous drama that was flitting through my mind died that day because at that moment, I recognized that a lot of what I was worrying about was useless. I knew that my goal was to be a professional writer, and I needed to separate the things that would get me to that goal and the things that would keep me from my goal, and then I needed to let go of the second category. Letting go is always the scariest part of any process. It’s going back to the idea of fearing the unknown. But I think the future is always going to be better than the past. We romanticize the past and think it was better than it actually was. But the future…it holds so much more than we could possibly imagine. New lessons. New experiences. New people. New places. New love. New adventures.

 

 

A Pilgrim’s Tale

Recent London adventures: Noel Coward Theatre, Bond in Motion exhibit at the London Film Museum, Christmas tree lighting on Regent Street, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, City Hall for Mayor’s Questions

The definition of a pilgrimage (according to good ol’ Wikipedia) is a journey of moral or spiritual significance, typically to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs. Many religions also attach spiritual significance to specific places, for example, the place of birth or death of a saint or the location where a deity was housed. Pilgrims take these journeys to be healed or to have questions answered or to achieve a spiritual benefit.

I never really put much thought into the idea of a pilgrimage until last Saturday when I took a day trip by myself to Winchester and Chawton. Winchester is a town about two hours southwest of London, Chawton a little farther than that, both in the county of Hampshire. I woke up at 5 am on Saturday (which I learned was about an hour earlier than I really needed to – and  for those of you who know how much I love to sleep, you will know how very disappointed I was at that missed opportunity). I packed myself a lunch because I didn’t know if I’d have time to stop and eat (again – my eagerness overestimated the amount of time I’d need), and I headed out into the darkness to catch my coach at the Victoria Coach Station. (I had spent the entire previous afternoon riding the Tube and walking to the coach station to make sure I wouldn’t get lost.)

It was when I was sitting on the coach, Winchester bound, that I realized what this trip meant for me. Because, what was waiting for me at the end of my coach ride? Why did I choose this destination, of all of the places in England I could visit?

Jane Austen, that’s why.

(If you couldn’t answer that question by now, shame on you. Go back and reread my previous posts, specifically “Why I’m Here.”)

After Jane’s father died while the Austen family was living in Bath (and then briefly in Southampton), her brother Edward (who was adopted by a rich uncle, just like Fanny Price in Mansfield Park) offered one of his cottages to Jane, her sister Cassandra, and her mother. The cottage, which was part of a larger estate, is in Chawton, which is really more of a village than a town. After all of these years, that cottage/house/estate has become the Jane Austen House Museum, complete with artifacts that belonged to Jane Austen and her family. I can’t be in England and just not have a look around Jane’s house. Pure foolishness. Immediately after descending the coach in Winchester, I easily found the bus station and the correct bus to take me to Chawton. (The driver was so kind, too. He asked if I was on my way to see Jane and when I said yes, he joked, “Well, I hear she’s in today. Let’s see if we can get you to her.” All of the locals I encountered were extremely nice and helpful.) Once there, I saw her writing desk (the one that held EVERY SINGLE ONE OF HER MANUSCRIPTS that all would eventually be published into novels), and the first ever published edition of Mansfield Park, as well as all of the costumes from my favorite movie adaptation of the same novel. There were displays of her letters, the few pieces of jewelry she owned, her needlework, the silver pot with the family crest, and so many other seemingly simple pieces that were part of her daily life.

Jane Austen's writing desk

Jane Austen’s writing desk

But, can you believe it, Chawton was only my side trip. The main point of this adventure was to walk into Winchester Cathedral, calmly ask the front desk for a ticket in exchange for my £6, and walk with as much self-containment as is physically possible to the grave of Ms. Jane Austen.

I’m not comparing my love of (cough cough, obsession with) Jane Austen to a religion. But as I was sitting on that coach early Saturday morning, not quite sure what to expect that day, I realized just how much this trip meant to me, just how much I needed to find my way to Winchester.

