Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dwelling of dwelling

I had a strange day that I'm not sure what to think of. While the morning went fairly smoothly, with a class at 1 pm and a set timetable of events that passed as unimpressively as any other day's might have, there was that constant little something looming in the corner, reminding me I couldn't be complacent and that life would only return to normal once the day was over.

Dwelling is a noun. It means a place inhabited by someone or something. That's not a technical definition, but I'm just giving it here because figurative writing can be fun. I am not considering the noun "dwelling" today, though. I am thinking of the verb, the issue of dwelling on something. This is not an unusual problem for me; in fact, it often finds its dwelling (see what I did there?) within my heart on casual afternoons, not visibly different from the last or the next.

Do you ever feel anxiety accompanied with jealousy? In instances when you dwell, you look around at everyone else wondering what their stress might be like. If they appear in less perturbed than you are, it becomes a battle in your head. A war of the stress. But in this war you want to be conquered rather than feel worse than your neighbor.

Well that's how I felt today as I dwell. As the dwelling sat in the dwelling of my heart. I kept wishing I was everyone else in the room. Not something I do every day, or any day for that matter.

So what was the situation, you might ask? I've drawn this along so much that you no doubt haven't the faintest idea and are perhaps ready to leave. Maybe you've left already.

I'm afraid there is no dramatic end to the tension of exposition. Today I was simply made to dwell due to a presentation I had to make in class. By the very simple fact that I was responsible for something so seemingly innocuous yet so obviously treacherous, I lost a whole day to anxiety and stress and envy.

This morning I'd had most of the work out of the way. With a class in the afternoon, I knew I had to be on the ball, so I made sure I had prepared in advance with all that my presentation required. Working with a classmate aided the process, though it was in certain parts a hindrance as well.

Everything went swimmingly until my 1 pm class ended. My partner (who was very nice and kept inviting me to various social events, though I can't imagine what gave her the notion I'm a social butterfly) suggested we meet early to prepare for our presentation. I think I must've forgotten because I shuddered. But then I answered yes.

And that we did. We arrived in class 30 minutes early and prepared.

The presentation didn't go well. I don't always appreciate those happy ending stories when anxiety and fret lead to a situation that is so much easier than you remember. That's not always the case. While I have given excellent presentations in my life, in this particular class I barely knew the material, I struggled with listening to my partner read off the slides and tried desperately not to do the same myself. The room was confusing and over-heated (literally, my cheeks were rosy) and I was at my wit's end. How could I make this presentation bearable for the audience?

Problem: I never found the solution. They were bored senseless. I'm sorry, class.

While I will try to gloss over it a bit, this does raise the issue of whether it is a suitable assignment to have students teach a seminar. I've never felt that presentations were anything more than a teacher/professor/tutor's sad attempt to take some time off and assign the teaching to another person. Maybe there is some educational philosophical strategy behind it, but it's always been lost on me. It's not that it makes me learn a topic that much better, only that it forces me to turn into a recluse for a day as I brood over the forthcoming torture. The standing in front of people staring them in the face while they visibly fall asleep or grow annoyed with you for wasting their time. I don't long to see those faces.

Still, I walked away happy. Not because I'd done well, mind you, but because it was over. I'm so glad it's over. Today is a new day and aside from being a day I don't have much to do, it's a day that I have time to have fun and not be anxious. I refuse to let myself be that way.

So for the morning, afternoon and evening (and I realize I've been writing "today" as to refer to 30 November even though technically I'm supposed to have written this yesterday), I will no longer let dwelling dwell within my heart. I have no reason to. I wish I had no more reason to ever, but that is an unfortunate luxury that may never be quite attainable. So this is fine. The eye of the storm.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Paris and Disneyland in pictures

I don't have much time for you at the moment. I don't want to make this a regular occurrence because I really love having you in my life and feel that your presence is necessary to keep me happy and healthy and wise. This is why I write in you every day - to be sure that I stay sane every day and keep reflecting on everything that has happened to me over the past several months (and a year coming up this January).

But today I'm going to just show you some photos. It's been a while since I've included any and since I miss equipping you with entertainment from all mediums of expression, I'm rectifying the error. I hope you will enjoy this even though it's less insightful than other writings. These are some snapshots from my trip to Paris and Disneyland Paris last weekend.

At the last minute (on the train at 5:40 am), I changed my plans to go to Le Marais first and instead stopped by the Champs-Élysées for a nice holiday market.

Everything in Paris was white and idyllic on this gorgeous morning. I could barely believe I was in a real place. It felt like a winter wonderland.

Eventually I made my way through the city to Le Marais and stopped at a bakery for some nosh.

But by the evening I was with my friend Dana at the Disneyland Resort Paris. We had some Earl of Sandwich and admired the scenery near the Disney Village (the equivalent of Disneyland's Downtown Disney District).

Then we explored some of the other hotels and saw this at the Disneyland Hotel along with a few suited characters out taking photos with children. Why am I not a child?

The next morning we got our first glimpse of the parks during Extra Magic Hours. These were the holiday decorations leading to Sleeping Beauty Castle when there were barely any people in the park. So lovely.

And the castle set against the morning sky, again pretty much an empty Disneyland.

And some adorable Minnie and Mickey Mouse snowmen.

During the Extra Magic Hours we went on the Dumbo Ride as well as Peter Pan and It's a Small World. And over the course of the day we managed to get on most of the rides we'd planned to pursue. In about 15 hours, we made some major successes.

A view from Haunted Mansion (called Phantom Manor in Disneyland Paris) of Frontierland.

We eventually switched parks and spent some time at the Walt Disney Studios Park. There we found a Singin' in the Rain reference and I looked silly.

We also found a High School Musical and Pirates of the Caribbean-themed restaurant where I saw these cute Mickey Mouse highchairs.

Then we made our way back into the Disneyland Paris park for the rest of the day.

And went through an Alice in Wonderland maze/labyrinth, among other things.

But Disney came to an end all too soon and the next day I was wandering around Paris again. I went to Montmartre which was crazy busy on a Sunday afternoon.

Then I climbed many many steps to the Cathedral de Sacre-Coeur.

It was worth it just to watch these people I didn't know being cheesy for a photo they didn't even know was being taken (I'm a creep, but you already knew that).

And I capped the day off by going to Café des 2 Moulins in Montmartre where Amelie works in the movie titled after her. I had some creme-brulée there and I cracked it. Seemed appropriate.
So that is the end of my photo post. There's nothing much to say except Paris was beautiful, Disneyland Paris was exquisite, seeing Dana was a treat and getting to be away for the weekend with nothing but beautiful things planned was a luxury. I can't wait for the few weeks I have back in London, but I lament at the loss of such a great few days. Oh well, more wonderful experiences to come, I'm sure.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Eternal sleep

In light of recent events but without stating them (because I feel that the coverage of the incident is better kept to student publications and official announcements), there is a topic worth discussing that has re-entered my mind and continued to hound it lately. I don't want to scare you (or myself, though I think that ship has sailed already), but the topic is mortality.

I don't think I spend much time on here fretting about the end to my life. If anything, my greatest fears surround the loss of loved ones. I can't imagine how I would bear with that sort of thing. Rarely do I think of the experience of not being alive myself. I'm an invincible young adult so naturally that particular issue just don't cross my mind on a day to day basis.

But sometimes I wonder why it doesn't. I'm just as mortal as any other human being. My flesh is only so thick, and it's not exactly been maintained or well-trained in such away as to fend off the grim reaper. If I had been alive in the time of cavemans, I'd definitely have been turned to dust already.

This only becomes more clear when I'm sitting around reading my emails and find a little note about someone I may not have known personally, but whom I easily could have known, who lost her life in the same way that anyone my age could lose theirs.

There are so many factors that have to align for human life to continue existing. Just think about our reliance on perishable items. We must have food three times a day (if you believe the hype) and water even more than that. There's the issue of regular sleep and other little measly habits that we just can't shake as humans.

