Ironically enough, I'm not able to watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine here in the States, but in London I was able to devour it via Netflix, and I watched it a lot between running around London, working at my museum, and writing my dissertation. Two things were constant in my Clapham flat: me making steaming bowls of instant ramen to get full, and plowing through B99 while I ate. The gif to your right is a funny quote, but it's also one I identify with right now.
A lot of things are up in the air for me. Not in a horrible way; more of a mildly uncomfortable way, like a sweater that's too itchy but you're in public and have a full schedule so you can't go home and change until the end of the day. I almost considered trashing this website completely because I'm so crisscrossed with everything going on. I don't plan on publishing any more books in the next year (though five more are contracted), unless I find a pocket of free time to deal with that. And on Friday, I'll have been in the United States for a month. It's confusing, because that's not a very long time, but it also is a very long time. I haven't been in London for a month. I didn't exactly have culture shock when I got back, but it's been weird not writing time in the 24-hour format, and it sucks that I have to Facebook video call my friends instead of just meeting up in a cafe somewhere. I also have to deal with 5-hr and 12/13-hr time differences when planning these, which is not ideal. I miss the foods I used to eat (though I did order kimchi from Oregon and that was a blessing) and being able to visit museums. I really miss museums; I didn't realise how often I went until I left. I miss walking everywhere, and the camaraderie and infuriating business of the Tube. It's begun to snow here. I miss the Christmas lights on Oxford street, and my museum in King's Cross, and espresso coffee. That was a genuine betrayal of my core beliefs--I hated espresso until it was the only thing available in London. Now filter coffee often tastes too watery.
I do not miss sleeping in a frozen flat where the radiator doesn't work, air-drying my clothes outside because hardly anyone has a dryer, or paying £34 a week in transport once my student discounts expired. I really like my cushy queen-sized bed that everyone comes and sits on, lying down on the couch (god I missed couches in London), and my bookcase, and my car, and having tons of food in the kitchen. When I first got home, I was starving all the time and didn't know why. My sister said it was because I had food readily available for the first time in a year, and I think she had a point. In London I would only buy enough food to survive on, and here there's a full cupboard and fridge.
Some funny things have happened. I get yelled at when I say, 'bin' instead of 'trash can', I ordered pub chips at a restaurant and got really bewildered when they gave me handmade potato chips instead of thickly-cut potato wedges, and one time we went out to eat and I was focused so hard on not saying 'takeaway' that it came out 'Can I please get it, like...to go?' and I sounded like a complete idiot.
I've applied to museums and art companies in New York City, New Jersey (Princeton), Massachusetts, London, Edinburgh, Singapore, and Hong Kong. In the process I've learned that the world has many, many art museums I've never been to, and that deeply excites me. I've also picked up freelance work as a website designer and social media manager for a local coffee business, something that was a complete fluke but I'm very happy to have. It keeps my mind and hands busy, and I come home smelling like coffee, which is nice. I also will be doing some freelance work for a bookstore I worked at two summers ago: this is something that will look really good on my CV while I wait to hear back from museums (which hopefully will be soon. So far it's only been three or so rejections and then complete radio silence, and I've applied to lots of places). I have my heart set on four or five of them, and we'll see if any bat an eye in my direction.
That's all for now, and I'll definitely post something again when the dust settles and I can definitively say what'll happen next.
P.S. - below is something I wrote to express myself after coming back from London, maybe two weeks after I'd been back. If you care to read it, you can click 'Read More' below.
I am fully aware this is coming four months after my last post, when I'd originally said I'd try to write every two weeks. Grad school can be like that sometimes. I promise there's been great tales of adventure and loss, raucous nights of drinking, cafe philosophizing, museum openings, crying in exhibitions, sleep deprivation, high anxiety, days I lived on coffee and ramen and wondered why my face was bloated, trips to disappointing cliffs and beautiful, gentle lavender fields and more. I performed all of my case study research. My family came to visit for a golden week of shenanigans and I cried harder than I have in months when they left. So much has gone down. But right there's 100% cloud cover outside, I'm recovering from a nasty burn on my leg (from spilling boiling tea on my thigh at a friend's going-away party), I just applied for a job at Princeton after fuming over US jobs in general, and I have a second to write something down.
To be honest, I'm tired. Down in my bones, to the edges of my soul. I'm grinding through dissertation, applying for jobs (!), work part-time, have to move to a townhouse south of the River in less than two weeks because uni accommodation is kicking us out, still helping out at my museum, and today instead of receiving the small canvas backpack I'd ordered to use for travel and work, the company sent me a glittery purse in the shape of a panda head. I'm not making this up.
