Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A tale of a mother and a talking doll

For the past several hours I've repeatedly forgotten that I have this blog to write. Every time I've looked at the clock on my laptop, I've thought to myself 'oh, it's getting late, time to go to bed.' But alas, I cannot. Do not make this mistake, Rachel. You will regret it when you inevitably open your eyes at 3 am and remember that there is in fact no blog up for October 31, All Hollows' Eve.

I wish I had something Halloween-appropriate to write about. The truth is that my Halloween was not all that exciting. I didn't have the chance to go out and buy the costume I wanted to wear this year. I didn't have time to find any events to attend this evening to celebrate the spooky festivities. In fact, I nearly forgot that today was Halloween at all. It seemed pretty insignificant as I sat in my room all day reading books about Tudor and Stuart Britain and preparing to write a 2,500 word term paper.

When I was thinking about writing this blog, I figured I would use this opportunity to say a little something about how little time I have in London. Just over a month has passed since I arrived here and already I'm going on yet another trip to far away lands, escaping the comfortable and typical routines of my stay in London thus far. There is a lot to say about going away when you feel like you want to stay in a place that feels comfortable. This is the problem that London is constantly causing me.

But tonight I won't talk about that. Because it is, as I now remember, Halloween. And Halloween is a holiday that deserves to be written about. It is, after all, one of my favorite holidays. And it was, many years ago, my mother's absolutely favorite holiday.

It's hard for me to look at Halloween as something separate from my mother. So much of my experience with ghosts and ghouls was contingent on her being in my life for my first eleven years. She used to love everything supernatural, and in a way that passion was passed on to me. Not to the same level of enthusiasm, of course, but I do admit to having an interest in the morbid and the "unexplained." And I credit that to years of seeing my mother read ghost stories on the internet.

The traditional "scary" things didn't frighten me when I was a child. When my friends cowered away at the idea of watching the Halloween themed Disney Sing-Along Songs VHS because the imagery was too disturbing to them, I was already having my pants scared off by movies like Child's Play and Poltergeist, Halloween and The Exorcist. My mother had a love for scary movies. Her love was so prevalent, in fact, that we rarely watched anything but horror films together.

Almost every weekend we'd head to the local Hollywood Video (or Blockbuster, if we were feeling adventurous and wealthy - Blockbuster was more expensive than Hollywood Video, if I'm remembering correctly) to pick out a new movie to watch. I might stumble into the children's section and choose a new Mary Kate & Ashley flick, or perhaps I'd see what new releases were available and choose something equally mind numbing.

The next stop, though, was always Horror. My mom and I would reconvene there and look at all the same titles we'd seen time and time again, happy to find a new film to watch that could keep me up with nightmares for the rest of the week.

You'd think I would've hated it. That if there were nightmares and irrational fears associated with these films - secret beliefs in Indian burial grounds, hauntings, satanic creatures, personified dolls and other inanimate objects - I would no longer want to partake. For some reason, though, it became a kind of masochistic pleasure. I enjoyed being freaked out. It may have caused problems for me once the lights were out and I was no longer tucked in my mom's arms with a pillow fort around me, but that was inconsequential. It was fun, just for a couple of hours, to have that kind of experience.

Still, I don't think my mom and I were the same kind of people when it came to a fascination with the supernatural. For her, it was perhaps something more spiritual and powerful. She truly believed what she read. She took stock in the photos of orbs and photoshopped images of faces in windows. It made sense to her, and maybe it even comforted her.

For me it was all more false and questionable. But that didn't mean I didn't enjoy it. I think I just took it less seriously.

Taking scary things less seriously, though, does not guarantee that they won't keep you up at night. Because even though my convictions told me that there were no such thing as evil spirits or monsters or other horrible creatures, sometimes my mind would play tricks on me. I couldn't help feeling the ramifications of being slightly too immersed in fright culture.

And after all, it's always the people who deny the existence of evil forces who die first. Right?

There were always boundaries to my ability to withstand fear. I could watch the movies from the safety of my living room, surrounded by my pillows with my cat, Marie, holding a watchful eye out the window for monsters. I could even hear ghost stories, go on the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland over and over again. These were not things that affected me too badly - maybe they did cause some long-term psychological issues, but not too markedly.

Where I always drew the line was immersion. The few times I've been to haunted houses or events where characters jumped out at guests, I had to step back and reassess my own threshold for fright. The thing is, I can handle what I can compartmentalize, but when it comes to things that feel real (or have a place in my reality), I can no longer deal.

This explains why the Chuckie doll from Child's Play showed up in so many of my dreams, but Freddy Krueger simply did not. A doll was a tangible part of my daily life, but some nebulous deformed monster man seemed a bit of a stretch. I can handle a stretch. I can't handle the paranoia that descends upon me when I look around at all the dolls in my room and think I see them blink or turn their heads.

Still, I've grown to be incredibly fascinated with this subculture. Horror films, haunted houses, ghost stories and sightings - all of these things interest me. If I had the time, I'd discover all of them in detail. In a way, I think of that kind of devotion as a service to my mother who, despite loving horror film, did not get the chance to live a full enough life thoroughly equipped with all the morbid research she could have dreamed of obtaining and reading.

Halloween is this wonderful holiday where we almost wish it wouldn't come around. It involves suburban fears like neighbors giving children poisoned candy or slipping blades into their trick or treat baskets. Subconsciously, many of us also think of this day as a time to forget the sins and terrors of the world in exchange for calmness and recovery.

But my association with the holiday, aside from the quintessential obsession with candy, is unlike most. It's one of nostalgia and pure positivity. Because even if I am one of the most easily frightened (I tend to yelp in fear when people jump at me or surprise me) people in the world, that does not impede on the truly enjoyable nature of this entertainment.

Horror is simply just for horror's sake. It doesn't ask to be understood completely or analyzed too much. It just asks to add a little jolt to your daily life, to pump some adrenaline and hopefully have you subconsciously begging for more.

Even though watching scary movies is something I avoid now, I look back incredibly fondly at Halloweens past. Partially for the costumes and candy - the same things that everyone becomes excited for - but also for the self-loathing pleasure of experiencing the things that inspire the most fear in me.

On this, a day when I am heavily focused and concerned about my forthcoming travels and homework assignments due very soon, I'd like to take some time to celebrate the beauty of scary cinema, and to thank my mom for showing me that there's nothing wrong with having an interest in the supernatural.

So Happy Halloween everybody. And while it may be easier to just watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or The Nightmare Before Christmas, perhaps try throwing yourself into the fray with a scary movie. If you're like me, you may have nightmares about talking serial killer dolls, but you'll also reap the benefits of a new-found enthusiasm for the macabre - and that's something worth leaving the country with, if only because it encourages you to go to the Catacombs. Cultural immersion at its finest.

And with that, however inconclusive it may be, I say "Goodnight and Happy All Hollows' Eve."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bring it, world

Tonight I'm endeavoring to forget about all that lies ahead. That is, all that lies ahead in the next couple of days.

The last few weeks of my study abroad adventure have consisted of a mad rush to do assignments and an effort to distract myself with some lovely vacances outside of jolly ol' England. All I've been thinking about is schoolwork and getting ready for my voyage au Europe. And with all that lies on the horizon, it's hard to just be in the now.

