On playing tour guide

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When my parents booked their trip to visit me I was really excited about playing tour guide. But in the weeks leading up to their trip I was full of anxiety (shocker) over what all we would do. I’ve never had anyone visit me, bar my sister, so I wasn’t really sure how it would go over. What would they want to see? What would they want to do? What would they eat?? I had lists and lists of possible options and I was constantly emailing asking their opinion. I was mostly concerned about how we would fit everything into the limited number of daylight hours. When it gets dark around 4pm you have to make the most of every possible second. Plus, you know, there was no telling what how the weather was going to act. Just play it by ear, my parents said. Um.. What’s that?

Well, the whole trip went so smoothly. We were so busy during the day walking and touring and eating that by the time 8pm rolled around we were all knackered and ready for bed. Even the weather held it together. As per usual there was no reason for me to be so worried. Their trip also coincided with my birthday. We ran and went to multiple pubs. My favorite two things ever. Overall verdict: best birthday thus far. Here are a selection of photos from the trip. Most are from instagram because I’m too lazy at the mo to edit the rest.

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On going home again.

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After a rough couple of days, (which included getting kicked out of my flight a week early, packing up my flat in four hours, changing flights, losing luggage, getting sick etc etc etc) I finally made it back to Florida for winter break. It’s weird being back after having been gone for so long.

I’m sitting outside as I type up this post because it’s warm and humid and ohmygosh what do you mean I don’t have to wear ten layers? I am hiding in the shade though. My translucent skin isn’t equipped to handle the sun and I don’t know where the sun screen is. There are golfers on the golf course and dogs barking and really everything is just the same.  I’m using an old, old phone that doesn’t have a full keyboard and so I have to count the letters each time I text. It takes ages. I had to clean out the contacts because it had numbers of people I no longer talk to. It made me a little nostalgic. But I guess that’s how it is though. Going home. You regress a bit and memories creep in and hey remember doing such and such with so and so? 

***

A couple weeks ago my parents came to visit me for the first time ever. It was such a great trip and I really enjoyed showing them around. We went to St Andrews which was cool. I hadn’t been back since I finished my Masters dissertation. I still knew my way around. I guess how can you forget, the place is so small. But even St Andrews, old as it is, can’t escape change. There was a Nando’s and a Sainsbury’s Local and even a brewery. None of which were there when I was a student. We went to West Port and I took photos of The Keys. I sent them to my St Andrean best friend and we reminisced about how much fun we had there. How we didn’t take as much advantage of it as we should have. How we love and hated ‘The Bubble’ so much all at the same time. If I look through old photos (which really aren’t that old… Maybe 2 years? 3 years now? Geeze. It has been a while…) I think I look different. Because so much has happened between then and now. And that’s how life goes. Even though you’re still the same you’re very much not the same at all. 

It’s cool when people come to visit. Because you get to see the places you know so well through fresh eyes. It reminded me of how old buildings are and how annoying waiting for a bus can be and how people in London are not friendly at all. We went running through Hampstead Heath and my mom would say hello to people and on the underground she would make eye contact and smile. She’s nice like that. I’d give here the side eye and other people would give her the side eye and I’d think wtf? We do not smile or say hello or interact with people on public transportation. Ever. We get our tube faces on and walk quickly and walk up/down the left side of the escalator because people in London have places to go, man. We rush and rush and rush and pretty much ignore the 8 million other people who share the city. At Bank Station on their last day, some guy smiled and said hello to me. I was so confused that I thought for sure something was wrong with my face. Because who does that? Who smiles and says hello? I think they have a better understanding now as to why I like living in the UK so much. 

***

I drove for the first time in almost a year so there’s that. I went 45mph in my parents’ huge truck and waited for ages at stop signs because I was nervous to pull out in traffic. I went to Walgreens for a bottle of water. Strange because I would normally just walk to a corner store. There was a couple in the parking lot loading cases of beer into a cooler in the back of their pickup. They had redneck accents and babies in the back seat and, not that there’s anything wrong with that lifestyle, it just reminded me of why I moved away.

There are good things about being home though. Seeing my parents, soon my sister and friends, and not to mention I can ride my bike without fear of London buses. There’s my dog and Slurpees from 7-11 and seeing stars at night. College football. Chili’s date nights. The sun being out after 4pm. No one will ask where I’m from and why would you ever leave Florida for London? 

While I don’t think I could ever live in Florida again, a trip home is a much needed break. And for now I’ll be reacclimating to this lifestyle. Driving instead of walking. Blasting air conditioning. Taking trips to Target (Oh, how I’ve missed you!). And when my friends text me on my old phone on my old number asking how it feels to be back I’ll respond ‘It’s weird. But also kinda nice.’

