Lost + Found

Lost: An iPod bursting with constantly updated music.
Found: An iPod dominated by podcasts like RadioLab and Spilled Milk that cuddle my ears on the tube or on long walks around the city.

Lost: Trust in Google Maps’ directions via public transport, which has proven to be woefully inaccurate (mostly for buses.)
Found: Myself, deposited in many unintended locations. But it turned out alright! Which brings me to…

Lost: A nervous heart that beat rapidly upon boarding a bus that would supposedly take me to my destination.
Found: Greater confidence in my ability to ascertain my physical location without a smartphone, usually via one of London’s ubiquitous, helpful street maps. Sometimes, a real live Brit would set aside their reserved nature and help! (Also found: new hand muscles thanks to probably at least 50 lists of handwritten directions!)

Lost: Lots of money. (Maybe not lost… more like spent.)
Found: Lots and lots and lots of experiences. (DUH it was worth it!) I’ve seen quite a few concerts, eaten lots of varied cuisine, and visited a long list of new places. I think food, transport, and travels outside London have been my biggest expenses here.

Lost: It was waning by the end of last semester anyway, but nonetheless, much of the infatuation I once felt with Wes.
Found: Knowledge of what life can be like after college and a growing excitement to pursue that life. Even though mine will probably involve grad school, which is sort of like a continuation of college, it’s another step in the path to move somewhere I choose where I’m supported by a heftier income and therefore possess greater personal freedom. Now that I’ve been exposed to so much, my desires for my future have intensified and grown in number.

And lastly-

Lost: A habit of constantly comparing myself with my peers, usually via Facebook, that too often incurred unhealthy levels of self-doubt (don’t worry, it’s normal, I’m a Millennial.) Also, for that matter, my Facebook account (until June.)
Found: A self that was much more content with my identity and methods of living. The chance to be more self-centered than usual, stemming from my choice of technologically isolating myself from American influences pretty significantly and, well, having a huge new city ready to be discovered at my doorstep… A new type of introspection that came from a much kinder and accepting place than before. I guess it seems obvious now, but this extraction of my virtual persona from a massive judging block surrounded by some very intimidatingly witty and pretty peers (read: unintended competitors) yielded great inner peace. My temporary resignation from Snapchat also facilitated this transition from a state of mind plagued by constant questions of how I could best show off my life to a new mindset where I could live my life according to my wishes, take some pictures for myself and my blog readers, and everyone else would have to make do with stories later on. Honestly, it was an exercise in self-love. Much will change when I return to the states, including social media presence, but I hope I can continue to fend off the tempting gratification that ongoing peer approval infamously provides.


 

As I near the end of “Travels with Charley”, who do I stumble upon but my own Rocinante! (That was Steinbeck’s car that carried them around the US in the book.) Is it a sign??

As I near the end of "Travels with Charley", who do I stumble upon but my own Rocinante! (That was Steinbeck's car that carried them around the US in the book.)

Discovering the US from the UK

They say a memorable aspect of living abroad is realizing how your own country compares to the rest of the world. And they’re right. Studying in London has given me an incredible vantage point from which to judge and analyze America. Confronting the assumptions I held in the US is especially interesting. For example, when comparing post-college plans with a new friend here (originally from Lebanon, moved to the UAE, now lives in London), I mentioned how I’d like to take a year off before grad school. His facial expression divulged a little incredulity, some amusement, a pinch of envy, and a whole lotta enthusiasm: He said something like “You Americans and your gap years!”

He went on to explain that here (meaning in UK and his culture), people go to uni for one area of study and then get a job afterwards. But Americans have liberal arts colleges that enable us to learn oenology in addition to our majors, we have colleges who worship their sports teams (at QM you have to pay to join a sports team- they’re not funded by the school), and we have a little something called Spring Break that fills many a Brit’s imagination with ideas of every American student stampeding to Florida to do the thing that probably 10% of us actually do.

I think that a lot of factors cause Americans to hang out in an adolescent state of mind much longer than the British. But to veer back to my point, travel educates you about new places and where you’re from. It’s all about reflection. And that’s why reading Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley”, an impeccably chosen recommendation from Mary and Hug, is unmeasurably enriching my London experience.

I’m worried about this moving into high-school-English-teacher territory so I’m keeping most of the book’s meaning inside the book and not splayed out like a massacre of literature for all to see (was that passive aggressive?)

Anyways, the book follows Steinbeck, who is on the cusp of entering a new era that seduces some into excusing themselves into old men. He rejects this call of the man-child (see what I did there?) and instead turns his eyes to the American roads on a journey through the states. He does it to reacquaint himself with his homeland after living abroad for a few years, but moreso to discover the a country whose distinctive people, ways of life, mannerisms, and landscapes create the vivid, undescribable mosaic of American culture. He embarks just as the 1960s are beginning. I’m only about halfway through, but whispers of that era don’t seem to enter into the book much.

As the title suggests, Steinbeck brings along his canine pal Charley. The way that he describes his companion is heartwrenchingly dear, especially when he dually anthropomorphizes and condescends him. Charley acts as a liaison for introducing Steinbeck to characters he meets at roadside stops. And much more.

The reason why I’m talking about this book is because it’s given me so many new angles to compare experiences across time and space. It’s a reverse culture shock teaser. I can relate and reflect on Steinbeck (1) rediscovering America, and (2) when he’s undergoing momentous change in his life, and (3) at a revolutionary time in history.

I love knowing that he’s driving by default on what are modern “back roads” but in his time were the typical routes. There’s a section where he writes of the horrors of the highway. I feel for him. There’s another poignant moment where he realizes that “when we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing”. It’s so sad because he was right: that time is now. This prediction was true in more than just the literal interpretation: we’re often so focused on getting from A to B that we bypass beauty. You can fill in your own heard-them-all-before examples here but before I finish, one last interpretation. Picture-taking.

We see artsy graffiti: click. Busker playing a spunky song in a tube station: record it. Where’s the joy in leaving something beautiful where it came from and having your memory of it be enough? Why must we nervously take and photograph things we know we won’t bother to look at let alone appreciate much after the fact at the cost of breaking the beauty of an unscripted moment? I’m all for documenting memories but can’t your own knowledge that you saw a pretty thing be enough? To this end, I’m stating why I’m leaving some of the most amazing pieces of London in London.

I guess this is leading into facebook/ insecurity/ fomo etc. territory. I guess I’ll digress.

But ok to finish, if you appreciate lyrical writing, vivid imagery, and having your heart busted out from really sad but beautiful depictions of change and a romanticized America, try out “Travels with Charley”. This book has made a real impact on me and my entire study abroad experience. Bam.

Steinbeck and Charley ❤


In other news, I recently went to London’s BOARD GAME CAFE! Went on a Wednesday afternoon/evening, and by 7 pm, the place was packed! Enjoyed a Hackney cider and some jenga all while feeling the hipsterness coming at me from all angles. We finished with some very Anglocentric Trivial Pursuit that left both the American and the Portuguese at a disadvantage. All in all, very fun. Worth a visit if you still can’t shake your love of board games (honestly why would you ever dream of such blasphemy?!)

from Draughts’ website

And finally, on the academic studying circuit, for all your synapsid, Cambrian Explosion, and zygapophyses-related queries, you know who to call!