Since arriving in London, I've come to a place of comfort when and where I am. My room, however stained the carpet may be and however lacking in the overly-decorated charm of my dorm rooms back in the states, has become cozy and liveable. I simply enjoy being here.

When I was away in Edinburgh, though I did love staying with my friend Dana in her accommodation, I kept thinking of how much I missed my own space. It wasn't that what she offered was inferior, but just that I'd grown used to this place.

It's important for me, though, to not grow complacent. Because in the coming days I'm going to have to think about my 1. Europe-wide travels and 2. term papers that are - so wonderfully, I might add - due during my reading week travels.

This is all I have to look forward to the next few days.

But today I refuse. I'm sitting in my room watching Downton Abbey and talking with friends, and for all intents and purposes I'm not even a student. At least not until I wake up tomorrow morning and go to classes yet again.

It's important every once in a while to just stop and consider the more important things. Not that my studies and my vacations are not important, but when I consider those issues against the consideration of a sore throat that cropped up this past weekend and that I am trying to nurse away, I figure maybe a good rest is what I need.

It wasn't quite so easy to turn today into the necessary rest. I still had to go to the clinic to see a doctor to make sure I wasn't dying of some rare throat disease. I also made plans to go to lunch near Covent Garden. Then I took a side trip to the National Portrait Gallery which meant I almost ran late to my one class of the day.

But this was, by far, the most relaxing day I've had in quite a long time. Even though I went to class later in the day and spent the evening on a Jack the Ripper Tour of London that I'd signed up for before I knew how bogged down I'd be as Halloween came ever-closer, now that it's nearing tomorrow I realize that this was just the break I needed so that I feel prepared to hunker down and do all the work that I've been neglecting before.

Tomorrow will consist of reading lots of scholarly articles. Then it will consist of quoting and paraphrasing and analyzing those articles in the context of historical conditions in England. I don't want to be too specific about my essay topic to avoid boring anyone where the information is not necessary, but just know that it will not be one that I can write much of off the top of my head (I'm looking at you, last year's paper on the Disneyland Resort!).

It will also include a lot of frantic packing before I jetset for Copenhagen very very soon.

But looking at tonight, a night when everything just feels like normal. A night when I can sit in my room and feel like I'll be here forever, quiet and comfortable. A night when there are no worries weighing on me because I refuse to acknowledge them. This kind of night is what makes me feel like I can take on anything. Even if, objectively, it looks as though I haven't taken on much at all - I have confidence in me (yes, that's a deliberate reference to The Sound of Music).

Austria in not too many days, but for now I'm just going to think about getting through the rest of the week. If I can do good, then there's a lot of beauty on the other end of the experience. But first that requires me to do nothing as a form of warming up.

At this point I just welcome all the craziness that will ensue in the coming days. Bring it, world. I'm ready.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Relaxation business

Is there any merit to the argument that resting is, in itself, an active choice and experience? When I sit here and I think up words that I then type that I then post to a webpage, I wonder whether if even the act of creating something like this actually constitutes effort.

I spend so much time just sitting around and doing very little. Yet in the last 20 years, I feel I've become a well-rounded, knowledgeable, interesting person. How do I reconcile these things? On one side is the couch potato who has no idea what the sun looks like when it's not beating down on her windowsill.  On the other side is the adventurer who is always looking for new information to absorb.

The word "adventurer" is applied very liberally.

Yes, I am on the cusp of going on my grand European adventure. I will be trekking through various countries with first languages other than English. I will have to find places, purchase items, experience new things without the comfort of my bedroom and a television. Instead, I will be right in the middle of things.

But then I wonder to myself whether the act of moving and getting away from something is really so much more exciting than staying and experiencing it from home. Novelty, of course, can be a huge draw. But after being gone from London for a weekend, I remember how great simplicity and familiarity are to the mind and soul.

You know how people always say there's no such thing as nothing? Even nothing is a something, therefore nothing doesn't even exist. Once you've categorized nothing, you no longer have nothing.

Anyway, without going into all the weird philosophical constraints surrounding an argument like that, it's sort of how I feel about my penchant for passivity.

I'm the type of person who does nothing, but by the very virtue of saying I'm "doing nothing," I am doing something. I'm explaining, I've become a storyteller, if only for a moment.

But a whole weekend away does actually remind me quite clearly of the value of relaxation. When I write this blog, I try to become showered in thoughts. But sometimes, and now being a pretty stellar example, I am a juvenile observer. Because I'm only half aware of what is going on around me. I am an observer, but I'm not a participant.

There was a time when I might've said there is nothing wrong with being an observer and only an observer. I almost prefer to be a passive spectator, enjoying and learning about what is happening in the world without risking the comfort of familiarity.

Today was all about resting. Letting go of life for a few hours, I sat on a train from Edinburgh back to London and listened to my iPod. I fell into drowsy stupors, took naps on occasion, flopped over and nearly hit my neighbors' laps and pounds of travel bags (heavy packers not unlike myself, unfortunately).

It felt kind of like a waste to use my opportunity to be productive and proactive about my schoolwork just to sit back and contemplate on no particular thing. When we did arrive back at the station, I had accomplished literally nothing. But what made me happy is that even though I'd spent over four and a half hours on a train listening to my iPod on shuffle, I felt I had done something.

The truth is that accomplishment is such a nebulous phrase.

When I write my blog each night, I feel accomplished. Heck, when I go to sleep - and goodness me, I should be going to sleep right now - I feel accomplished.

From henceforth, I choose to believe it is all right to do nothing.

The truth is that there really are too many ways to distract myself from what absolutely must be accomplished, and if you worry yourself over going off course you may never find your way back out of eternal passivity.

As for tonight, I plan to spend the rest of mine relaxing as if there are no obligations left in the world. Even though there are, there's something about the act of nothing that makes everything slightly less daunting.

So I'm ready to take things on, to feel adventure in my schoolwork and my holiday in the coming week. I may still be a casual observer and not as immersive of an explorer as I should be. But I have good intentions, and I will use, which hopefully means stepping out of my comfort zone at some point.

For now, though, I will sign off with a heartily enthusiastic mention of my anticipation for Europe in a week. I certainly won't be spending time resting there. Or at least I hope I won't be.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

La belle Edinburgh

Edinburgh, you have treated me quite well. And I thank you.

On this, the last full day of being in this beautiful European/British combo-city, I can't help but feel happy looking back at what the weekend has brought me.

Friends, new experiences, lovely reminders, physical fitness, confidence, among so many other things.

Today I felt myself focusing quite a bit on all of these things, trying to meld past experience with new ones, taking in all that the city had to offer and restoring myself before my long journey back to the beautiful city of London.

It's strange to think that after such a short time, I've found myself so well-acquainted with this place.

Walking to the Scottish National Gallery this afternoon, it became extra clear to me how much of a "my own backyard" sort of town Edinburgh had turned into. My friend Dana, who lives and studies in Edinburgh this term, was unsure of where to go. But by putting our heads together - her knowledge of the city and my fleeting awareness of it from a past visit - we found the place.

And inside was my favorite painting.

A few years back when I went to Edinburgh for the first time, I didn't see a ton of the city. But what I did explore, I saw in depth. My dad and I went to Edinburgh Castle, the Royal Mile, and a bit of the New Town section of the city. And in the middle of these things stands the Scottish National Gallery.

