excerpts from London

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Life’s been kinda rough lately. For a 21 year old American college girl, that means a lot to…me. And maybe to my mom.

If I’m having a hard time existing I skip the gym and break out the Trader Joe’s pinot noir. I put my homework away and scroll mindlessly through my Facebook feed. I grunt answers to my sister’s queries. I text pathetic”oh wells” to my boyfriend. I mope. I’m a piece of shit when life’s kinda rough.

Tonight, though, I think I did something right. I’ve been writing in the same journal (sporadically, of course) since my trip to London this past summer. I write when I want to and more painfully, when I need to. Tonight I simply read. Not the recent entries where I bitch about feeling sad and hopeless, but the ones from June and July. The ones where I was also sad and hopeless a few times. But I was so many other things! I was what I saw, what I did, what I ate, what I learned. What I knew. What I know now. Life sucks a lot. But then you reflect on how it once was, and you think that maybe it can be that way again. So, I’ll give you June in February, if you promise to buy my next few bottles of Blue Fin.

June 11th, 2012

Today I bought a phone and immediately texted Stewart. I can still check my email and Facebook whenever I get back to my room. I’m still connected…To be quite honest, I’m scared. I’m in a cozy dorm room surrounded by thirty kids from my university, with my identical twin right next door. But still. Still I feel thrown into a new place. I think I expect too much from myself at the moment. I want people to like me. I want the professors to think I’m smart…”Home is where the heart is” should be altered. Home is where your most comfortable resting place is. Mine’s on my futon in Charlottesville. Home is where your love is equalled by those who love you back–that’d be in Gloucester, Va. Home is where you find a deep, hidden, maybe kinda dark part of yourself. That could be here, in London.

June 14th

Yesterday we went to White Chapel Art Gallery to check out (and discuss!) Gillian Wearing’s work. I know very little about art (see previous entries listed under *uncultured) so I was afraid to offer any commentary, not wanting to sound like an idiot. Displayed in dark booths were confessional videos of people, wearing masks, and talking about past sins, traumas, secrets. It was unsettling. I don’t even know if I responded emotionally; I felt dislocated and confused, which is probably one of the responses Wearing wanted. Returning to Regent’s Park, Sissy and I decided to go for a run which means jog. The park is so much larger than I had imagined…The fact that we made that discovery without a map, electronic device, or tour guide was rewarding.

June 14th, continued

Hampstead Heath appears untouched, a forest and fields with paths happening along the way. The town of Hampstead is endlessly quaint, which is to say that I don’t think I’d ever tire of being there. London’s varying landscapes make it so that you wouldn’t have to be there for very long at all, if you only chose to ride the tube back into “the city”…Sissy, Susannah and EP decided to go “bathing” in a pond which resulted in hilarious pictures and a video. There’s something so simple and refreshing about an all-women’s pond in the middle of a huge park.

June 16th

That probably millions of tourists have wound their way up all of those stairs [St. Paul’s] in that narrow staircase is mind boggling. I’m not religious, but I did feel something in St. Paul’s, more than than I have at other monuments I’ve visited. Maybe my ticket price also included conversion. The view from the top was too immense to comprehend. Instead, I relished the feeling of the powerful wind whipping my hair, pressing my body against the shoulder-high railing, daring me to topple over. It was invigorating. The crypts underneath St. Paul’s were haunting. Again, I felt something emanating from these tombs and plaques. I tip-toed around the edges of “Here Lies” because what dead want to be trampled upon?

June 18th

Camden Market was loud and bright and flowing in snaking movements of people and products all around us. We were both tired and sick but we couldn’t stop searching, seeking, seeing what the next stall had to offer…We took plenty of photos, solidifying our positions as uncool tourists, which I was totally fine with. Saturday night was tragically too touristy; we ended up at a nightclub in Piccadilly Circus where American music played too loudly and creeps circled too closely…London is wonderful, but I don’t always have to be wonderful in it. There’s pressure to be happy and have fun when you’ve been awarded the opportunity to indulge in new experiences. But sometimes I’m grumpy. Sometimes I’m tired. Sometimes I don’t have any money to spend. 

