Technobabble

I broke one of my hard and fast rules about two months ago and purchased a tablet. It’s a Nexus 7, which isn’t cutting edge (since my requirements for any sort of technology are 1. it must do what I want it to and 2. it must do it quickly, I don’t really care if it has the latest facial recognition software or if it can fold my underwear or whatever. I could not care less about cutting edge and in fact have a swanky new laptop at which I spit and curse because its newness is really annoying). I bought a tablet because many of my coworkers have tablets and I’m a sucker for peer pressure. I bought it because it’s pretty and shiny and has a touchscreen and makes people who don’t have tablets go, “oooh!”

I bought it because I’ve realized that this is where books are going, and although I hate to be another contributor to the long, slow, painful death of the beast that is Printing, I can’t see any point in fighting it any longer. And I bought it because it’s really, stupidly convenient and I don’t care anymore about disappointing the rage-filled weirdo who once had a conniption fit over books before getting on a plane from Barcelona to London. She was crazy and needed a nap.

And you know, despite my reservations, I like it. Don’t get me wrong, I still prefer paper books- they smell better and look better (books read on the Kindle app, which I use, have negative personality). I think hyperlinks look sort of tacky, and I like the feel of a book progressing in my hands. The stories are the same, though, and once you get used to the font being the same in each book you pick up (I still haven’t, but then I’m the sort of person who thinks, “Gosh, this book has really great margin spacing” and feels vein-popping rage over poor font choices) you can see all the wonderful things about electronic reading.

I can, for example, read in the morning before work on my tablet, and then if I have to wait in line at the grocery store or in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, I can take out my phone and it will open up the same page I was reading on the other device. This is an excellent feature for those of us who don’t want to ever be without the option of reading a book, and a terrible feature for those of us who tend to run into walls (I regret that I fall into both categories, although I don’t need my nose shoved in a book to walk into things).

The constant access to portable entertainment is invaluable. I don’t understand how non-readers entertain themselves without access to television- although I suppose the advent of smartphones has rectified this somewhat. I also love that everything I highlight in the app is stored on an external website, which means I can access and reread all of the quotes/passages I thought were funny or wise or entertaining and will want to read again. Where was that when I was in college? Can I have my money back?

However- and this is a big however- I have noticed something about reading on my tablet that deeply bothers me. My worry is not about the tablet itself, but about how we as people behave when we have access to them.

I consider myself to be a fairly focused person. I can sit and write two thousand words without breaking a sweat, I can re-shelf a cart of non-fiction books without batting an eye. I don’t distract especially easily, unless someone has doughnuts (does someone have doughnuts? I would kill for a doughnut right now). But I cannot for the life of me sit and read on my tablet in the same way I always have with a book. Here’s a typical reading session on my lovely Nexus:

Open Kindle app, select book. Read a paragraph. Hit the home button, check Facebook. Respond to comments/messages. Return to book, read a page or two. Hit home button, check work email (even when not at work- it’s a sickness). Return to book. See word I don’t recognize, Google it. Spend half an hour on Wikipedia looking up unrelated topics. Return to book. Read a few pages, get a G-chat message. Answer it. Get back on Facebook. Check Twitter, Feedly, email, Facebook again (another sickness). Return to book. Finish chapter, decide I’d rather watch Parks and Rec. Hit home button, open Netflix app.

For those who don’t mind readus interruptus, this is fine. In fact, this ‘problem” probably makes the whole experience of reading better for people who enjoy having their entire social networks at their fingertips, people who live and breathe for answering emails and talking to their friends and knowing what Mario Batali has to say on the matter of using cake flour in pasta dough (he’s okay with it, for the record, as long as a mixture of cake flour and all purpose flour is used). I’m sure that the addition of technology into books makes for a wonderful reading experience for those who are driven to a dictionary at every other word (oh, there you are, insufferable snobbery! I was wondering when you’d show up).

For me, it’s just a distraction. I’ve always been one of those people who can disappear with a book and while away the hours doing nothing but reading. I can turn my phone off, hide it in another room, put earplugs in and become a virtually indestructible fortress of “piss off, I am reading.” But with a tablet I cannot help but look to see how many people have liked my most recent Facebook post (thanks for showing up to the party, ego), or if the library is crumbling to the ground without my presence in the building (it never is, for the record), or if there are any new sloth videos on the internet. I am pulled in twenty different directions at once, and the small part of my mind which still desires to read and do nothing but read is left whining in the dust. I feel guilty for abandoning it. And I know this could all be fixed by switching off the wi-fi, but when it can be switched back on with the tap of a button, I can’t help but feel as though I’m making a half-assed commitment.