We walked in and the rooms were gorgeous, but unassuming. Most of the works on the walls were not from the particular movements of visual art that we enjoy, but we appreciated them just the same.

Then I came upon a painting by François Boucher called "A Pastoral Scene (La Jardinière Endormie). It's a Rococo painting by the artist, depicting a woman sleeping in a forest-esque setting with a cat in her lap and a man beckoning to her with flowers and a longingly watchful eye.

There was something about looking at this painting again today that just made the world collapse in on itself around me.

The first time I saw it, I'd never come close to being in love. I'd never even been incredibly romantically inclined, unless you count celebrity crushes. But in such a short amount of time, I feel I've seen and felt so much. Enough to make it so this particular venture into the world of the painting was like an adventure back into the last few years of my life, as well as perhaps a clairvoyant insight into the future ones.

I don't know if that makes any sense. But after hours of looking at the tableau, I was convinced of the clarity that was held before me. Maybe it was a culmination of the experiences of the day (or the weekend). In such a short amount of time, I've become a much more well-rounded person, friend, traveler, acquaintance, etc.

I've tried so hard to experience new things and yet to hold onto the past in a way that doesn't hinder me, but teaches me the value of things old and new.

When I came to Edinburgh, I was here just to get a little taste of a foreign culture. Being in London no longer feels foreign to me. I know where to get my groceries and my toiletries. I know the best ways to get around the city and I can walk back to my accommodation from quite a few different key locations around the place.

But now I realize that no city needs feel foreign to me.

Even with just a little memory like the feeling of a painting I admired so much a few years ago, I feel like this city belongs to me in some way. It fits into the grand scheme of my life more than so many other places and experiences have. I wish I could feel this strongly for every place I've ever visited.

But in the interim, I just rejoice at being able to hang out in Edinburgh and discover the city on my own terms, in a way that feels glorious and beautiful, if familiar.

So I sojourn back to the city that holds my heart, my studies and most of my belongings while in the UK, not simply with nostalgia for a time visiting Edinburgh. Nor just with excitement at returning to a place I know so well. But with a bit of a combination of the two.

I'm just happy to have had all these experiences. Each and every one of them.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Arthur's Seat in pictures

I'm not one for climbing. Not for physical endurance or tests of strength, efforts towards becoming a healthy and finely exercised individual. It's just not my speed, my forté, my raison d'être, if you will. But when I was looking through travel information about Edinburgh, slash when I'd heard from friends about where to go when visiting the city, I realized I'd been neglecting such a huge part of it. And I'm glad I've finally been to Arthur's Seat.

On the way up, I took too many creeper photos of people sitting along the grass at the foot of the hills leading up to Arthur's Seat. No shame.

My friends and I saw two roads diverge in a wood. We took the one that was traveled because we're not adventurous.

If you look toward the left bottom of this photo, you will see a girl named Danielle who at this point on the journey was slightly lagging behind.

You will also see pretty views, the only reprieve to a long and tiring climb up.

And more pretty views, that you will only appreciate if you can catch your breath for a moment at landings as you ascend the jagged rock "stairs" to the top of Arthur's Seat.

But the breathers make everything more easy, and the challenge makes it worthwhile.

Because then you see this.

And you see people. Lots of people.

But also just this.

And on the way down, while it may be almost as treacherous as the climb up, things are looking "up". Punny.

These two roads did not diverge, and we still took the one more often traveled.

Nearing the bottom, things remain just as pretty. Oh, Edinburgh. No more words need be said.
As we walked down from Arthur's Seat, I started being my sarcastic self and telling my friends about how there were two kinds of people in this world. There are the people who watch television and the people who partake in physical fitness. They are two very distinct types of people. They do not overlap (okay, they do, but at this point I was feeling so physically strained and sedentary that I couldn't even imagine myself as a living breathing human being, just a couch potato).

I, understandably, identify with the television watchers. Since we were descending, we were passing hoards of people still making their way up to Arthur's Seat. These two boys passed and heard what I was saying, laughed and took pleasure in my ridiculous commentary. And in the same moment that I thought about how pleased I was to have amused someone I didn't even know, I also thought about the falsehoods in my own statement. Or at least my ability to disprove them in that moment.

Because today, I did ascend Arthur's Seat. And it was wonderful. And I could've watched footage of it on television somewhere, I'm sure. But I didn't. I was an active participant. Maybe those two worlds can come together once in a while.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Edinburgh difference

This is a historic city. It's a culturally proud city. It's a beautiful city. It's a very very…did I mention very…cold city. This is Edinburgh.

The first time to Edinburgh was a few years back when my dad and I planned a few days away from London on one of our many trips to the capital of the United Kingdom. We walked away from our hotel near Victoria Station with our luggage and a high dream of Scottish wonder.

That's a cheesy way of putting it, but I digress.

Anyway, the first time we went to Edinburgh, my dad and I saw all the sites that were to be seen in a short amount of space. We wandered out of the train station, walked uphill to our hotel, spent quite a bit of time touring the castle at the end of the Royal Mile, saw a ton of touristy things, enjoyed the wet briskness of the city and before we knew it we were on our way out, back to our home base in London once again.

It never fully felt complete.

When I left London for Edinburgh that first time, it didn't feel like a positive sort of escape. It was almost a burden to have to go the long distance just to be away from my favorite city in the world for a few days. Why did we even plan this trip to Scotland? There's no way it could compare to the beautiful comfort of tube stations and my local Sainsbury's.

I'd grown complacent. And now I realize what a sad mistake that was.

This is my first vacation since I've been in London. While I've been on some short term voyages, I have not had the chance to explore much outside my own backyard - and yes, I consider London my own backyard these days. While there are other holidays in the works, it was an interesting concept to start off in Edinburgh. Like a stepping stone of sorts.

Edinburgh is like the child of an English parent and another, much more European, parent. There are hints of the UK strewn throughout the city - there's still a Sainsbury's down the street and there are Boots and Argos everywhere for my convenience. But in addition, it just doesn't feel like any English city I've ever seen. There's a kind of rural beauty to this city.

Walking around town you become aware of this city's place, the beautiful gothic and classical architecture pierces the Scottish natural landscape. Where the hills and mountains end, the castle meets. It all becomes this conglomeration of beauty stacked on top of beauty, placed on top of even more beauty.

It's something I've lost a little in my time in London. While I love the big city atmosphere - and as one of my friend's referred to London in comparison to other European cities, it does feel quite a bit like the New York City of this continent - at times it can feel like there is no longer any such thing as nature. I go to places like Hampstead Heath to be reminded that I'm in a city that has not always been home to dozens of skyscrapers and high rise apartment buildings.

Today while experiencing Edinburgh, we did a bit of what I knew before. Things seemed familiar. Obviously the train station, the Royal Mile, the view of the more natural parts of the city. These were all things that rung bells.

But we did things that I had neglected to experience before. And that is my goal here in Edinburgh. To see what is foreign to me, to make use of what is essentially a foreign land but also so very familiar.

The dichotomous aspects of this city are, for me, what make it so great. Because at the moment I stand in this place of fear that I may not be ready to partake in a European immersion as well as I'd like. But I also wish I could find myself learning more about cultures that are further from my own.

There are so many wonderful things to look forward to.

