Friday, September 14, 2012

Can you ever go back?

Tomorrow I’m flying to England.

The bittersweet nature of this trip hit me last night as I was going through my jewelry box, trying to decide what to pack. I came across bits and pieces of earrings bought 11 years ago at Accessorize on Exeter’s High Street.  Even though none of the pairs match anymore I’ve never been able to throw them away.  They are my only tangible attachment to dinners at the Mill on the Exe, darts at the Jolly Porter, and Friday nights at the Souk.

Leaving Exeter after graduation was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I was saying goodbye to friends I loved, a city I loved, and a country full of a thousand possibilities I was passing up on just to come home.

In the time I’ve been away I’ve moved to new places and made new friends.  I’ve seen the world, married, adopted a dog, divorced.

This time when I go to Exeter it will be as an American tourist, not a resident of Sidwell Street.  If I walk on the university campus it will be as visitor, not a student.  If I drink in the restaurant/champagne bar where I once worked it will be as a customer, not a hostess at the end of my shift.  Everyone who used to work there with me is gone.  Moved on.

I’ve changed, and I know the place I once left behind has changed as well. Am I ready for it? Will it be as hard for me to leave this time, or will the life I’ve made for myself be enough to bring me home without regret?

I guess I'll know soon, because tomorrow I'm flying back to England. 

Friday, August 31, 2012

Books I should have read by now but haven’t yet

They might not have landed on Modern Library's top 100 list (though some of them have), but remain pop cultural touchstones to this day.

Over the past few years I’ve read a few of these (“The Handmaid's Tale,” “The Shining,” “Outlander,” “Love in a Cold Climate,” “I Capture the Castle”), the sort of books whose covers and titles are as familiar to me as a long-loved childhood pet.  For some reason or another, though, they’ve always fallen below my “next to read” radar, usually because I’m too busy trying to read what’s current and relevant or trudging through what someone deemed to be "the great books.”

I’ve been missing out.  I mean, as someone who loves the Arthurian legends, why did it take me so long to pick up “The Mists of Avalon”?

Now, that I’m halfway through “The Thorn Birds” (and understanding what all the fuss was about) I’m inspired to track down even more "books I should be ashamed to admit I've never read," even if they’re not current bestsellers, new releases, or the topic of water cooler discussions among my better read colleagues.

I’ll let you know what I think.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A future journey: Iceland

Three more months and almost a whole season away, but already I can’t wait for my trip to Iceland.  The natural beauty of this place astounds me and I haven’t even seen it yet. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

The best views in Beijing...

Can be had from the top of Coal Hill in Jingshan Park.

View of Shichahai
View to the Drum Tower
Jingshan Park also happens to be my favorite spot in Beijing.  Go on Sunday.  Scattered throughout the park you’ll find groups of residents singing and dancing, and in May it’s filled with peonies.  It’s also right behind the Forbidden City, so the perfect way to escape the tourist crowds and crazy traffic. 

Back gate of the Forbidden City

The park has a sad and macabre piece of history to it as well, and a plaque marks the spot where Chongzhen, the last emperor of the Ming dynasty, hanged himself from a tree.  He left behind this note attached to his robe:   

I, feeble and of small virtue, have offended against Heaven; the rebels have seized my capital because my ministers deceived me. Ashamed to face my ancestors, I die. Removing my imperial cap and with my hair disheveled about my face, I leave to the rebels the dismemberment of my body. Let them not harm my people! 

Better to just keep walking past the "Guilty Chinese Scholar Tree" and instead enjoy the views, the peonies, and the music. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

New Year’s Resolutions

Yes, this is a little late in the game, but there you have it.

Oh the infamous New Year’s Resolution.  Every year we make them, every year we break them.  Right?  But we all need an excuse and an opportunity for a little bit of self-reflection and hopefully a little more self-improvement.  

My top five New Year’s Resolutions will be the following: 

1. Find a mentor.   In every hero quest the main character needs a mentor, someone to guide them towards their ultimate goal.  Well we are all on a hero quest in our own lives and we all need a mentor.  This year I will finally find mine.    

2. Learn German.  I’m notoriously bad at learning foreign languages.  I have tried.  How I have tried.  French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and even Thai.  My mom’s side of the family came over from Germany (technically from the Grand Duchy of Baden) in the earlier part of the 20th Century.  Aside from sauerkraut at Thanksgiving we really haven’t kept up much of a German tradition in our family, so I thought it might be interesting to explore those neglected family roots.  This doesn’t mean I expect to be fluent or anything by the end of the year, but at least I’ll make an effort to understand something of the language.  Maybe some ancestral memory will make this the one that I’m finally able to learn.  

3. Keep a journal.  Yet something else I have tried and failed to do every year.  I would love to be able to record every day in perfect detail with beautiful and evocative descriptions of my life.  It never happens.  But when I was at the bookstore last month I discovered this wonderful little journal “One Line a Day: A Five Year Memory Book.”  Just one line a day, I can do that.  After all, there were days when Samuel Pepys didn’t do much better.    