I was raised Lutheran, and we don’t put as much emphasis on saints as Catholics do, but if there was anyone in the world who I would like to raise to saintly status, it would be Jane. (That sounds somewhat like I’m breaking the first commandment, but it’s not like I’m calling her God. She’s just the goddess of literature. That’s different, right?) In one of my previous posts (and just in general conversation with anyone who will talk to me), I explained the depth of my admiration of Jane Austen and her work. Some of my friends (i.e. all of them) grew up reading Harry Potter, so much so that it has affected their lives in very personal ways. That’s what reading Jane Austen novels did to me. She is as close to an idol as I’m going to get – my inspiration, my aspiration, my literary role model. This was my trip to where she died, where my chosen saint is buried. This was my pilgrimage.

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Winchester Cathedral

In Winchester Cathedral, as it is in most other cathedrals, the graves are scattered throughout the building, which means that they are right in the middle of where people walk. When I finally approached  Jane’s grave, I saw two young women standing on it, and my immediate and natural response was to literally shove them and say, “Get off!” (I mean, their feet were trespassing on where Jane’s brilliant mind is resting! How else would you expect me to react?) I didn’t, of course. I respectfully waited for them to wander off so I could view the words on the stone myself.

As I was there, a male choir was singing in the central part of the cathedral, which happens to be right next to where Jane is buried, so I got an epic welcome to the grave. It was like in movies when the music tells you that something major is about to happen. Because the music was enjoyable and I really had no desire to read a bunch of other names on tombstones I wouldn’t recognize or care about, I loitered about Jane’s grave for a long time, long enough for five different tours to pass by. Each tour guide had something different to say about Jane, and to my great satisfaction, all of their facts were accurate. I even learned something new about her.

Me next to Jane Austen's grave

Me next to Jane Austen’s grave

When it was time for me to leave (not because I wanted to, but because people were starting to give me weird looks…I literally just sat next to her grave for the better part of an hour), I made a (silent) promise to Jane that I would never sacrifice my dreams of being a professional writer. I told her I would make her proud, that I would never stop writing. (Now you think I’m crazy because that sounded crazy, but I swear, her spirit can hear me! Okay, maybe I’m a little crazy, but all good writers are.) As I walked away from the grave, I could feel in that moment that I was united with Jane Austen, that we were somehow connected in a way that I couldn’t quite explain at the time. But it was as if a string attached me to her, and no matter where I go in life, that string would never break.

I completed my pilgrimage with a quick look at the last house Jane ever lived in and then strolled down the main street of Winchester as I waited for my coach to pick me up. Winchester had their Christmas lights and tree up, and there was some sort of market going on that night, so I had some tea and crumpets (for the first time ever…delicious sponges from heaven) and spent the night walking by all the pretty shops and reveling in the beauty of the night.

I don’t quite know what I was looking for in this trip. I wanted to see Jane Austen sites, but I think I was looking for something deeper than that. Whether it was guidance or answers or assurance that I was making the right decisions, I needed something. I’m not sure exactly what answers I got from my pilgrimage, or even what questions I asked. What I do know is, Jane was there for me, ready with her quill posed and her wit on the tip of her tongue.

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”

Places visited recently: Stratford-upon-Avon & Warwick Castle

When my class visited Shakespeare’s hometown last week, I felt very bonded to the people I have been spending so much of my time with these past two months. Between stealing seats at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatre, singing Adele songs in the middle of a pizzeria, posing with awkward statues in a castle, or beating and getting beat at card games on the train ride home, I laughed my way through two eventful days in Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick.

Me posing with a statue in Warwick Castle - it was a very interactive experience.

Me posing with a statue in Warwick Castle – it was a very interactive experience.

But all great things must come to an end, right?

I have less than 5 weeks until I return to the States. Time has been so ephemeral here. And once I leave this place, things will never quite be the same. The people I am used to seeing every day will be miles away, some will be states away. I hear some people talk about taking classes together in future semesters or doing other things together in groups who all go to the same school. I didn’t feel left out exactly, but I knew that I didn’t fit in to that future. This time in London was my experience with these particular people, and while I know I’m going to keep in touch with some of my friends on the program, that number will be a precious few. Not because I don’t care about everyone here, but because once I step on that plane and leave London, their experiences are no longer tied to mine. It will be then that we see who has formed lasting connections and who has not.