I also realised something kind of worrying. I'm still very American...but not quite. I've adapted something of the other, enough that I felt like an outsider listing my qualifications on the American version of my resume. That's another thing. I have different versions of resume/CV depending on which country I'm applying to.
I've been writing for a British audience for months. Even though auto-correct still reverts it to American English on my social media and messages to family, I've been collecting extra u's and s's instead of z's for months now. I write programme, not program. If I see a date written the American way, I do a double-take. While my voice and turns of phrase (last night I said, 'Oh snap, did he bounce?' about a customer who left everything at the till without paying and my Italian and British coworkers lost their damn minds) are still distinctly, colloquially American, I was writing a supporting statement for an American job today and had to root out all the British spellings and nuances. And there were a lot.
The other week, my mom had asked what I would do if I moved to smaller place or a city in the US because of all the foods I eat, a ton of which is international and would probably frighten some of my relatives (like tempura-battered seaweed and fried squid tentacles...even zucchini freaked one of my sisters out). I still can't believe how cheap fruits and vegetables are here, and friends were aghast when I admitted I don't live in a place where mangoes grow locally. I've become a coffee and bubble tea snob. Because of my part-time job (and my flat), I know enough to be picky about vodkas, beers, and soju. The fridge in our flat is almost always brimming with Ossau-Iraty cheese and kimchi, so much so we really should just make both of them ourselves by the barrel. A few nights ago I tried to figure out where on earth you could even find kimchi remotely near my hometown. I still haven't figured that one out. Might have to make it myself.
I'm currently applying to jobs within the UK and the US, so hopefully I won't have to figure out the answer to that too soon. I won't say where because it'll jinx it, but there's a place up north I'm very much hoping to get into. I've been applying to places in between everything else and praying something sticks.
Next month, my programme comes to a close and I can't even begin to fathom how it passed so quickly, or how I can walk at night through this place with the stone beneath my feet and the light of cabs and buses so familiar I could move through the area with my eyes closed. I am nowhere near the person I was when I signed in here in September. And I don't know where I'm going next. I'm happy to close the book on academia and actually begin my career--on the other hand, it is sad to think that I'm done. I've made my academic decisions and now have to utilise them to the best of my ability.
Because it will be sad when this ends. I am horrified for the day when we turn in our dissertations and everyone scatters like dandelion fluff--some because they never wanted to stay in the first place, those returning to boyfriends and girlfriends, those who have to get right back to jobs. Sadly, most of those are far away across oceans and continents, not very close to London or my home at all. One night maybe a month ago, my flatmate described those of us attempting to get sponsored for work in the UK as crawling around on the ground, clawing at the earth to stay put. She had a fair point. We'll see what happens.
Quite a bit has happened since I last wrote in March. I turned 23, for one thing, my first birthday in another country. I've started work on my dissertation and passed the six-month mark of my program, something that makes me and every fellow student I know make wide, slightly frightened eyes at one another whenever it's mentioned. I feel as though I've lived in London for a total of eight minutes, not since late September.
On April 11, I also attended my first concert in years. I don't usually spend money on concerts; I have to really like someone before I lay down all that cash. Moreover, it was a Harry Styles concert. I literally haven't thought of that guy in years, but accidentally saw footage of his latest tour on social media. Now, I used to want to date this man. I had a poster of him; I thought he was so cool. All of the sudden he was playing his solo concert at the O2 in a week, and tickets in the nosebleeds were affordable, so I thought--why not? A friend and I had to wait almost three hours since the doors opened before he came out, but he was charming and doofy and his new music is that kind of coffee shop acoustic that really resonates, and all these memories from teenage me came flooding back and I forgot how much I admired him. Plus, running for the Tube with literally thousands of other people was some sort of movie experience I'll not soon forget.
I also just came back from Barcelona(!). I'd never been to Spain, and two nights before the concert my flatmate proposed a five-day trip, with hostel and round-trip flight for a song. I'd just dropped money on the concert and wasn't sure, but it was so cheap we all agreed. This past Tuesday we took the Tube to Blackfriars, a train to Gatwick (airports are way more fun when you're not travelling all by your lonesome), flew to El Prat in Barcelona, then took an Aerobus to one of the main plazas in the city and hauled our bursting backpacks (biiiiiig mistake) all the way to our hostel on the Cerrer del Freser, extremely close to the Sagrada Familia.