I love my tablet. I love the convenience and the fact that I no longer have to dig for batteries for my book light before road trips. I love its portability and its ease of use, I love that I can check out books from my library when I am halfway across the state and the fact that we no longer have to turn trees into pulp to have things on which to read.

But when I read on that bright white screen rather than clear clean paper, I still feel a little bit lost. I miss the peace and tranquility of paper books. I miss reading as it always has been- uninterrupted and without distractions. I suppose for those of us who are new to tablet use it’s just a matter of adjusting and that one day I will be able to read like a fiend and a book by any name will smell as sweet (metaphorically, of course- I haven’t actually smelled by tablet but I suspect it is devoid of all scent). It is my sincere hope that paper books never go entirely by the wayside, but if they do I hope that everyone, not just me and my easily-distracted brain, can learn to just read, only read, and continue to enjoy it for what it is without any adornment.

Writing about Kale

I’ve been back in Texas for just over four months now, and have accomplished the following:

1. The composition, editing, and subsequent mailing crisis of one (1) 15,000 word dissertation on (stay with me, now) the 17th century Low German Bible currently housed in Boerne’s public library and its relationship to the treatment of books and reading by 19th century German immigrants (you may now wipe the drool off of your chins and return your seats to an upright position; I’m quite through with that).

2. Applying to basically every library-related position in the state of Texas, with the exception of the Houston area (because no) and, like, El Paso (because that’s in a different time zone and therefore doesn’t count as a real place).

3. Getting one (1) interview at a public library in north Texas.

4. Bombing said interview horrifically, I mean really, really genuinely tanking the thing.

5. Becoming a sort of better Tetris player.

6. Knitting (so far) one half of a hat which I have discovered is too small for my head, not to mention the head of the person for whom it is intended. I’m hoping to meet and befriend a Leprechaun in the next few weeks so I can give it to him for Christmas.

7. Shattering all of my parents’ illusions that sending me to a conservative school would result in me graduating with a de facto degree in “being conservative” and “agreeing with everything my father says”.

8. Watching the entirety of a lot- a looooot– of TV shows. Just off the top of my head: Supernatural (seven seasons), Modern Family, the last four seasons of The Office, Parks and Recreation, Archer, the last two seasons of 30 Rock, Community, and Castle. I’ve also read quite a few books, but I expect no one wants to hear about them.

9. Restarting the novel I’ve been meaning to write and have been procrastinating for…eight months (also relearning how to sound pretentious when talking about “my novel”).

10. Explaining to everyone and their toy poodle what my Master’s degree is in and shielding my eyes from their shiny, shiny looks of pity when they realize I’ve got two degrees and zero employability.

All in all it’s been a fun four months, and I don’t mean that sarcastically (much). Granted, moving back in with one’s parents after nine months living on my own in a foreign country is not what I’d call ideal, but I have to admit that there are worse fates. Homelessness, for example. I keep trying to tell myself that this lull- although how long can a lull go on before it’s considered a rut?- is just me taking the time I need to get back on my feet, to figure out where I’m going and what I’m doing and where, exactly, my life is headed.

For now, though, I am a professional grocery shopper and kitchen cleaner and very, very reluctant duster. My parents both hate grocery shopping, so I get to do it for them. This has resulted in a few slight changes around the household, most notably in the increase in organic produce now stored in the refrigerator. My father, who I’m convinced thinks the notion of organic anything is a conspiracy dreamed up by the liberal media and who has no qualms about eating not a single green item of food for days at a time, has been surprisingly receptive to these changes. I haven’t shown up with kale or Swiss chard or octopus tentacles, though, so perhaps I shouldn’t be too hasty in my assessment of his new found open-mindedness.

Do I feel weird writing about kale when six months ago I was writing about my trip to Spain and the mad life that I lived in London? Not really, no. Honestly, when I think back on my time across the ocean I find it hard to believe that it happened, which is so, so silly because I have all these memories and pictures and friends to prove it. It’s just hard to reconcile my Texas life with the one I lived in London, because there I was the adventurous (albeit unwillingly so, most of the time) graduate student who ate things like goat cheese and wiled away the hours reading books about books and writing about how homesick she was and here I’m Elisa, she of the many boxes in her parents’ spare room, who spends her days filling out crossword puzzles and not feeling the least bit alone or out of place but oddly awash in a tide of “well…now what?”

It hardly seems possible that the two could even be the same person. I suppose the point of this sabbatical (ooh, there’s a nice word! It sounds smart and kind of snooty, let’s go with that) is figuring out how those two very, very different pieces fit together.