4. Write more short stories.  Or perhaps I should say “understand the short story.”  I’d really like to write short stories and find a way to capture all those little bursts of ideas and inspirations I know I’ll never be able to flesh out into a whole novel.  The problem is I don’t “get” short stories.  I’ve read them.  I’ve studied them.  But that doesn’t mean I can write them.  My goal this year is to write one short story a month.  

5. Walk in the woods.  Maryland is a beautiful state.  At least it used to be.  These days we’re dealing with over-development and uncontrolled urban sprawl.  Anywhere there used to be a family farm or a stretch of forest is now a new housing subdivision or shopping center.  This year I’m going to make more of an effort to explore our state and county parks and appreciate what we have left of Maryland’s natural beauty.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Blog guilt and Scottish Heather

I’m experiencing a bit of blog guilt at the moment because I’ve only managed one posting so far this month.  It’s not entirely my fault.  My kindle was stolen two weeks ago and with it the source of my blog-posting inspiration.  Plus, November has not yet failed to be the same hectic month it is every year. 

Here’s my attempt to make amends.  Last weekend was the St. Andrew's Society Tartan Ball in Washington, D.C., which is really just an excuse for all of us of Scottish descent to get decked out in kilts and tartan sashes, listen to bagpipes, sample some Scotch, and watch some sword dancing.  We're a proud race.  So in honor of this festive occasion I’ll share with you a Scottish themed poem I had to write back in high school (even though I still have no excuse for the complete lack of punctuation). 
Scottish Heather

In a tiny glen on the first of spring
Where the flowers bloom and the meadowlarks sing
There as children they would play
In a field of Scottish heather

The moment she promised to be his bride
His heart swelled full of love and pride
She carried on her wedding day
A bouquet of Scottish heather

By the glen they made a home
A place for their children to play and roam
On the door she did display
A wreath of Scottish heather

His world would never be the same
He told the stone that bore her name
And there upon her grave he lay
A bouquet of Scottish heather

Yes, I know, Robert Burns I am not.  But I dare anyone else to post their high school assignments online. And for the record, I got an A, even without the punctuation.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The scariest night of my life

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door-
Only this, and nothing more."
-Edgar Allan Poe, "The Raven" 

Halloween might be over, but that doesn’t mean we forget about the ghosts, ghouls, and other things that go bump in the night. 

So in honor of the cold and rainy passing of Halloween 2011, I’ll tell you a little story about the scariest night of my life…

I was seven, maybe eight (better to claim younger). We lived in Jacksonville, NC in the neat little neighborhood of Aldersgate, an oasis among the pawn shops and strip clubs that served the nearby Camp Lejune Marine Base. Our house backed up to a swamp, where my brother, best friend, and I would hunt for fairies.  Needless to say, I had a pretty overactive imagination.

I can’t remember where we were coming home from that night - maybe the beach, maybe my uncle’s place in Beaufort- but it was summer and the house was warm and stuffy.  My father must have cranked the AC up a little too high because a transformer blew and our section of the neighborhood lost power. 

Blackouts are not a good for children with overactive imaginations, so my parents lit a candle for me and I slept, or tried to sleep, in a couch in their bedroom.

Until the noises started.  Jangling metal and a chorus of moaning voices making conversations with no sense.  Right outside my parent’s bedroom door.  

I woke my mother and she told me it was only the AC trying to turn back on. That should have meant the power was back, right? But I tried every light switch in their room and nothing worked.    

Then came more noises - a crash of metal followed by the sound of someone bawling “mama.”  In my mind I knew exactly what had happened.  My little brother had woken up to use the bathroom, got confused in the dark, kicked a bucket at the top of the stairs, and fell down the two flights (I don’t know what I thought a bucket was doing at the top of the stairs, all I knew was that “kicking the bucket” was bad because my grandmother’s terrier had just kicked the bucket and had to be put down).  

I wanted to help my brother, but I couldn’t.  Instead I stood at my parent’s door, too afraid to open it, especially when a high pitched scream came from the other end of the hall.   This time I woke my father who told me it was just my hamster.  That was a horrible thought, because this time I saw the disfigured face of some woman menacing my hamster in its cage, causing it to squeal in terror.  I loved my hamster, but I still couldn’t open that door. 

The noises continued throughout the night, even making their way into my dreams when I finally managed to fall asleep.  In the morning the power had returned, my brother was not lying at the foot of the stairs with a bucket, and my hamster, running on her little annoying wheel, did not appear in any way traumatized by the previous night. 

After that, I never heard the noises again.  I’m sure my parents were right and we just pushed our overworked AC a little too hard in the middle of a North Carolina summer.  From that night on, though, I had to sleep with a nightlight until I went away to college (which is probably something I shouldn’t admit to).  But I guess that’s just what happens when you've got that overactive imagination problem: you hear and see things in the night that can’t always be easily explained away in the morning.