Sometimes I find myself actually becoming worried about how vulnerable I am. Like now, for instance. Luckily at this point in the evening I have no reason to be called outside where I must brave the elements and the influence of humanity. I am in my safe room, lying in my warm bed, away from anything that could possibly harm me.

Or am I?

I think this is where the news of lost life really begins to frighten me.

In so many ways I truly feel control over my life. It may sound silly, but I like to believe that I have a bearing on my own fate just by being positive or negative in general. If I think that I will succeed in life, then clearly I will. And usually I am convinced that I will have a happy future, so I never have much reason to be depressed or cynical.

But what if I had no control over anything? What if I was subject to moods that were beyond my awareness or comfort? Conditions like bipolar disorder or depression are concerns that people battle daily. I've been lucky not to have any myself (as yet discovered), but that doesn't mean I'm unaware of the fact.

The most scary of all prospects is the one that I, myself, hold. What if I was the type of person to find comfort in my own passing? How would that affect my decisions in other parts of life? Since I get defeated so easily, would I just give up on life even before committing to commit suicide (so to speak)?

Whatever the situation, I think the most scary concern is how much of this has to do with me and what's present in mankind. The ability for free thought and action. But the risk as well.

I think I've discovered that what keeps me alive - other than the luck of not having any mental health issues - is both a healthy fear of death and an honest hope to always be learning and seeing new things. I walk away from the knowledge of the loss of a classmate and am further reminded that life is a precious commodity and something to be treasured in others and in yourself.

I don't like that I forget about myself. Because before the fate of anyone else, I must tend to my own - if only to be sure that it persists so that I can enjoy the lives of others.

And I guess that's my deepest desire - to experience the joy of human interaction. Even if it's fake and on the screen or the stage, even when it is difficult and confusing, the thing worth living for is that connection between even the most rivalrous men, ourselves.

Looking forward, I guess the only way to defeat these fears is to take some time in youth to stop considering them. It can be hard, but mortality doesn't have to be an issue a 20-year-old worries about.

There's so much to live for, so I guess when tragedy strikes, the only way to properly handle it is to be happy for living at all. That's all I really have to say about the matter. And from now I move onto the temporary rather than the eternal sleep.

Hopefully no one will consider this interpretation and structuring makes light of a serious topic. I have the most tremendous respect for everyone involved with this story and even though I don't directly state any details of it, I want to express my condolences to families of students and young adults who take their lives or who lose their lives outside of their control. It's the ones left behind who suffer most.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Two (or three) days in Paris

I can't hear myself think. It's not that it's too loud or that I have too much other sensory stimulation, I just feel all jumbled. I don't know how the last few hours passed so quickly and yet so slowly. After spending the morning with Dana hanging around the Disneyland Paris Resort, I made my way back into the city proper so I could experience some more sights of Gay Parr-ee as well as get on my way back to London, the city that actually holds my heart.

I've had an extraordinary time here. Even though I just spent about 20 or 30 minutes walking through the sex shop district near the Moulin Rouge and had around three or four men casually walk past me and say "Bonjour" with disturbingly meaning-filled eyes, I'm still glad to have gone through the city. To have seen a new part of it. To have gone out of it and found myself both amused and confused by the Disneyland Resort.

This has been the least stressful of all of my European trips. Getting to and from the various airports in Denmark, Germany, Austria and Italy was a strain. Even reaching my train on time sometimes has been difficult. But somehow this just worked out. And it didn't coincide with any due dates, surprisingly.

Of course the real object of most excitement was Disneyland Paris which occupied most of my time and most of my cash. After spending a whole day in the park, I thought I might have satisfied my thirst for Disney paraphernalia and celebration. But this just wasn't the case. All I feel inside me is a greater need for the Disney I know.

It makes me excited to go home, which makes me sad because I still consider London my home.

Right now I'm going home. But in a few weeks I'm going home home. It's a confusing distinction.

One place that is most certainly not, nor shall it ever be, home is Paris. Even though I've found myself warming up to the city and enjoying getting to run through its streets as if I know what I'm doing (and clearly I don't; everyone can see that and they make it known), I still don't feel at ease here. I don't think I have since I was seven years old and was being brought to all the sights by my mother and my grandmother.

There's something stressful about being in a country where I should know the language but somehow I just fail massively at getting to exercise my awareness. I try and ask questions to servers, they don't understand me. I order in French, they respond to me in English. I make an effort, then I become more and more uncomfortable and I stop making an effort.

Yet I've had many of the lovely quintessential Parisian experiences that I've always longed for and never seemed to be able to accomplish.

Maybe it was out of knowledge and wisdom that my mother never took me around to Montmartre to experience La Moulin Rouge and its surrounding environs. There are, after all, a lot of sordid shops that I assume she wouldn't even want me passing by now.

But getting to see that side of Paris was new and exciting.

This afternoon I had crème brulée at Les Deux Moulins. This is the café where Amelie works in the so-titled film. It's lovely with a warm yellow lighting, filled with mirrors and red walls and writing. There are several workers and even though it's well-appreciated, it's not over-crowded. There's a mixed crowd, certainly not made up of locals, but it's fun to experience just the same.

I was glad to have gone. And glad to have taken a rest on what was otherwise a really lengthy and tiring journey.

After climbing all the steps up to Sacré-Coeur, the cathedral that stands on a hill looking over Paris from Montmartre, I wanted to stop and just feel the calm of a Parisian café. In my many visits, this is one I Never committed to out of fear of not having enough time to see anything else.

But I think Parisian cafés are a true raison d'être. In a city made up of too much to do, sometimes it's better to just do nothing and be glad with it. And if it just so happens that you're doing nothing in a place where they filmed one of the most adorable French films ever made, then all the better.

I think this was the first time when I actually felt like I had wound down in Paris. And I like it. It's the kind of city you imagine it to be when you stare out the windows or watch the servers run from table to kitchen and back again. Like Hemingway might have seen it.

Every time I visit Paris I always think I'm satisfied. There's no need to go back because I've done it due justice. But there is a part of the city I haven't seen yet. The part where I don't so much long for a homey atmosphere that I find easily in London or California or even Chicago. But where I find it.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thanks, Mickey

Today was going home. Like walking into a place that I know and love and feel comfortable in. Everything was warm and inviting (despite the cold being biting and at times unbearable). Much of what I saw was what I'd already seen.

But it wasn't home. In my heart, I knew this straight away. The façades were different. The sounds, the sights, the smells. The smells. We couldn't get over the smells. Disneyland has really special scents that emanate from the bushes and from the water and the popcorn and churro stands. It attacks your senses to the point that you can no longer disassociate any particular experience with it. If you smell a similar smell, it brings you back. Anything can bring you back Disneyland.

So not everything was just right. But it was still right.

This morning as Dana and I walked into the Disneyland Resort Paris, we were reeling with excitement. The park was nearly empty as we moved across the wet pavement, still glistening from a morning soak by power hoses and untainted by the stain of millions of footsteps across it. It felt like the world (or at least Disneyland) was our oyster. We could do anything (or at least go on the rides that were open for Extra Magic Hours). We had the place to ourselves (and a few other families, plus that one guy on our boat in It's a Small World who was riding alone).

We grew complacent. It began to felt like our own Disneyland, there with the early morning dew sparkling off the planters and the sunlight just creeping in past the gloomy clouds, casting a pink and blue glow across the sky. How appropriate too, considering the castle that towers over the park belongs to Sleeping Beauty (Aurora).

By regular opening hours, we no longer had the place to ourselves. Our complacency had steered us wrong in the same way the proclamations by hotel staff had made us believe that this was the supposed "off-season" of the Disneyland Resort Paris.

