As soon as we talk, I want to go back. Not back to you but back to some place. Back to a way of life so far from what there is here. Here it is bleak, plain, cold. Here there is just me. Here, you are not.
So much has changed in such a short time. It is hard now to think about the past. Our past. They say that I should not. I try not to, but there, in spite of it all, you are.
It is this new world that we live in. This thing, this World Wide Web, made it so that there is no space, no breadth or length or width that can keep you there, me here, and them far.
Doubt. I think that is what they call it. A thought that a thing or a place or a you is missed; was left. A thought that, in the times where what was real and what is in the mind got mixed up and lost, I was wrong.
And so you send me words and I send you thoughts though I try not to. I will not call. I will not write and you are the same. But this World Wide Web binds us so that we must be joined. There is no ‘not joined’.
That is the cause of the pain. That is why I must go back. Not to you but to the place where you are. A place where I can hide and run. Not see or hear or feel you.
Here, in the space where I am, you are not you. You are a sketch, you are words, but you are not as you are there. There, I can not be me. It is not for us to be at all.
And so I must go back. But then, I must not. These are just the grounds on which I make my self trust and fall for the pull of you and your place. In truth, you do not feel it as I do. If you did, you could not be there.
We talk and I want what I do not say while you say what you can not want. At least, what you can not let your self want. You do not know the change, not in the same way. You did not leave. You kept hold and curbed your want when you let me go. You could have stopped it but you did not.
I blame a them that are not named, the way that you once did in the time when you were more than words on a screen. The ‘they’ are not real, or, if they are, they are not at fault. It was me and you and no one else. Choice, not fate.
Now, you live your life while I sit and wait. Here, in this white room with its four walls, the stream of blue and the face or two that stop by the glass, I sit and I stare at the screen where your words will be and we will talk and want to go back. But the place is not there and the you and the me now are not the you and the me that were. We can not go back.
My last creative writing assignment of the term (before I write my dissertation) was to write a monosyllabic story. This is genuinely the hardest task I’ve probably been given, considering my penchant for throwing big words at things to make them go away/seem fancy/look like I spent a lot of time on them (ahem. all of my essays). I think I’m proud of what I came up with because it seems like a good mix or reality and fiction, but then I have no idea if it makes sense to anybody but me. It’s going to be an interesting class. Especially considering that since it’s the end of the semester we’re all meeting in the pub 3 hours before class actually starts for a Christmas party of sorts. Teachers idea. This is what I love about being back studying in Scotland again.
because of my terrible time management skills so here’s my pitch:
Go Abroad. Do it. It might seem a little scary and lord knows the application process is kinda long and daunting and stressful but you’re not going to be thinking about that anymore once you have your acceptance, you’ve packed your bags and you’re ready to go.
Meet new people. People from all over the world. Those connections and friendships will last you a lifetime and one of the first things on your mind when it inevitably comes to an end will be: When can we meet again and where? When can we go back? That ‘we’ is what university and travelling, particularly the combination of the two, is ultimately all about. Find your people and know that no matter how much distance there might be between you you’re always going to have that fantastic experience and your friendship will last the long haul.
Travel to exciting places that you never expected to see, not in this way and not at this age when- let’s face it- you’re not often in a position to afford all the fantastic things that suddenly become available on your doorstep when you’re living in a foreign country. See as much as you can, though be respectful of the budget you know you have to live on. Go somewhere with new friends and make memories that form a friendship. Go somewhere alone and experience the rush of being out in the world completely free and completely able to do anything you want. Go somewhere with old friends and marvel at how different things have become from the days you spent sitting in school or cafes dreaming about where you might one day end up.
Remember the people you couldn’t take with you. Nothing says extremely close friendship like swanning off on an adventure for a year and still having your friends there for you when you get back. Thanks to modern technology you practically can take them with you in your pocket, but the moment of reunion when you’re physically back in the same place still feels pretty fantastic. Don’t forget to keep in touch and to learn about what’s happening back home just because you’re not there. These people are the ones who will make everything okay when you eventually come back and you’re going to need them still to be there.
You also have to learn that it’s okay to miss people, to be homesick and to have down days. Things won’t be perfect every second just because you’re in an exciting experience. Be honest about it and accepting of your own feelings and the feelings of those around you and you’ll find you’re never really alone in them.
And the same goes at the other end. It’s okay when you are home to miss the experiences you had, to miss the new people in your life, to miss the place that was briefly your every day. It’s going to mean so much to you and change you in ways that may be too small to notice or may be glaringly obvious. You’re not only allowed but encouraged to let this happen.