Love Struck

London, I love you in all your madness and loudness and wetness and wonder. I love your mad hatter streets, which refuse to run parallel or hold onto their names like those mercury-licking fools couldn’t hold onto their thoughts and couldn’t, wouldn’t think in straight lines. I love the peculiar sort of glow the West End gets at night when it’s raining and the lights from a premiere are glowing all over the wet sidewalks and the umbrellas of the people walking by- it’s one of the only times I don’t curse the rain and the damp and the cold, because there’s magic in that wetness somehow. London, I love your half-rotten smell, a smell which is only exacerbated by the damp and which the wind can never quite dispel. I love your dirty streets, in a sort of my god how do they live like this? sort of way which my friends from bigger cities find baffling. I love your noise, even at two in the morning when the air suddenly becomes stuffed to bursting with sirens, pulling me out of an ever-fitful slumber. London, I love that you think honking makes people drive faster. I hate that you don’t stop for pedestrians (really, this is a problem- I saw a man stick out his umbrella at one of your delivery drivers and shout, “Pedestrian!” at him and watched as the delivery driver reacted by speeding up and nearly running me, innocent little Texan me, over) but I love that you have no concept of space, especially not between your cars, and the madness of the street is quadrupled, quintupled, multiplied tenfold when there are people and buses and cars and bicycles and rickshaws filling them, utterly bloating the walkways and roads with their madcap desire to get where they’re going and to hell with the rest of you.

London, I love that rush of air which accompanies an approaching train on the underground, that cool exhalation which is a reassuring sigh of relief and a gentle hand on the forehead which whispers in a soft voice, “You’ll make it in time.” I hate being squeezed into those cars with the rest of the free world but I love the feeling of bursting forth onto the sidewalks after a cramped and crowded and stifling tube ride. Every turn around your corners is an introduction into a new world. I love that I can walk from my awful dorm to Buckingham Palace in half an hour, and then onto Hyde Park ten minutes after that, then Harrods twenty minutes after that. I love that in Regent’s Park, which is in some areas a stone’s throw away from Euston Road, there are still swans and pelicans and egrets, of all things, perched delicately on spindle legs and poking at the water with their chopstick beaks. I love that they can exist here as well as we can, we of all our various nationalities and backgrounds and life stories and hurts. We who came to this city for God knows how many reasons and found you different and wild and perfect and terrible and awesome in our own particular ways.

London, I love your pubs and their good English beer, their beer which leaves thick white foam markers of each sip down the sides of their glasses. Your pubs smell, more often than not, of beer and fried things and that peculiar dampness which I have encountered nowhere else. I love the barkeeps, even the jerks who instantly treated me like a moron for ordering in an American accent (I’m sorry, barkeeps, for not pronouncing it “Doom Bahhh”) or asking for a screwdriver instead of a vodka orange. I love your restaurants, London, especially Fino. Keep that one around. I love your Saturday markets and your Sunday roasts, your pigeons pecking at stale bread on the sidewalks and your madmen talking to squirrels in the parks. I hate your curry but I love that it can be had; it, and Thai food, and Japanese, and Spanish, Portuguese, Belgian, French, everything but Tex-Mex, although not for lack of trying. I love your runners and your smokers and your panhandlers and your crazy people on the tube. I wish they would bathe more but I love what they add to the mix of this weird soup they call you.

London, I love you for being at once so welcoming and so, so oddly impenetrable. I look forward to the day when I can bring my children here and show them where I went to school, where I cemented my love for all things old and musty and written-on. London, I love you for the friends you’ve given me, the adventures you’ve taken me on, the ways in which my eyes have been opened and seen beyond the small scope that was my Texas life. You’ve made my soul feel bigger and brighter; it fills up my chest better and makes my back straighter and my eyes more open and my lungs take deeper breaths and I love you for that, London. I love for the touch of your insanity which you have slipped into my skin, surreptitiously, in the night, probably while I was sleeping because I didn’t even realize it was there until a few nights ago when I laughed at the rain and looked up at the sky that never really darkens and felt, deeply, truly, that I love you. Thank you for making me love you, London. I needed to be shown that could.

The Impossibility of Zen

Having been raised in a society which tells us that all women are crazy (and not just cute crazy but slash your tires, fake pregnancies, and drive to Florida wearing a diaper to catch you crazy), I have tried for as long as I can remember to not be crazy, to be rational, sane, normal, level-headed, etc. I did pretty well until around the time puberty hit, and it’s pretty much been downhill ever since.

Apparently we’re also all prostitutes, but that’s another blog entry for another day.