June 20th

Nothing, though, is as off-kilter-inducing…as the Tate Modern. More specifically, the Damien Hirst exhibit. I must preface this discussion by admitting one of my intellectual flaws: I find people who discuss art to be pretentious, while I find people who discuss books to be human. No need to get into the definition of “art”–let’s just say it’s in a gallery. At first I didn’t want to have anything to say about Damien Hirst. Then I realized that this close-minded reaction wasn’t really a reaction at all. Hirst troubled me. He surprised me. I think he even gave me a little bit of hope…If a diamond encrusted skull did not exist in a completely darkened, velvet-walled room, would there be an Ian to tell me to look at the faces of the observers–rather than at the object itself? Would there be reflections of strangers and peers in so many diamonds, radiating around the room, around my own body–if Damien Hirst didn’t think this up?

June 23

I’m sitting at the kitchen table of my “apartment” (hotel room) in Normandy. It’s right on the beach–Omaha Beach. The historical significance of this place is astounding. It’s beautiful and so quiet. I think that’s what gets me–the quiet. I don’t know what I expected coming here. I joked about storming the beach of Normandy, but beyond that I had no clue what I’d find. A town at least. And yet, there isn’t one. Just our hotel and the beach. We walked to the American cemetery. We walked along the beach. I walked through a bunker…There’s not much I can say about my experience here. It’s awe-inspiring, which sounds so insufficient. Which is insufficient. The rows and rows of crosses.

Realize that I’m in France– a country I’ve wanted to visit since my introduction to the language in seventh grade. I’m horrible at French. I’m laughably horrible at French. But I’ve always wanted to come here–to see what I’ve heard about for so long. The French countryside, the villages, they all exist…The people though. I just laughed out loud thinking about the people. They aren’t particularly friendly, which is ultimately funny. The French have turned out to be the caricatures I’ve always imagined them to be. 

June 24th

I’d never been on a train before this trip. You know that silly/trite expression “the journey is the destination”? Yeah, it can be. I’ve learned a lot about myself during these full traveling days…I’ve learned that I can make a little into a lot. I’ve learned what’s absolutely necessary, and what’s simply getting in the way. I’m wearing a neck wallet for God’s sake! I’m the most efficient traveler ever! I dress in layers, my purse is my backpack. I know that I do need three full water bottles at all times, but that I don’t need travel-sized everything that I’ll never use. I can go two days without washing my face, but I need to brush my teeth (mainly because I have a cavity)…I can drink more wine than I need and still want more…For the first time in a long time, I’ve made friends. I’ve felt comfortable with strangers. I’ve felt comfortable with myself with strangers–who I guess aren’t really strangers anymore…So I’ve been to Normandy, to London. I’ve been on a ferry that crossed the English Channel, trains that go through the English countryside. But through it all I’ve been open. Scared, but willing. If you really want to know what I’ve learned while abroad…it is to be okay with myself.

June 25

I’ve been 21 for a month. In other news, I survived the ferry. Colin and Elizabeth weren’t so lucky; it seemed like hundreds of people were throwing up around us…I was so happy to be back in England. In London, it felt like I was coming home. Walking through Regent’s Park just smelled so familiar. I think some people travel to stay whole–to understand all of their parts and to work to keep them together. These people are brave. Or maybe they just are, without trying.Traveling breaks all of my parts up. It makes me want disparate things–to keep going and to return.