A group of us eating lunch at Warwick Castle (or should I say, feasting at the castle)

A group of us eating lunch at Warwick Castle (or should I say, feasting at the castle)

Tomorrow night, I register for spring semester classes at PLU. It will be my last semester of college. A disturbing thought considering how well I remember my first day of freshman year. So much has changed since that day when I waltzed into my dorm room and introduced myself to my roommate. I talk to her every now and again, yet not nearly as often as I should. But I think that’s a part of life I have to accept.

People come into your life like shooting stars, bursting with fire until they slip silently away. So very few people are permanent. Part of the trick is learning how to tell the difference between the two, and how to let go of the ones that are only there for a short amount of time.

I love these people I’ve met in London – for who they are and the experiences they’ve given me. I know they can’t all requite my appreciation, and I’m learning that that’s okay. We were all thrown into this new situation together, and I think that forced everyone to get along and be friendly. Forced friendships never last, no matter how hard you try to hold them together, and no matter how real they may be at the time.

So we will go our separate ways, bonded by our memories but torn by our futures.

(I would also like to add, mostly because I have parents reading this, that I did in fact learn a lot on this trip to Stratford-upon-Avon, both from a historical and a literary perspective. I have a love-hate relationship with Shakespeare, so I appreciate his talent as a writer and was interested in the history of the town, including his birthplace and his gravestone. I just was not as connected to it as personally as some of my fellow classmates. Obviously, this will be different when I visit Jane Austen’s grave next weekend.

To prove that I did in fact do academic stuff in Stratford-upon-Avon, here is a picture of Shakespeare’s grave:

The grave of poet and playwright, William Shakespeare

The grave of poet and playwright, William Shakespeare

Also, did you know that the local doctor of Shakespeare’s time, aka his son-in-law, recommended white wine to his patients suffering from vertigo…white wine strained in peacock dung, that is. The stuff you learn in school these days.)

 

 

Lost in Europe: a Special Edition of Lost in London

Places in London visited recently: the Southwark Playhouse, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery, the BBC studio, and Apsley House

Cities I’ve visited in the past 2 weeks: Dublin & Ardgillan, Ireland; Munich, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Frankfurt, & Cologne, Germany

View from the top of the bell tower in Rothenburg ob der tauber, Germany

View from the top of the bell tower in Rothenburg ob der tauber, Germany

Last week, my sister flew out from the States to go on a backpacking trip with me around Ireland and Germany. (We were supposed to end in Belgium, but spontaneity has a price.) The first time we got lost in Dublin, Etta said, “We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re going,” which ended up being the motto for the entire trip because we got lost…a lot. We spent a lot of time figuring out where we were going, then more time getting there. Many of the places we wanted to see were closed on the days we were there. We were still new to the transportation systems used in those countries, so we missed trains and couldn’t find bus stops. Although English is the official language of Ireland and most people in Germany speak English as a second language, the language barrier had added to our confusion. WiFi was also spotty and so our use of Google Maps was limited and trying to book tickets and rooms was difficult. (For the last day, we tried to find cheap tickets to Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Scotland, or Wales. Where did we end up going? Back to London.)

Etta holding our train itinerary, which was of course all in German

Etta holding our train itinerary, which was of course all in German

Etta and I both have many tips for people who wish to go backpacking on a limited budget with a limited amount of time. But, even though things could have gone better and we both wish we could have seen a lot more than we did, I wouldn’t change any of it. I think the experiences I had with my sister last week were full of challenges and adventure, which is what I think trips like that are supposed to be like. We were both disappointed that so much time was spent staring out the window of a train instead of actually exploring the cities we were in, but if I am being honest, I think that upset Etta more than it upset me. We had two different goals for this trip; Etta wanted to see things, which I understand because she was here for so few days. But I wanted to experience things, which I feel like I accomplished. I drank Irish beer and ate German pretzels and all of the bread and pastries you can possibly imagine. I wandered around cities and countrysides and met locals and fellow travelers. I stayed in fancy hotels and cheap hostels and rode trains and buses and airplanes. I touched the Irish Sea and the breast of a statue in Munich that was apparently supposed to bring me good luck. (We’ll see.) I went to museums and a concentration camp and saw castles and cathedrals and dungeons and prisons and shops that sold teddy bears and Christmas ornaments and Harley Davidson t-shirts. I learned how to say, “thank you,” “please,” and “Do you speak English?” in German.