Not only in the next couple of days - though admittedly there are so many new activities to look forward to in just the weekend that lies ahead - but in the rest of my study abroad experience. Every minute that I spend pretending that I'm not the dumb American that everyone expects me to be is a moment well spent.

I can only be excited for where the high hopes take me in the next few legs of my journey. But for now I'll just strap on my boots and journey through the great unknowns of this city, prepared to take on all the new experiences that traveling affords me.

Regardless of temperature and temperament of this place, having the chance to come back has been wonderful and most especially, different. At this point all I want is to experience all the difference in this world.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Train time

I can't sit still. Around me there is the quiet roar of the night air whipping past, the dull hum of people conversing, coughing, squeaking in their chairs, turning pages of newspapers and typing away. Typing away, just like I am. Stuck in a place where we can't move. We're just forced to stay complacent, in the same position, for hours on end.

I can't remember how this developed. This need to jump up, move around, feel my legs ambulating underneath my body, rather than sit stationary and curved to befit a seat that is likely too big for my small frame. It's like at some point in my life, my subconscious mind decided I'd filled my quota of hours in a resting position.

No longer was I allowed to be comfortable, I have to test my patience constantly. Even when other people would find the situation less than stressful, for me there's a sense of urgency.

This happens whenever I get on a plane. Or when I go to the theater. Or when I sit in a classroom. It's not necessarily a physical discomfort, but it is. It's as if the more I don't move, the more I need to. I can't even quite describe the sensation. Is it a tickle? Or a pain? Maybe a jolt? None of those things, really.

It's just what it is.

You know those people who develop psychosomatic symptoms - basically everyone, including myself, so you definitely should - out of emotional responses to situations? Well I attribute this lack of comfort to something like that.

I sit here surrounded by people on a train headed to Edinburgh. Everyone is comfortable - or relatively comfortable - and stationary.

Am I the only one who suffers from this? The thought of being stuck in this spot for hours weighs on me like nothing else ever could. It's not even an emotion I can pin down, and I think that's what bothers me the most.

In ordinary life, I am the most terrible sedentary being you will ever encounter. If I have to walk long distances, I either allot a great quantity of time to allow for slow, quiet, contemplative travels. Or I walk fervently and anxiously to get to the place I need to be. But there's no in between. It's always either walking lik a sedentary being or walking to enable myself to be sedentary once again when I return to my home or a classroom or somewhere else I can sit down.

So why is it that when I'm here, forced to be in this chair for hours, that I'm ready to hop up and move just for movement's sake?

Maybe it has something to do with not wanting to adhere to authority, or the restriction that is awarded by a situation like this. Like a bird in a cage, it's not exactly that I am choosing not to go far and wide with my wings, it's that they've been burdened down to the ground by some brass or steel bars.

This train has a low ceiling. It is a pretty stifling cage.

Then I remember why I subject myself to things like this. To the planes - that I"m sure I've written about on many occasions - or the long car rides during which I so desperately long for restroom breaks so that I can actually use the legs that I so often take for granted.

I have a place to go. And to that phrase about being all for the "journey" not the "destination," I scoff quite heartily. Because as greatly as I can appreciate modern invention and my ability to even use these facilities to get from place to place in a reasonable amount of time, I will never be without complaints.

Maybe that's just a character flaw. But complaints are the fruit of conversation. I don't know if anyone believes that other than me, but it certainly sounds good.

It's almost 9 pm now. In two and a half hours - eek, more like three hours - I'll have arrived in Scotland where wonders and friendship await me.

I could type even more analyses about the great problems of sitting still, of being forced to not move more than a few inches and not even stand up properly for hours. But that would be lessening the effect, right? Because Edinburgh is a beautiful place where I'm going to be forced to move around.

Maybe in a couple of days I'll be begging for a seat. So I'd better get my fill right now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Walking everywhere

How does it happen? That moment of looking in the mirror for the first time and actually thinking "Woah, I don't look fat." Because it felt like for so long, I couldn't say that. And it wasn't even that I believed I was fat or had body dysmorphic disorder or anything. Rather that I simply didn't have the confidence to look at myself and actually admire what I saw. Maybe it was society's fault? Or maybe it was an internal virtue? Whatever the case, it's nice to finally look at who I am and see who I am, rather than an image that I aspire to but never belief I'll achieve.

There are so many benefits to living outside of southern California. Chief among them is this thing called public transportation. It teaches you the (literal) value of a single voyage, forcing you to be aware of how much money it costs just to board a train. Somehow in my endless hours of driving my car through the streets of the Golden State, I never paid much attention to the cost of gas. Sure, it was exorbitant and painful to fill up my tank on any particular afternoon. But it wasn't as direct an awareness as, perhaps, scanning my Oyster Card at the tube station and seeing I've spent £2 on a one-stop journey.

So I've taken to walking. A lot. And everywhere. Even when it's impractical.

This wasn't a conscious decision. Well, in some way it was. But it had nothing to do with maintaining or creating a physical figure. I've spent so many years of my life feeling like a blob that I'd basically resigned myself to the fact. That isn't to see I planned on letting my body turn into something supremely unhealthy and unbecoming. But I also didn't care too much about the superficiality of physical beauty - at least not enough to have me go running every day.

Then I arrived here and realized that walking isn't just an institution, it's a method of intellectual pursuit. You walk through the streets of London and with the more practice you get, the more spatially aware you become of the various neighborhoods and their relative proximity to one another.

Today I was walking down Oxford Street to try and find a store where I could return this item I purchased. I learned on my walk to the place, that it had been permanently closed and I should go find the alternate on a few neighborhoods over.

Well, let's just say I underestimated how long it would take for me to get to that distance second alternative. But in the process, I became more aware of where exactly certain landmarks fell into place in terms of my mental map of the city.

That being said, I've embraced not only the intellectual aspects, but the physical (positive) ramifications of my lifestyle choices.

Yet it really was all by chance.

When I left the United States, I was already on my way to become healthier. After being vegetarian for over two years and exploring the opportunities of physical fitness (to a very very small extent), I'd started to become more visibly careful about my healthful circumstances.

Now when I look in the mirror - though I may have had fried potato wedges earlier tonight - I see a balance of health and pleasure; an awareness of the limitations we all face as humans who enjoy eating but don't necessarily enjoy the after-effects of over-eating.

It's really the first time in my life this has ever been true.

Back at five years old, my mother used to check up on my weight to make sure I was gaining at the proper speed. Eventually her precautions took on negative forms. I ate McDonald's regularly and by the time I was nine, I had already become the size of a small but chubby 12 year old.

Now, I feel, is the one opportunity for me to embrace my physical health, but also be aware of all the varying circumstances of being thin. It doesn't necessarily mean healthfulness. I think that's something I never understood until I'd been in this place.

But now I walk through life with a stronger, more courageous and hopefully kinder head on my shoulders. I look to others struggling and I want them to find answers to their own health concerns.

I'm so proud that in the last few weeks I've started to really feel confident about my life choices and my appearance. But I also have no problem with the way things were before, and I recognize that now. I may feel better in my skin than ever before, but I recognize that sometimes emotions are derived from the subconscious. You can't control them and you just have to be happy when they work out in your favor.

At the end of my excursion running around all of Central London this afternoon, I started to become aware of the very many confusions of traveling by foot. Instead of taking the tube, I decided to walk everywhere and get all of my major errands done.