You still have to study and work a little but considering that’s the thing that sent you abroad you can’t begrudge it all that much. You’ll be studying and learning things in a new way, or learning things you wouldn’t get the chance to if you stayed in one place. You mind find something you prefer; something you love, or you might find that really the way you do things back home isn’t so bad after all. Either way, this isn’t going to be the facet that makes your year anyway, it’s just something not to forget about.
So go abroad. Travel, make friends, eat, drink, be merry, learn something, share something, take pictures, write letters, collect postcards, do something you never thought you would, remember to keep doing the things you love, experience and all the many many other cliches that are attached to travelling. Cliches are cliches for a reason, so go somewhere different and find out why. You won’t regret it.
You pull the strings,
that no one else, not even I
until without knowing, Mybody becomes
You twist and wrap Me
are Your handsandarmsandlegs,
Until nothing is separate anymore.
Singular, You pull
Me closer so Mybody touches
and You get more control
More strings spring from our contact,
I let you play these Puppet Games
I welcome them in
I welcome them in space where no one else has been
Save You and I
and Our invisible strings
Today was national poetry day in the UK and I was really busy and forgot until just now. (Although I did spend my evening at a spoken word/poetry reading entitled Fuck the Patriarchy so I’m pretty sure I did my bit). Anyway, I thought I’d post a poem I once wrote that I liked because it’s rare I write poems and even more rare that I think they’re any good and never that I share them with other people.
I find myself constantly torn between wanting to skip ahead to the part of life where I’m successful enough at the thing I love to do that I don’t have to stress about it or support the dream with things I’d rather not be doing, wanting to be about five years old again, and ultimately knowing that I don’t ever want to stop being a 20 something student who still has all the possibilities open and just gets to spend evenings eating crisps and reading children’s stories companionably with my flatmates
The Second City is definitely an accurate name for Chicago. If New York City is the love affair that you always go back to, Chicago is definitely there to tempt you away for a while. It’s not a perfect metaphor and it doesn’t work for all things but more than any other place I’d been or have been since being in America, Chicago seemed like the city to challenge or to rival New York. The food, the culture, the parks, the people. It was all there and it was all inviting and intriguing and something that made you want to be a part of it.
We flew to Chicago ridiculously early after very little sleep in airports and on public transport, met up with the people we were staying with and then spent a leisurely afternoon enjoying the only sunny day of our time there in the park. We met up again with our kind hosts and went out to try proper Chicago deep dish pizza, which was as good as it sounds and there was way too much of it. Then for an incredibly early night and a well deserved sleep. Or, to borrow some words from a far better writer, “I arrived in Chi quite early in the morning, got a room, and went to bed with a very few dollars in my pocket. I dug Chicago after a good day’s sleep.”
The next couple of days we spent really exploring all the sights of the city, from hours spent in museums to hours wandering the streets just taking it all in there was never really a dull moment in Chicago. I particularly enjoyed the pretty and expansive Lincoln and Millennium parks and the streets of Old Town. Maybe it’s too many years spent between Edinburgh and Glasgow but there’s something calming and peaceful about older cities that just appeals to me. Even knowing from first hand experience the impracticality of living in old buildings, there’s little else I’d prefer (although the beautiful floor-to-ceiling glass windowed 26th storey apartment we stayed in was pretty amazing too).
The Sears Tower (Willis. Whatever) was a landmark we couldn’t miss out on, no matter how touristy it may seem, and the views of the city from the top were fantastic. It was the big attraction we all wanted to see and the last real must we ticked off our list. It meant a couple of more relaxing days, wandering around areas we liked and ticking off all the Chicago food experiences we figured we had to try. The second deep dish pizza we shared was out last meal all three together- Marie, Jyoti and I- which was a little bitter sweet but even better than the first. It hadn’t been immediately in Albany that Marie and Jyoti and I had all joined forces but as the year went on and the three of us became closer together (mainly due to tumblr and tequila it has to be said) I was really glad these were the girls I was starting my travel adventures with. Marie and I had started talking about Chicago over Christmas break when we were both home and up late at night with our jet lag and I think I always just assumed I would travel with Jyoti and I was right. Contrary to popular expectation, we made it safely through 7 different cities together over the whole year which I think sort of proves we can function as real adults when we have to, even if we don’t want to all that much.