The hostel had our own room with bunks and shared bathrooms, living room, and balcony(!), and for the next five days we worked our way with what Spanish we knew and stared at things written in Catalan. I turned scarlet at the beach where people sold alcohol and beach blankets, got dress coded by a cathedral (I'd heard of that getting done in Italy, but not Spain. No bare shoulders!), and walked until my hips and bottoms of my feet ached and turned numb. We were constantly dehydrated and starving, and drank lots of espresso. The first night we ate paella, but the following nights we ate lomo salteado (Peruvian), japchae (Korean), and pabellón criollo (Venezuelan). We raided a local supermercat and a fruit stand almost every night for strawberries, cakes, sangria and Estrella Damm. All the pasta, churros, starches and meat were really heavy; my one flatmate joked back on the Tube on our way back that he was going on a juice cleanse. The food made me really sick the last night (sitting on the tiled floor by the toilet at 2AM was a solid hint that it was time to go), but that's on me, not Spain.
We saw Gaudi's Casa Batlló, smelled the orange blossoms as we wandered the Hospital de Sant Pau, and explored Park Güell just after the sun rose. We ate coconut macaroons and discussed metaphysics and ghost stories past midnight. Barcelona was warm and vibrant and people were extremely kind when as we haltingly flexed whatever Spanish education we had, which was about none for two of the four of us.
Last night we got back, after taking a bus to an aerobus to a plane to a train to the Tube and then walking into our flat to realize our fridge was so over-iced that we had to thaw it out or risk a fire hazard. For the next hour we scooped out the snow with heated spoons, smacking at it with knives and a spatula until we got all of it out. Our fridge looks brand new and we have so much space now, but that was definitely not what we imagined we'd do once we returned. London also grew significantly warmer since we left, and trees are blooming everywhere. I need to find a summer wardrobe ASAP, and plan to exchange my leftover euros back into pounds so I can buy some shorts that are work appropriate.
I also agreed to join a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, something I'd never considered doing before and probably never would've done when I was younger. I've started reading the manual and it's way more complex than Stranger Things made it seem, but I'm up to the task! It's also like a cool thing to do now? I dunno, but I'm already planning my character's shifty backstory.
So, in short, London is hot, I had a blast in Barcelona and have never been so bilingual in my life, a lot of the time people assumed I was Spanish until I'd spoke for about twenty seconds, I taught my friend the 'squad' pose and she liked it so much we took a lot of photos like that at historic sites, I missed non-espresso-based coffee like it was a great love of my life, and I have a very soft spot for Harry Styles again.
I do know. I am very healthily aware that this year in London is something undeniably precious. I count my seconds in pounds, in dollars, in daylight, in opportunities, in the distance from home and the distance to places I might yet go. I am lucky for so much, even though I know hard work has a hand in it, too.
Today is the first day my brain has been quiet in weeks. At a crosswalk on Denmark Street earlier today, I was judging whether I could run across the asphalt or wait for the little green man, and realized with a start that that was the entirely of my thought processes. I wasn't nervously planning my next course of action or thinking six steps ahead. My breathing was normal, relaxed even. It was sunny enough to wear my new sunglasses (the first I've bought for myself in about a decade or more), and I could feel the sun warming my skin. I felt light.
So I know I'm lucky. I'm lucky that I had a small break today from projects that have been pulling me in a hundred different directions; I called off work placement because I was so worried something would happen while I was locked away in the office (an amazing office filled with kind people and so much art). In recompense, I promised to investigate visitor feedback at a museum in London for them, and a friend had recommended an exhibition at the Hayward Gallery south of the Thames.
For about eight hours yesterday I transcribed a lecture by Gerald Scarfe, who's the brilliant mind behind the unique style for Disney's Hercules, but my ears ached from wearing headphones for so long and I actually pretended I was an operator during the Blitz trying to decode enemy broadcasts to amuse myself. My neck hurt and I actually lunged out of bed this morning with a charlie-horse (this means a leg cramp, for my non-American/Canadian friends!) because I'd remained so pin straight while taking down the lecture word for word. So this morning I worked out, even though it felt like maybe I was going to die. I did an eye shadow tutorial, and stretched, and styled my hair and put on an outfit that sort of makes me look like an 1800s school teacher on top, urban neon city kid on bottom. In London you're allowed to do things like that.
I don't usually like modern art, but today I gave it a try. London ended up being in the mid-fifties and so, so sunny--especially so because we have a winter storm warning for the remaining weekend. I saw some really thought-provoking stuff by Andreas Gurksey; and walked across the Thames all the way to Denmark Street, buying a bottle of soju (Korean liquor I've wanted to try) for my flatmate's birthday in Chinatown, visiting the five-stories-high Foyles bookstore and promising myself I'll buy The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage graphic novel from somewhere cheaper, and finding baggy 80s windbreakers in a thrift store and inwardly perishing because they were too expensive for me to buy at the moment. But man, they were so choice. I think the guy at the till saw my hope implode.