I am, despite my best intentions, a worrier. And I don’t just mean like a casual, “oh, I wonder if it’s going to rain today” and then pack an umbrella and carry on with my life worrier. I mean a check four different weather forecasts while simultaneously creeping on people who are already up and walking around outside to determine what I should be wearing worrier. To give you a better idea, here’s a list of things I’ve worried about since waking up this morning:

The cleaning lady judging how much trash I accumulated over the four day weekend, what I’m going to do while my room is being cleaned on Friday, is my carry-on suitcase too big?, my hair, my skin, my feet, my thighs, the size of my thighs, the whiteness of my thighs, are those stretchmarks on my thighs?, gaining weight, losing weight, having enough tea to get me through the next two weeks without having to buy more and throw a lot away, my container of milk taking up too much room in the communal fridge, why haven’t they had my favorite kind of yogurt in stock for the past week?, reading enough for my dissertation, reading too much for my dissertation, having enough time to write my dissertation, finding a job, buying a car, finding an apartment, where to live, the definition of the word matronly and all its implications, knitting, sewing, grammar, spelling, which toiletries I should take back with me across the ocean, is facial moisturizer I bought making my face break out?, my skin again, my hair, the protest around the library at school, should I get a dog?, getting run over by a bus, how my parents would react to me getting run over by a bus two weeks before I’m supposed to come home, whether or not I’ll remember how to live in America or if I’ve become irrevocably awkward like everyone on this island, rain, humidity, my hair again again, writing, being good at writing, being good enough at writing to make money at writing, why can’t I get this song out of my head?, meeting with my dissertation adviser, is the administrative assistant at school ignoring me?, whether or not everyone in this country thinks I’m an idiot, being judged for browsing in the German history section (I know how the English feel about Germans, and not just Jeremy Clarkson’s assertion that they can’t say the word “squirrel”), being judged for not taking the stairs, being judged for sweating because I caved and took the stairs, money, making my flight on time, remembering to check in for my flight, packing, vegetables, the existence of God, and calories.

And that was all before lunch. As you can see, I’m now worrying about worrying.

I wish I could say that this is new behavior, anxiety stemming from a transatlantic move and living in a country which advocates the use of more “u”s than I’m accustomed to, but it’s not. I had such severe anxiety in high school about getting to school early enough to get a good parking space but not so early that I looked like a loser sitting in my car by myself that I had to go to therapy for six months (in my defense, though, the therapist determined that my parking spot anxiety was probably actually me worrying about my impending move from high school to college). College was somehow easier, because I was surrounded by people who were just as crazy and stressed out as I was, and whenever I wanted a reminder that I wasn’t the craziest person on campus I just found a freshman engineering major around exam time and bitched about how hard my Greek mythology course was until he cried. I don’t even know where the engineers hang out here, and given that freshmen can drink legally in this country I seriously doubt I’d find one stressed out enough to reduce to tears.

Graduate school is different, though. Despite friends and social activities, I still spend the vast majority of my time in my own head. It’s a result of the nature of the beast, I suppose- this sort of degree can’t be obtained using flashcards or studying in groups. Add to that the sort of peculiar isolation which goes with being a foreigner, despite a similar language (worries: is there something wrong with me that I don’t relate well to the natives?, will my friends still be my friends when I get back, or will everything have changed?, the English take out half of the syllables in these words and I know I’ll sound like an ass if I say something wrong and they’ll be all snooty about it so should I even try?) and you’ve got a rather potent mix of crazy, I’m afraid.

This morning I read an article that anxious women (DING DING THAT’S ME) tend to be less productive than their non-anxious counterparts (men, according to the article, tend to be much less anxious than women in general). This is because, as the writer of the article put it, “an unsettled mind trying to complete a simple task is the mental equivalent of setting the treadmill to the highest possible incline and trying to run the same distance as someone running flat next to you; you may still get to where you’re going, but it’s going to be a longer, much more exhausting process,” or, in a funnier way of putting it, the anxious brain “has to ride a unicycle up a goddamn mountain in order to do anything.”

I’ve been told that meditating is a good way of coping with this, and I think it’s a valid point. The problem with meditation, though, is that whole “quiet your mind” thing. I’ve tried a few times now, and so far at its most quiet my mind still plays the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony before announcing after about five seconds, “I’m huuuuuuuungryyyyy” even though I ate half an hour before, which of course leads into the inevitable worry about calories again. And my thighs, which are apparently a never-ending mental obsession.

If I’m perfectly honest, the only thing that’s ever slightly helped this vicious process is writing, which is, unfortunately, the gateway into a vicious cycle itself. Writing makes me feel better- the actual act of it calms me, leads me into an almost-meditative state which I can stay in for hours, if the mood is right and the words are flowing. If they’re not, however- and they often aren’t- the anxiety starts creeping in. I’m a bad writer, I’m the worst writer, no one will ever take me seriously, should I write funny things or serious things or funny-serious things or novels or short stories or books for adults or teens or kids or should I even write at all? And all the while the voice of ever English teacher I had in middle and high school whispers, “You know, Elisa, you’re really quite good but your tendency to self-criticize is holding you back,” and that of course makes me wonder what I could be if I’d just shut up for a second and start believing in myself.