We didn’t spend all our time in Chicago in the one place; taking advantage of the slightly longer time we had there we moved out for our last couple of nights to stay in wicker park. Much like the contrast between the boroughs of New York, the difference between here and downtown was palpable and I’m really glad we explored somewhere a little less business meets tourist and maybe a little more typical for most Chicagoans. It was an undeniably hipster area and I may have accidentally found myself buying an unneeded but otherwise awesome pair of sunglasses in buffalo exchange, but that just added to the up-and-coming sort of atmosphere that I love to get from a city. Yes downtown in the business district really feels like ‘we’ve arrived. This is everything we worked for’ but it’s the places that are still striving, dreaming and aiming that I love. Just like the people working out in a completely glass fronted gym across for a delicious cupcake shop, the area seemed to want something more for itself which to me is what a city should be: a reflection of the people who live there; each area differing based on the ideals and the aims of the people who flock there.
So that was Chicago. The first stop on the last six weeks of my time in America and a place I definitely want to return to one day. A dynamic city with something for everyone and, never to be forgotten, really, really good pizza.
Saying goodbye to Albany was strange. I always knew a little in the background of everything I did that it was only for a year, less even. I wasn’t making roots and settling in to a new chapter of life in the way I had been when I moved to Glasgow. To listen to any of my friends and family from back home, I was taking a holiday from my real life for the year. And while I understand how study abroad is a lot like taking a holiday from your real life, I think that’s also a way for the people you leave behind to normalise things. It’s not a moving on or a change, it’s just a break. Everything will go back to normal eventually.
Except this time, that’s not the case. I gave 9 months to living in Albany and it’s a place I’ll probably never go to again. Yes of course I had a good time there but it was a small and quiet city with little to really bring me back to visit. What made the year wasn’t so much the city itself but the amazing people I met there. Although I still have just a little longer in the US, I’ve finally had all my goodbyes and my ‘til next time’s and ‘we will see each other again I promise’ and ‘I hope we’ll see each other again’ and all manner of variations with those amazing people and it feels weird.
The last few weeks in Albany I did my usual thing where I ignored the impending changes in order to not get all emotional and to not have to deal with it. But at the same time, I had to censor myself and change my point of view based on who I was talking to. There are the people back home who I’ve missed a lot this year and it’s no lie that I’m really excited to see them again and to go back into our happy little bubble or inappropriately close and sort of co dependant friendship. The closer it gets to me returning, the more I miss my friends and my flat and my family and the more I look forward to what it will be like when we’re together, so of course I tell them ‘I can’t wait’ ‘I’m so excited’ ‘I miss you’ and I mean it. But then there’s the people here and the way of life I’ve gotten used to that I don’t want to leave. Do I tell my friends at home I’m sad about coming back? Not really, because I don’t want them to feel like a second choice because they aren’t. Do I tell people here I’m excited to leave? Well, no. Because I’ll miss them and I’ll miss certain parts of my life in America and there are things I don’t want to give up or leave behind but I have to. It’s like being caught between two worlds that are so similar and so different at the same time, but just can’t quite exist together. I don’t want one or the other but I don’t know how I can have both. I’m torn, a little displaced. And that actually makes me really lucky. It means there are people in my life in England, in Scotland, in America (and those people are now all over the world) that make me feel so comfortable and happy and loved and all of the things that you need to feel at home. I have no right to complain or be sad when I have all those things from all these people.
But then we have, or had, the actual goodbyes. I’m currently sitting in an RV in New Hampshire with my parents watching the rain and I fly home in exactly a week (+ a few hours). It’s pretty and peaceful (if wet), but what it means is a week ago today, I said my last goodbyes to the people I met here, and I’ve been saying those goodbyes for the last 6 weeks. There were some missed opportunities, goodbyes that we didn’t realise or intend to be the last and I’m sorry that with some friends we didn’t manage to meet up again. Although it means I definitely have to go to South Korea one day to visit, and I will as soon as I make my millions I promise (if you’re reading this, Catherine or Hannah this bit’s for you guys!) there were some goodbyes that were hurried, came about by sheer chance of walking by as someone was checking out or a sudden realisation that ‘oh, hey, I might never see you again have a nice life.’ I’m usually quite good at making goodbyes quick because that’s how I avoid accepting that they’re happening, but after almost a year in America, those sorts of goodbyes weren’t quite satisfying enough in every case.
