Rocks & Rhythms

Settling. It’s a weird feeling to sink into that word “home,” but here it is, in London, for a few more months. I haven’t written in a bit just because I felt like nothing has happened, while at the same time a lot has happened.

Last weekend, we visited Salisbury, Avebury and Stonehenge.

Amazing selfie with Tim & Madison in front of the Salisbury Cathedral.

Amazing selfie with Tim & Madison in front of the Salisbury Cathedral.

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Salisbury Cathedral

So, we saw some pretty windows. And the magna carta. It was pretty cool, I guess.

(I mean, it was phenomenal. It’s moments like these that I remember I’m not in the States anymore – there’s a history in the countryside here that we don’t have back in America because we’re a baby country, comparatively. It’s another moment where you just recognize your sheer tininess in the magnitude of the universe.)

And some underwhelming rocks.

Stonehenge. Much less exciting than expected.

Stonehenge. Much less exciting than expected.

Stonehenge was interesting and good to see, but much smaller than expected and one of the worst tourist traps I think I’ve ever visited. There’s more to explore in the gift shop than there is at the actual site.

We also saw some other rocks at Avebury. Apparently (according to Bill), if you run around all the rocks three times you’ll get pregnant, or something like that. But we did find a blessing inside one of the rocks which was pretty awesome as well.

Madison hanging out on some rocks at Avebury.

Madison hanging out on some rocks at Avebury.

During the week, it’s been a lot of classes, a lot of exploring cafes, a lot of wandering around near our flat. I discovered the largest art material store in London, which is just a hop skip and jump away from our flat, and it was heaven.

Atlantis Art Materials (ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:・゚✧

Atlantis Art Materials (ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ*:・゚✧

Over the weekend, we went to a lovely pub in Southwest London to hang out with a bunch of our friends. It was a great night, and we consumed a lot of pitchers and glitterbombs. And maybe talked about placentas.

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Madison and I explored the Hackney One Carnival earlier today, which was a hot mess but a lot of fun. It was similar to a parade, though people were just everywhere, scantily clad and consuming a lot of alcohol.

Hackney One Carnival!

Hackney One Carnival!

We’ve been exploring and meeting new people and enjoying London, and I think we’re ready to start exploring more of Europe (well, I definitely am. But I’m always ready to adventure). Some of us in the flat are planning a trip to Dublin to visit our wonderful friend Kat and see some of the Irish countryside, and we’re headed to Stratford Upon Avon for a weekend with a few of our classes.

Adventure is out there, and there is more exploring to be done.

It may be small, but it is ours

We had a bit of an emotionally draining flat-hunt experience. I think most of us would agree it was pretty much work it because our weekly payment is in the double digits, but it drained most of us all the same.

But we’re settled now, and it’s started to feel a little more homey. As you can imagine, a low weekly payment means a pretty bare-bones flat. We’ve got basically a kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms for the five of us with a cute little enclosed “winter balcony” that we’ve started to use as our hangout space.

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But the other day we had our first sit-down meal as a flat – ravioli and pasta with marinara sauce and garlic bread. It was delicious and made us all feel like real people again, which was wonderful.

Dinnertime in the flat!

Dinnertime in the flat!

On a walk with the director of the London Centre and Honors seminar professor, we hit six different markets in the East End and at Spitalfields, we found a pile of vintage scarves for £1, which meant decorations for our porch (and my bed!). We also popped by the Columbia Street flower market and bought a heather plant as well to spruce up the place, and Bill, the director, gave our flat a bouquet of mini roses which we put in a glass on our dining room table.

We've "confetti"ed our walls, and Madison added this handy schedule so we have an idea of where everyone is.

We’ve “confetti”ed our walls, and Madison added this handy schedule so we have an idea of where everyone is.

We also attempted to explore some other parts of London, and ended up wandering around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and Hampstead Heath park, which, as one of our professors told us, had some swimming ponds. So, we thought we might try it out. But the water was a bit cold (read: freezing) and only Andrew (bless his heart) was brave enough to fully submerge himself in the pond. We also saw a ton of dogs, which made up for the disappointment of the swimming ponds.