These things may be true in theory, but when you walk around the park and see only lines of 40 minutes or more even for dark rides and Pirates of the Caribbean (which reminds me, anyone who doesn't go to Disney parks frequently may be confused about references to specific attractions and experiences.. apologies), you know that you're not in off-season.

After 14 hours of theme park hopping we managed to get on virtually all the rides we had planned to experience. Save for a few shows and lands that we skipped over for expediency, the day was well-accomplished and went off with few issues (despite the fact that the management here seems to believe it's okay to only open about half the restaurants and food stands during "off-season").

In a day we went on Phantom Manor (Haunted Mansion), Indiana Jones (a rollercoaster unlike the Disneyland version), Pinocchio, Snow White, Peter Pan, the old Star Tours. So many great classics. And new ones like Crush's Coaster.

At every step along the way it felt like repetition and sameness. Like walking backwards in time to this summer when I had Disneyland fully at my disposal every single day of the week. I didn't go every single day of the week, but the availability was what mattered.

And now it's available to me again. Or it was. For the full day of 8 am to 10 pm this morning, afternoon and evening. I'm so thankful for the opportunity.

Tomorrow I have a day planned in Paris. Dana will be heading back to Edinburgh in the afternoon and then I'll be left to my own wits to get back into the city and wander around before going back to London in the evening. I'm a little disappointed, I must admit. While I enjoy Paris immensely, the real excitement of this experience was Disney. It was all for Disney.

Anything with the name seems to have an impact. Earlier this morning, Dana and I talked a bit about that on our way into the parks. We were giddy and floating on air at the idea of spending a day living our Mickey and Friends. The topic of conversation eventually turned to how we've been raised to be obsessed with this brand, and how it may seem silly to some people that we go far and wide to take part in the Disney magic even when there are so many European cities to explore within an arm's reach of where we are.

Anyone who asks that doesn't have the Disney gene, I guess. There's something about going to these parks, no matter where in the world you are, that makes life a bit brighter and happier. Even if it seems culturally stifling to some, for us it's like re-entering a cultural haven of childhood and happiness-eternal.

So that's the end of the Disney story for now. Tomorrow we'll have several hours here to wind down, but after that it's back to the real world again (after Paris for me, of course). But I'm so glad to have had the experience. Disneyland Paris was great. Spending time with Dana was wonderful. Getting to be away and back home (in some ways) for a bit has been a luxury.

It'll be hard going back, but I think I'll be doing so with a new vigor. Thanks, Mickey.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Disneytime Paris-Style

Today has been long and treacherous. I've walked through gravel and sandy pathways in parks, on slippery ground and in many many hotel lobbies. And it's not even the end of the walking just yet.

My day has been all over the map. And by that I mean literally all over a book of maps that I purchased which helped me navigate around Paris as best I could. Only a few wrong turns here or there and I've made it to the Disneyland Resort. And despite arriving prior to Dana and having to wait for about 15 or 20 minutes for her arrival, there have been few to no hitches.

Unless you count having the lights magically turn off on their own as a hitch. I called it a ghost. I still call it a ghost. I hope it wasn't a ghost.

Anyway, since a lot happened in a short amount of time today I'm just going to spend the rest of this blog post telling you piece for piece the various experiences of my day.

As you know (or as you know if you read my blog last night), I had to go to bed early to be up by 3:30 am. I got up accordingly, managed to have breakfast and finish finalizing my packing. Walked out the door and...

I forgot my toothbrush.

But I had to keep moving. When I got to St. Pancras train station I found my way to the Eurostar terminal quickly and efficiently. Other than the security scanner who asked me why I travel with a wooden duck (my umbrella, Ralphina), I managed to get through without being suspected of terrorism or snowglobe-hoarding. So good going me.

On the train I was sat in a nearly empty car, but had the pleasure of sitting next to a man who refused to move to one of the many open seats available to him even once we'd passed Calais. Perhaps this would've been construed as a rude move, but in his position I probably would've asked if it was okay and moved away so I could stretch out on a two-seater. But I guess I just have no respect for social norms.

Anyway, after getting off the train, I got to the Champs-Elysées by about 10 am and wandered around looking at the Christmas market that had been set up there. With the white-painted wooden stalls that lined the street and the pale gloomy sky that surrounded them, it almost felt like walking in a winter wonderland. There were no actual icicles or snow around, but there was an ice rink with strange animatronic animals.

From there I walked onto the Place de la Concord and through the Jarden des Tuileries.

 It was a beautiful day despite the rain, but I figured I'd not waste time and took the Metro to Le Marais where I got some food at a Jewish bakery and walked toward Ile St.-Louis. All the quaint shopping did me in, but I reasoned that I wouldn't buy anything until I got to Disneyland.

And a few hours later, I arrived at the Disneyland Paris Resort. There I met up with Dana and we took a moment to appreciate the pleasures of our Disney Resort Bambi-themed hotel room. We went into every single Disney-themed shop (there are many) in Disney Village (the Downtown Disney of Disneyland paris).

We bought things. We questioned buying things. We looked at expensive food items. We purchased expensive food items.

And now we retire.

Because today was just the rehearsal.

Tonight during dinner we whipped out a Disneyland Paris Resort map. On it we labeled the rides according to our preference. Which to definitely go on. Which were expendable.

We came up with a coding system. Stars counted for the most important rides. Hearts represented those where one of us had a penchant for it but the other was indifferent. Peace signs were placed next to those that we didn't feel ridiculously enthusiastic for, but still wanted to go on. And finally, question marks went next to promising prospective rides that we wouldn't be disappointed if we missed.

Then there were the two or three we left out for whatever reason.

Tomorrow is the day we meet every goal on that list. That is the day to look forward to. That is why we're here. That is why we're going to bed early. That is why I must end this blog sooner rather than later.

So sooner it is.

Goodnight, bonne nuit. Have a lovely evening, À demain, mes amis.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mad rush scientist

There is nothing in me but excitement about going to Paris tomorrow. That is, if you ignore the nervousness about having to find my way around Paris alone for half a day. And if you disregard the anxiety about needing to get to sleep early so I can be on my train which departs at around 5:30 am tomorrow. And if you consciously avoid the fact that I haven't packed yet nor have I done nearly as much research as I did for my European excursion a few weeks ago.

But besides all that...I'm pretty excited. Not, not pretty excited. Really really excited.

Is that all? Can I be done with this blog now? Probably not, that doesn't seem like an acceptable length.

So instead I'll detail for you what my evening will consist of as well as my early-tomorrow. That way I won't have to fill in any gaps when inevitably I have a lot to tell you about my actual Parisian experience tomorrow night. It's a foolproof method. Congratulations to me for figuring it out.

Tonight is already over for the most part. I've had my dinner, showered, started packing my suitcase (backpack) ever so slightly. And I plan to be in bed in just over an hour. After I got out of class it became a race to finish all these tasks. Now that the major ones are done, I feel like I can take a little breather to eat a Red Vine (thank you, Alex) and prepare for bed so I won't be super-massively tired in the morning.

Though things seem to be going pretty well right now, usually situations like this do not work in my favor. I always seem to buy the earliest flights/trains possible whenever I'm going somewhere with the hope that I can maximize time in whatever place I'm going to. Then when the day comes that I'm preparing for leaving, I realize how awful it is to be in a rush.

Still, I've brought the anxiety of getting ready for trips down to a science.

When it comes to going on vacation and not going absolutely nuts at the very last minute, there are a few tips and tricks that I always employ.

1. Pack things away before they need to be. This is true for pajamas and my toothbrush and my make-up. I know I'm going to use them the day I leave, but if I don't pack them away ahead of time then just watch me not have enough room for them when I am about to leave. Tragedy. I will never let that happen to me again. Foresight.

2. When possible, leave room. I am an overpacker, but I've realized recently that I usually don't wear half the clothing I pack when I'm traveling. So instead of creating new outfits for every day of my trip, I now resort to packing only my favorite items of clothing and anything that can be combined with them. Looking my best and traveling at my best go hand in hand.