And so we come to the really hard goodbyes with the really excellent friends I’ve made this year and the people who meant a lot to me and who made it what it was. They were spread out over days and weeks and they were hard. Even though I know I will stay in touch with so many of those people for as long as I can imagine and I will see them again, not knowing exactly when is incredibly strange.
First on that list was, coincidentally enough, the first person I spoke to here in Albany and usually my first port of call in any situation since all I had to do was cross the corridor and knock: Matt. Now obviously Glasgow and Hull aren’t so far apart and we’ll definitely meet again, but realising immediately after moving out of the dorm that he was flying home for good the next morning was all of a sudden the moment everything became real. We’ll always have a lot of memories in Albany and a lot in common that will keep us friends (namely appreciation of Ryan Gosling movies) and then there’s that rap duo we started that means we’ll just have to meet up to perform, but not knowing that he’ll probably knock on my door at some point on a Sunday and make me eat an actual meal rather than just snacks is going to be a big change next year. I might forget to eat at all on Sundays. Who knows?
Then there was Kelly, my token American friend who was much more than a ‘token’ friend and above all a very good drinking buddy. Our friendship was originally founded on nights out (or in) drinking in first semester and I’m so glad that we got closer and started spending more time together in second. We will always stay in touch and I know she’s good at the distance what with her other UK based friends. I will miss hangover brunches on the weekends and I’m forever grateful to her for giving me the American experience of my first (and only) sorority party. It was everything I expected and more, which is all that really needs to be said on the subject. Kelly I’m sorry we won’t be going to Justin’s together anymore but I implore you to have a cocktail on me whenever you go again next year!
And then there was my beautiful lovely sweet little Mexican girl Ana leaving our last meal together and flying off back to Puerto Rico beaches. I will be on those beaches with her one day, just as soon as I can. No one has ever complimented me as much or been anywhere near as sweet and loving and attentive as this girl and I don’t think anyone else in the world can be. Our lunches (when I managed not to sleep in and to make it) and all our talks and cuddles together at parties were the best and although I know we’ll FaceTime and talk all the time and I will goto Puerto Rico, it won’t be the same as being together in person and I will definitely miss that daily sweetness in my life.
And the next day after that was my last in Albany. One last trip to campus to print all my info, one last trip to Stuyvesant plaza for make up and other necessary things like milkshakes and a weirdly too fast goodbye to my French girl and driver/travelling buddy extraordinaire Marie la Baguette before heading back to my temporary home to pack up and go for the bus to start the travelling adventure. It was there I said goodbye to everyone’s favourite Viking Ancestor, the lovely and sometime creepy Nikoline, who is the best friend for girly things like getting haircuts and buying too much lipstick and also for drinking cocktails with. I can’t be sad though because these are all things we will do again and do again soon when I force her to visit me in Glasgow. October, it will happen. And one day I shall go to Norway, and much more of Scandinavia. Not Finland though. Never Finland.
And that was it. Goodbye Albany. Though not quite all the personal goodbyes. The next came in San Francisco when after more than 2 weeks of constantly travelling and being together I suddenly left Jyoti a few days behind me while I sauntered off to San Diego. Never a goodbye that would get emotional, only weird, and never a goodbye that will have to last too long what with Manchester/Swansea Glasgow/Edinburgh such easy places to go between. (Dissertation blues escape home in Wales yes please) Still, there are those people who’s faces you expect to see everyday and who you can talk almost in code with and you know you both know exactly what you mean whilst the rest of the world watches perplexed. Jyoti was that person for me this year, what with all the tumblr and the Disney and The Lizzie Bennett Diaries that we shared together. And Community. And Parks and Rec. And roommate woes. And basically everything. Even though she was a silly kind of Asian, we had too much in common not to like her anyway, not that I’d ever really admit these things to her face.
Which brings us to New York City and the last couple of days I had free in America with friends, where I said my goodbyes to Adam, a newly acquired friend of Jyoti’s that I stole for myself, and to Stephen, the first American in any of my classes to strike up a casual friendship that turned into lunches and days out and ended with strolls around Central Park and Battery Park in the beautiful summer weather.
Then there was the other token American that once upon a time was a constant presence and the one who made sure that those last few days were as American as they could have been what with his fake gun wielding friends and late night lessons in American sports: John. We definitely had our ups and our downs over the year and weren’t necessarily always the best of friends spending every day together but the high points far outweighed the lows in the end and things were left in a very good place. Not too difficult to say goodbye, but not easy either. It was a fitting couple of days of crazy adventures and little sleep in the city that reportedly never sleeps. Maybe if we meet again it’ll be on my turf and I can take charge of the stereotypes.