The Never-Ending Plight of a Book Nerd

Imagine, if you will, a girl. She’s, say, in her early twenties. Light brown hair, brown eyes, glasses. Cute when she tries to be, which she isn’t, for the purposes of this exercise. In your imagination I urge you to picture a girl standing in the boarding line for a discount airline which will take her back to London from Barcelona. Watch as she spots the flight attendant making her way down the line, telling people that they need to go measure their suitcases to make sure they comply with the size requirements. Watch this girl, this frazzled, tired girl with her system running on three hours of sleep and some truly piss-poor airport coffee, watch as she tries to angle herself behind her skinny friend so that the flight attendant won’t notice her bulging backpack. Watch as she fails and is called forward to measure the bag, which, she tries to argue, has flown with this airline before (a lie) and is told, “Sorry, it has to fit.” She tries to jam the backpack, which is easily eight inches too wide, into the slot. The coffee surges through her system, making her see little spots of red and, oddly, create the impression of a voice in her head repeating, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over. She pulls her backpack over to the side, yanks the three books she had jammed in the front pocket, zips the backpack back up, hands the books to her friend, stuffs the now-narrow bag into the slot, and storms off down the ramp and into the plane.

For those of you who aren’t quick on the uptake, this is what happened to me when I was flying home from Barcelona. This, after I intentionally left a towel (a whole freaking perfectly good towel) in the hotel because it took up too much room. I couldn’t leave the books behind, though. Could not do it.

I’m about to face another similar dilemma. I leave for a week in Scotland tomorrow, and while during that week I doubt I’ll have much time to read, I know I have two four-hour train rides (London to Glasgow, then Glasgow to London) during which I’ll want to read something. I bought American Gods by Neil Gaiman, knowing it was a good, thick book that would keep me occupied for the duration of both train rides, probably. But it’s turned out to be such a compelling book that I’m having trouble saving it. I’m nearly halfway through. So now I’m having to scour my bookshelves for something else to read, to take along with me, a book which will be both big enough to keep Miss-I-Read-like-600-Words-Per-Minute-Apparently entertained while also not taking up too much space in the suitcase I’m taking with me.

Does this happen to other people? Do other people seriously have to contemplate leaving clothes for a vacation behind so that they can fit more books? This is why I prefer trips to warmer climes- bikinis don’t take up much room. Three bikinis, a pair of cutoff shorts, and ten books. The perfect suitcase.

I’m also returning home in a month (okay, a month and a day, not like I’ve been counting down since January or anything), and have started to mentally tally up how much of my stuff is actually going to make it into the one suitcase I’m taking back with me. I don’t think fitting it all will be the problem; it’s the weight that concerns me. I get fifty pounds- fifty! That’s it! A fifty pound allotment to pack all of my spring/summer clothes and shoes, all my underwear and socks, my toiletries, the souvenirs I’m planning on bringing home, the tea I must have to keep myself from going through withdrawal, chocolate for my father, seasons five and six of Doctor Who on DVD, and, um…twelve books.

Confession: if the books make the suitcase too heavy, I’m donating clothes and keeping the books.

Okay, look. I tried really hard to not have this problem. I sent home books in the two suitcases Mom and Dad took back with them, and then told myself, “Don’t buy any more books.” But sometimes boredom leads me to the used bookstore, where “I’ll just look around to kill some time” turns into, “I’ve been looking for this book for months and it’s here and it’s only two pounds!” which inevitably turns into, “No, I don’t need a bag, I’m really quite skilled at carrying ten books at a time, but thank you.”

I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Elisa, maybe it’s time for you to invest in a Kindle,” and you’re possibly right. Probably right. But I don’t want a Kindle. I want the burden and the weight and the bruises only books can provide. I want the lines dug deep into my shoulders and arms and the particular back pain which comes with hauling around ten books for a few hours. I want to have to sit on my suitcases to get them to zip, to have more choices in my traveling library than I do in my traveling wardrobe, to have people look at my bag and say, “You’re not gonna read all of those books in one week” and then have that delightful moment of glee when I finish them all and make the doubters eat their sour grapes words. Does your Kindle come with bragging rights? Apart from the ability to say, “ooh, look at me, I have a light, skinny piece of lifeless plastic which can’t decorate the inside of my house or produce that cool old book smell or do any of the awesome things a book can do and will die a horrible technological death one day while I wail and gnash my teeth in protest and ask my self, ‘why, oh why, didn’t I listen to the book nerds and just buy a real book with pages?? Woe is me!'”

Sorry, that was mean.

You know what I want most, though? I want weight limits on airlines to be increased, because I, Book Nerd, am being discriminated against.

