Travel, in my experience, has always been hard. Valuable and important, certainly, in that you learn a lot about yourself and your own culture when you’re perpetually in a state of mild discomfort, but uncomfortable all the same. The preparation for this trip was along those lines: visa, flights, decisions, housing, reading, etc. were all somewhat stressful, but manageable and good teaching moments for how these systems work. It is thus continually astounding to me that this first week in London has been unabashedly fun.
What have I been doing with my days? I’ve settled into a three-day rotation system: first day, wander around London. These are great days—I pick the day with the best weather, and go out to listen and look amongst the crowds. There’s something wonderful about being in large, fast-moving groups of people; of starting out in uncrowded roads until you get caught up in a river of energy and language, are swept into whatever monument is attracting the multitudes, and then wash right back out again into narrower streets. I love the aimlessness of having flexible destinations, the satisfaction of having correctly followed a map, watching peoples’ clothes change as my location changes and watching the architecture morph along to match. I enjoy walking briskly along the river, using buildings as sightlines, being guilelessly ignored with no expectation of my mind engaging anything else but itself. London’s a big city, alternatively crowded and not, with places quickly familiar intermixed with vast unexplored territory, busy, organized, with so many diverse peoples chattering away. I love walking in London.
Day two: go running. I should warn you now that this three-day system is organized around an exercise regimen—three plus hours of walking one day, a short run the next, and nothing on the third. And far from being an irrelevant motivator, the fact that I value exercise and have been able to structure my days around it is probably what has been making this adjustment so easy. Having complete freedom over one’s schedule, the confidence to do whatever one wants, time, and money, make for the easiest way of life I can think of.
So on day twos I go running, and because I am tired of carrying around maps, I head into the signage-filled city, into the many green places in London, running to Hyde Park and as far in as I can go before a time limit has me turn back. I breathe in smoke—so many more smokers than in Boston, you have to hold your breath—and weave around walkers on the sidewalk, until I arrive into the sunshine and grass and gravel to share with families walking in the park. There are so many Londoners in the park, so many children. Not nearly so many homeless as in Boston. Plenty of joggers—it’s acceptable here, women walk around with yoga pants on and it’s fine, even fine pushing past people in the street. (I was worried; America’s oddly accepting of runners, especially female, running on any normal street. This is the only other place I’ve traveled to where this seems just as normal.)
On the way back I struggle with which side of the sidewalk to be on. Stick to the right, or to the left? The roads are backwards; shouldn’t the sidewalks be too? I think sidewalks might be in the American way. I still can’t figure it out.
Day threes: stay-at-home days. I am so lucky to have the people I do in my life. So, so lucky. I am staying with Rebecca’s dad right now, for free in his apartment, and he is away on a family trip so I have the entire place to myself. He showed me the supermarket so I walk there when I like. There’s a full kitchen and a full bathroom and light and heat, and the internet is constantly available. On day threes I work on research I’m finishing up for Wellesley, and for my ever-lasting, neverending graduate school apps. Will they never be finished? Scientific soul-searching takes forever, constant tiny battles running in circles and circles in my mind. Do I want to do this because I’m really interested? Do I not want to do this because I’m intimidated? How good am I compared to everyone else? What’s my background compared to everyone else? Am I doing this just because it’s hard? What if it’s too hard? Do I care about male/female ratios? Am I good enough? If I’m not good enough, how much do I want to fight for it? Am I fighting the system or am I also fighting myself? What do I want? It circles, circles, and circles. I’m learning things. It’s always a joy when you can learn things by dipping a finger into the thoughts in your own head; often enough I feel like I’m useless without outside influence. Applications are about lying on the floor staring up at the ceiling at two in the morning, and then shaking the hand of an interviewer months later, with easy phrases on your tongue, your whole realm of arguments neatly organized and confined.
I’m so happy to be working. I get anxious when I’m not, and tired when I’m working constantly, but this cycle I’m in, where I’m sort of on vacation and sort of not, is perfect. I thought I’d get lonely—I’m extremely surprised, every day, when I’m not. The voice in my head is very loud. The internet and its amusements never stop. The grad school work I’m doing is very self-involved, necessitates a lot of internal debates and conversations. Music fills up empty space like you wouldn’t imagine—when I turn it on while I’m working, I can immediately feel myself get dumber; suddenly I don’t have that winding dialogue questioning whether this really is the best way to do this, maybe I should consider this other way of doing it, am I using my time correctly, should I maybe be concerned about. Now it’s filled with: oh, do I like these lyrics? Why don’t I like these lyrics? Ooh, fun. Ooh, dance. And my mouse moves along like it always does, doing the work I’ve assigned it, best use of time or not.
And family. And friends. And so many well-wishing emails, occasional Skype conversations, Facebook and updates and people. Nowadays, when you leave, your people don’t. I talked with Tiffany yesterday, I chatted with my sister Nicole last night, and I’m talking with Emily tonight and my parents too. Nicole’s doing well—I loved her personal statement draft (she’s applying to college). I love the results of applications, of hearing what people find out about themselves and how they put it together. Of how Nicole believes things that I thought she believed, and how her perspective on other situations is not what I could ever have imagined: how her experiences and her brain have led her to interpret events in a way I literally wouldn’t be able to generate on my own. I’ve expressed this before, but I wish that everyone would write their story—life’s so beautiful from different perspectives, not the halfhearted ones that I try to generate, but the stories and interpretations that stem uniquely from another mind.
Hm :). When I was home, my parents both expressed, when I asked, that people’s foundations don’t fundamentally change. (Except in the case of life-changing, traumatic events.) Given that I haven’t had any fundamentally traumatic events in my life, am instead surrounded by a ridiculous number of kind and caring people, who have prepared me for this trip and eventually-adult life in innumerable ways… man, I can see that I write the same way and think the same way as I did when I started this blog ages ago, or when I started traveling. It’s much easier now, because I have more freedom, because I have more knowledge and experience, but it hasn’t much changed, has it? Monica, the same essence and writing style since she was 13 :).
Thanks for sticking it through, readers :). Photos from my three most recent London day ones below. Love you, and all of the people in my life, always.
Ps. Update: breakers / fuse boxes are located NEAR THE CEILING in England, and they are greyish. My upstairs neighbors—both of them—are super nice and great. I don’t know what a “meter” is (something to do with utilities?), nor can I parse “going to uni” into American fast enough. Take away power and internet and I am largely useless (thank goodness the lights were still on). You are never done with your children—my dad answered the phone and helped me through even though I am 22 years old. So much love to everyone :).