Windsor Great Park

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I realized I only have 6 weeks (or maybe now it’s 5?? YIKES!) until the Rock n Roll Edinburgh Half Marathon. I haven’t even booked my hotel yet! And, after a bit of a set back due to an ankle/heel/foot thing (how scientific!) and overall stress of moving, I’m now having to struggle my way back to pre-move running shape. Ugh. It’s hard. So in an effort to get off the treadmill out of the fun-sucking gym, I’ve been trying out new running routes in the area.

I managed to find a 10 mile out and back route that takes me right from my door, past some really great little houses, through a deer park, along the Long Walk and right up to the foot of Windsor Castle. It’s hilly, scenic and, more importantly, doesn’t go anywhere near my gym. Win, win, win!

These photos were taken over the weekend… When it was miserable and cold. But today Spring is in the air and the sun is shining. So I’m off to bask in the sunshine and stock up on allergy pills.

On things being different

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I think the hardest thing about moving, no matter how far away you go, is trying to find a routine.

At home it was simple… My weekdays consisted of work, gym, and hanging out. On the weekends it was gym, napping and hanging out. I had a time to get up. A time to go to sleep. Everything had a time.

But here… I have no schedule. Weekdays and weekends are the same. I tell the days by train ticket prices. I don’t have a time to wake up. I don’t have a time to go to sleep. In fact, the only time I have scheduled is 5-7.30 Monday evenings. I trek to London for a class. The rest of my time is free to use at my discretion.

I hate free time.

I’m a creature of habit. One with an affinity for schedules. And deadlines. And time frames. Specific times for specific things.

I like structure.

***

My gym is strange. A locker room does not exist. It is more of a locker corridor. When I arrive, I hand over my student card in return for a locker key. I head to the bathroom so I can change out of my boots. I never wear my running shoes on my walk here for fear they will get wet. I don’t have a spare pair.

I don’t know how to describe the layout. The locker corridor, bathrooms and reception are in a separate location from the cardio and weight rooms. I walk outside and follow the sidewalk that leads to the ‘fitness suite’. It’s not far, only several yards, but it feels a lot farther in the cold.

Heat lamps hang next to the windows of the fitness suite. I stare at the glowing bulbs and wonder what bugs find so attractive. The lack of circulation is suffocating. After I work out under the stifling glow, my face is red and my clothes are soaked in sweat. I stand out in the cold, arms outstretched, willing myself to go back inside. To finish my workout. Sometimes I can’t. Some days I arrive and the heat lamps are off. Those days are even worse. My muscles feel stiff and frozen the entire time. I shiver and shiver and shiver.

Undercover Boss is on around 9.45. So many of the employees are immigrants, thankful for the opportunity to have a job. Any job. Even if that job is literally scrubbing porta potties. It gives them structure. Purpose. A new way of life.

Today, I watched the CEO of 7-11 go undercover. All I wanted was a Slurpee.

***

Writing is a solitary activity. As is all PhD work. Some days, the only conversation I have is with the baristas at Costa. Some days it doesn’t bother me at all. I like being alone. Other days I think it’s sad. And slightly pathetic.

Friday I went out with a friend. We spent the evening chatting and gossiping and complaining about stuff. We talked about how the older you get the harder it is to meet new people. We no longer have the luxury of forced, convenient social situations. Instead, we have to make a concerted effort to find friends.

It would be easier to become a hermit.

The effort of making friends when you’re older is just that – an effort. I’m used to the comfort of the friends I already have. I spend tonight at a party, watching everyone eat pancakes and nutella and explaining several times why I can’t eat pancakes and nutella. It’s fun. I laugh a lot. But by the end, when the excitement starts to fade and the pauses in conversation grow longer and longer, I’m exhausted. I have nothing else to offer. And even though I’m surrounded by people and even though I’m having a good time, I’m still kind of lonely.

Friday was comfortable. This is not.

But then I remind myself that I have only been here a month. The effortless nights spent with my already friends didn’t come easy either. They started as seeds. Were planted. Cultivated. Blossomed out of shared moments and shared routines. Some took minutes. Others took years. But that’s just it… They all took time.

The key, I think, to finding my routine and my new people is to try different things until something that fits. But that’s part of the excitement of moving. Everything is different. Everything will just take time. And that is something of which I have plenty.

I have no schedule.

My time is my own.

Suburbia

IMG_6442On my days in London I wake up early (normally between 5-530). I spend an hour or so getting ready/watching TV/drinking red bull/hating how early it is. I do some work. I walk to the bus stop, usually arriving just in time to see the bus pull away. I walk to the train station. I stand around with all the other commuters, no longer an I but a we.

We crowd together under the overhang because it’s pissing it down with rain and no one brought an umbrella. When the intercom announces the train (Platform 2 for the 8.23 Southwest train service to London Waterloo. Calling at Staines, etc … This train is formed of 8 coaches.) we make our way down the platform. Jostling for a position. We all want a forward facing seat.