(Not buying it? Didn’t think so.)

50 Days

Uhh, so I realize it’s been like two months (more than two months? Less? It’s hard for me to keep track of time without classes to attend) since I’ve update this thing, and for that I apologize. Kudos to Merritt for lighting a fire under my derriere and getting this ball rolling.

In my defense, I did have another blog post started a few weeks ago, around the time I got home from Spain, but it was about how Americans are obsessed with toilets (the room, not just the object) and having given it some thought I’ve decided you, my gentle reading public, deserve better than the scatological fare my slightly insane mind sometimes dreams up (there you go, Merritt and Laura. Scatological). Although for the record, Americans are completely obsessed with toilets and toilet quality. Just sayin’.

Fifty days from today I’ll get on a plane and return to Texas. Today is also significant because a) it’s the first day of my last full month in London, a fact which is really weirding me out, man; b) I didn’t die in either of the bomb scares that have happened in the last four days; and c) I’m seriously hoping that because it’s May it’ll finally warm up around here.

I feel as though I should be out celebrating, you know, being alive and stuff, but instead I’m sitting in my dorm room, eating the rest of the baguette I started eating yesterday in the park during bomb scare #2 (side note: my brain turned that into a scatological joke, too. I think my father might be responsible for this involuntary behavior) and a cup of packet mushroom soup which is surprisingly tasty for something that came out of a paper bag. I’m also getting crumbs all over my bedroom floor, which is irritating as I don’t have a vacuum cleaner and the room won’t be cleaned by the staff until next week and I’m pretty sure said staff thinks my room is populated by a small army of mice, given the amount of crumbs which end up on my floor every week.

That’s disgusting, Elisa. Why are you telling people this?

There’s also a traffic jam going on outside, which I’m not really enjoying because London drivers are apparently under the impression that their car horns actually make traffic disappear (they are incorrect, in case you were wondering).

At this point in my journey, I’ve been asked on several occasions what I’m going to miss about London (this always with the implied, “You will miss it, of course. Because obviously nothing in your former life in Texas could ever compare to the glory that is England’s capitol”) and I have to admit, I have trouble thinking of a lengthy list. I should, of course, be able to spout fifty reasons why I’ll miss this place off the top of my head, things I’ll be without in fifty days. I’m not sure I can, but here goes nothing (apologies to those who wanted a proper blog post and not another bloody list. I’m writing a not-very-easy-or-interesting paper at the moment and my creative powers are substantially drained. Just ask my fiction writing, who for the past two months has sat patiently in the corner of my mind and is, I think, starting to grow mutinous, which is just what I need).

50 Things I’ll miss about London (and I guess England as a whole- the friends I’ve made here won’t be included on this list because duh, I’ll miss them):

1. The cheese. Seriously, it’s really spectacular here.

2. Clotted cream. You have not lived until you’ve tried it, and I’m not sure how good I’ll be at living without it.

3. Walking everywhere (or, at least, it being socially acceptable to walk everywhere). Everyone walks a lot here. I mean a lot. On a good sightseeing day I can probably log a few miles of walking, and the more I think about it the more ridiculous it seems that I never walked to work when I lived in Boerne. The library was probably a twenty minute walk from my house. It takes more time for me to walk to Buckingham Palace and I’ll do that without blinking an eye.

4. Being within walking distance of Buckingham Palace because, let’s face it, that’s pretty cool.

5. Laughing at tourists. I also get irritated at tourists, mind you, but I’ve also come to terms with them much better than I ever did in Texas (probably because there are a lot more of them here). Today I walked in front of a girl trying to take a picture of a black cab. It’s a car– but that’s the thing about London. Everything is so iconic, everyone wants to take pictures of everything they pass. Some days I find that irritating, but on others it’s kinda cute.

6. Living somewhere interesting. Yeah, I said it. Don’t get me wrong, think Texas is plenty interesting, and I still get a reaction out of people when I tell them where I’m from, but there’s something…I dunno, snazzy about saying I live in London.

7. Getting to say, “I live in London” (although, admittedly, this isn’t all that impressive to Londonders).

8. The eggs. I don’t know what they feed their chickens here but man, do they have some good eggs.

9. The grass. Specifically how green it is. When I was sitting in the park yesterday it was like sitting on a mattress (albeit a slightly damp one, which isn’t really a very good simile at all, is it?). My only impressions of sitting on Texas grass, when there is grass, is that it’s usually so dry it pokes holes through your jeans and makes your legs itch.

10. Fino. Oh, Fino. I’ll miss you every moment of every day.

11. Being like five blocks away from the greatest library in the world. When it comes to libraries, I really have been living the dream here.

12. Free museums. Free, glorious museums where you can not pay and go see awesome things like the Rosetta Stone. For free!