June 28th

Today was fantastic! It was hot which probably put me in a good mood because it reminded me so much of home. We had a riveting (God I’m way too excited for an inevitably melancholy, future Connelly) discussion of the “7 Up” series we’ve been watching. We’re on “35 Up” and it’s surprisingly uplifting compared to “21 Up” (there’s still hope!)…I went for a run through Regent’s Park which we’ll call a stunted jog. I saw three funny, bizarre, tale-worthy things. A naked man, presumably tanning. A movie being filmed. A creepy man, by a van full of dogs, showing the dogs to small children. I swear! I almost took a damn picture but I was too distracted because the dogs were cute…We went to the John Soane museum which (I guess) is some dead dude’s house full of old shit. Seriously. It’s a house museum. I was a bit skeptical because I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. I guess it’s cool to own that much ancient stuff–sculptures, paintings, some tombs. Levenson called him a genius. Which goes hand in hand with my diagnosis–psycho. 

June 29th

I slept til 12:30 due to the inevitable vodka Redbull hangover. I hate to see that much of my London Friday gone…Sissy and I went to the British Library which featured an exhibit called “Writing Britain.” If an English major ever needed a hangover cure, this would be it…My boring 18th century literature class took on new meaning when I saw original manuscripts of some of the works we’d read. Sissy and I even had a mini discussion after the exhibit! What am I turning into? As my father would say: “a goddamn intellectual.” 

June 30th

Sissy and I went to Camden Market to buy gifts for everyone…We dined at a vegan restaurant. It was awful. I bought an eggroll at a vendor immediately afterwards. We went champagne tasting in the afternoon–an event much too fancy for our tastes but sweet in its implications (Stewart bought it for us). I wrapped up the chocolate tastings and stuffed them in my bag to keep the class act going. 

July 1st

July! God where did it come from. It doesn’t feel like it here–but somehow I do think the sun is shining brighter. I ate a sandwich in the park. I got a hair cut. I read Mrs. Dalloway while drinking tea. London by myself. On the tube, on the bus, on the sidewalk. People stared I think. I think they knew I was being independent. I think maybe some of them were proud of me–envied me. Went to a bar to watch the soccer game. 4-0, Spain won (what a game!) But the cute soccer fans were worth it. Oh and the two for one cocktails.

My entries end here. I left London on July 6th, 2012. I hope to return someday.

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The end is near

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…but so is the beginning? Usually there’s a period there, to soften the blow of such a shallow nicety. An exclamation point is even easier to swallow: something’s ending but something else is beginning! (The assumption, of course, is that this “beginning” can match, or be even better than the ending).

I don’t want to move on to new beginnings just yet. I don’t want to mix excitement with sorrow. I don’t want to confuse anticipation with reflection. I want to have this moment–this Thursday afternoon–as a place where I can be who I am now, and who I once was. I don’t want to be future Connelly today. I don’t want to see my potential or plan for success. I want to be my futon, and PBR, and college. Don’t force “graduate” on me just yet.

Today I picked up my cap and gown. Thousands of people do it. It’s just a thing–go to the bookstore, tell them your height and your school. Leave. Go to your next class, go to the gym, go to your internship. Get it and go. My roommates and I didn’t want to just leave after we’d picked up our caps and gowns. We didn’t want to just go. We planned our pick up time, so that we could all go together. In Georgia’s car we blasted music. We used her “nice camera” to take pictures in the parking garage. Emma refused to put her gown on–bad luck or something. “Say yes to the gown!” we exclaimed as we twirled, made serious faces, threw our caps in the air. We stayed, for a few minutes, in the parking garage. Because when you go, you’re gone.

I don’t want to be gone. I want to stay in that parking garage for a few moments longer. When Georgia and I got home we played more loud music, opened our windows and doors, and took more pictures in our caps and gowns (fortunately Emma wasn’t there to cringe at all the bad luck we were shedding on the grass, the dried out shrubs, even the roof–props to Georgia for those shots).

“Well, what do we do now?” Georgia asked as we walked back into our living room. I hung up my gown, placed my cap on my dresser. What do we do now? We have a few more months before we have to put those pieces of the end back on. I’d rather not try to fathom any kinds of beginnings. So this is what I do–I record. I put this moment into words, so that I may linger in it just a little bit longer. Georgia edits the pictures. We have these words and images as a reminder of who we were on a Thursday afternoon. And for now, let’s leave it at that.