3. Food. I will be hungry at some point or another. I may not be able to immediately find good food when I arrive in a new place. Or maybe I will be ravenous at the airport terminal or the train station. This can be easily overcome by a granola bar in my bag. And when I eat said granola bar, that leaves extra room in my suitcase for random tchotchkes that I will inevitably purchase on my trip. I'm such a genius.

Okay I'm going to stop with the packing tips because I need to tell you more about what's going down for the rest of my evening and early morning tomorrow.

Tonight I will go to bed by 9 pm. I will wake up by 3:45 am, I hope. I will be out the door at 4:30 am tomorrow and my train departs (as I said) around 5:30.

Crazy stuff. And I'm a crazy person for booking such an early train. But this will give me time in Paris to explore a bit. Into the city by 9:17 am, I plan to start feasting on cheese, bread and pastries as soon as I've disembarked. I see no problem with this premise and I truly believe it will happen.

By mid-afternoon, I plan to be bumming around the Disneyland Paris Resort with Dana. We will admire the general splendor. We (or at least I) will buy French Disney paraphernalia. We'll mooch off the internet at McDonald's. It will be a gas.

So though I'm turning in early tonight and trying to avoid my own nausea at the idea of all that there is to look forward to over the next few days, I know that once I'm in the thick of it, it will be nothing but good. Look out France, you have a traveler with a penchant for lovingly bastardizing your language coming your way. One year of French under my belt and I'm ready to mispronounce "où est la bibliothèque?" all over the place.

See you tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Imagining la vie Parisienne

It feels like I just said goodbye to London briefly, and now I'm doing it yet again. I don't think I thought this through properly.

When I came to the UK, I had every intention of leaving every weekend. I'll get my fill of London during the weekdays, I thought. This'll set me free to be traveling the European nation every Thursday through Monday. What could be better?

Looking back on this thought process, I can see where I went wrong. Firstly, being in classes during the week does not account for experiencing and appreciating the city you live in. Secondly, there really are just too many places to visit in the whole of Europe. And they each deserve a great deal of attention. So why did I think I could spare them each a weekend and that would suffice?

I was wrong on so many levels.

Leaving London is like reading a really great book and then stopping at a climactic moment. In your heart you know that you want to keep reading because there are so many great things to be experienced in the coming pages. But you get drawn away easily by little things like Facebook, or a meal time, or a European country.

Stop distracting me, Europe.

A few months ago, my friend Dana and I finalized our plans to visit The Disneyland Paris Resort. We were super excited about the prospect of getting to visit the theme parks there. Disney theme park fandom is an enormous aspect of both of our personalities and something we've always shared as friends, so this was just something that had to happen.

I'm so glad it's happening. I cannot wait to spend a few days with Dana exploring all that the French version of Disney has to offer. No doubt it will be magical. In fact, I've looked up photos. I'm thoroughly convinced it will be magical.

Before I leave for Disney, though, I will also be seeing a bit of Paris on my own. While I've been to the city three times already - once at age seven, again at 14 and finally once more at 18 - I've never been around it on my own. And despite having a grand European adventure that took me to bunches of new cities that I had to navigate on my own, I still fear the experience just a bit.

And I know on top of the butterflies in my stomach that will surely surface at the experience of being in Paris on my own, I will most definitely be homesick for London as well.

This is how I've always felt when leaving the city. While it's nice to see new places, there is nothing like being in the one place that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. If there is a place where my heart resides, it is London. And because it is London, it is hard to fathom being anywhere else for an extended period of time. Even home.

Having said that, though, the idea of Paris specifically is exhilarating. This will be the first time I've visited on my own (as I've mentioned), but also an opportunity to practice my rusty French. Without the crutch of another American in the city with me, maybe I will actually have some conversations with French-speaking individuals. I may not do very well, but I'd like to believe it could happen.

My idea of Paris is a very idealized one. I'm the type of person who does picture herself talking to Parisians on the streets of the city, or sitting in a park and having a meet-cute with a random Parisian person. These things will likely not happen.

On the other hand, I do expect to wander about the city and admire its beauty, and to occasionally feel as if I've been transported into a film while moving through the streets. Maybe I'll even encounter Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald along the way.

I can only hope.

So here I go. Tomorrow night is my last in the city of London for the weekend. The next day I will be safely navigating les rues de Paris. And hopefully that night I will have made it to the Disneyland Paris Resort.

I'm a little intimidated at the thought of being a lone traveler again. But I'm excited. And I won't be alone for long.

So as I prepare to say goodbye to London once again, I bid it a fond farewell and anxiously await my return. But Paris is as good an excuse as any if you ask me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The hero countdown

I have discovered the ways of international VPN usage. And with this new-found knowledge, I have had the opportunity to watch The Mindy Project, a show whose pilot I saw three or four times in the space of a few months, and which I can only hope will continue to prove its quality as the series progresses.

Many moons ago I wrote an article for my school's best and most awesomest (like my grammar?) online news source detailing the tremendous respect I have for Mindy Kaling. She started out right after college going on auditions in New York, writing comedy and eventually becoming a monumental success (there were hitches in between, but you should read her memoir for details). And if she isn't an example of feminine awesomeness, then I am not one to judge. Girl power!

Anyway, I'm not going to spend this entire blog going on and on about Mindy Kaling. I've already done that. Look up the article I wrote about her a while back.

But I will take this time to gush in more general terms over the great quantity of heroes that I have. That includes Kaling, but it is not limited to her and her oeuvre.

So here goes nothing.

First I'll explain the origin of this list. It's on Facebook. There, that's it. Over time I've accumulated a list of people I look up to or admire. I've added them to Facebook as a constant reminder of my aspirations in life and in career. For the sake of expediency and because my eyes are only half open at the moment, I will not write about my family, but rather about the people in the public eye who I admire.

I don't feel like it would be respectful of me to gloss over my explanations of why I look up to my relatives, so until I can do that portion of the "hero" discussion justice, I will knowingly omit it.

Also, because it makes most sense to consolidate words when I worry about my lack of coherence, I will categorize my "heroes" into tight groups rather than listing them off individually. I hope this doesn't offend anyone.

The Writers
(i.e. John Keats, Jane Austen, Jonathan Safran Foer)

For years now I've planned on becoming a writer. In some capacity, I want to share my thoughts through the written word, to be able to spread ideas and stories with vibrant imagery and character studies. When I think about who I admire in terms of writers, I realize that the people I look to for inspiration are the same ones from whom I steal my most passionate ideals for the medium.

John Keats had a way of telling stories through his poetry that was both rich in narrative - many were stolen from classic folklore and religious texts - and strong in construction. He wrote long-form poems that told stories in the most eloquent and glorified language possible.

Maybe I'm just a sucker for romanticism, but this certainly carried on in the case of Jane Austen's work, which despite being indicative of a certain social order and rife with liberal attempts to break from the status quo, balances social commentary with some of the most inherently beautiful human interactions ever recorded in literature.

And of course there's Jonathan Safran Foer, whose book Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (choose the book over the film!) managed to tug at my heartstrings and kick at my funny bone just enough to put me in a constant state of riotous emotion.

This is the kind of thing that writing is good for, and why I want to do it. It inspires feelings, it assesses them objectively and subjectively. It's fun, it's beautiful and it's expressive.

The Directors
(i.e. Noah Baumbach, Woody Allen)

Writing isn't the only expressive medium that I admire, though. While I don't believe I have the talent or the conviction to become a director, over the years I've become just enamored enough with film to find an appreciation for the men behind the creations.

Noah Baumbach, as compared to many other famous directors, is a relative unknown. He has done some wonderful work for a few decades (including one of my favorite films, The Squid & the Whale), but he is seriously under-appreciated and under-recognized for his incredible contributions to the independent film industry.

