Monday, December 12, 2016

Post-Grad Passion and Fear

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.” — Georgia O’Keeffe

"If you don't care about pollution then there won't be anywhere for tigers to LIVE!" I whined aggressively to my tiger-loving friend amidst my eco-friendly phase in full swing. How could she not GET IT? We have to care about the planet first and foremost because without that, it doesn't matter if the tigers are taken care of or children receive comprehensive sex education! The world will end if we don't do something about global warming! I would run around and unplug everything in the house and yell at everyone for not caring enough.

That phase didn't last too long.

I'm still just as full of raging passion as my hormonal 14-year-old self, but I'm definitely infinitely more preoccupied with comprehensive sex education than I am with eco-issues. I'm sorry, planet, I should be better.

Occasionally -- like in the wake of such a devastating election -- the world feels shaken and unstable, in desperate need of endless work and care. It can feel overwhelming because there are too many injustices in the world that need to be handled, and so little time! Though there is only so much one person can do, only so much work one person can take on. I want to consciously make better and healthier decisions for both my body and the well-being of our planet, but unfortunately for spunky younger Cece, my passion in life is just not global warming. It is instead all things written word and woman. Gender, sexuality, reproduction, health, education, sex, female, justice.

Cultivating my life's passion has been the most amazing and beautiful feeling, but even still: I don't know what I'm doing -- Just a straight-forward, general statement about me.

Specifically, I don't know what I'm doing after college. (Although recently, writer and tweeter extraordinaire Dana Schwartz addressed a desperate [mildly pathetic] cry for help of mine, very kindly and considerately; It was helpful! Somehow it didn't magically sort out my future for me though, I still have to do that myself. Lame.)

I have no idea what the next stage of my life will look like, and that's terrifying. There was a time when thoughts of post-grad life conjured nothing but a black void of empty darkness...But I have matured since high school, I now know I can envision a lot more irrational late-night decision-making and subsequent crying in bed with a tub of half-melted soy ice cream. I can picture a lot of hours TV show-binging and taco bell-eating. I can at least picture a lot of normal, everyday life stuff. Life still exists, it doesn't end with my current academic career like I once thought it might. I can imagine myself in different professional positions, but I have no idea what I could end up actually doing. This is interesting and exciting, sure, (I could never be a financial advisor person, whatever that is, for example), but it's also CRAZY and SCARY. Even more so when it constantly feels like I'm just not doing enough.

I'm petrified of what may lie beyond Graduation Day this May, but I've compiled a list of things I do know I want to do for the rest of my life:
  • I want to affect the individual lives of my friends by being supportive and encouraging and loving whenever I possibly can.
  • I want to positively influence my community by getting involved in local issues like voting and journalism and volunteering.
  • I want to have an impact on the national conversation around women's rights and reproductive justice; I want to have a hand in these movements working towards a better reality for women everywhere.
  • I want to talk about sex and health more openly and casually, private and publicly. I want to encourage comprehensive sex education at every level of our society, from kindergartens to nursing homes to our daily lives. Fuck the stigma around our bodies and natural sexual desires.
  • I want to do the same thing for abortion -- de-stigmatizing abortion is a matter of discussing it alongside any other modern medical procedure. It's normal, healthy, and a completely valid choice for any person with a uterus to make.
  • I want to constantly strive to further educate and check myself; the more thoughts I expose myself to of people who know more than I do, the better.
  • I want to grow, and learn, and try new things, and see as much of the world as possible
  • I want to forgive myself for all I can't do and push myself to do all I can.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Edinburgh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"I always feel that when I come to Edinburgh, in many ways I am coming home." - Alan Rickman

So, normally the bus distinctly does not go to Hogwarts, you've gots to take the train*, but that might just be because the bus trip could potentially take 14 hours.


After 14 hours of busing from Wales to Scotland, I have never been happier than when we finally arrived. The bus-ride-that-never-ended was frustrating, the hour and a half it took to get checked into the hostel was unbearable, but it was all made right again with dinner at El Toro Loco -- my first burrito in MONTHS. We stayed at the Cowgate Hostel, by FAR the WORST hostel I've stayed at so far unfortunately, with only its location going for it; it is a perfectly central starting-off location.

Initial introduction to the neighborhood was the pub across the street, The Three Sisters, boasting their Harry Potter week of events, re-dubbing themselves The Leaky Cauldron. Anything Harry Potter is a good omen. The bar hosted football and rugby watch parties on its outdoor patio, serving Butterbeer out of kegs, where large groups drank and sang at the top of their lungs all day and night.