But most of all, I did all of this with my sister.

Etta and me in a pub in Munich, Germany

Etta and me in a pub in Munich, Germany

We got to the point near the middle of the week where we both wanted to strangle each other. I already am not good at spending too much time with the same person, but I think our tolerance decreased because we were thrown into a stressful situation where everything was always up in the air. We both got snippy and frustrated. It might just be because we had no choice but to stick together, but we got over that hump. By the end of the week, we were both ready to go home. Etta missed Dean and June (her boyfriend and puppy); I wanted to be back in London where I understood the train system and where I could take a shower every night. (We all have our priorities.) Even so, what we did was an opportunity we will probably never have again. Not only have we shared these memories, but I think we understand each other better, too. A lot of people travel on their own, and they grow as individuals through their experiences. But I think Etta and I grew as sisters during this trip, which is something even more valuable to my experience abroad than seeing a bunch of cool stuff.

Why I’m Here

Places in England visited recently: Bath and Stonehenge

Landscape around Bath

Landscape around Bath

Why was I skipping through King’s Cross Station Friday morning? Why did I slap the bus window and knock over my empty coffee cup in the process whilst driving past Sydney Place in Bath? Why am I here in England?

Because of the lovely Ms. Jane Austen.

Between 1801 and 1805, the brilliant authoress lived in Bath after her father retired as the rector of the church in her hometown. She was not a fan of Bath, which bubbled over into her writing when the heroine in her novel Persuasion also disliked the idea of her family moving there. Nonetheless, Jane did in fact live in Bath for a portion of her lifetime, and on Friday, I got to stand on what had been her front doorstep.  Chills!

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The plaque hanging outside of 4 Sydney Place, which reads: “Here lived Jane Austen 1801-1805.”

Bath in itself is a beautiful little town, with the famous Roman Baths and the Bath Abbey rooting the historical architecture in the center. We went through the actual Roman Baths first (I didn’t drink the water, but I was told it tasted like lead with a bloody aftertaste – gross), but after my classmates dispersed to explore the town, I first made my way to the Jane Austen Centre. My director told me that the things they do there are all very touristy, which no true Janeite really appreciates, but there was no way I was going to travel all the way to Bath and not get some sort of souvenir. After a gruesome half hour of indecisiveness in that tiny gift shop (I ended up buying a leather journal and a special box/postcard set), I set off alone to the outer parts of town. Jane’s family lived in Sydney Place – 4 Sydney Place to be exact – which is a ten or fifteen minute walk away from the center of town, where it’s much quieter and the buildings are farther apart. 4 Sydney Place is still a flat (or apartment), just with a little plaque on the front saying Jane lived there, so it was quite awkward taking a million selfies on someone’s stoop. But I regret nothing.

One of many selfies taken on the doorstep of 4 Sydney Place

One of my many selfies taken on the doorstep of 4 Sydney Place

As I slowly backed away from her door and onto the sidewalk, and as I forced myself to walk away from the flat that housed my writing inspiration, I was overcome with the strangest sensation. After researching and studying and learning so much about Jane Austen, she herself became a sort of character to me. But as I walked down the cobblestone sidewalk that Jane herself must have walked down a hundred times, she became more real to me that any one I may have passed on the street. She had been there, taking the same steps I took, thinking about characters and plot lines and witty irony. I can’t even put into words what it meant to me to be walking on that seemingly insignificant path. When I saw her manuscript of Persuasion in the British Library last month, I had the same kind of feeling. All I could think of, staring through the glass at her written words, was that this was why I was here. That mantra repeated itself again in Bath, and I know that my time here, absorbing as much of Jane’s presence as I can, is inspiring me to become a better writer. This is why I’m here. Jane is why I’m here.

It was bittersweet, of course, because Jane didn’t fair well in Bath. She edited many of her manuscripts but never completed any novels during her time there, and it is speculated that she entered a state of depression while living in Bath. I like to think that she just very much missed living in the country because I feel like we are even more connected through our mutual love of being in nature. However, her depression also probably had to do with her father dying while they were living in Bath. I doubt that event would really improve her opinion of the place. I wonder what she would think of her flock of fans intentionally visiting the town just because of her. She’d probably tell us to get the hell out of there, in her own eloquent way, of course.