13. Pubs.

14. English beer. Especially Doom Bar, which is a really excellent ale.

15. Sunday roasts.

16. On that note, good lamb. I’ll miss access to good lamb, which is pretty much a guarantee here.

17. The awesome English breakfast which consists of eggs, ham, and chips (French fries). So unhealthy, but so, so delicious.

18. The way the sky looks after it’s rained for a week and suddenly the bad weather breaks and you’re left staring at a sky full of blue and sun and puffy white.

19. Also, how the English react to the sunlight, like it’s a miracle. We take sunlight for granted in Texas.

20. Tea. Can someone check HEB and tell me if Twinings English Breakfast tea is for sale? I’ll go through horrific withdrawals without it.

21. Off licenses. Nuff said.

22. Being forced to try foods I wouldn’t normally eat. In Texas I’m afraid I’ll go back to my usual set of food, which is fine, but it’s been kinda nice expanding my palate tenfold.

23. The money. Not the exchange rate, but the money itself. I’ll miss how the different denominations are different sizes and colors. And I’ll miss the pound coin. Has there ever been a more useful coin minted?

24. Blue plaques.

25. Walking past places that have been featured in movies (the steps of St. Paul’s is my current favorite location, although I do end up singing Mary Poppins songs and talking in a horrible Cockney accent in my head when I walk past).

26. The chimneys they have here. I have no idea why, but I think they’re fantastic.

27. Radiators hidden behind marble panels. I just call them “warming walls” and they were my favorite things in the world this past winter.

28. Hyde Park (all 15 million miles of it. *snort*)

29. Seeing Union Jacks everywhere, which I still find charming.

30. Not having to tip bartenders.

31. Being called “love.”

32. “Cheers!” (not the TV show)

33. My chip and pin debit card. I know it’s not all that much different, but I sort of like being able to pay with the card at the table when I go out to eat, rather than leave it in the hands of a stranger.

34. Having people react to my accent as though it’s something special (to get this reaction in Texas I’ll have to pull a Madonna and affect a London accent, which I can’t bring myself to do).

35. Discovering an interesting new neighborhood by accident.

36. The fact that, even after nearly eight months here, it still hasn’t really gotten old. There’s always something new and exciting to do.

37. Having fairly quick, relatively inexpensive access to other countries. One train ride is all it takes to get to France. In Texas, my closest option is Mexico and I’m not exactly enthused about that prospect.

38. Fish and chips.

39. Spanish chorizo, which they sell here but probably don’t sell in Texas.

40. Getting on a nearly empty Tube car. I don’t like the Tube in general but when it’s nearly deserted it’s lovely.

41. My smartphone, which I won’t have in Texas.

42. Nearly weekly rain showers. I like the rain, especially when all I have to do is stay in a read a book (which is a lot of the time). It doesn’t rain much in Texas, or at least it didn’t when I left, so I’ll miss that sound against my windows.

43. Kilburn High Road.

44. Having tax already added in to every purchase- so when you shop, the amount on the tag or sign is exactly how much you pay. It’s nice to not have to do mental math when shopping.

45. The diversity in people I encounter on a daily basis. It’s easy to walk down a street in London and not hear a single conversation in English, or a two conversations in the same language.

46. Steak and cheese pie.

47. Baffling bartenders when I order an American drink. My most recent discovery- English people don’t know what sour mix is.

48. Pimm’s. Oh, Pimm’s. I’ll miss you terribly.

49. Getting to say really irritating phrases like “I’ll miss you terribly” without people looking at me funny.

50. That glorious feeling I get every time I stand on a bridge over the Thames and look out over the water and think, “My God, I live here.”

 

Six Months

Saturday marks my six-month anniversary in London. Normally I’d write this blog post then, but as I’ll be traveling to/just arriving in Spain that day I just didn’t see it happening.

Six months.

Six.

Months.

Six months in place that has literally been the subject of fantasy for me since I was a child. Most girls plan their weddings when they’re little–and okay, I’ll be honest, I had mine all sorts of planned out by the age of six (horses were involved. And I’m sure the poor sap I was marrying in my imagination looked something like Eric from The Little Mermaid)–but I think by the time I was about ten or so I was dreaming of living in England. By high school I’d read enough books to know that I wanted to go to graduate school here, because isn’t that lovely and romantic and adventurous and what if I actually meet Prince Charming?!

Those of you who’ve been reading this for the last six months (six months, seriously?) are probably all too aware that it hasn’t really been like that. Prince Charming isn’t real and the prince I’ve had my eye on since childhood seems to have a penchant for blondes and let’s be honest, I’m probably a little too high strung to deal with royal life (plus I’d call Camilla “Your Royal Horseface” the first time I saw her, so perhaps it’s for the best).