While I tried my darnedest to remain composed as I spilled Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte on myself on my long walk,  at the very heart of everything was this belief in myself - and perhaps even in my physical prowess. That I can navigate. That I can lose weight. That I can combine these things and make life choices that enable me to feel better about myself.

There are so many wonderful things about living in a huge city. Even when you just want to explore for fun, it becomes an activity worth writing about and re-experiencing. But for me the best thing is that London has enabled me to feel like the best person I can be. The healthier, happier, more confident version of myself.

I've done more unintentional long-distance walking in the past few weeks than I have in any other instance in my life. But as I've come to learn, it's the experience that matters. Not the retelling. Not any other factors.

And for me, the experiences have enabled me to become an overall better and happier person. So there are no regrets. And that's the best way I could possibly feel.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Back in preschool

One of the things I struggle with the most in my writing is not being straightforward. As a rule, and as evidenced by these blogs, I tend to spell everything out. First in terms of generic descriptions. Then by providing examples. Then by clarifying those examples and perhaps relating them to general truths and personal anecdotes that bring the argument back around to those initial descriptions. It's this weird little circle of information followed by clarified information until all the whimsy of any story has disappeared from view.

And I guess this is the style I most enjoy, most thrive in, most love.

But lately, and throughout my young adult life, I've seen so many films, television shows, plays, etc. that rely on a closer examination. They expect a level of intellectual concern in their audience, the kind of absorption in a story that requires them to think so desperately hard just to understand the simplest of plot points. It's true in visual art too. Where there are stories implied, the audience is required to be more actively participating.

Sometimes when I write these blogs, I worry that I'm not asking anyone to be an active participant. This mostly arises because of how storytelling makes most sense to me - from a writer's perspective anyway.

You see, when I start reading or watching or "absorbing" something, I tend to be the kind of person who enjoys the adventure of seeing and then deconstructing until every part of the story makes sense to me. No matter how I twist and change it in my mind, there's an unspoken knowledge available to me of the meaning behind the allegory or the metaphor or the irony or whatever other literary device.

I love having the power to manipulate stories so that they make sense to me.

I think it is this precise deconstruction that makes me the type of writer that I am - the kind who lives to explain everything fully.

For this reason, my essays always run at least 200-400 words over established limits. My answers to questions in discussion sections are verbose and roundabout as I make sense of my own arguments as I'm making them. My storytelling is not in chronological order and it relies on a certain awareness of the immense intricacies of interconnectedness within a story. In other words, what happens needs not happen sequentially, but it must come together in a sequential and sensible manner.

I've had a lot of people ask me how I write my blogs each day. How is it possible that I can crank out hundreds of words at the drop of a hat. Once a night, I just sit down and produce thoughts as if it's no big deal.

Well for me it really is no big deal. My overactive mind does this sort of literary deconstructing 24 hours a day and seven days a week, after all.

When I write, I tend to do what I do in daily life, which is to take in all considerations - from cultural knowledge to personal experience to current surroundings, etc. - and match them up until I've found a worthy and coherent storyline. Nothing is false, but it is concocted.

I think this is what makes me a journalist. Maybe a good one, maybe a bad one. But a journalist nonetheless.

I'm born to tell a story that informs and deconstructs for the audience. If something doesn't make sense, my goal is to address it in such a way that clarifies it. As a blogger, I've learned what an immense power that is - to make sense of something in life that seemed too complicated.

Still, when I go to plays or listen to music or partake in many other mediums, I'm astonished with the power of the authors behind the works to imply so much with so little. Since childhood on, I've had professors and teachers tell me that less can be more. If you can cut down extraneous words, your arguments, your storytelling will be better.

But I've always been one to frill up my stories. I use sophisticated words, introduce what I believe to be universal mass culture only to discover that I'm more a hipster than I'd like to believe I am.

However, it's not because I wish to make them too elaborate, but because I feel as though the best way for me to get through to an audience is to be honest with them. And my honesty comes in the form of writings of detail and analysis.

So much analysis, in fact, that perhaps it becomes a nuisance to others.

Occasionally I wonder what my readership would actually prefer to read. Though there are only a select group of people reading these writings every night (I don't know who you are, but I do have some statistics available to me), I almost wish I could hear their voices and let that impact how I write. Because in a way, I've been pigeonholed into becoming that almost novelist-ready deconstructer of thoughts. But there's nothing wrong with implying rather than telling.

It's what they wanted us to do back in preschool during show and tell. Show us, don't just tell us. Prove to use why whatever it is you're showing the world is important.

I still have trouble proving that there's any worth in my writing. I don't believe I've made any profound effect on a person's life. I don't necessarily think I can bring clarity to a society that so enjoys being shrouded in mystery.

All I do think and know is that the best feeling in the world is to understand something. And with my style of thinking and writing, I've finally brought some clarity back into this strange universe, if only for myself. But I guess that's my primary focus. And in the meantime I'll enjoy thinking just a bit too much.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Give me my nerds back, please

Before I go any further, I'd like to extend a quick thank you to whoever it was that started playing "Party in the USA" from their laptop earlier this evening. At 500 words into a 2,500 word Art History essay, I was very pleased to hear some Miley Cyrus crooning from another flat.

And while we're at it, I'd like to send another quick thank you to the person playing this lovely club music that is blasting from yet another flat. On a Monday night, I can't think of any better way to occupy your time. Sincerely, wonderful choices coming from the university accommodation here.

Now that I'm done with the blatant sarcasm, I'll tell you a little bit about the terrible procrastination that has hounded me all weekend and will continue to be the bane of my existence for the next couple of weeks.

As you know, or perhaps you know if you read any of my blogs at all, I'm planning some incredibly elaborate trips around Europe. A lot of my future weekends will be virtually unusable when it comes to study-time or being-home-time or even resting-time. I'll be hanging out all over the continent, which means anything that is due in the coming weeks has to be done now. And by now, I mean yesterday.

But I was in Brighton yesterday, so I wasn't about to start doing homework. In fact, I had actually decided I was going to start the homework several days before Brighton. But that didn't happen either.

There is something about being in a foreign country that absolutely destroys your work ethic. You feel as though you're entitled to time off simply because there are people with foreign accents chattering on the street below your high-rise flat. But there's no such thing as entitlement in university. You have to roll with the punches.

I haven't been rolling with anything, quite frankly. Except the laziness.

But then there's that moment when you really devote yourself to something. You walk to the library in the misty hair-frizzifying rain and come back with four books on artists from the nineteenth century. And with a little swipe of your student card, you feel like you're finally on your way to accomplishing something.

This has been a hard place to get to this quarter. For me, at least. When I go to class, I occasionally hear people talking about their progress on term-long projects and assignments. I shudder, because I have barely done any work since I've arrived in England. It was those first few weeks of having nothing to do that really set me over the edge. You can't give me weeks off in England and then expect me to jump into the academic system without reservations and without procrastination issues. This is the eternal struggle of every student everywhere, but it's magnified ten fold when you get to a city where there are theaters all over the place and you can see Helena Bonham Carter or James McAvoy walking 'round town (yes, I've seen both).

It makes me wonder how anyone gets any work done here. Every night I'm surrounded by sounds of speakers blasting, terrible humming bass beats and people yelping and stomping on my ceiling even though I live on the top floor of this building.