One of the quotes on my Jane postcards I bought from the shop was one I’d never heard before. In a letter, probably to her sister, she said that she was not in the humor for writing, but that she must “write on” until she is. I happen to have a tattoo on my shoulder that says “Write On” in Jane’s handwriting. I thought I was so clever to use that phrase, connecting my own writing motto with the aesthetics of Jane’s writing. But all along, my mind was connected to hers in a way I hadn’t seen before. When I saw that quote, it was like Jane was speaking to me from the page.

Write on, she urges me.

Even when you’re not in the mood for writing, write on until you get to that mood.

Write on and never stop.

 

 

 

In Defense of the Slytherins

Places recently visited: Westminster Abbey, London Coliseum, St. James Park, the Harry Potter Experience at Warner Bros. Studios, and the Tower of London

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Ellie (the Hufflepuff), me (the Slytherin), and Caty (the Ravenclaw) enjoying the Harry Potter Experience in London together

Before I begin, I would like to warn you that I am in no way claiming to be an expert on Harry Potter. I have read some of the books, but I am a total HP impostor when standing next to the majority of my generation. However, I stand by my arguments.

For those of you who have the same knowledge of Harry Potter that I had last year (as in, none at all), the students at fictional Hogwarts are split into four different houses: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff. Fans of the books can also be sorted into the different houses, usually by the Pottermore quiz, and the true fanatics are always loyal and proud of the house they are put into. Each group has their own stereotype – Gryffindors (which is the house all of the main characters are in) are brave, Slytherins are ambitious (and often the rivals of the Gryffindors), Ravenclaws are smart, and Hufflepuffs are loyal. I was sorted into Gryffindor, and maybe this is committing some sort of HP treason, but I identify with the Slytherins more than any other house. I can see how I may have similar characteristics as the Gryffindors, but it is the Slytherin part of my being that surfaces in any Harry Potter conversation.

I understand that Gryffindors are the heroes in the Harry Potter books, that the Ravenclaws come to the Gryffindors’ defense, and that Hufflepuffs are just generally lovable.

Well, this is my defense of the Slytherins.

People are complex. We’re all a mix of good and bad traits, and not one person can claim to be purely one or the other. Slytherins have a bad reputation because the Dark Wizards (i.e. evil characters) are mostly from that house. Well, that obviously casts a shadow over the poor Slytherins. But that doesn’t make the whole house bad, just like Harry Potter being a Gryffindor isn’t going to make that entire house heroic. The same goes for Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. None of the houses can be defined by good or evil, and no individual can be defined by good or evil either.

Characters in stories (well written characters, at least) are always the same way. Heroes have flaws and antagonists have some redeeming or humanizing characteristics. Voldemort, the villain that threatens the livelihood of dear Harry Potter from the get go, is supposedly pure evil. A friend with much more knowledge of the series than I have told me that he was written as a representation of Satan. If this is true, if Voldemort truly is 100% evil, then I admit (probably to the protests of the rest of the world) that I have lost a little respect for the author’s depiction of her character. Our enemies, the enemies of all of the readers our there, will never be pure evil. They, like their heroic counterparts, are going to have good and bad qualities. The heroes of all stories must encounter both sides of their enemy in order to truly defeat them (or sometimes to be overcome by them), just as their own flaws are revealed and exploited.

A Slytherin can be a bad person, don’t get me wrong. It’s obvious by some of the students the house has produced. But a Slytherin can also be a good person because they should each be defined by their own characteristics, not by the total summation of their house.

But then the question can be asked, what makes a good person? We each have our own idea of what is good and bad, based on our own moral compasses and what is socially acceptable. I don’t think there is a set of characteristics you can assign to each individual that is considered “good,” though. There is evil in the world, but I think a lot of people tend to take one bad seed and call the whole garden evil. One bad Slytherin does not make the Slytherin house evil. One flaw does not deter the hero from following her or his path. Rather, recognizing “the bad,” or what we individually consider to be bad, within each of ourselves only contributes to the growing of “the good.” Without the bad, there can be no good.