Pretty much between crossing the Thames and popping out of Charing Cross near Shaftsbury (which leads into Leicester Square, where you can squirm your way into Chinatown), I only had a vague idea where I was. I took a white tunnel which surely would've looked menacing at nighttime and whistled so the echoes followed me. In the bookstore, this guy and I accidentally followed each other from the same shelf of travel guides to the graphic novels. I purposely walked down a street of really good restaurants know full well it's Lent and I can't eat meat.
It's still sunny outside. I get to celebrate a birthday later tonight with chocolate cake I made, drinks, and friends, and I'm so calm it's like the eye of a storm. Tomorrow brings formatting sessions for an accursed project on fifty-three bones with basically no provenance, and I'll have to go back to being a groggy, stress-shaking grad student again, but I'm so thankful and lucky for today. I'm lucky. I know. X
My last post was in December, and in three days it'll be March. As I was very gung-ho for writing down my adventures every two weeks, I apologize for the extended absence. A lot of things have been happening. I was even supposed to do an author piece this past weekend, which I didn't even remember until a few minutes ago, after I'd spent the morning emailing medical archives, plotting group projects that seem nigh near impossible to actually do, and climbing twisting stairs in search of a freezing cold attic of a piano practice room.
Allow me to fill you in on what's gotten on since December. I got to go home for two weeks, which was brilliant and mainly consisted of me watching television on the couch, singing and dancing in the kitchen, and playing in the snow.
In January, I got to see light installations all over London for the Lumiere Festival and had tequila for the first time. It was really good.
February has lasted approximately 2.85 seconds but comprises 285,000 events and tasks. I'm currently working on a group project where we have fifty-three human bones with a cataloging system that no one can identify. It probably predates the Blitz so whatever new numbering system we'd need has most likely been destroyed. I've poured over handwritten medical records from the 1800s and even found a case of a little girl being born with the same benign tumor I was (spoiler: the doctors almost killed her with too much chloroform but she was strong and survived the procedure of removing her tailbone!).
This month I also started my work placement at the House of Illustration in King's Cross (see photo to your right and up). The museum is only four years old and hosts exhibitions on illustrators from all over the world--so far I've worked on devising a new way for them to get visitor feedback, am planning a travelling exhibition on Quentin Blake book covers, and even helped a tiny tiny bit with their newest exhibition that just opening last week, Made in North Korea: Everyday Graphics from the DPRK. It displays hand-painted propaganda posters that encourage a helpful and happy workforce, along with militaristic comic books, language pamphlets, tourist maps, stamps, post cards; everything right down to salt and sugar packets from Pyongyang. Put simply, it's something very humanizing and beautiful that would never be allowed to be put on in my home country, and I'm eternally grateful that it's something I not only get to visit, but something I could help set up.
I work there all day twice a week, and though it's tiring there's always something exciting going on. Besides work placement, my flatmates and I celebrated Pancake Day (aka Shrove Tuesday) by bopping down to Soho and eating in a matchbox-sized diner that blared 80's music; I woke up at 6AM to attend Ash Wednesday service at Saint Paul's and nearly cried at the grandeur, then I went to Brighton with my flat and spent hours squinting at the sun while wearing nothing but a tee-shirt and jeans in order to soak up as many vitamins as I could. I also got to experience my first Chinese New Year festivities. This included watching a lion dance that was apparently not up to Hong Kong standards (my flatmate's opinion!) but heavily dazzled me nonetheless, laughing at street graffiti and eating bento and fried squid until we almost threw up at Eat Tokyo and not Chinese food because Chinatown was far too bursting. I also hosted an Olympics opening ceremony party where we all cheered for each other's home country, which was incredibly fun. On top of this, I was told two days ago that my Spanish sounds like I'm from Spain and not Latin America, which was what I was taught, and I don't understand how this could be.
My university is also currently on strike this week, so I had to talk my way into getting into the Institute of Archaeology just to use the printer. At the end of this term I'll be able to get a part-time (or partly part-time??) job so I won't be just sucking money out of my savings account. I also need a hair cut, which means I need to decide whether I want to grow my hair out or buzz it back to an undercut.
I'm very very tired, but I'm also having a lot of fun.
PS- as for author stuff, I have a novel coming out this year (hopefully) in the fall, about mouse spirits and college students!
The title for today is from when I ran into my friend outside of a Costa on Camden Road about an hour ago. It's Saturday, so logically we should be sleeping in or doing anything but something related to Museum Studies, but she was on her way to the V&A and I'd just gone to Tate Britain to see an Impressionist exhibit.
At least we know we're on the right career path.
I haven't done one of these in a few weeks; I did an author Round Robin because it's Christmastime and both Nicholas and The Christmas Lights center around the holiday (that's the only plug I'm going to give, but it's in my contract to do so). In short, these weeks before term one ends have been filled with a lot of me getting bruised at Kung fu, me not getting enough sleep, and writing lots of papers. It's also been filled with laughter-induced tears, dancing/singing/performing for the buses outside the picture window in my flat's kitchen with my flatmates on Thanksgiving after we drank vodka and umeshu, and acclimating to the sudden and very bone-invading cold that is a London winter.