Then there's Woody Allen who is certainly not under-appreciated, nor is he under-represented. But his work is along the same lines as the writing I enjoy reading and creating myself. It is crisp and clean-cut, ready to share details of an intimate story rather than keep visitors on the periphery. The true test of an Allen film is how much of a universal truth is spoken in the most early or very last moments of the film. That and the stumbled-over words and abounding neurotic characters. The intricacies of Allen's directorial style - his stylistic choices - and his place as an auteur who writes many of the screenplays he puts to film, make him one of the most fascinating filmmakers of all time.

The Musical Minds
(i.e. Howard Ashman, Jonathan Larson)

This could be renamed the "didn't live long enough" category. While I've spread the wealth within my other lists among living and non-living candidates, in this section lie only two men who are both deceased.

They were also both musicians, both liberal-minded, both involved with and in love with musical theater. Etc. Etc. Comparisons.

The difference between them was that Howard Ashman went from Broadway to Disney and Jonathan Larson never quite got past the New York theater. Partially because he didn't strike it famous until Rent came out posthumously, and partially because New York was integral to his character, to his being.

These two beautiful minds died at incredibly young ages, which for someone like me who really appreciates their work, is a disappointment.

But Ashman and Larson live on through their music. And in a way that's something I'd wish to accomplish myself. To be so relevant as to create something artistic that is still appreciated by artists and fans alike years on.

The Funny Women
(i.e. Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Judy Garland)

The final group of heroes includes the famous Mindy Kaling of earlier blog repute.

I am not particularly funny, but I've always loved those who are. My humor is deadpan and sarcastic. It can freak people out if they don't understand the pessimistic hilarity of it all.

Still, I like to believe I draw some personal comedic influence from the women I've listed above. Mindy and Tina for their self-mocking humor, Amy for her kookiness and Judy for her endearing comedic style coupled with her many other artistic talents.

In a way, I wish I could say I draw influence from all of these people in my day to day life. That in moments of creation or even just immense thought, I draw on their lives to help me shape mine.

Unfortunately that's not always possible. But it's worth a shot at the very least - and hopefully compiling a definitive list such as this will make some difference in how I conduct myself the long-run. It's a hopeful thought, but I believe a little reminder of positive influences can go a long way.

Monday, November 19, 2012

By the fear that love's too much

What is it with me and sharing everything?

While I don't want to spread details of intimate interactions with people I care about (especially since this is something I've done in the past only to the detriment of my relationships with those people), because I think it's an important issue that needs to be addressed, I figured I'd write about it tonight simply as an issue of my own. Just me. No one else.

This issue involves other people, of course. The very act of sharing your thoughts means that there are people on the receiving end. This isn't a tree falling in a forest with no one to hear it. This tree has friends and family and other people surrounding her who occasionally deign to listen to her speak or read what she writes. They submit to being showered in the nonsense.

But I'm not going to try and analyze them. Because tonight it's all about ripping myself apart a bit.

I guess I do that every night. But tonight especially.

The truth - and the point of this blog - is that I spill my guts all too often. Even before anyone asks, I'm always quick to start telling them details about my experiences, about myself.

I've always said that this was my way of gaining catharsis. Or that it's how I am best able to help people. Empathy is the sincerest form of advice, I tend to believe. But sometimes it can appear as though all I'm doing is wallowing, fantasizing, considering myself and not the world around me.

It's not my intention, but when I spend at least 20 minutes to an hour writing my thoughts out and sharing them with the world, it starts to make me think I'm entitled to say how I feel whenever I deem fit.

In some situations this is acceptable. I can tell my best friends, my father, some of my relatives about the goings-on in my life without any worry of consequences. But there are some situations when it's not appropriate to say whatever is on your mind without the proper filter. For example, if someone were to make a casual comment in conversation with me, it might not be appropriate to respond with a lengthy anecdote about getting my wisdom teeth out or having my mom die when I was 15.

As someone who is interested in the lives of others, I welcome these kinds of stories. I like having people confide in me so I can create a compendium of knowledge about them within the recesses of my brain. It makes me feel closer to them. But there's nothing wrong with not enjoying being on the receiving end of melodramatic stories.

Yet sometimes I forget that not everyone wants to know about all the drama that has transpired during my life. Maybe I should keep it to myself occasionally.

I guess that's the point of having this little thingy to write in every night. If anyone doesn't care to hear my story, doesn't want to provide support or feedback, then they don't have to. It's just a place where I can vent and where anyone and everyone has the opportunity (but definitely not the responsibility) to become a listener. But only if they want to. Which is certainly not a requirement. In any sense.

So essentially I wear my heart on my sleeve. And my heart has many bumps and bruises on it from years of wear and tear, times when I've had to reassess my life on account of bad decisions, unlucky circumstances, or whatever else.

The title of this blog comes from a poem I wrote a long time ago when I thought I was falling in love with someone. Without sharing too much, I'll say that this was even before I had my first boyfriend. That leaves the issue open to much interpretation, and be aware that even if you ask you will never get a straight answer from me as to who it was for (even the person it was written for never found out).


At that time I realized what an insane idea it was to share those passionate feelings with someone who I didn't even know all that well. It wasn't that I was falling in love with someone I'd never met, but that in reality I couldn't reasonably trust them with a token of my brooding thoughts on love and relationships.

Even now, I feel like that poem was one of the most personal pieces I've ever written. And while I can feel detached from it now, back when it was written it would've been wrong to share it with someone who couldn't understand the magnitude of the emotions held within its words.

And that's how I feel about my thoughts in general. If they're not going to be understood properly and thoroughly, then maybe it's better if they're not understood at all.

Still, I devote myself to writing this every night with the hope that someone somewhere, even if it's just my dad, cares to read it and think about what I've said. And maybe try and give me feedback, hopefully constructive.

Because I recognize that not everyone wants or cares to listen to anything I have to say. And that when I share my anecdotes, maybe they're not worth listening to by some estimation. So it makes me so much more thankful to have anyone in the world who actually cares about my words and my thoughts and my problems and neuroses.

I realize that I wear my heart on my sleeve. And sometimes I'm just glad that there are people out there who treat it with kindness.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A better day tomorrow

I don't know what happened in the last 12 hours. I believe that by 1:30 PM I'd woken up from a deep sleep and convinced myself I was going to get to work immediately. But did I?

I don't think so. In fact, it wasn't until hours later that I actually devoted myself to the task at hand. Which was to write a paper that is due tomorrow at 12 noon.

This is the second time I've done this while studying abroad. One term in England and I've already shown myself to possess worse work ethic than the last 14 years of schooling ever could drag out of me.

The thing is, I've always been really good about getting work done early and having it in fine order by the time it's due. That's never been an issue for me because I love having things done by an earlier deadline than actually exists. It's the same principle that has me arriving at the airport two hours earlier than my flights' departure times, the reason I'm rarely late to gatherings with friends and I have to consciously keep myself from leaving for class 30 minutes ahead of time.

Something strange has happened here, however. Unlike my usual occupations in school which consist of a few essays, tests, response papers here or there, by the time I am done with this one session abroad I will have completed eight - count them, EIGHT - research papers. In 10 weeks.

By that calculation, I should've started my research papers the second week of school. Unfortunately I hadn't learned much of anything at that point so that is unfeasible. Recalibrating for a second. That would mean I have to complete one ore more essays per week starting mid-way through the term.

Still, a crazy notion if I've ever seen one.

But it's been my fate for the past few weeks, and why I've had to scramble to finish four papers prior to a trip to Europe, then after the trip to Europe and now before I leave again for the Disneyland Paris Resort.

In a way, it makes me envy the me from another universe who is still at my home institution writing occasional short response papers throughout the quarter. The kind that don't require you to go searching through the stacks in the library for 10 sources for each essay.

I know I've complained about this before, and I don't like to harp on the same issues constantly (might as well spread the wealth as there are so many things in this world that are worth complaining about - just ask Larry David), but it really does stun me to think of the statistical concerns of my term in England.