I believe in evil, but I also believe in good people – good people who are always flawed.

So no more talk of the Slytherins being evil! (I’m looking at you, Gryffindor!)

Mischief managed.

Finding the Balance

Places in London visited recently: The Globe Theatre, the Natural History Museum, the Monument, Russell Square, Charles Dickens Museum, Postman’s Park, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Fortnum & Mason, and various pubs

Places in Edinburgh, Scotland visited: Edinburgh Castle, Sir Walter Scott monument, the Elephant House, Greyfriars Kirkyard, Scottish National Museum, the Royal Mile, and Arthur’s Seat

 

Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland

Steps leading up to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland – This is the closest I’ve gotten to hiking on a mountain since I’ve arrived, and most likely the closest I’ll ever get. But it was nature, and that worked for me.

It has been three weeks since I first arrived in London. Half of me feels like that cannot possibly be. Three weeks down means only eleven weeks remaining. Time is dwindling, and we’ve only just begun. But the other half of me seems to be keeping pace with the tick of the clock. I was on my way home last night from a day of wandering around the city and people watching in parks, and as I stepped onto the Tube platform, I realized I felt right at home. I had slipped into this second skin of mine with no questions asked, as if it was such a natural step to take.

It’s hard to imagine going back. Three short weeks separate the before and the during, and yet pre-London life feels so distant. I may be a foreigner, but I’m not a tourist. This feels like my normal.

I may have settled into a routine here, but my days are never monotonous. I wake up, eat my meals, and attend classes at the same time every day, but each day seems to hold its own adventure, its own appeal. I no longer fill up my time with distractions, and I’ve realized that this is what it’s like to be happy on a daily basis. It’s not contentment or settling. It’s liking what you’re doing and wanting to continue doing it. Happiness.

It wouldn’t be life, though, if there weren’t some negatives. Some days, I just want to throw on an old motorcycle t-shirt and my cowboy boots. When I’m feeling stressed or lacking in writing inspiration, I want to drive around and sing along to my country music. There are so many parts of who I am that are missing from my daily life. When I stop to think about it, I truly can feel the difference that those parts make. So how can I feel such happiness in my life here and have so much of me removed? I am both people, and while I can’t imagine falling into a different routine back in the States, I know that those pieces of me that I left behind will start to fade.

Well, as a very wise lion once said, never forget who you are. (Mufasa, for any of you who are so unfortunate as to never have seen The Lion King.)

I’ve started drinking tea since coming here. All of my friends back home kept telling me I’d have to learn to love it if I was living in London, but I always resisted. But now it’s a vital part of my daily routine. (Sorry I doubted you, Emily.) I even went to afternoon tea today (that’s an actual thing, with scones and everything, and I freaking loved it.) However, that doesn’t take away from who I was before coming on this trip. I may drink tea now, but I still get hot chocolate in coffee shops. I ride the Tube every day and can make my way from one side of the city to the other with no problem (Ellie and I call ourselves Masters of the Tube), but that doesn’t mean I don’t love driving my truck.

It’s all about finding that balance between who you were then and who you are now. I was right in my last post when I said that you can’t build yourself a new reality when you’re traveling. It’s not building a new house, it’s just adding to the one you already have. Life is leading me to where I need to be, and I need both the happiness I have in London and the pieces of who I am in America to lead me there.

 

 

 

 

Trust the Journey

Sites visited: British Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, Big Ben, River Thames, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, various pubs in London, and the London Museum

Things I miss after being in London for a week: driving my truck (on the RIGHT side of the road) and being in close proximity to a forest of some kind

 

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The House of Parliament next to the River Thames and a view of London at dusk, as seen from the top of the London Eye

Last weekend, a group of the students in the program decided to go out to a pub. We were told that the Junction was “where the young people go,” so that became our destination. This was the first pub I’d been to since being in London. After everything I had heard about the bar-like atmosphere here, I was concealing my excitement rather poorly. But the Junction lived up to the standard I had given it in my mind (at first – I became less pleased when a different bartender refused to sell us drinks later on because we didn’t have British licenses or our passports). When we got there, we passed some friends who were already sitting outside, chatting away with three or four Brits. I ordered a Coke and whiskey and the group of us joined them at the long table outside of the pub.