Post-Hampstead Heath swim

Post-Hampstead Heath swim

On Monday, we saw the National Theatre’s haunting production of Medea, set in a quaint 60s-style house and accented by disturbing dances from the chorus members. It was, quite potentially, one of my favourite productions of all time. And afterwards, a group of us went and explored a bar on a carousel at Andrew’s suggestion, and it was lovely.

Party at the carousel bar!

Party at the carousel bar!

Madison is very excited about feeding a carousel horse our pitcher of Strongbow.

Madison is very excited about feeding a carousel horse our pitcher of Strongbow.

We’ve started to fall into a rhythm here in London, which always makes me feel better. I’m a free spirit to a certain extent but after a stretch of limbo I’m always happy to be in a place where I know what the next day will bring, at least to a certain extent. We’ve made our schedules and started to branch into our local and not-so-local venues, checking out Craft Cocktails and some lovely local grocery stores in our neighborhood. We visited Stonehenge, Salisbury and Avenbury earlier today so be on the lookout for more adventures!

Chilli chicken ramen soup at our local Japanese Canteen.

Chilli chicken ramen soup at our local Japanese Canteen.

 

Study Abroad Blues

Even as someone who felt fully prepared for it, I was hit like a barrel of concrete falling directly into my gut.

No one talks about the ugly side of study abroad. And it’s a bit brutal, to tell you the truth.
This week has been a weird mixture of excitement and stress, making it a strange and difficult experience.

No one really went into depth about the tension that can happen when you’re trying to move into a new flat with new people in a new country, the pain of money being sucked out of your account for dishes and deposits and food and electricity. The brutal homesickness that happens when nothing seems to be working out and you’re going to go broke and you just want to be with your friends back at school again.

The worst part for me, at least, was that I definitely thought I had it all under control. I was prepared, I wasn’t going to get hit with culture shock or homesickness, I was so ready to get out of the States.
Sometimes it’s easier said than done. Because let me tell you, homesickness hits like a truck, especially when you’re not expecting it.

We started off our week in London with the infamous flat hunt. At our London Centre, we spend the first week looking for a place to live. It’s overwhelming. It’s awful. Thank god the worst is over. My flatmates and I eventually found a ridiculously good deal at a student living accommodation in East London. Definitely not the nicest place nor the shabbiest, so myself and my other artistically-inclined flat mates – with the help of Pinterest – are working to make it more like home.

We’ve had a wonderful time in London otherwise, though. The director of the London Centre took us all to our first football game, a Millwall match where I have never heard so many expletives shouted at a field in my life (and I have relatives with mouths like sailors and children who play American football…). At one point the crowd took up a chant of “you fat c***.” Including children. Different cultures are so interesting.

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Millwall game!

We got to see a performance at the Globe, which my Shakespeare nerd self was overly excited about. As a lover of all things theatre and especially Shakespeare, it was a mind-blowing opportunity. Crossing off things on the bucket list is a really cool experience, let me tell you.

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Panorama of Shakespeare’s Globe.

We also hit up a tank party at the Camden Town Brewery in Northern London the night before we all moved into our flats, which was a wonderful time, even though beer is generally not my drink of choice.

Having a (half) pint at Camden Brewing Company!

Having a (half) pint at Camden Town Brewery!

But after all the dust has started to settle and the clock strikes midnight, my aggressive wanderlust has started to waver.

It’s a strange feeling to want to explore but also to have the tearing at your heart of missing home. Snapchats and Facebook posts from friends from Ithaca made me question why I even wanted to leave in the first place. Tearing up in the communal internet lab was definitely the icing on the cake as I FaceTimed my entire family all at once. Home isn’t here yet, and even if I’m not sure exactly where it is, it’s a place very far away from where I am. And that’s hard to accept. It’s also a difficult wave to ride.
Though I can drink a lot of alcohol, which definitely helps.

Kidding.

(Maybe).