The journey through suburbia takes under 40 minutes, if we catch the fast train. We arrive in Waterloo. We spill onto the platform when the doors open swiftly walking toward the exit. Once we put our tickets through the gate, everyone goes their own way. Quickly joining another group of we.

By tube. By taxi. By bus. By foot. We all leave Waterloo. Rushing. And rushing. And forever rushing. We arrive at our destinations. Finally becoming an I again.

I don’t know how people do this every day. I suppose they have to but… God, it’s exhausting! I cannot wait until I’m more central. Soon. Eventually. But for right now, all I can do is sit back and enjoy the train rides with my fellow suburbanites, while we wait, impatiently, for London to whisk us off to our finally destinations.

A bit of snow

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I’m working on another post. One that requires much more writing than this… But, as it turns out, this PhD thing requires a lot of reading. And my audited course requires a lot of reading. And everything requires a lot of writing. So basically all I have for you at the moment is one photo and one musing.

Why does snow, no matter what direction you travel, always seem to pelt you in the face?

Until later.

xx

The High Line.

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Some photos from my trip to NYC. Otherwise referred to as: NYC’s chance at redemption. (Read about my first trip here. It was featured on Freshly Pressed.) The above shots are from a beautiful day spent on the High Line.

There’s a certain appeal to a city in the cold. Things aren’t quite as dirty. Aren’t quite as crowded. Aren’t quite as tired. It’s a time of year when the memories of summer have long since been chased away. When the last surviving leaves cling to almost barren branches. Right before the dark recesses of winter wrap its choking fingers around the heart of the city.

It’s a perfect time of year.

It’s a perfect NYC.

Until next time. I wish you all a very happy new year.

On being normal (And my slight obsession with Lena Dunham)

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For the past year, every time I try to write, I can’t. I sit, frustrated, staring at the blank screen. I write and erase and write and erase. The cursor blink, blink, blinking at me. Mocking me. Daring me to try. Then my mind spirals. This isn’t good enough. What’s the point? Enough already, no one is going to read this shit anyway. Finally I give up and I close my computer in exasperation. (Do you know how long it took for me to even write out that first little paragraph? Far too long. Ages.) Cue: Existential crisis. WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE. How can I call myself a writer? I haven’t actually written anything. By written, of course, I mean published. Isn’t that the point after all? To write something that is worth publishing? Or is that me selling out? Isn’t a real writer supposed to write just to write?

My anxiety and desperation got the best of me. I started seeing a therapist. We talked a lot about my inability to write sometimes because I felt so painfully normal. Nothing exceptional had ever happened to me. I’m so boring. But, she would always interject, you have done things that are very much un-normal and very much un-boring (she, of course, didn’t say un-normal or un-boring. Her words were much more eloquent.) But, I would always counter, to me that is normal. I had no authority to write. No one cares what I have to say.  Sure, things happen to me but things happen to everyone. Every day. My experiences aren’t any greater than anyone else’s so why should I write about them?

In middle school, a clear plastic backpack was the ‘it thing’. I wanted one so badly but was never ballsy enough to get one. That’s so cool. Everyone can see my shit. Shit, though. Everyone can see my shit. Only cool, confident people carried a clear backpack. If I had one everyone would know I am messy and unorganized and, as a result, completely all over the place. And if everyone else realizes that about me eventually I’d  have to realize it too. I’m learning writing is like that. In order to write something good, something meaningful you have to confront yourself. The messy, unorganized, completely all over the place self.

Today, I felt exceptionally downtrodden. Overwhelmed, again, by the need to write but simultaneously frozen by my fear of writing. I have to write something today. I have to write something today. What’s that old adage? Only a crazy person does the same thing over and over and expects different results. So rather than staring at that horrible blinking cursor as per usual I went on a quest to read every Lena Dunham interview I could find. Lena, in all her one-year-older-than-me glory, is someone I aspire to be. I call her by her first name not out of disrespect but out of admiration. I believe that she would be someone with whom I could be IRL friends. She has an undeniable talent. But more importantly she has a voice. A strong, relatable, this is who I am and this is who you are voice. Like in Girls. The characters are so awkward and so raunchy and so wonderful in all their real realness.

“I play these girls who are close to me, but they’re the parts of me that I find the most shameful, or the parts of me that I kind of want to excise. So I sort of distance myself from it. I have the comfort to feel free and un-self-conscious. I sort of go, “These are all the awful parts of me that I don’t get to talk about all day. Here she is.”