Firstly, as I've mentioned, eight essays in 10 weeks.

Secondly, an advised 10 to 12 sources per essay.

Multiply, carry the one, etc. etc. - I have to have read 80-96 sources before I'm done with my 10 week course in England.

Should I be concerned? I mean, I've just barely reached the halfway mark in The Marriage Plot and I started reading that about a week into my stay in London. It may be pleasure reading, but that also means it goes by more quickly than academic reading.

In other words, this means I have no excuse to not be reading eight books a week. Unfortunately, at this point in time, all of those books are academic books written by people with doctorates who can't even construct a sentence on the page without being as dry as an afternoon in the desert.

At this point, I have reached the halfway mark. I'm excited to only have four more essays to do. Though I only have a few more weeks, at least I'll have rationed out my responsibilities enough to not be as overwhelmed as I have been in the past few weeks, scrambling to finish four essays without the knowledge to back them up legitimately (oh, the amount of reading I've done today would astonish even accomplished literature students).

The light at the end of the tunnel throughout this experience - or at least for today - has been my set of plans for tomorrow. Topping-up my mobile phone, going on a little shopping adventure on Tottenham Court Road, maybe even rewarding myself after a hard day's work with an extra hop, skip and a jump to the local Pinkberry (in the UK, how cool!).

It took me a while to hunker down and allow myself to suffer tonight. But I did it. And tomorrow is a better day. A better day will be had tomorrow. And maybe then, finally, I'll actually have something insightful - not just annoyingly complain-y - to say.

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Nothing insightful, but I like movies

I don't know what to do with myself anymore. It's nearly 3 am and unlike yesterday or the day before when I stayed up to an ungodly hour because I hadn't yet written a blog, today I have no excuse and I have no way to dig myself out of it anymore. I'm at a loss, it's already tomorrow, my head is falling over from exhaustion and I desperately just want to go to sleep.

Help me?

I guess to get out of this hole I'll just tell you a bit of my experience watching Skyfall, the new James Bond movie, in theaters today. If I try to figure out another subject, I fear my head might burst, so a new 007 movie in the cinema it is!

The cinema was much too packed. By the time the film started, it was almost too filled with people. At Odeons in London, tickets are sold at astronomical prices and seats may or may not be assigned. It is so unlike the five-dollar-a-pop moviehouses where I have had most of my cinematic experiences these past twenty years.

In addition to the strangeness of the seating arrangements, these cinemas only play one or two films at a time. At least the Odeons do. There aren't ten alternative choices of screen each showing a different film. There are one or two screens and you queue up prior to going into the room to watch the film.

I guess in this sense, going to see a movie becomes more of an event and less of a standard activity. People wait for the films they want to see. They anticipate. They only have the option of going to the blockbusters.

Blockbusters. Ordinarily you wouldn't find me at one of these films. But today I went. And I was pleased to have gone.

The new James Bond film is a testament to how epics, action films, new films in a series can do well. Years ago when I went with my friend and her brother to see Casino Royale, a few minutes into the film I'd been turned off by the gore and action-y aspects of it. But with a bit of patience and excitement to see some of my favorite actors on screen in this newer sequel, I managed to arrive at a point in watching the film wherein I was more exhilirated than anything else.

Still, I don't think I betrayed my cool exterior which might have those around me believing I was not enjoying myself (I'm looking at you, Alex).

But the film itself was something marvelous. It reminded me of going to see horror films. Because within both of these genres there is room for two styles of cinematic undertaking. There are the films that are ridiculous and do nothing to stave off that reputation. Then there are the films that question their historical precedence and end up proving that they can exist within the genre and without it. They transcend.

This new 007 was the latter.

Yes, you could call it an action film. There were immense chase scenes and there was some relentless gore with the purpose of keeping audiences on the edges of their seats. Categorizing the film into another category would undermine this aspect of it, which was inherently obvious and at times a bit distracting.

But in the moments when there weren't motorcycles flying on rooftops and men battling weaponless on top of a train, there were scenes of self-reflexivity and clever humor, character study and intricate developments of narrative. At times it was difficult to follow, almost like an episode of Doctor Who, but despite that it always felt like it was valuable rather than trite. That is a hard thing to accomplish within a film franchise that has existed for decades.

Leave it to an Oscar Winning director to achieve that sort of success.

Anyway, it's very late, and while I wish I could provide more insight into the film or my experience watching it, I fear that anything I'd have left to say would only be perceived as gushing. I am incredibly tired and need to start writing these blogs at a more human-friendly hour.

Until then, I hope I've convinced you of the worthiness of Skyfall. It is a movie anyone can appreciate. I believe that.

Friday, November 16, 2012

My funny resume

Tonight, I fell asleep around 9 pm. Then I woke up at 1 am. I could blame sleep deprivation or jet lag. I'm still behind on sleep after a week and a half jaunt around Europe. But I don't need to blame anyone or anything, because that's not what's important right now.

The reason I'm still awake, and why I've decided to finally write my blog now, as it nears 3 am, is because I'm finally doing the single most productive thing I've done all day. I'm editing my resume.

There's nothing so mutually terrifying and wonderful as fixing up one's resume. Only two months into the school year and I'm already thinking about how I can make myself look like a more sophisticated candidate for jobs than I did at this time a year ago. And surprisingly, I feel pretty positive about the look of things.

Last year marked what I would call the 12 months of my lowest confidence. While some of the most significant occurrences of my life happened during this time (i.e. the birth of my niece, my first internship, my second internship, my first car accident, etc. etc.), they were coupled with a crippling sense of inadequacy brought on by silly teenager things. Love, loss, dependency, etc. I was acting like a regular toddler in a 19 year old's body.

Still, I managed to get through each and every one of those days unscathed, hopeful that eventually I'd rediscover myself as the intelligent and positive person that I was before my life became dramatic. So, essentially, I was looking to get over myself.

Maybe I haven't actually gotten over myself in the past few months. It could just be a delusion. But I feel as though with many of my "firsts" behind me, I'm finally ready to start living life as any normal person would. The prospect of new experiences are less daunting when they don't require you to go beyond your comfort zone. But to get out of that comfort zone, you have to have the experiences in the first place.

It's these firsts that bring me full circle, and back to the topic of returning to my resume.

Looking back at old versions - and I've preserved each and every step along my resume-building history in a folder in my computer titled "Resumes" - I realize how I've gone from understatement to overcompensation, minimalism to a three-page long monster that I needed to desperately chop down.

I remember being a freshman in college and asking one of the sophomores I knew whether or not I should still be including my high school extracurricular experience on my resume. She told me that once you'd been in university for over a year, it was time to take "Editor-in-Chief of my high school newspaper" off the docket.

It took time to come to grips with this reality. It can be especially hard when you start to believe you've plateaued a few years back, only to see a steady decline in the ratio of your intelligence to everyone else in the world's intelligence. Looking back at high school, I knew I was the bee's knees (at least in journalism). But entering a journalism school and writing for publications with dozens of other talented people, it becomes difficult to see myself as anything other than ordinary.

There's a sense of bipolarity that develops - on one side you believe you can achieve anything. I've been told all my life that I have the capacity for greatness. Maybe I should take the perspective with a grain of salt since it mainly came from the kind and loving adulation of my parents.

The other side of the bipolarity is that nagging feeling like you'll never be quite good enough. There are so many successful people in the world, but for some reason their fates feel unreachable by personal standards.

I don't know that I feel that way anymore.

Tonight, at 1 am, I started moving forward. I pulled out the old resume and got back to work. I looked at it, edited it, looked at it again, edited it some more, laughed at myself for my meticulousness, then got back to work so that I could make this paper that represents me actually representative of me.