Back in the states, my dorm was always quiet. If people made noise, you could go out and ask them to be quieter or take it somewhere else. There was a sense of respect for your fellow student and a commitment to doing work at least for a little while each day. Or maybe just on the weekends. But either way, if you wanted to cloister yourself in your room you didn't have to be reminded that other people were partying just a few rooms over.

I guess this is the "You kids get off my lawn" old man in me getting all upset about the next generation. Maybe it's wrong to be this way, since I'm sure I've made some bothersome noise listening to One Direction from my room. But while in some ways I definitely blame myself for being shortsighted about and thus blind-sighted by my homework, I also can't help but feel animosity for the people nearby who keep making me think "oh, it must be a weekend" when it's actually 12:30 am on a weeknight.

When I was in Brighton hanging out with my friend Danielle, we were talking about our experiences at university in England so far. She expressed to me how much she missed Northwestern, I returned the sentiments though for different reasons.

The truth is, I wanted to come to the UK to study ever since I was a junior in high school. I still remember going up to my guidance counselor and asking her how to use the UCAS system to apply to universities in England. She, dumbfounded, said "no student from this high school has ever used UCAS before." She suggested I print out information about it and give it to her to look over, but instead I just studied the online resources myself and never asked her for help again.

In a way, I'm glad that UCAS wasn't my only option. If I had ended up in London for university two years ago, it's very possible I might've been happy. But it's also very possible I would've been disappointed and discouraged by a myriad of things from the drinking culture, the party culture and the general raucous teen culture that exists in the UK.

Where I fit in is something a bit more random. Maybe it's among the nerdy university students who focus on their studies. Or maybe it's with an entirely different age group. Young professionals, I guess? My maturity level just does not match up with that which I'm surrounded by at the moment and for the next two months or so.

If I'm going to be honest, my realest fear now is that the immaturity is rubbing off on me.

I always thought that my home institution had some absolutely idiotic rituals and traditions (and by traditions, I mean the ones that involve stupid decision-making, not fun school-sponsored or wholesome activites - wow, I really am an old lady), but if I'd been in the UK as a fresher I tend to wonder if I'd even have been able to get through it.

They said when we got here that there would be culture shock. That British and American English are different languages. But I think the most significant difference I've found is that the teen culture that is compartmentalized at my school in the US is completely omnipresent here. And I'm just crying out for some normalcy again.

Give me my nerds back, please.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Brighton in pictures

Another day, another 24 hours spent not doing the work I desperately need to apply myself toward. It has been quite the eventful weekend, but not because I've done anything worth getting good grades for. On the other hand, I've come to believe that an experience is worth the strain on my blood pressure that will occur tomorrow and during intervals throughout the rest of the week. Because today, I got to go to Brighton. I wish I had known the beauty that existed there before now, but at least I discovered it today. I hope you will enjoy as well.

First, I must confront you with a little glimpse at my walk this morning. On the way to the center where we planned to meet to board our bus to Brighton, I followed this lovely construction working man on my typical route which I use to go to the local Sainsbury's and to my university. It is quaint, no? No. But I digress.

Skipping all the hullabaloo in the middle, our group of American students (on tour with the university facilitating our study abroad program) ended up in Brighton by 12:00 pm. My friend Danielle and I set off walking around the beach and grabbing pebbles from the ground as part of our wonderful exploration.

We admired the rusty undercarriage of the Brighton Pier and stumbled ever-closer to it as the light waves crashed onto the pebble shore.

And then we climbed and touched the rusty railing with our shoes and our palms in an attempt to become a part of Brighton Pier, if only for a moment.

We kept wandering - and I apologize for sharing so many photos of this same location with you - along the beach enjoying the scenery before heading off to the Royal Pavilion where a tour had been organized for us at 12:30.

In the Royal Pavilion gardens, we encountered this musical performing group who were selling CDs outside to passersby. Then we headed into the place for our tour. Unfortunately there will be no photos of that due to photographic restrictions within the palace (sad face).

After the Royal Pavilion tour, we walked toward North Laine. But before arriving there we found this hippie van where they were sharing samples of scents from a store called Lush that sells handmade cosmetic products while eagerly spreading their message about not partaking in animal testing (yay!).

After the stopover at the hippie van, we went to North Laine where there were rows of eclectic shops and stalls (and a ton of people as well). It was a bit crowded, but a lot of fun - and it only spurred our interest in returning to Brighton as soon as possible.

Walking back in the direction of the beach, we went past some mural art. The colors were vibrant and there was one that involved Smurfs. Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of the smurf mural. But I'm sure you can imagine its greatness.

We kept walking and I happily encountered this boy who was playing with some sort of string juggling toy on the side of the street. He was quite talented and quite fashionably dressed as well.

After a brief stint through the South Lanes (I don't remember the actual name of the area, but it was in essence another small selection of boutique shopping streets), we went back toward the Pier to head to the bus for our trip back to London.
What felt like way too little time in Brighton was spent exploring a new city and gaining a new appreciation for the various environs of London-town and England in general. There really is so much to see in England, and after planning an extravagant voyage through Europe, and preparing for a trip to Edinburgh next weekend, it was nice to step back and look at my own country for a little while. After all, this is my country now. I really believe that.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Everything's booked!

When is the right time to devote yourself to a task? Why, when there are a million other things to be done of course!

This was a day set aside to do a lot of homework. An unfathomable quantity of homework, in fact. I cleared out my entire schedule, refused to make plans with friends, decided these 24 hours were only meant for getting ready for the coming weeks of class. The looming weeks of class would be a more proper phrasing, actually.

But then I got distracted. And while I could sit here and wallow, cry, gripe about how much I have left to do - how much I didn't get done on a day I'd promised myself to get stuff done - I'm not going to do that. Because today was actually one of the most productive days of my life. And instead of complaining, I'm going to excitedly tell you about all there is to look forward to.

This morning I woke up with only a slice of knowledge. That slice consisted of the awareness that in less than a few weeks, I'll be on my way to Copenhagen to visit my friend Denise who is living there for her study abroad program. So that's all well and good.

I'd bought a one way ticket to Copenhagen. For all anyone knew, I'd be staying there forever. I probably wouldn't even have a problem with that anyway, considering what a beautiful and magical place Copenhagen seems to be. I've only heard good things from Denise, and of course the only other thing I know about the place is what I ascertained from years of obsession with The Little Mermaid and other Hans Christian Andersen fairytales, as well as several viewings of The Prince & Me, which I believe was actually filmed in Copenhagen. Or maybe it was Prague. Well it was made to look like Copenhagen, right?

Anyway, while it would have been nice to spend the rest of my life living among the Danes in Copenhagen, I realized that if I wanted to get down to Rome (as per my original plan to meet my friend Diana and experience the loveliness of Italy with her for a few days) I would have to find some interim travels to fill up the time between Scandinavia and Bella Italia.

So I started searching maps. I cannot tell you how many times I've Google Image searched "Map of Europe," but it's certainly in the dozens. Eventually I realized the stupidity of this effort and went instead to Google Maps, which gave me a better idea of the distance between various cities within the whole of the continent.

And I settled on a little jaunt through Germanic territory.

Over the last few days I've spent some time looking through prices of flights, train travel times, rail pass expenditures, etc. etc. until my head felt like a balloon ready to pop. While under ordinary circumstances, I might be doing this preparation during the summer when I literally have no other responsibilities to worry about, I am doing this amidst classwork and intern work and making my own food/living a life in a foreign city work.

