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.