Right now, I’m just meditating and breathing and doing yoga and riding my waves and settling into a rhythm and exploring this experience I got myself into. With classes starting, dishes and food bought, almost all of us in the flat, phones and wi-fi working, I’m starting to be able to sit back a little and try and take deep breaths. It’s still very strange to see pictures of everyone back at Ithaca, and still a weird feeling to be somewhere so new and having to spend a lot of money, but I’m getting to a good place.

And I’m just very grateful I managed to shove Snuffles in my bag so when I need to cry, I have something from home to hold.

Thank God for stuffed animals.

Thank God for stuffed animals.

Och Weesht and Get Oan Wae It

I lost an earring to the streets of Edinburgh.

It escaped from my right ear and left a part of me on the cobblestone.

It was a trip that deserved a part of me left behind. Edinburgh was cold, windy and rainy but still undeniably beautiful, rich, full and thriving.

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We arrived exhausted on the first day, struggling to make it to a 9pm bedtime. After fish & chips, a salad, and our first drinks in Scotland (as my first legal drink was actually on the airplane over…) we promptly and deeply fell asleep. But the next day was packed with city exploration – a bus tour, an ever-expanding knowledge of the city’s layout (with the help of a few hard-copy maps), strolls along the Grassmarket and Royal Mile, snacks and tea in the Elephant House Cafe where the first Harry Potter book began (and our first official dabbling in the “caffè culture” of Edinburgh), as well as a very confusing – though visually stunning – postmodern show at the International Festival.

But the thing about cities is there’s always more to explore, and always the touristy needs. So of course we saw the Castle and explored Camera Obscura (a world of illusions, and quite potentially my favourite part of the trip), and the Edinburgh Dungeon. In the evening, we went out to a lovely pub called the Tron and discovered new favourite drinks – for one of my closest friends, a “glitterbomb” or Smirnoff Gold with Monster or a similar energy drink, and for myself, our own creation suggested by a knowledgable bartender – “the Golden Muse” or honey whiskey mixed with lemonade.

Group photo in front of the Edinburgh Castle.

Group photo in front of the Edinburgh Castle.

Kaleidoscope at Camera Obscura in Edinburgh.

Kaleidoscope at Camera Obscura in Edinburgh.

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Glitterbomb(ed) princesses.

Sorry, dad.

Our final day in Scotland consisted of a trek up Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano on the outskirts of downtown Edinburgh (which was not quite as leisurely a hike as our fearless group leader described nor my Converse-clad self was expecting), concluded by a picnic on the windy peak and a stop for fudge and a chat with a few rather attractive young Scotsmen who were working at said shop. In the evening we saw a hilarious production called “Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare” which was undeniably one of the funniest performances I have ever seen, and completely made up for the strange visual spectacle we had witnessed earlier in the week.

We climbed to the top of this!

We climbed to the top of this!

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View from the top of Arthur’s Seat.

Our "sh*t-faced" cast member of "Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare"

Our “sh*t-faced” cast member of “Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare”

I left a part of me in Edinburgh, physically and metaphorically speaking.

I hope the cobblestones take good care of my earring. I’ll be back, someday.

Edinburgh group in front of the Fringe Festival box office.

Edinburgh group in front of the Fringe Festival box office.

 

First Impressions

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I expected something. Maybe not the gut-wrenching panic of being in such an unfamiliar place, but some twinge of recognition from my body and mind that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

As the coach pulled away from Heathrow airport and I watched as we sped down the expressway towards the London Center, I started to wonder if I had made a grave mistake. Reminders of my mother’s words, “you always have buyer’s remorse, no matter the choice you make,” floated through my mind. A snapchat I had received from a friend emblazoned with the words – “you’ll love it. It’s just like an American city” haunted my memory.

I didn’t feel any different as we took the highway towards London’s Zone 1 and my new city. Nothing. I watched people driving on the opposite side of the road, and it didn’t faze me. I didn’t even feel jetlagged. My friends around me, groggy and blurry-eyed struggled to stay awake on our trip to the center while I tried to decide if this place was too close to home. I memorized a path my friends and I took to an ATM and the streets reminded me of the energy of my own city. Even the convenience store advertising “share a Coke with your mates” amused me but still seemed more like an anomaly than the reality of where I would be living. The tube was just like any other subway I had taken. And I was flipping out. Had I journeyed to Europe and was planning on spending my hard earned money on a place that felt exactly like home?