After finally figuring out the room situation, we bee-lined for the square and I burst into the mexican restaurant arms-flailing, on the verge of tears, "I'm just so happy you exist! I'm so happy you're here!" I called across the glass barrier to the servers. Barbacoa, jalapeños, hot sauce...it was the best goddamn burrito of my life. It was after 10pm at this point and we were past due to start drinking, so we went directly to the club that Viva Trips** was hosting for us, stone cold sober. One of the only things Viva did right the whole weekend was this club, Silk. It was a multi-layer dance club and it was PACKED with international exchange students, all displaying stickers of their home country's flag across their chest; it was incredible to share the dance floor all night with people from all over the world, flags waving proudly from everywhere. Plus, the music was PERFECT and they had real fishbowls. The entire last half an hour or so, from 2:30 - 3ish, they played nothing but Latin music and a girl from Brazil enthusiastically pulled me into her squad's dance circle. It was the most fun I've had out in Europe.

Isabelle and I tried to venture out further to smaller clubs -- having gotten insider info from my lovely friend Brighid who's studying at the University of Edinburgh for the semester -- but unfortunately inner city scenes mean inner city prices and it was the weekend...we weren't about to pay four pounds entry at 1am. The girls we met in line were absolutely smashed and total sweethearts, though, so still an altogether successful detour. We made our way home around 3:30 and, after the worst shower of my life, slept for exactly four hours before it was time to go, go, go again on our walking tour of the city.

It turned out to be not so much of a walking tour as just a directed walk around town, absolutely no tour was given whatsoever, but we still hit most spots on my list: started at Calton Hill for those early morning views over the city and a climb on the monuments, stroll across North Bridge to The Elephant House (PERFECTIONNNNNNN; got a latte and a breakfast roll), Greyfriar's Bobby (sorry I definitely rubbed that lil dog's nose for good luck even though I know I read locals hate that particular tourist trend...), saw Tom Riddell's grave, Prince's Street and Gardens, Holyrood House, the base of Arthur's Seat, and just outside Edinburgh Castle. Our hostel's just around the corner from Victoria St. (speculated inspiration for Diagon Alley) so we stumbled up and down that road a few times, as well. (Fun fact: Sunday morning I burst through the doors of what looked to be the only not-full cafe on this block and was actually, physically thrown out the restaurant? If that's what it was? I still don't even know because I asked if I could order coffee there and the guy replied, "We're closed," shoving me out as he shut the door in my face. Lol what????)


We roamed a farmer's market set up in the square, ate at The Three Sisters, and then wandered Edinburgh's Christmas Market for HOURS. I bought so many gifts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was my first UK Christmas Market and the most spectacular display of Christmas spirit I've yet to experience. The sun was just setting on the horizon as we got to the top of the ferris wheel; Edinburgh constantly re-defined magic for me over and over again. Everywhere you look is astounding architecture, breathtaking views, cute shops and cafes, bagpipes fill the air. I'm obsessed.

Saturday evening we explored the bar's upstairs The Three Sisters, home to the Edinburgh Napier University student union: a bar completely transformed into The Leaky Cauldron. I'm not sure if it looks like that all the time, but they went ALL OUT. The walls were painted with cauldrons, burning candles on every table, stacks on dusty books and brooms lined the walls, every TV playing the HP soundtrack over video of a Leaky Cauldron set. This was magical, the 2 pound pints for students were the cherry on top. The video of the Leaky set was extra fun when they started playing Fetty Wap and Wiz Khalifa. I went to the same restaurant and had the same dinner from the first night because I'm the worst kind of burrito-fiend American tourist; sorry, Haggis, maybe later.

Saturday's club was ok, the music wasn't as good and the drinks were more expensive, but the bathrooms were funky as hell and we all got glow sticks and our faces painted. It was exactly how 16-year-old me imagined a British clubbing experience would be, honestly. It was super great to be surrounded by international kids the whole time (EVERYONE knew the actual words to Numa Numa, it was an incredible thing to be a part of) but it would have been cool to hang with some actually Scottish peeps, too. I'll have to work harder to seek out the locals next time.

This was when my ankle started to rebel against the rest of my body, that's not entirely unexpected after a full day of walking followed by a night of dancing, so I limped home early through the quieter neighborhoods with my lovely friends. The men singing in The Three Sisters courtyard lulled me to sleep.