But after a full day devoted to logistical concerns, I think everything is starting to turn out for the better. In more ways than one.

There's something about devoting your mind to planning something that turns your heart away from other concerns. You stop thinking about the petty things and start worrying about bigger concerns - like how you'll get from the airport in Rome to Piazza di Spagna (The Spanish Steps) so that you can visit the place where John Keats was nursed by Joseph Severn before he passed away from consumption (tuberculosis).

Yeah, this is what's on my mind now.

First thing first, though. My travels will have me making my way via aeroplane (airplane) to Munich from Copenhagen. While I toyed with the idea of a long train ride, weighed against the option of getting to the city in less than half the time it became clear that the added hours spent in Germany were worth a few extra pounds. Or was it Euros? Or dollars? I don't remember.

Whatever the case may be, I have organized my time so that I might spend a day in Munich. And for those who are wondering, I am looking at possible locations to buy dirndls. If anyone has advice (I'm looking at you, Kelly) or recommendations, I heartily accept them!

After a day in Munich, I will board my first German train (if it's not punctual, then I will be both surprised and amused) to Austria. Because I am still babying myself, I purchased a single rider room for the six hour overnight commute so I can sleep and wake up refreshed for a big day of exploring in Vienna.

As luck should have it, I have a penpal who lives in Vienna, which makes for a nice tour guide/meeting a friend opportunity when arriving in the city. In other words, once there I will hopefully not have to use the German phrasebook that I have not purchased but will be buying very soon. Thank you in advance, Dom.

After a day in Vienna, I will board another plane to Rome where I will be finally reunited with my friend Diana. We will travel. We will eat (vegetarian food). We will drool at Italian men.

All these plans seem to be pretty well-thought out, right?

No. Definitely not.

The reason for the mad rush to get all my train and plane reservations (and much of my hotel accommodation sorted) today was because it has come down to the final hour before booking things will become astronomically expensive. I have yet to plan a single moment of my trip through Europe. But at the very least, I know it will be happening.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be responsible for buying maps, watching travel videos on YouTube, finding phrasebooks, trying to stuff all of my belongings into a tiny suitcase and not falling apart whenever I (inevitably) get lost in a foreign city.

It's kind of scary to think that in the past I might've devoted months to the planning of an excursion like this. But on the other hand, I couldn't think of anything more exciting.

Being in London is such an opportunity in itself, but I always dreamed that when I got here I would have the chance to see all of Europe that I have never had the opportunity to explore before. And finally, those dreams are happening. And even though other things are being put on the backburner for the day (not for the rest of the weekend, I promise), perhaps it was worth it just for the excitement of putting mouse to "Purchase" link. I really needed this to remind me why life can be unbelievably beautiful sometimes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Thankfulness journal

Once upon a time I was sitting in my big sister Emily's room being a nosy little one. I think I had just entered my double-digits and I still considered everything Emily did as something worth emulating (not that I don't still believe that now, but I've become very much my own person). So when I found a journal she'd started writing in which listed things to be thankful for, I figured it was an exercise worth trying myself.

As an avid collector of notebooks, journals and paper materials in general, I had no trouble finding my own place to start a diary on thankfulness. I wrote a single entry, detailing all that made me happy in the world. I'm sure it involved lots of bulletpoints about famous popstars and vague but melodramatic ramblings about personal issues.

While I couldn't tell you exactly what I wrote, I do know that despite the fact that I never returned back to my thankfulness journal to add more to the list, doing so once was a cathartic and insightful experience. There's something about reminding yourself what makes life worth living that, in turn, makes life truly worth living.

Self-fulfilling prophecy or whatever you want to call it, it's a magical experience just to be aware that there are things in the world to be thankful for. This is especially true because it can be so hard to remember where beauty exists when you feel down and troubled.

So in the interest of reminding myself once again (these eight or so years later) why the world is a beautiful place even when it's shared with experiences, things and people that aren't so beautiful, I am going to write another thankfulness journal entry. This time it's a blog entry, but much the same idea.

People who care to hear about my problems, and vice versa

It has come to my attention quite recently that I have a lot of feelings. While I was, in fact, already aware of this, I had no idea that I was publicizing it so widely that people would need to repeat it back to me.

For much of my life I only relied on one person whom I could tell my problems to. For a while that was my mom. Then it was my dad. And while I still believe that the first person you should always turn to with your problems are your parents (if yours are as good as mine, anyway), in time I came to know that surrounding myself with people who care about my well-being and happiness is just as valuable as having that one person (now my dad) who will hear me out whenever I'm down.

Things to sink my soul into

It's been years since my mind was deplete of drama. Considering that my mom had a stroke when I was 11, turning my whole world around in an instant, I've always found myself longing for some sort of stability in life - something to turn to.

And in the event that there isn't someone to talk to (which there often is) and sometimes in conjunction with having someone to talk to, I look to this thing called 'art.' Music, literature, film, television, theater, visual art, etc. I could go on forever listing the mediums, but instead I'll just say what they do for me. They give me something to live for and a way to forget.

Instant and fast food items that rot my insides, but fill my soul with unhealthy goodness

Since I've been in London, I've spent most of my time either missing meals out of laziness, or making lunches and dinners and trying my best to incorporate healthier food groups into my diet.

It's a hard road to travel when you're a college student sharing a kitchen and cooking supplies with four other people, especially when that means you can't even fit all of your food onto your refrigerator shelf.

So every now and again, while I've been here, I've allowed myself to indulge in something unhealthy. A few purchases at McDonald's, some Sainsbury's double chocolate cookies. What harm can these things do? Well, maybe I shouldn't ask that question. But when I need a quick pick me up, I'm certainly thankful for the availability of French fries and cookies. No remorse, no pride involved.

Having a clear and defined path, plus knowing that I'll get there

If there's no clarity in life, then it becomes all the more difficult to live it. That's always been the underlying philosophy of my decisions from childhood all the way to my early 20's (now). As early as five years old, I'd started planning my career path. While I did not end up pursuing a job in veterinary medicine, I did go to college just as I'd planned to. And over time, I discovered where my talents actually lied.

With that confidence, I've led a life toward eventual goals that are achievable and exciting. And where other people perhaps don't know what they'll do when they're done with school, even if I haven't secured a job yet I have so much faith in my goals that I have no fear they will not be met.

Feeling good about who I am in every conceivable way

One of my struggles throughout life has been the feeling of inadequacy when comparing myself to others. But in the past few years, little aspects of life have come together to make me feel more confident than I've ever felt before.

Maybe it's conceited, maybe it's just part of human nature's effort towards self-preservation. Whatever the case, I have grown into someone who (for the most part) feels good in her own skin. And even in moments when the spirit is lacking, I am thankful that I have any to begin with.

After all that...

I just want to say how thankful I am that the idea of a thankfulness journal exists. Even if I never could find enough ways to write about my happiness with life in a diary, focusing on the positive aspects of life, even just for the past 20 minutes or so, is an irreplaceable experience.

When I'm feeling down in the dumps, or just finding that less of myself is present at any particular moment in time, I know where to turn. It's not just my friends and family or my art, but also the little space in my heart that I save for positivity. That's where all this has come from, that's where I will always be happy even under the most disheartening of circumstances. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Futility of effort

There comes a time in every young girl's life when she realizes that she knows nothing. Well, perhaps not to that extreme, but she learns that she knows a lot less than she ever dreamed she'd know about a subject that she's allegedly supposedly to be learning about.