Hanging out in an Edinburgh restaurant on the first day.

Hanging out in an Edinburgh restaurant on the first day.

It wasn’t even the unfamiliar sandwiches and crisps and sodas that finally made me settle down about whether or not this was a different enough place. It was the brutally long 3-minute struggle of checking out my £3.99 meal deal from a store in the middle of King’s Cross station. It was the confusion of why I had to buy a bag for 2 pence and how to deal with a chip-and-pin card while the cashier unabashedly judged me, checking my signature against my debit card. It was as simple as that to make me realize that I wasn’t home anymore. And I wasn’t going to be for a while.

I’d been reminding myself all morning that this was why I chose London (besides financial reasons). This was my adjustment to the world. This was my ease into culture shock. I had practically panicked myself into a tizzy when something as simple as going to college happened, and lord knows I didn’t want to be so strung out on excitement and adrenaline in a city that was so unfamiliar it was hard to adjust to. I was trying to dive headfirst into a culture that was not mine and it wasn’t working because I was not only trying too hard but also expecting too much. I keep having to remind myself that this is my first time abroad and I think I’m still fairly numb to the entire concept of being somewhere else in the world. It’s just another place to me, strangely enough. But I think my comfort level with being in London means I know I’m ready to adventure.

The Pros of Numbness

As I approach my flight to the UK, I’ve been thinking a lot about how my desire to see the world, like I wrote in my last post, consistently conflicts with my anxiety issues. My study abroad adventures are just around the corner, and that means my excitement is through the roof. But this is kind of a bittersweet situation for me, because travelling comes with a lot of emotions, and emotions mean anxiety.

Now, you may be saying to yourself that yeah, emotions – but they’re good, right? Travelling is exciting! You’re young, you can handle staying in hostels and living on nothing and it’s an enjoyable emotion, right?

Exactly.

This is one of the hardest parts of anxiety that I have to explain to people. When I was younger – think pre-teen angsty phase – I would often tell people, or write about, how I was convinced that feeling nothing would be better than feeling what I felt.

People would always kind of smile at me, shake their head, “you don’t really mean that, honey.”

But here’s the thing – it’s been 7 or 8 years now, and I still stand by that statement.

Now, calm down, I don’t truly want to go and feel nothing all of a sudden. And I think it’s interesting that this is a big complaint people have with antidepressants – is that they mute all your emotions, not just the bad ones.

And I think that is miraculous.

Because here’s the thing – anxiety doesn’t just affect some parts of your life or your thoughts or your feelings. Anxiety claws into the deepest, darkest crevices and the easiest ones to reach. It’s not just that the bad emotions are magnified – all emotions are magnified. It’s like trying to breathe in a room slowly draining of oxygen. It takes hold of everything, and it’s undeniably overwhelming.

Here’s the easiest way I’ve found to describe any feeling I may have. As soon as you start to feel something – whether it be panic or fear or sadness or happiness or excitement, it starts to encapsulate all your thoughts, reminders popping up around every corner – be it something stupid you said or did, or the fact that there’s something awesome coming up that’s right there, you can almost touch it, but it’s not there yet. It’s like drowning in a pool of your own emotion, gasping for breath as thoughts bubble into every corner of your mind. It’s frustrating to try and concentrate on anything else when all of your energy is tied up with this one emotion, whipping through “what if”s and “but”s or “then”s.

It’s exhausting.

Meditation has definitely helped with this. I’ve started to recognize that sometimes, you have to let yourself drown – even as my internal lifeguard is screaming for me to jump in and yank myself out again. You have to learn to float, submerge into the pool of feelings. Because no matter what you do, it will be overwhelming. Your heart will race, your thoughts will clatter, your world will fade. Because it happens. That’s what anxiety does. And it won’t go away – but it will get worse, the harder you push.