These Brits were the first young English people my age I had any sort of interaction with. One girl, with a black leather jacket and a nose ring, was telling us about how she loved traveling to Ireland and recommended cities to visit if we’re ever there for a weekend. (Dublin and Galway for night life, Killarney for scenery.) The guy next to her asked us all how old we were, and I got a good look at his face for the first time. That’s when I noticed it.

He is the English doppelganger of someone I know in America.

I’m not saying they just shared similar qualities. No. His body movements, his expressions, even the way he held himself were so exact. His English accent was the only thing that kept me from doubting my whereabouts.

This means nothing to you, reader, but after being away from everyone I know for over a week, seeing a face that familiar in a place so new to me came as a huge shock. But more than that, I could feel myself being pulled away from the doppelganger. I didn’t need to bask in what might have been a comfort zone for me. I had plunged myself into this adventure without a safety net, and seeing a reminder of what I left behind almost made me angry. I miss my family, my friends, and the only culture I’ve ever known. But this was my time. This was my fresh start.

Of course, this reaction was me embodying my entire life in this one stranger who I will never see again. I had to remind myself that he had nothing to do with what was going on in my head. Poor innocent Brit, a bystander to my internal struggles.

A while ago, I had thought that this trip would provide me with answers to all of the questions about my life that have arisen in the past year. But even planning on experiencing “self-discovery” and all that is as useless as trying to reverse a river’s flow. I think that’s what I’ve learned so far. Travel can only be planned so much before life takes over. In the end, you can’t manipulate it or guide it to a specific ending, and you can’t build yourself a different reality while you’re away. Traveling is about releasing yourself to the flow of the river. If you’ve jumped into the right river, it’ll take you to where you need to go.

The trouble with trouble is…

it starts out as fun.

My host parents, Ken and Jan, being nurturing and protective, told Ellie and me to pack sandwiches and pieces of fruit as a lunch instead of buying one at the pub. Wise words, as we both know how expensive meals out can be. So, off we went to class this morning, our backpacks packed with pb&j’s and bananas.

Well. A busy day makes you hungry, but a packed schedule makes you forgetful. In the couple of hours we had between classes, a group of us decided to walk around central London because some of them needed to find a store to buy some school supplies, and others wanted to find some lunch. I ate my sandwich as we wandered around the streets of London, deciding just to buy a Coke or tea at whatever restaurant we ended up at. That banana, however, stayed buried deep in my backpack, soon forgotten as I sat down to a crêpe and pear juice at a very impressive Italian place.

After another class, plus a couple of hours spent finding and exploring Stamford Bridge, a long Tube ride home (at which I deposited my backpack on my pretty white bed), supper, a walk around the neighborhood, and some quality time with Facebook, I came back to my room to discover the smushed banana oozing out through the front of my backpack and onto the lacy white duvet on the bed. Two lovely brown marks stubbornly clung to it, despite my desperate scrubbing with a washcloth.

I. Felt. Horrible. I was convinced I must be the WORST student they ever had stay with them. If I had just eaten the banana at lunch instead of that delicious crêpe, this wouldn’t have happened. But what could I do? I told Jan about the stain, and she was so incredibly understanding, even telling me a story about a previous girl who thought she brought back some sort of bug from a hostile, resulting in Jan fumigating the room. (It turns out she didn’t bring back anything. It was just a random bug in the room.) The duvet cover was washed, a new one was put on, and no harm had been done.

What moral can you learn from this long and drawn out tale about a banana? Things aren’t always as bad as they seem. It was the first bump in my road, and it was so minor and easily fixed. Yet at the time, it seemed like such a dreadful mistake. I knew things couldn’t always be perfect, but really? A banana? That was what was going to throw me off course? All you can really do is roll your eyes and laugh (after you wash the duvet cover so that the stain doesn’t set in, of course).

Okay, London, what else you got for me?

Places recently visited: King’s Cross Station platform 9 3/4 + Harry Potter store, Stamford Bridge (home of the Chelsea Football Club), ALL OVER Central London…on foot