Today, I took a break from all that. I rolled out of bed at eight, dressed in my new faux fur-sleeved sweater that looks like I should be buying art instead of looking at it, and hopped off a bus near the Millennium Pier shortly after 10:00 when Tate Britain opens. Apparently I entered by a side entrance, because at first I was largely surprised at how small the Tate looked. The columned facade (see gallery bellow) was festooned with Christmas lights, and my fingers played with my purse as I tried not to sprint up the steps.
I've never paid for an exhibit before; that's for rich old people. Or people with a stable job, at least. And, after showing the guy at the desk my student ID and Art Fund card to get a discount and then half the fee off, I saw that my preconceived notion mostly fit when I entered through the doors of Impressionists in London: French Artists in Exile 1870-1904. For a little while, at least--within fifteen minutes the rooms filled with a lot more people my age. We were not allowed to take photos, something I immediately riled against. The room still smelled like new paint; people who had at least three decades on me filing past works by Tissot, Monet, Pissaro, Sisley, etc. Some older men stepped aside or gestured me forward when I neared the wall; I couldn't tell if this was because I was significantly younger and they were happy I was interested in art, because I was dressed quite fancy, or simply because they were being polite (I'd like to think it was because I was dressed sharply and they thought I was some member of the art elite, but probably not).
The Impressionists in London exhibit is huge, to put it mildly, and I did not pace myself. I thought it was going to be one big room: it comprised eight exhibits. Below are two of my favorite pieces; from Wikipedia Commons and ArtUK, respectively. The first is titled A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew's Day Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge by John Everett Millais (not to be confused with Jean Francois Millet. Very similar sounding name, totally different guy.) Also a long title, but I'd written a paper on the Pre-Raphaelites and on Millais specifically around sophomore year of college, which constituted of me staring at his painting and going, "How do you do that with a brush and some paint?" It's really something beautiful and hyper-realistic and terribly romantic, and I'd forgotten all about it until I spotted it out of the corner of my eye and had to force myself not to stomp or jump up and down. I think I did whisper, "Oh my God" or "Holy crap" or something similar.
The second, and actually right beside A Huguenot in the gallery was Les Adieus: The Farewells by James Tissot. Tissot wasn't very well known to me but I definitely remembered this painting, because it too is detailed. I also just really love the expression on the guy's face. It's very lovely and soft. I definitely recommend looking them up to see them in full detail, because wow.
I finally did exit the exhibit (after wondering if it did truly end or if I had to set up camp and live next to Monet's studies of the Thames for forever and eternity), and a guide led me to the Pre-Raphaelite section of the museum. (The PR Brotherhood was composed of English painters who focused on intense detail and color, and drew heavily on Italian and religious art.) The Tate runs on a sort of timeline where the dates are gilded on the floor, but I was very overwhelmed and sort of confused. So the guide led me there and told me the story of how the Tate used to be a prison but they wanted everybody out, so they handed each prisoner £5 and sent them on a ship to Australia, and that's how the country was populated with Europeans. He got really amused by my facial expressions.
He showed me to the 1840s room (I think that was the date) where the gallery was set up like an old salon (paintings all over the walls, almost covering the entire surface). I found countless paintings I'd learned about and had not planned to see, so it was very overwhelming. I also don't think I blink very much while in art museums (an attractive trait, I'm sure) so my contacts got really dry and gave me a headache. There was a lot more to see, but I gasped all around the room and then took my exit, waiting outside and watching the Thames before my bus came. My return to Camden took me through Trafalgar Square and along Tottenham Court Road, which are always exiting to look at. I bought coffee that tasted like gingerbread, met my friend, and here I am. I'm going to rest today and get back to academia tomorrow, but know that I am very, very happy. It's been a very good day.
Wow! An author-centric post! Grad school in a foreign country (even though it's London, I'm definitely a foreigner who's confused by the metric system, the use of Celsius and 24-hr time, and slang, to name a few things) has been pretty demanding of my time, but it's the tail end of reading week right now and I have time for a Round Robin, a blog post where authors (some from my publisher, some not) all answer the same question.
What stories have you written or read where a holiday takes place. To what purpose was the inclusion of the holiday?
Very, very strangely, the first works I've had published are all holiday-centric. I've written about art forgers in Geneva, and the niece of Medusa running around with a winged boy across Italy, but those are still queued for publishing.