Looking forward, I'm just excited to see where the sheet of paper can take me. I can only imagine that in the future it will become longer and more beautiful, attesting to a life and career of growth and happiness.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Curiouser and curiouser

Earlier tonight I sat up in bed on my laptop with quite a glazed look in my eyes, I imagine. For some reason, the past few days have had me feeling slightly lethargic and loopy; after big meals or in the evenings it's almost as though I'm not here at all. Rather, I'm floating in the netherworld between sleep and wakefulness, too incoherent to form rational thoughts and yet too unwilling to pass into dreamland without fulfilling the days quota of responsibilities (including this blog).

It's the residual effect of being in Europe. It's an hour earlier here in the United Kingdom, but I still have the internal clock of Danish, German, Austrian, Italian time. It's hard to shake even that slightest of time differences when it's coupled with the tiredness of sleep deprivation.

But although this feeling doesn't account for any of my most profound moments of stimulating company or intrapersonal interaction, I do credit it with being the time when I'm most creative - if only because it's the only time I can tap into my very strange unconscious mind.

This week in my art history course we were at the Tate Modern talking about the surrealist and Dada movements in the early 20th century. For the sake of simplicity, I'll focus only on surrealism because that most closely relates to my mind on these late evenings.

The surrealist movement was a reactionary period in art history (as were virtually all other movements). It was all about tapping into the unconscious mind - Freudian in principle - and rejecting ideas of minimalism and the return to pure classical, antiquated art forms during the time of its creation.

This was a style searching for its way, trying to exhume itself from the tired aspects of old world creation.

I think that's why it so appeals to me. And why a lot of times I create it myself, unknowingly.

"Painting" by Joan Miró
One of the pieces we looked at during class was of a series of squiggles and shapes on a canvas that had been primed in a vibrant blue. Our tutor talked about how the artist would employ automatic drawing (letting the mind wander and create without focusing on subject matter or substance), and that whatever the outcome was became the art object we were viewing.

There are times when I write and I find myself in a really strange state of mental incapacity. I sit in front of my computer screen, one foot in the real world and one in my own little world of the unconscious. In this state, I'm able to form actual sentences but unable to create actual thoughts.

I've been told I should just write an entire blog in this state and share it without editing. Some might find it funny, the musings of my mind when I'm not quite aware of what's coming out of it. It's like that moment of falling into a deep sleep, when you are dreaming about something but reality is still playing a part.

Like leaving the television on and hearing it in your half-asleep state, then seeing it reflected back at you by some measure from underneath your eyelids.

This used to happen to me a lot when I was younger. My dad would turn on the television to wake me up for school and I'd be able to dream the story on the screen in my head. It would have some strange twists that were not present in the actual story, but still it was a fascinating meld of both the conscious understanding of the program and my mind's confused and rambling interpretation.

I like to think this is how surrealists think. They're fascinated with how their minds can still produce thoughts when they're only half-coherent, and they try to grasp onto that period of creation as best they can so they can create what they believe is something authentic and personal.

Is this how someone like Lewis Carroll created his works? I can just see him sitting at his desk at Oxford, a photo of a young girl peeking at him out of the corner of his eye (do yourself the favor of learning the odd history of Carroll and his relationship with the young Alice Liddell, it's pretty disturbing but fascinating just the same). He has pen to paper and he's working meticulously on a manuscript. But as he scribbles he finds himself drifting off. These are the moments when poems like "Jabberwocky" flow out of his fountain pen.

If you haven't read it, then here's a little taste:

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

In a way, this style of creation feels deliberate, almost contrived. There's something that makes it seem ultra-calculated, as if you couldn't even create that nonsense without thinking really hard about how best to be nonsensical. Which ruins the principle of nonsense in the first place, doesn't it?

Upon looking up the poem, I found an interpretation on Wikipedia that had definitions of the nonsensical words used in it. It attempts to clarify something that is incomprehensible. That's how the human mind works - we always want to make sense of the unfathomable. But when I read Lewis Carroll or when I look at surrealist art or anything else that appears to be the work of the unconscious, I almost prefer to just enter my unconscious at the same time. And to believe that the people behind the work did the same.

I think that's the principle behind it, anyway. The best thoughts are created by the mind unconcerned with thoughts. The thoughts shared while in this state may not make sense or have much intellectual value, but they represent something inherently personal, however confusing or jumbled.

Maybe one day I will let go of my conscious desire to be in control and share something I write when I am half-asleep. On the other hand, since it doesn't come out as eloquently as "Jabberwocky," I'd worry that the value would be lost on anyone who doesn't understand the concept of literal nonsense.

This is a skill I need to tame until it creates something that is comprehensible regardless of incoherence. At the moment I'm working on it. Because I really admire the skill that I see in these other artists; to create something beautiful without the overuse of their mind at all. As a writer, I always need to be in my right mind. But do I?

That's the question.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Food glorious food

When I'm at a loss for what to write about and nothing interesting has happened to me during the course of the day, it isn't an uncommon occurrence that I might start to feel as if this blog is useless. Why do I go out of my way to write daily entries even when there is nothing worth writing about?

Well yes, this may be a pertinent question at the moment. Since I had a regular day of class and have exhausted all the topics that were afforded to me by my Grand European Adventure in the past few days, I'm simply at a loss. This is the eye of the storm when there is nothing much worth reporting about. I could harp on the past or predict the future, but who wants to read that? My blogs recount the issues of the day, and by that I don't mean the collective social "day," but of the minutia of every day life.

So when my friend Lynn suggested at random that I write a blog about English food (and its merits as well as its faults), I figured that there really was nothing negative about the plan. So here I'll tell you a bit about my interactions with food in London, and how despite popular belief, I've never been wholly dissatisfied.

Every time I go to a new city, I find myself being showered with little tidbits of preparation information. Before arriving at university near Chicago, I was told dozens of times how cold the Midwestern winters were. I packed three flannel shirts, tons of tights and socks, an excessive quantity of sweaters and so on and so forth.

I also invested in a North Face jacket. And I have used it all of one time in my two years in school in Illinois.

So you will understand why I don't put much credence into my grandfather's (or anyone's, for that matter) position on English food which he so anxiously shared with me before I made my plans to go to England for the fall term.

He loved the English countryside. He was stationed here during the war and really got involved with British culture (as best he could at the time). And he just loved the atmosphere. England is a beautiful place.

What wasn't beautiful, according to him, was the food.

But I wasn't going to make the same mistake I did with Chicago. This time around, I'd do a bit of experiencing, of research, before I made assumptions.

So is British food really bad?

Before I recount my experiences with it, I'll admit that I don't have particularly refined taste buds which might skew my perspective on good versus bad food. But the reasoning for any of this is because I'm lacking a topic and perhaps I do really want to find answers.

The first time I ever came to London, I loved the food. Full English breakfasts complete with egg, bacon and beans (I used to eat bacon), Cornish Pasties for lunch, Ethnic takeaway for dinner. There were no downsides. It was like being blessed by the food fairy at every meal.

That was vacation. I was essentially required to find exciting new places to find food. Now that I'm living here, however, the reality has started to settle in.

That being said, the Cornish Pasties and Ethnic Takeaway are not amenities lost on me during my more recent sojourns to London. And the thing about England is that these two items so well-represent what is offered in the way of food here. What stereotypes generally overlook is the growth in variation that allows "traditional" English food to coexist with the food of the country's Imperial conquests and world's neighbors.

I was only 14 or so when I first got to this country. On that trip I tried to come in lacking inhibitions. I would learn that perhaps stereotypes don't align with reality, no matter how many people have warned you with their triteness.

Because in reality, British food is like American food. There are the weird staples that no one really wants to eat at every meal (hamburgers, fries in the US / bangers and mash or the like in the UK). And then, once you've left the pub and found other options, you realize that even if it's not traditional English cuisine, the sheer quantity of options makes up for a lack of regional variation.