When you’re a kid dreaming about the awesome adventure that will be your life, making plans to pack up your belongings and move your hard-headed little self across the ocean to the Magical Land that is England, you never factor in the details of being lonely or homesick or the fact that English grocery stores don’t sell products only made in Texas. You don’t realize that because the United Kingdom is so far north, the sun will set four hours earlier than you’re used to in the summer, and as a result you’ll go completely native on the first day of sunshine, running outside in short sleeves declaring, “It’s spring!‘ as though you’ve discovered fire or the wheel, even though it’s only February and there’s a good chance it’ll snow the next day. You won’t realize that while all your friends are on Spring Break in Texas, going to beaches and New Orleans, or while it’s fall there and they’re going to football games and watching baseball on TV and building bonfires, you’ll be six hours ahead and a million light years away, because the English don’t call football football, they call soccer football, and they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. You’ll think you can go a year without Thanksgiving dinner, but you’ll be wrong, and when you successfully manage to cook a chicken without poisoning all three of your London friends you’ll cry with happiness. Over chicken.

Still. Looking back on these six months, I don’t remember the homesickness so much, even though that was a deep, painful, sustained feeling I endured the first month or so I was here. You want to know what I remember? I remember the feeling of driving from Exeter to Moretonhampstead- a thirty minute drive on a rickety bus, up and down hills and through winding, narrow roads. The feeling was much more fleeting than the homesickness I’d been feeling up until then, but it stuck with me. It was like a little voice whispering in my head, “Do you remember now? Do you remember why you came here?” I remember standing on top of a hill in Norway, watching fireworks from under an umbrella in the pouring rain with my aunt and uncle. My aunt apologized- apparently the display is more impressive when the weather is nice- but as we walked/slid back down the hill I hugged her and said, “It was perfect.” I remember riding on the top deck of a double decker across the Thames on the way to see a concert, looking out over the river and saying to Valeria, “We live here.” I remember the first day Billy was in town, when we climbed to the top of St. Paul’s and I saw, through my eyes and his, the vast expanse of this mad, beautiful, wonderful city.

Six months ago I’d left the state of Texas less than ten times. I’d been out of the country once, flown in a plane less than five times, and had a grand total of two stamps in my passport. Five days from now I’m going to Spain. Two months from tomorrow I’m going to Scotland. I’ve seen every sight in London enough times to be able to jokingly say, “aaaand this is Trafalgar Square, those are the best places to take pictures, are you through now? Good, let’s move on.”

Six months ago I had a panic attack in the hall of my parents’ house over something so insignificant (dry cleaning- I’d just gotten back from Fort Worth and needed to take some dresses to be dry cleaned and suddenly couldn’t make myself leave the house) that I look back on it and wonder what the hell was wrong with me. In retrospect, I wasn’t scared to leave the house just that day, I was scared to leave the house and Texas and my parents and my friends. I remember standing in the hallway clutching at my chest, gasping, “I can’t, I can’t.” In that moment I didn’t think I could. I didn’t think I was big enough or strong enough to leave the comfortable little world I’d made for myself there in Texas. It was the only moment in which I genuinely considered not going, because in that moment I was the most terrified I’ve ever been.

Six months ago I proved I can. I got on the plane, I made it from the airport to my dorm (with guidance- God bless William Duncan Welder IV), I learned how to walk around without a map, how to use the tube efficiently (or as efficiently as possible). Mostly, though, six months ago I grew up. Not a lot, not enough to make me a completely different person. But six months ago I looked into the mirror and saw, for the first time, a person I thought could grow into someone I’m proud to be. She’s all there now, a girl who still says “y’all” and runs into people on the street and sometimes can’t be bothered to put on makeup, a girl who’s bound and damn determined that there has to be a Ministry of Silly Walks in this city, or failing that, somewhere she can go to have an argument, a girl who dances alone in her room with the windows open, who procrastinates and goes on shortbread eating binges, who drinks hot tea as much as she used to drink sweet tea; that girl can now tell you without looking which tube line to take to get to London Bridge (Northern) and the best place for lo mein around the British Museum, a girl who can draw up a rockin’ itinerary for a week in London, who can identify English money without hesitation, a girl who, sure, still has days where she has to tell herself, “Get out of bed, you’re not doing yourself any favors,” but always does get up, a girl who stays in more often than not but out of laziness, not fear, a girl who has class at the V&A, who finishes her taught classes the day after tomorrow. A girl who, in six more months, will have a Master’s degree.

Six months in London has turned me into a person I’m actually proud to be. I realized the other day that every year has been my favorite- as in life just keeps getting better and better. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not exactly an optimistic person, but if things keep going the way they’ve been going, I’ve got a lot to look forward to in the next six months.