The next morning was rough; my ankle had only gotten worse throughout the night rather than better and we were out on the town with all our luggage at 10 am with nothing but time to kill until our bus left at 2. Coffee and breakfast killed an hour, but the cafes are so small that hanging around really isn't an option with people fighting for tables. So we wandered, limping, aimlessly. (This was when I was thrown out of that restaurant...Never forgive, never forget.) We finally settled into a bar and ordered exactly one cup of tea to sit for two and a half hours.

As usual, I wasn't ready to say goodbye to this gorgeous city, but I was looking forward to my tiny Swansea dorm room home. The trip was only 10 hours this time...Bless. The bus driver entertained us with a Scottish comedian's special followed by the classic, Old School. Both were honestly more offensive than they were funny, so. He tried.


Regardless of all the mishaps and frustrations, the fact that my ankle has caused me intense pain since Saturday, the buses, the motion sickness, the hostel, the bitter cold...Edinburgh is a top contender for my favorite city in the world. The whole weekend I was overwhelmed with the desire to live there, I would move in a second. I can't wait to go back to Scotland.



*#tbt
**The worst trip company, would definitely not recommend.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Back at it.

"Let's get off the floor and get busy, especially you, white women. We've got some karma to work off." - Samantha Bee

I've never bought any Lush products before this week but in the wake of the post-election slump, I knew it was time. I deserved this bath bomb shaped like an ACTUAL CHRISTMAS PRESENT. My house has two bathrooms, one with a shower and one with a tub; this means, obviously, everyone uses the shower because we're grown ass adult women, but also…there's nothing like a fancy grown ass adult lady bath with wine, candles, and sparkling blue-green water swirling in gold glitter...and re-reading the first Harry Potter for the 800th time. It was the definition of cwtch and hygge all rolled together into one night. 

From Kimberly's Beauty Blog because I was too eager.

I've been exploiting the system and getting free samples of each different face mask and ultimately decided to invest in the Love Lettuce. As a Made-In-Britain product, it is a lot cheaper here, so I figure it's worth the little bit of added weight to my bags on the trip home. Plus, there's just something about being here that has made me break out LIKE CRAZY. Probably the fact that I'm cheap as fuck and bought Tesco brand face wash -- I really should have bought a real brand but I'm half way through the bottle now, no going back.

I want to say I didn't blog because I haven't had wifi at my house for the last two days (can you imagine the TORTURE?! All I could do was read BOOKS and listen to pre-downloaded PODCASTS. [It was hard being cut off, no joke, but honestly was also kind of a relief. I suddenly had a perfectly good excuse to take a break. My hands were totally tied.]) but it's also because I haven't known what to say, honestly. I still don't. The world feels so very different now, but it really isn't that different: we just have to face the truth now. I have so much to say; I've spent a lot of time scribbling away on scrap paper, journaling, making notes on my laptop. I've spent a lot of time working through refuting made up opposition in my mind, going over point after point of potential debates. It's definitely not the best way to spend my time and it's really just making me even more anxious, but it's how I've been processing.

I've also deleted Facebook from my phone and avoided it entirely all last weekend. Other than the bath bomb, that was the best decision I made this week.

But, of course, I can't ignore what's going on around me, and neither can you. (It would, of course, be all too easy…but that's our white privilege. Accept this, embrace the discomfort, and work against it.) Listen to the people who are afraid, understand where they're coming from, know what's happening in the world. 

We fucked up. We have to do better.

Donate to charities and organizations fighting for good in the world. (Check out this great comprehensive list covering a range of issues.)

Speak up and out with your friends, family, strangers. Call your representatives. 

Read as much as you can, as widely as you can. (Like lists on actually productive things white people need to do, like this and the one I've linked below by Packnett.)

Monday, November 7, 2016

VOTE!

"On November 9, we will have to become a unified country again," - Dana Schwartz.

The election is tomorrow but the ordeal is far from over.

It's the only thing we've been hearing about for two years now, it felt so far off when once upon a time it was announced that an actual personified joke would be running for President of the United States. But no one's laughing on Election Eve.

It's the first thing anyone mentions at the sound of my accent, right after they ask if I own any guns: "Who're you voting for?"

It's on BBC daily in the student center. It's mentioned in every lecture. It's on everyone's minds.

The world is watching and I'm afraid.