My two novellas published both center around Christmas because, frankly, I wrote them for my mom's Christmas gift. It sort of made sense at the time. In the first, The Christmas Lights, a nearly-blind jeweler's apprentice has nine months to come up with a suitable amount of wealth or his engagement to the girl he loves is kaput. The nine months happens to fall on Christmas Day. However, his fiancee Emmeline doesn't just chill waiting for him to come back, and schemes up a way to make sure he makes it back in time. Hence the title.
In my second novella, published this last February (and so this'll be the first Christmas it's available!), Nicholas is a young man who's basically royalty of the underground society of London around the eighteenth century. However, he climbs to the roof of Westminster Palace every night not to steal valuables, but the stories that the Crown Princess tells aloud in a tower room. One night he overhears something he shouldn't and finds himself trapped in the palace until the coronation is over. Since the coronation is of a woman, and this is hundreds of years ago, it's unclear whether the princess will even live to see her throne.
This story originally started out with explaining why Saint Nicholas wears red and climbs down the chimney, and while it still has those elements (or plays with them, at least), it mostly focuses on intrigue and sneaking around hidden passageways in a murderous game of hide-and-seek. Drina (the princess, full name Alexandrina) holds her coronation on the 25th of December, so she and Nicholas simply need to survive until that time and she can be crowned.
I'm very big into Christmas, and that's why these were fairly easy to write. However, I've also written short stories as Christmas presents that were about some of my favorite side characters discovering a secret hidey hole of Hephaestus's on Mount Olympus and then accidentally awakening the Minotaur, or the same novel cast attending Carnivale in Venice, but as the first book of the trilogy hasn't been published yet, I haven't shared these with the public. :)
Wonder about other authors and their holiday writings?
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/2017/11/18/holidays
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com
Two Weeks in Which I Break Out Like a Middle-Schooler, Have My Debit Cancelled Multiple Times, Run Around a Victorian Greenhouse, and Aspire to be a Shaolin High-Hand
My life, right now, is pretty freaking cool.
I don't mean this in a brag-y fashion. It's also really stressful; for whatever reason my debit card got canceled at least three times in the last couple weeks, which induced pure horror because I wasn't sure whether I'd have enough cash to buy food. Not fun. I had to use my super-retro Posh flip-phone to call my credit union each time and say, hello, yes it's me, please don't cancel my card just because I tried to buy a £2 sandwich. Thankfully, that seems to be at an end. Also, my sink (which, upon my first days here my friend told me it'd been jammed for nigh two years), fully clogged and it took until today for someone to come fix it. Which is alright, I understand people are busy, but once the puddle in your room starts to literally fester, it grates on your psyche a bit.
For lack of ProActive or my constant confusion on my current location and if I need to buy food or top up my Oyster Card, etc., I've been breaking out like I'm fifteen again and don't know that drinking water is crucial to survival. A lot of girls tend to not wear makeup here (or if they do, it's so well done that it looks like nothing), and there's such a lack of sun that my cover-up in the lightest shade you can buy looks like a fake tan on my face. So I've been making sure to chug water like I'm about to enter the Sahara. I also bought a tiny loofah thing to scrub the skin off my face and tea tree/witch hazel lotion that is 98% pure magic. So at least I won't be roaming the streets as a pizza face much longer. ;)
But there's a lot of good stuff going on, too.
For one thing, we went to Kew Gardens for a field trip on Monday and explored Victorian greenhouses filled with plants from all over the world. It was like we'd stepped inside a storybook and I took way too many photos. I regret nothing.
For another thing, I've started Shaolin Kung fu. This originally started when I searched for a Zumba class in UCL's society pages and couldn't find one. The Shaolin page said it was good for beginners, and I wanted to improve my balance and find a way to chill in between all my homework. Then, upon arriving, I realized practice is really late (7:30-9:30 on Wednesdays when I have to get up at 7 the next morning for almost nine hours of class). I almost didn't go. I've done this with a lot of clubs. But on the last night of the "tester" sessions, I threw on some leggings and a cami and forced my butt on a bus to get to the UCL fitness center.
...And promptly had by butt handed to me. Kung fu is difficult. My brain doesn't operate at the same speed my body reacts yet. Class lasts two hours and as soon as you're in the door of the studio you start running, or high-kicking, or some other awful form of gut-wrenching cardio until you wonder why your eyes hurt and it's because sweat with the salinity of the Dead Sea in pouring down your face. By the time 9:30 rolls around, there's a crick in your chest like hey, maybe you're having a heart attack or you've lost so much sweat that you're actually slimy and your legs are actually going to pop off at the knee cap. However, you also know how to do a really cool side kick that would hit someone in the stomach and send them flying.
