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.
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