***

On a recent trip to London, I talked to a friend about being overly self-aware. The places I lived and the schools I’ve been to and the things I’ve done. Those things aren’t extraordinary. They are plain ordinary. I’m not impressed with what I’ve done because I haven’t done everything I want to do. Brianna, he said to me, that’s not overly self-aware. That’s overly self-critical. Ah. Have a think on that one, he said and left me at our table, mouth agape, to buy me another drink.

I think about what he said a lot. It provides a comforting reality check at a time in life when everything is so uncertain. I’m not perfect. But there is perfection in all the imperfections. It’s society’s unifying characteristic: we are all perfectly flawed. Acknowledgement not disparagement. More self-aware. Less self-critical.

It is in the evolution of criticism to awareness that a writer’s voice is born.

In one interview I read, Lena talked about creating a relatable character in Tiny Furniture. “I saw a lot of my friends going through the same thing, but it didn’t feel like it was being reflected back at us. I’ve always been someone who feels better, if I see what I’m going through in a movie. So, I really wanted that for me, and for other people.”

Maybe that’s the reason I am supposed to write too. Because normal things do happen to me. Because I am boring and average and completely terrible in my own right. But so are other people. And there’s comfort in knowing someone has been where you are going. I’m not living up to expectations. People think too much of me. People think too little of me. I’ve made good decisions. I’ve made horrible decisions. I’ve been disappointed and led astray. I’ve been surprised and loved. I’ve been broken and I’ve survived.

Some people have fought in wars, lead revolutions, been abused, been addicted to drugs. The world needs to hear those stories. But sometimes things aren’t all bad or all good. Sometimes things just are. The world needs those stories too.

 

 

Author’s Note: This was written several weeks ago. I have a lot of these things stock piled on my computer. I have the grand notions of submitting them but have no clue who would take such things. Do I keep them saved on my computer hoping that one day I can find someone to publish them? Or do I post them here, on my little piece of interweb real estate? Any recommendations? What do you do?

 

Someday I’ll Write About That

Alternately titled: My big move and other nonsense.

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This post has been a long time coming. All the plotting and planning and failing and crying. It’s official:

I’m moving back to London.

The last year and a half has not been my shining glory. I went through a horrible breakup. [Someday I’ll write about that]. Battled soul-crushing anxiety. [Someday I’ll write about that]. Suffered through a miserable job. [Someday I’ll write about that]. Oh, and I got rejected from two PhD programs. Cool. I was, like one friend tells me, circling the proverbial drain. I was lost . In every sense of the word.

To say it wasn’t pleasant would be an understatement. For me or for anyone involved (Hi, mom and dad! Sorry about that!). It’s hard to explain what it was like. All miserable and trapped in my head. I was really angry at myself. I was really angry at other people. I wanted to leave but I didn’t know how. I wanted to be happy but I didn’t know how. I wanted to do something. But I was incapable of doing anything. So I did nothing.

I didn’t talk about it.

I didn’t write about it.

Nothing.

[Someday I’ll write about that]

In June, I was given the opportunity to travel for work. I went to Chicago for a week. Was home for a week. Then went off to Amsterdam and London for a bit. For the first time in a really long time I felt normal. I could breathe. I could think.

I did things by myself. I did things with other people. I got drunk with old friends. I got drunk with new friends. I ate a shit ton of food (I think I came back like 10 lbs heavier!) and then I drank some more. I went shopping and took photos and had several of those existential conversations that run into the wee hours of the morning.  It was a break I desperately needed.

Writing about events leading up to this move is harder than I thought it would be. Mostly because writing is a bitch in that it insists on making you remember. Even if you don’t want to. And I really don’t want to right now. It’s a time I want to be filled with only happy thoughts. So for now just remember: Everything happens for a reason. And someday I’ll write about that.

Author’s Ramble:

The longer pieces I post on here tend to take me a few days to finish. Mostly because I work on them during breaks at work. Writing and editing and deleting and throwing my hands up in exasperation because something is not quite right. Almost posting then deciding I’m not done with it yet then adding it to the “To Publish” queue. I have this great essay (ish) thing I’ve written on writing, and lena dunham and normalcy. Buuuuuuut I just can’t hit the publish button yet.

The above took me a span of a couple days. Mostly because I was trying to make it some sort of creative nonfiction essay type thing but felt like I was failing miserably. I decided to post the first half of it in order to announce that I am, in fact, moving to back to the UK. I will be tackling the monster that is a PhD. I’ve kept the whole thing pretty hush-hush until I could give my notice at work. It was pretty much the best day I’ve had at work since employed with the company.

I haven’t quite registered I’m leaving. And, thanks to a couple of very busy weeks coming up, it probably won’t sink in until I arrive. Thank you all for reading and sending lovely comments. I do very much appreciate them. Stay tuned for exciting adventures! (including a redemption trip to New York). But for now it’s back to work.

xx Brianna