This weekend, one of the girls from the club told us her sifu (it literally means "skilled person") from her year abroad in Shanghai was visiting for a few days, and invited us to learn mantis Kung fu with him if we wanted. His name was Leon, he was incredibly nice and cheery, and even if we'd all attacked him at once I'm certain he could've killed us all with little to no effort. At one point he moved so fast that, when he asked if we understood the move, we just started blankly and asked him to do it again, slower. He also showed us what it felt like to have the moves done on us--albeit very lightly so we didn't actually have our arms broken or internal organs bruised--but it was wild to be in a position where you were practicing with someone and all of the sudden it was like, "Okay. I'm kneeling on the ground now and you might snap my arm off if you don't ease up. And I'm not even sure how this happened."
So, my body is slowly getting stronger and I'm really stoked. I always ache like I've been beaten to a pulp in a back alley the next day after practice, and I had bruises on my wrist and arm from Sunday even though that was three days ago. Nevertheless, I feel invincible walking out of that gym.
Lastly, I have Kung fu tonight, class all day tomorrow, and then Friday I have two big appointments: one, I have a placement interview for when I start working at a museum next term. Two, I go to a five-story bookshop in SoHo to have coffee with a contact who has worked at Bonhams (an art auction house) and knows people who've work at Sotheby's, Christie's, and Phillips. Even though my one professor acts as though auction houses are the devil in comparison to museums (and she has several key arguments), I need employment and am interested to see how art houses operate. So I'm very excited for that.
I will definitely keep everyone updated on what's going on. :)
Or, how to be a less discombobulated American bumbling around London for the last fourteen days.
A friend back home asked if I was going to write about grad school on here, so here I am. Two weeks ago exactly, I landed in Heathrow Airport (after flying to Buffalo, JFK, and Keflavik International in Iceland), got my passport signed by a man who seemed kind of doubtful that I was old enough to have gotten a bachelor's degree already, and gratefully hopped into a taxi that I paid much too much for. My shoulders were permanently disfigured from my backpack and my eyelids wanted to play Close the Gates, but I made it to Camden where I discovered a room the size of a matchbox (expected) with a lot of black hair all over the place and a mysterious, glob-like stain on the floor near the sink (somewhat unexpected).
I, however, was going to positives. I realized I only had to share a kitchen and bathroom with three other grad students instead of a whole floor like I'd thought, even though I had no idea who those three people were. After checking in, I decorated my room by slapping up inspirational card prints from the bookstore I worked at this summer, and prints of famous Impressionist paintings. We had no class the first week, and it was really hard to not feel nervous or doubtful or sad.
Harder than study abroad, I mean, which consisted of merely three months at Nottingham University in 2015, a very charming area where I had emailed some people beforehand and later lucked out by having my entire flat filled with bubbly international students ready to take on the world.
This time, I had to gear myself up to leave for twelve months--a great deal longer than three. 3,615 miles and a five-hour time difference is a lot. Living in a place is a lot different than performing a short stint. And Camden--like a coat you buy at a thrift shop because it's cheap and retro--put me off at first. It's not the most photogenic area: on any given day the sidewalk can be littered with empty liquor bottles, trash, or even feminine hygiene products. I walk past three or four homeless people setting up shop on any given day, doing my forty-minute walk to campus. There's a lot of graffiti and police sirens all day, every day.
But there's also street art. Gorgeous street art, and Korean markets with bopping music where you can find the perfect sticky rice you used at home, and noodle houses, and coffee shops, and fancy/casual pubs, and really good sandwiches. And tea. I don't want to explain how much tea I'd brewed since coming here. It really is a cultural thing. And it's calming.
That first week, after figuring out where to buy food and surviving induction classes where they told us how to evacuate in case of fire and not to cheat and how libraries worked, I also met my suitemates, who are all incredibly nice and also new to the city (I really lucked out. They're golden). I visited Bath and Stonehenge. My first real "class" was a bus trip to Chichester where we visited the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum. Again, I was startled at graduate school here. We have field trips almost every week, and we're encouraged to call professors by their first names, things that would never happen in the US.
I have class Tuesday and Thursday from 9AM to 6PM, which means I end up almost brain dead, but all of my 29 other Museum Studies Masters students are in the same boat. The work is incredibly interesting, too: I already got to handle a kohl pot from Ancient Egypt, we had a group meet-up at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Antiquities where we sat in the middle of the dimly lit exhibits and discussed the bust of Nefertiti, and I've even begun to learn how to actually manage a museum. I used to hate business models and things, but this really appeals to me.