So I’ve had to just let my thoughts run a little wild when I think about travelling. Let my panic seep into my bones. And just be at peace with that.

But does that mean these emotions are enjoyable? Almost all of the time, no. Emotion, for me, gets to the point where it’s pretty much too intense to function. There’s just too many of them. They press in everywhere, and when you feel the panic of unmanageable emotion in your throat, trying to convince yourself to let it happen is the epitome of non-instinctual.

And I’ve tried to push them away for a really, really long time. I eventually figure out how to pound them into manageable sizes for me to process, but believe me, that takes weeks, months, and years.

I’m not at a point yet where I could honestly say I’d rather feel everything than nothing. I think I’ll probably get there eventually, but when the intensity of your emotions overwhelms your will or ability to function, it doesn’t seem that bad. It’s definitely a learning process – because I’m ready to get to the point where I can actually feel things without fear of passing out or having a panic attack or not being able to concentrate. But we’re getting there, and for now, I’m learning to drown in my excitement for London.

On that 9-to-5 grind

It’s my last day here at the National Air and Space Museum. How did that even happen? This summer has been probably one of the best I’ve had so far. I’ve spent 10 weeks in a great city, finally had a job where I got to work in air conditioning and do stuff that might actually be helpful for my career, met a bunch of amazing people, read a lot of books, did some yoga, played a lot of League, and really started to get my emotions together.

Oh, and I’m going to London in a week.

What?

This is my very first international trip. This shocks a lot of people when I tell them that. In the age of jet aviation, it would seem as if it was really easy to do a hop skip and a jump over to South Africa or Asia or oh my god you haven’t even been to England??

Yeah. Growing up in a single income family in Chicagoland, that money doesn’t go very far. Not to say that I never had great trips growing up. I’ve seen most of the East Coast, skiied in Vermont, been to multiple National Parks, State Fairs and seen my fair amount of cities. But I didn’t even remember flying on a plane before I had to fly to my grandfather’s funeral in 2012.

Despite all this, I’ve known I wanted to travel for a very long time. I love telling people that I have kind of an “aggressive wanderlust.” I can’t sit still for very long, and probably as a result of that, I don’t really want to stay in the same city for the rest of my life either. It’s a kinesthetic-tactile trait that has always plagued me; watching videos of myself as a child is almost painful because I won’t. stop. moving. As I’ve grown, the phsyicality of my need for movement has exploded onto a larger scale, and into this idea of aggressive wanderlust. There’s so much world out there, and it really baffles me that there are some people who would be perfectly content working the 9 to 5 grind every day, living in the same place for their entire adult lives.

This is something very important that working in an office all summer has validated for me. And something all the adults will laugh at, and I’m going to probably read back on this and think I was such a naive 20-year-old, but for me to really be productive, I can’t be stuck in the monotonous routine of everyday. I can’t wake up at the same time every morning. It frustrates and angers me; it’s as if I’m stuck on a hamster wheel that keeps going but never goes anywhere.

But everyone does it, you say, you’ll have to wake up and face the real world eventually.

Okay, probably. But there’s just something about knowing you’ll have to do the same thing every single day. Of sitting behind a computer for 10 hours and longing, wishing to go home. So many people say they can’t really have an office job when they’re younger, so what happens? Where do our dreams disappear to?

To be honest, I don’t like the separation of home life and work life, and this is one thing I’ve not only learned about myself but learned to incorporate into my daily life. I love when work and home and passion and productivity and inspiration and task lists bleed together. It’s most likely because of my eternal dream to be a novelist, where “work” means sitting down wherever you are and cranking out some words. That excites me. Not knowing what will inspire you or will require a reaction is an adventure.

For me, travelling and working have to combine; maybe not “travelling” in the strict sense of the word, but adventuring. Travelling can mean a trip across the world or down the street to a new gelato place. I’m not sure how yet; I know what I’d love, but not what realistically will happen to me in the future.

For now, I’ve got a week to go before I take my first international flight, and I’m so ready.