I've been getting this feeling a lot sitting in my lectures here in London.

Whereas at my school in the states I tend to discover hidden bouts of knowledge, or become introduced to a subject and grow interested in it over time, since I've been here I've taken class after class and I still just can't quite process the point.

Which makes things all the more difficult now that I'm in the process of starting papers. Well, tomorrow anyway. Or maybe the day after that. Whenever I have time, I guess, since I have no initiative to actually sit in the library and do some work.

At the moment I stand on a precipice of important decisions. On one end is that slacker side of me who always wants to sit inside and watch television on her laptop. I have an episode of Downton Abbey to catch up on. How could I possibly do anything productive? On the other end is the girl who has consistently gotten good (or acceptable) grades and who knows that the key to a successful future is devoting the necessary time and effort to schoolwork, even when it seems mundane and pointless.

Today in a political science class, we sat around discussing the worth of this vote that took place to try to change the electoral system in England recently. The discussion involved a lot of conjecture as to whether or not a change in the electoral system would benefit the government and the people, or whether it would make any change at all.

As someone who appreciates the study of politics and who wants to be better informed about the function of governments in various societies, I embrace the debate whole-heartedly. But sometimes it can seem a daunting (and fruitless) task to try and make arguments as to the value of gargantuan political decisions when you sit in a university building surrounded by fellow 20 year olds, many of whom have only taken a couple of other political science classes in their life.

Many times, I just end up sitting in the corner observing because I feel like I offer nothing constructive to the discussion. Perhaps because I'm all too aware of how useless my input would be. Not within the structure of the class, but in the grand scheme of things.

I think this has become my way of thinking in a lot of my classes. As much as I'd like for my words to have power and use in the world, the more I think about my assignments, the less positive I am about the value of my arguments in a world where there really are so many conflicting notions and so many loud voices.

So this is the state through which I enter the first of two seasons of essay-writing at my English university. And though I wish I had the enthusiasm to go forth and commit acts of writing (I take this phrase from "commit acts of journalism," which is one I've heard pop up frequently as a journastudent), I keep looking at all of the work before me and feeling the weight of my own insignificance - the futility of my efforts.

I guess part of my philosophy on life revolves around the knowledge that whatever I do may never amount to much, but as an overall goal I hope to just be happy.

And in truth, being a good student has always made me happy.

So as I go forth into the next few days - and I guess weeks, and perhaps even months - I think I'll just throw down my hands and try to embrace the experience of learning again. As futile as it may seem, there gift at the end of the rainbow will come when I've finished with everything, look back, and feel the pride at having gotten from where I am now to where I will be then.

Hopefully it'll be worth the effort.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Only real

"Happiness only real when shared."

For those who know where this quote comes from, good for you at having seen Into the Wild. This is a film that I always wanted to watch but never devoted the time to see. Something a few years ago spoiled me on it. A little trivial item made it so I was not interested in watching the film, no matter how good I'd heard it was. The something was Kristen Stewart.

Now that I've finally sat down and watched the entire film, I realize what a stupid hesitation that was. For one, Kristen Stewart plays barely any role in the film (and the little that her character does is not as terrifically awful as her performance in the Twilight film franchise). And secondly, if you have any inclination that a film will be good you should not cower away simply because some actress you don't always appreciate is in the film. One person can't drag a whole production down.

Especially when said production has so much heart and soul.

At first this film struck me as something a bit too melodramatic and frivolous. Those sound like contradictory terms, but what with all the overzealous mentions of transcendentalist theory coupled with river scenes and mountainous landscapes, I just assumed I would never get past the feeling of being a spectator watching a nature show.

It's true that the beginning of the film really forces this genre into your skull. All the music is folk or country-sounding, all very earthy and cynical bluegrass-sounding tunes. They serve as a backdrop for open air scenes and images of "roughing it" without the gore (until we get to the dismembering of animals, but I'll refrain from talking of that in detail) and discomfort of reality.

Then as it steadily progressed, it became clear that there was another agenda bubbling under the surface.

I think I felt it when I turned on the movie and one of the initial scenes involved the mother of Alex Supertramp (Chris McCandless) crying about a dream she'd had where her son was still alive. Having gone into this film without any knowledge of how it ended, I guess it just struck me as abrupt to be introduced to a character as deceased without having even met him before. Perhaps it was my fault because I didn't know the story in advance (it is a true story, after all), but maybe that was the intention of the filmmakers. To stun you with the truth so early on, that you almost can't believe it as you watch this spritely kid run around America (and Mexico) on his way to his Alaskan adventure.

This movie, and I suppose the source material as well, is full of surprises and character dynamism. While it definitely develops like any old "journey" novel - in which a character goes from place to place meeting new people and having adventures - there's this narrative that ends up following Alex, even when he tries to hide away from it.

And it's proven by that one quote that he scribbles down in a book toward the end of his life.

While it's not a comparable situation exactly, as I was watching Alex write down those words in the film, I thought a lot about my mom in the last few years of her life. After suffering a stroke, she became paralyzed on her right side and could no longer walk, speak or even write quite properly for the rest of her life. Thinking back on it now, it pains me deeply to know that inside her mind there were still so many thoughts and there was still so much life, but all I could see of it were tiny scribblings on paper.

When you become paralyzed - as Alex does in the film due to the consumption of poisonous berries - it doesn't reduce your ability to think, but it does change the relationship between your ability to think and the transfer of that thought to your motor neurons. Even if you can process information, it doesn't mean you can necessarily turn that into action.

It's like those dreams when you're running but your legs just can't move fast enough. The idea of that terrifies me. And watching the film, it was all I could focus on.

But there was an even greater message here - one that was wholly related, but also inherently separate. The message was about love.

Ages ago, back when I was young enough to be happily ignorant of my mother's plight after her stroke, I didn't understand just how much love she needed. Because she wasn't the person I thought I knew anymore, our relationship faltered. We started to know each other less and less. She let me move on with my life and I let her. Or I guess I forced her to.

In that time, when my mother most needed to communicate, to share her love and her knowledge and her experience with someone, I wasn't there to read the wobbly text written in her books. Instead, I let the problem go unnoticed and when she was happy, I didn't pay her as much attention as she deserved. When she was sad, it only drove me further away.

One of the many messages to take away from Into the Wild is the power of the human relationship. Though Alex tried desperately to separate himself from humanity - to remove himself from all of the troubles it can bring - he found that in the end it was cutting himself off from others that ensured his demise.

It wasn't my mother's fault that she was cut off. She wanted to share her happiness with everyone, particularly me. And while I know I can never go back and be the perfect daughter that I wish I had been, I can tell her - wherever she is (and as someone who likes to believe in the power of the human spirit, I don't rule out the possibility of her standing right next to me at this moment) - that I was listening even when it seemed like I wasn't. And I always did care, and I always will.

There's something really fascinating about a movie that purports to be one thing, but then shows itself as something completely different. Into the Wild was just that. But maybe it tried to communicate its message early on as well. By subtle means.

Either way, it was only once the meaning was shared that it could finally be appreciated. Just like happiness. Just like love.