I keep learning too--little things outside of class, in line at the store, getting my hair trimmed, everywhere. I learned that bangs are called "fringe" here, people my age happily call me "honey" or "lovely", my short hairstyle is NOT worn by women here AT ALL but it is championed by extremely well-dressed Asian boys, Singapore is a city-state, and that Japan apparently brews coffee where the heavy aftertaste immediately leaves the back of your mouth after you drink it (this I actually learned like an hour ago, at least that's how I can describe it. It's quite good, and doesn't taste acidic if you drink it straight). I learned that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is available on Netflix here and virtually every American I've run into is super stoked about it. I learned that University College London (my school) has mud bricks from Mesopotamia and I'm determined to touch them before I leave.
I learned that you can buy theater tickets to the Book of Mormon for only £22.50 and so I bought a third row seat and am going to see it this Wednesday. I'll probably be shaking in my seat. I learned that people dress in such high levels of aesthetic-pleasing fashion here that my mind is continually blown walking to and from class. I learned that there's also a five-story bookstore across the street from campus, and it's beautiful and I sense I'm going to lose some money there.
I learned that my class has a lot of wonderful people in it, and I cannot wait to get to know everyone better. There was a moment, this past Thursday, where a group of us grabbed coffee right before our Museum Management class. It was only about six of us and we'd broken up and found each other between a previous class and having that dim meeting in the Petrie Museum, and it was windy and we were all chatting and laughing and I realized I'd actually settled. I felt light, and happy. We were mostly foreigners, and we often had to tweak a word here or there or check a pronunciation on something because it was lilted with a British, American, Chilean, or Taiwanese accent, and we were only together because we wanted to learn how to make museums better.
It was a very good feeling.
I'm gonna just start off with a hearty hello, and apologize for dropping off the face of the earth last month. By the time this gets published, I will be somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic. Up in the air. On a plane. On my way to London for graduate school. I'm in this weird state of depersonalization where half of me is thinking, "This is really happening!" while the other is sort of staring around, uncertain that this is, in fact, really happening. The bags are packed, everything that could possibly be charged is attached to a wall socket, and my family has already alerted me that they are going to throw a fit at the airport.
They're not the only ones, however. If you care to look to the right of this webpage, you'll see I am suddenly a whole new, undercut-and-silver-haired person. I also ended my job at the bookstore, a bittersweet chapter ending where my manager jokingly voiced his hope that I flunk out of my master's program so I'll come back and work. :)
Lacing nicely into this theme of new changes and sudden endings is this month's round robin topic:
What characters in other author's books have not left your mind? Have you written a character who wouldn't leave you? Why do you think this happens?
For other authors, I recently took a trip to Massachusetts and read Murakami's Kafka on the Shore. I'd never read Murakami before and unwittingly read what is considered one of his most difficult works to comprehend. After finishing it I couldn't shake the feeling of reading a nightmarish dream, and even though I still don't understand quite what happened, the book haunts me. Tilted realities aside, though, the library assistant Oshima is a character I immediately liked and found myself fascinated by. I identified with him a bit, as well.
Oshima is very bright, quiet and yet indulges in wordplay in a somewhat sarcastic way. He has an older brother who owns a cabin deep in the mountains, and later you discover Oshima was born as a girl. Oshima is a dependable supporting character, yet he was my favorite person in the entire story. Even though he was often only performing simple tasks like driving the main character around or working in the library, for some reason I was really drawn to him.
As for my own books, Andro from Serpents and Flame, the only trilogy I've ever written and one of the first books I ever wrote, always tends to shuffle around my consciousness a lot. I spent more years on those books than any other, and they were the books that made me know that I could be a writer--only after they'd also made me question myself so much that I swore I'd never write anything again. He's 1/2 of the main character team. I always put a bit of myself into every character I write (for better or worse), and Andro is the silver-tongued goofball I was when I was fourteen or fifteen. He likes spy books and tends to shoulder other peoples' problems for them. I don't know; I'm just so proud of the characters in those books that I feel like they're my kids, almost. He started the earliest drafts as a sixteen-year-old with black hair and ended up in the finals as a lilac-haired nineteen-year-old with golden wings and Hope Incarnate as a best friend. I think he evolved for the better, and he's one of the best characters I've ever written (no offense to my other ones; he just came along first!).
I think this sort of thing tends to happen--characters sticking around long after their stories have been placed back on the shelf--because they surprised us in some way, often in a manner that caused an afterimage of them to stay. I remember reading Frankenstein two semesters ago and being utterly floored at how poorly The Creature is treated, for example. Oshima's job and aesthetic is sort of how I hope to be in the future (well-dressed, well informed, and well loved at his place of work). Andro is a reflection of myself at a past age (albeit male, physically/emotionally damaged and more heroic). Sometimes characters stick around because we wish they were our friends, or they remind us of our friends. Sometimes they remind us of us.
What do you think? What characters have stuck with you throughout the years?
Follow along the list to see other participating writers' thoughts!
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Heidi M. Thomas http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com
Official website of Rachael Kosinski, 23.