Then there’s the kicker, the last goodbye, the pamplemousse waiting in the greyhound bus station. Marie! What will I do without you? You looked after me whenever I needed it and fed me delicious food and shared all the same likes and interests and generally awesome tastes that I did and I don’t know what to do when you’re not living 15 minutes down the road from me. All I know is there will be constant WhatsApp and almost daily skyping next year and that I will come to France next summer, if not before, and you will come to Glasgow. Marie is one of those girls who you can describe as the best person I know and really mean it. The person I shared the most with about my life before and during America and we will definitely be back here together to travel again as soon as we can, this is not the end of our American adventure. New York together was a fantastic way to end out the year and no amount of tears in restaurants or on buses or anywhere could dampen that.
And so that was my year, or my 11 months, in America. And those were some of the people that made it what it was- the ones who really stood out and made it special. Goodbyes are always hard and I’m terrible at saying goodbyes in person so I write this instead because I know I never would have said all these things to your faces. It’s long and rambling but I mean it and I’m thankful that we had this year together. America wouldn’t have been the same without these guys making all my experiences something to share with friends rather than just experiences. I still have to catch up writing all my travel posts and I will do so over summer, all the while (to end on a horrifically cheesy note) remembering that it’s the people, not necessarily the places that make the journey what it is.
If there was ever a single moment that stood out and said ‘hey, you’re in America and you can travel and basically do whatever you want’ it was the moment that going to New Orleans for spring break became a reality and not just a pipe dream casually discussed over dinner and in corridors. Whatever, whenever, wherever, you always talk about running away to the sun for a few days with friends but you never expect it to actually happen. Well, this March, it happened.
New Orleans was a whole new world, completely different to anywhere else I had been in the states and probably to anywhere else I will go this summer. It’s a testament to the size of America how different one part of the country can be from the other in just about everything: climate, attitude, lifestyle, food, environment. Nothing about New Orleans and New York felt like the same place. When we left Albany it was 11am, cold and lightly snowing. When we arrived in New Orleans it was about 11pm, dark and significantly warmer than day time New York State had been in a very long time. For ease on our first and last nights we stayed in an airport motel and it was the most quintessentially, straight from a TV American movie thing I could ever have expected it to be. Definitely a needed experience.
Then, out of sheer fortuitousness, we ended up staying 3 nights in an under construction b&b for free with a couple of our friends who had been in New Orleans longer than us and had organised couch surfing. It was a great opportunity, to have a guest house just for the 5 of us girls with 2 bedrooms and bathrooms and not to have to worry about anything really. There was a cheap and really good pancake place just around the corner for breakfast and a streetcar to take us to the French Quarter just a street away. Perfect.
The French Quarter was where we spent most of our time in the end. It’s just such a beautiful part of the city that seems to perfectly mix cultures from all over the world into one unique ‘New Orleans’ feel. American, European, African: you name it and New Orleans probably had it. Our first day there was also coincidentally St Patricks Day, so the whole festival spirit, everybody out in the streets drinking and having a good time was exaggerated even further than normal. It was surreal to see how into all the ‘irishness’ America seems to be (even if irishness to them basically just means green everywhere green). Also the drinking. It was nothing like anywhere else I’d been in America, much much more like a UK city on a Friday night. There was no iding and the almost bottomless ‘hurricane’ cocktails that you just had to try we’re enough to wipe you out after only one. Or even half of one. This was on Bourbon Street of course, famed for its partying. A couple of nights later we found a quieter, much nicer jazz bar on Frenchman street and soaked up some early evening music and almost every drink on their cocktail menu. And dessert. That was the fitting, and much more up my street end to our time in New Orleans, after the heavy start.
In the middle of our trip, we went out of the city with the 5 of us hiring a car and heading first to a plantation and then took a swamp tour. It was great to see different aspects of Louisiana and to take in some of the beautiful scenery, though we were a little early in the season for all that much to be visible on the swamp. There were still a fair few snakes and reptiles about!
Also deserving a mention is the food. There’s so much local to Louisiana or The South in general and it was mostly delicious, though I personally don’t eat seafood so I didn’t get a proper feel for it. Red beans and rice though is the perfect comfort food and definitely something I want to try and recreate at home.
I’m excited to go to a different part of The South and see how that compares and what the general feel is, but I’ll definitely be back in Louisiana one day. And I would definitely recommend it, particularly in the springtime.