I've never found myself starving here for a lack of interesting takeaway. My real problem is that I don't have time to cook for myself. But when I do get to eat out, I rejoice at the options. While here I've tried attempts on Indian, Chinese, Thai, Italian, Mexican and much more. And I like that these options remind me how British food doesn't have to be bland as my grandfather suggested.

 So the conclusion, I suppose, is that any place where various ethnic groups are allowed to co-exist is something worth celebrating and partaking in the sustenance of. I've been all over the place in the past few weekends. So really the question is not whether England can cook. It's what options it offers. And in London, the options are plentiful.

No city is deplete with good eateries. In the wake of commentary about the lackluster characteristics of English cooking, perhaps (other than my brief asides to praise egg and beans, Devonshire cream on scones and Cornish Pasties) I don't have anything sparkling and revolutionary to say. But this isn't a place where food is the limitation. If anything, it's me. I should be eating more, trying more. I am surrounded by so many options, after all. And even if the food here is allegedly "bland," in practice, it really is not.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A little breaktime

I feel so very collegiate at this moment. As I type this, I'm sitting in bed, my legs under the covers. Next to me is a Styrofoam (sorry, Earth) container holding some Japanese instant yakisoba noodles. They taste heavenly. Especially because I've barely had a bite to eat all day. A few Digestive cookies and some Cadbury Buttons. So essentially my diet is made up of chocolate. But now that changes. And my stomach is thankful (however, slightly angry because I am taking moments away from the food to type this blog).

In addition to my terrible - probably disturbing to some - food habits, I have taken on another trait of the infamous college student. I am doing an essay within way too short a time frame before its due. To paint a more vibrant picture, if I don't print it out tonight, then I am risking that the printer doesn't work and I will not get it into the departmental office on time.

How did I become this way?

I'll tell you how...

There's just too much. By that I mean I'm simply too extended. There's too much to do and somehow not enough time. I don't know how it happened, but I became a working lady just in the couple of months I've been in England and it means I don't have time for anything other than sleep, work and maybe a bite of food here or there.

Classes started almost a month and a half ago. On the 1st of October, the thought of homework couldn't have been further from my mind. Just as the situation is back at my home institution near Chicago, the concept of work doesn't usually occur to me until it's actually staring me in the face. But for some reason, being here in London means that it has to be bumping noses and foreheads with me before I start paying attention to it. The deadlines, I mean.

A month into classes and already I had a midterm paper due. How is this possible?, I thought to myself. Surely it hasn't been long enough and surely not enough material has been covered to warrant this quantity of work. A 2,500 word essay can only be the result of at least a few months in a course.

Not in England, I suppose.

In each of my classes, I will have two essays of 2,000 - 2,500 word length due in the next few weeks. I've only done two so far. I am currently at work on the third. That leaves five more. How will I do five more essays in just four weeks?

I don't know. But what I do know is that I'll need more instant noodles.

I'm surprised I haven't started resembling Jack Skellington yet. I can tell that my body has reached an unusual weight, perhaps even an unhealthy one. The fat on my arms and my tummy seems to be nearly gone, my face seems just a little bit more defined at the jaw and cheekbones. It's not that I'm emaciated or anything, but food hasn't been at the forefront of my thoughts these days.

That being said, when I was in Denmark, Germany, Austria and Italy, I ate up a storm. So many pastries, so much pasta, so little time.

But arriving back in the UK I was reminded what it's like to have to cook my own meals. I can't just get up and run to the nearest restaurant for every meal. That would be wasteful when I have a refrigerator, microwave, stove, oven, etc. at my disposal.

On nights like this, when I have been ignoring the need for food all day, I think how I'm glad to be going back to a university where the sustenance has already been prepared for me and all I have to do is put it on a plate. I could've arranged for a similar situation here in England, but I didn't. Perhaps it was because I didn't realize that I would barely have time to take showers in the evening, much less make a lovely full meal for myself.

Some days I have had time to experiment. I've gone to the store especially to buy produce, sat in the kitchen for hours trying to sautée them in just the right amount of sauce. Those nights are great. Those are the ones I wish I could have every day.

But when I'm cooped up in my room, lacking the necessary supplies to cook and the time as well, I just sit back and try to forget how much I love eating and cooking and having the time and energy to do those things.

That's why I'm taking a little break from the action right now. Just for a few minutes, while I eat my instant noodle dinner and postpone writing my paper for just a few hours longer.

It's not that this is a meal that is in need of savouring (though I do admit, it is the best instant noodle find I've ever made - and when I'm in the states I buy packages by the dozens), but it's the pleasure of calmly partaking in food that I need right now. Not to stuff a pastry down my face and move back into the realm of paperwriting, but to actually forget for a second that I'm even doing work. Because right now all that matters is the basic human stuff - the eat, drink, sleep stuff.

In a minute, though, I will return to being a college student in terms of work rather than dietary characteristics. But I've promised myself that once I'm done with my paper, I can have a Magnum ice cream bar as a reward. So don't worry about me. I'll be just fine.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Grand European Adventure in pictures

Personally, I had no idea I'd taken so many photos. Granted, it's been more than a week and a half for me of traveling through Europe and seeing as my experience took me all around Europe, there were bound to be a great quantity of photo moments. But nearly 2,000? I certainly couldn't have called that. And even once widdled down to a manageable number, I have been able to compile a scrapbook of just under 200 photos, looking back at every single image in the process of choosing the most universally attractive photos has allowed me to relive an experience that (despite happening as recently as today) feels miles and ages away from when and where I am now.

After traveling through an extensive maze to navigate to the underground and the overground trains in Roma, all just to make it in time for a flight back to the UK, I am exhausted. And after searching through all my photos from the trip, I'm even more tired.

So here are just a few of my favorite photos that I took while in Europe this past week and a half:

According to Denise, there was a festival for the release of the new annual Christmas beer in København the day I arrived. Couldn't find it, but did see this lovely collection of unopened cans.

The most well-known monument of København is the state of Den Lille Havfrue. She's surrounded by tourists taking photos, including this guy (and me, as it just so happens).

 Still in København, we hang out on the body of water separating the royal residence from the København Opera House. This little dog in the photo was so hyperactive that it followed bikes everywhere and did hand stands.

Onto München. While I was disappointed in the biergartens being closed during the winter season, I found the setup of the unused garten very gorgeous.

Later, I climbed to the top of Peterskirche, which boasts some spectacular views of München. Though I was wiped by the end of the climb, it was worth the slightly aching limbs.

I will refrain from sharing many photos from Dachau, but I think this one is pretty interesting - it contains preserved barbed wire from decades ago that was used to keep inmates within the confines of the camp.

Back into the city center is the Viktualienmarkt with fresh produce and other random artisinal foods (some made by an angry farmer's market man).

Not long after, I was on my way to Wien, where my friend Dom showed me around quite a few places and through back alleys that were just gorgeous.

Wolfgang Amadeus no way underrepresented in Wien.

Following the Mozart craze, however, was my exit from Wien and my entrance into Roma. As you may or may not know, the drivers in Italy move way too quickly and don't look for pedestrians. But their fast moving vehicles make for good photographs.

In trying to get situated with Italian culture, I found myself exploring a market just off the beaten path near the Protestant Cemetery. There were kitschy items, food items, a small bookstore, etc.

And just to cap off this little insight into my time in Europe, this is a photo that I believe wraps up some difficult to convey emotions that were inspired by every stop along my European adventure. There's the warmth of street lamps, the classic looking buildings, etc. The feeling of history.
At this point, I've had to wish Europe a fond farewell. Starting a few hours ago when I left the city of Roma, I've lamented at not being allowed back in (unless I were to buy another plane or train ticket).

Yet returning to the UK was one of the most extraordinary and comforting feelings of my life. And when I really think about it, for the time being these photos are enough. Europe is a great continent to visit, but that doesn't mean we have to cry over it. We should rejoice in its photogenic beauty.

And that we shall.