"It's a big one..." the postal employee says, her eyes wide when I request an envelope to send home my US ballot. She's shaking her head, generally astonished.

"I know, it's been CRAZY. Definitely more dramatic than any election I've seen so far." She says she's never seen anything like it...I hope out loud we never see one this awful again. (Although, with our parameter for awful-ness now set so high, I shudder to imagine how it could get worse.)

Either way the results come in, whoever wins in the end, can anyone predict what happens next? I haven't the faintest idea. I can't picture the next move; it's all just a black intimidating abyss. I remember the relative easing in of the Obama administration, nothing changed at first -- it was a slow two months until he was sworn in, from what I remember (I wasn't paying as much attention the first Obama term, because I was young [I couldn't vote until his second]). It honestly felt a little anti-climactic, even with crossing the milestone of electing the first black president.

The whole world knows this election with be anything but anticlimactic. No matter who wins, the aftermath is still so up in the air, unclear, ready to explode. I'm nervous about watching it unfold from afar. I'm scared that this Presidency could do a lot of damage, both foreign and domestic.

It has been the global sentiment I've encountered so far: US politics affects everyone, everywhere. This is baffling to think about considering the small number of people that actually have a say in who wins US elections -- The US voter population is so vastly dwarfed by the reach of our political impact. Further more, we have the most ridiculous thing in the world called the Electoral College and they get to decide who wins the presidency, anyway, potentially regardless of the popular vote.

All that matters is you vote, regardless of the system. We have to work with what we've got and make our voices heard -- especially women and people of color. Countless people have given their lives to make sure that people who aren't white males have access to this system in the first place. Disenfranchised voices are the ones that need to be heard the most! There are powerful people working all over the country in a myriad of ways to make voting harder for people whose voices they don't want to hear, even still in 2016. If that doesn't make you pissed enough to vote, then I hope you can find something that does motivate you to vote, anyway.

The election ends tomorrow night but this is just the beginning of the next four years. And also the rest of forever. But no pressure.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Home

It's essentially midterm week and I have two major assignments due on Monday, including what is turning out to be one of the hardest papers of my college career, so it's a short, quick list tonight.

Things I Miss From Home:

  • My mom and grandparents
  • MY DOG, MARGO!!!!!!!!!!!!! 
  • Chipotle
  • Taco Bell
  • Anything even remotely mexican
  • Athens, OH
  • my friends
  • phone calls that don't get dropped 
  • Wings Over Athens
  • O'Betty's
  • squirrels
  • my bed and allllll my pillows
I'm really not homesick, I mainly just miss my people and my food. I'll be excited to be home again once I'm there, but I'm really looking forward to the next two months. Time's flying by too quickly, I want to enjoy being here while I'm here.




Monday, October 31, 2016

LOVE!

“I fall in love with Britain every day, with bridges, buses, blue skies... but it’s a brutal world, man.” 
Things I Love About Living in the UK:


Puppies, everywhere. They're very often off the leash and roaming free and excited but still ever-attentive to their owner. Every time I leave the house I meet a pup on the street. I LOVE IT. The beach is especially popular for dog walkers and it's honestly distracting -- How am I supposed to focus on the beauty of nature when new dogs are romping past in all directions?! The picture above might look like a stunning sunset, but really I was trying to capture the majesty of that little black dog attempting to tackle and chomp wave after wave; consistently the cutest thing I've ever seen is replaced every day by a different dog.

I love the linguistic regionalisms, I love getting to say things like "flat," "cheers," and "quid." My fellow Americans and I actually sat around and practiced casually saying "Cheers" one day early on -- As you're expected to thank the bus driver every time you get off a bus, that is a lot of opportunity to offer up a "Cheers." I've gotten pretty good at the jargon, not gonna lie.

I love being surrounded by accents. It's such a simple thing but being in a place where everyone sounds different than everyone back home is just exciting. It's new and different. I've always been fascinated by language and passionate about the written word but the History of the English Language class I took with Dr. Stallard last semester seriously changed my life a little bit. I love the history of language. I, being a total slacker loser, arrogantly shirked the foreign language requirement in high school, so I could've found out I love foreign languages, too, before I took French in college and came abroad and experienced immersion in a foreign language first hand. I loved being surrounded by unintelligible Portuguese and Spanish. I love hearing conversations in tones and dialects unfamiliar to me. It makes me eager to learn. The satisfaction of even just being able to communicate the most basic concepts is exciting enough to make me want more.


Relatedly, I love being the only American in a room! That is 100% a room I want to be in. I want to hang with people from different backgrounds, I want to hear their different perspectives. Of course, interactions very often begin with the question: "Who're you voting for?" Obviously I can't blame them for caring, everyone has stressed the unfortunate global impact of American politics. It only sucks when it becomes an uncontrollable political firestorm of passion and frustration and downright nasty rhetoric, which happens everywhere, but it is different here when I'm The American in the conversation. Otherwise, it's cool being the only one in the room with an "accent." It makes it super easy to start conversation; people have loads of questions, and I do, too. I love the American friends I've made, I love that we're so close, but I came here for international experiences, you know? I want to talk about what Welsh life is like with Welsh people, I want to find out what I should do and where I should go on my trip to Bath from an English person raised there, only Swansea-ians know the best cafes/bars/student discount hotspots.

The beautiful bookstore, Waterstones. I can't even walk by without popping in and doing a lap. It smells perfect, the mix of books and coffee from their cafe; they've squeezed so many display tables piled high with books that it's almost hard to navigate; it's all cream colored and warm and cozy. It's exactly what a bookstore should be and it's so hard to find back home with book shops closing at every turn over the years. I'm all about supporting independent bookstores, but you really can't beat the Swansea Waterstones atmosphere. They've had Christmas decorations out all month and I'm such a sucker for Christmas, always.


The rainy days, perfect for settling into a cafe or reading in bed. Perfect for cwtch. Not as perfect to get caught outside in, but that's not always a bad thing either! The atmosphere feels essentially British when it rains.

THE SUNNY DAYS! Today was the epitome of a perfect Welsh day, just over 60 degrees Fahrenheit (basically as warm as it gets here) and not a single cloud in the sky.  Everyone's out and about in t-shirts and going tights-less in shorts and skirts. The bay is pretty magical sunny or cloudy, but it just feels right getting that vitamin D with your toes in the sand.

Traveling has always been my number one goal in life and it's hard to believe I'm finally doing it -- even still, two months into my trip. It really hits me sometimes the proximity I'm in to so much of the world I've dreamt of seeing. In the back of my mind I doubted whether or not I'd ever be able to make it happen, so to live on this continent, even temporarily, means so much to me in and of itself.

Potentially most of all, I love being in a place with so much history. Not just history, everywhere has history, but see-able, touch-able history. There is so much that is SO old here and still intact. It can be so easy to imagine the past as far gone and unfathomable but then you're stared in the face by a 600 year old building or a 5000 year old tomb and there's the past demanding to be remembered and felt and experience as something Real and Concrete. Plus, as one of the rowdiest former colonies, we never learned that much about British history, or at least we barely scratched the surface of it. This forces me to do a lot of googling as independent research in order to make sure I have my monarchy facts and timelines straight. Which rebellion happened under which monarch? Who came before whom? Who did they colonize and when? (The English Crown has existed for a VERYYYYY LONG TIME, Y'ALL. I don't even know for absolute certain the names and order of all the US presidents.) And, as I suspected, studying British history and politics is so much more fun in Britain. American politics is fascinating here, too, they literally have an entire American Studies department.

Next Tuesday, you know what it is, their hosting an all-nighter to watch the election results come through at the student union bar (I love that, too) -- which will definitely be a unique experience.



Thursday, October 27, 2016

Differences!

“Appreciation for cultural diversity is essential for our co-existence.” 
― Lailah Gifty Akita

'What's different?' is a question I'm often asked, and often pondering naturally without even being prompted. It's literally the reason I'm here: to live and learn in a place that's unfamiliar. Growing up in one place sets you up with solidified expectations for daily life, so when immersed in a new environment you immediately start to pick up on everything.

It's really a collection of tiny differences, but it's the minute details that are the most fun of life, right?

Like spelling: Today a kid next to me asked aloud to me and the girl beside me, "Is 'defense' spelled with an 's' or a 'c'?" He was genuinely unsure, small details like this is easy to mix-up, we've all done it. I immediately replied, "S." Then hesitated, "Or, at least it is in the States..." The girl beside me kindly chimed in, "It's a 'c'," and he nodded and continued writing. I laughed because I thought it was an amusing interaction, but I in no way believe that with an 's' is the CORRECT spelling of "defense" (I mean, except let's be real, it looks better. Colour looks better with a 'u', defense looks better with an 's.' One language can't win them all) and I see how I was definitely the Annoying American in that instance. My b; Annoying American runs in my veins. (Proud and embarrassed all at once like a True American!)

Fashion is much more relaxed than I anticipated; when discussing European clothes, everyone warned about the faux pas of wearing leggings or looking at all not put together. But at least in Wales, while it is more common than not to be surrounded by people purposefully dressed well daily, there are still a lot of leggings on campus! It's really not that weird. I suppose it may be more the athletic types that sport this kind of (blegh) 'athleisure' look, but what do they know? I could be on my way to or from the gym in my leggings, as well. Just in general Wales is an extremely relaxed country. No one ever seems to be very worked up about things like bus schedules or service in restaurants, let alone pants. (Or, trousers?)

Boy, is service in restaurants different. It is very European for meals to be a long, relaxed experience rather than an American get-in get-out, but it is something that takes adjustment. I'm really not accustomed to being served slowly and lackadaisically and so it initially comes off as feeling very rude...but it's just different. They don't stop by the table more than maybe three times, unlike me who's been trained to be attentive to every whim of a patron and generally coddle them. In turn, I'm used to being coddled and so when my waiter is distant and hard to keep track of it really feels like a slight. I know it's not, I've been told it's considered rude for the waiter to be on top of you like they're rushing you out, so I'm working on giving myself over to the relaxed atmosphere. Restaurants are the definition of chill and man, that is so un-American. I never realized. It would definitely help if I stopped waiting until I'm absolutely, angrily starving to go out for a sit down meal...because it's going to take a while.

One of the strangest differences is that, despite the presence of four different types of garbage and recycling bins conveniently stationed beside every door on campus -- which is awesome, love the commonality of recycling -- people will leave trash laying around literally everywhere. It's not considered weird or impolite or basically littering to simply leave your trash where it lay when you get up and walk directly past the trash can on your way out. I was in the student union for a Halloween Movie Night (Hocus Pocus!!!!!!!!!!) and on my stroll to the bathroom I passed the Great Hall and it was buried in trash. Just piles of student garbage lining the walls waiting for some poor cleaning crew to come around and put it right again for the next day.

It's just interesting that my British peers seem to be so focused on the necessary politeness of thanking the bus driver for driving you home (great!!! Love it!) but so thoughtless to how simply throwing away your trash makes other peoples' job easier. Also, I'm sorry, it just makes sense and it doesn't leave your surroundings a mess. I just don't get it.

Currency is obviously different! While the exchange rate's not bomb all the time, it is exciting to collect a small (vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv small) fortune in several different currencies. Basically as long as there's someway to exchange currency before you get stuck in a British taxi with no way to pay the driver because you literally just got off a bus in the middle of no where an hour ago and its 4 AM and they don't have any ATMs within the vicinity...you're fine! It may be because I flew into Ireland first (aka the greatest country on Earth) but I'm super biased for the Euro and I don't even really know why or have a reason to be.

These are only little things I pick up on because they're just different enough to notice; It's not a drastically different culture here in Wales. Everyone is incredibly nice and I'm really thankful to have ended up here specifically. I'm loving it :)

An extra list of differences my American housemates added when I asked:

- children are eloquent as heck here, it's not just a British stereotype, they really do say things like "delightful"
- tight ass jeans on everyone all the time
- no ranch dressing
- paying for public bathrooms?!
- boys are way more aggressive at clubs
- they don't do ice here

Monday, October 24, 2016

Sport!?

“Document the moments you feel most in love with yourself - what you’re wearing, who you’re around, what you’re doing." - Warsan Shire

I went windsurfing!

Four years ago I took Freshman Advice very seriously; I threw myself into new waters, diving into a new school, town, environment, chapter of my life on my own and determinedly forced myself to talk to anyone and everyone that happened to be within earshot. This is one thing that hasn't changed over the course of my collegiate experience: when in doubt, I'll chat it up. (Though honestly it is always more fear [fear of loneliness, fear of missing out] than confidence that pushes me to this, but the end result is the same, either way.) That same instinct was put to good use again as I embarked on this term and one of the reasons why I chased after a man on the street because of his hoodie.

"Excuse me!" I called out, tailing a tall dude in wave-emblazened black. "What's your hoodie about?" He was clearly taken aback but politely and enthusiastically told me about windsurfing, anyway. They go every Wednesday, beginners welcome. Sign me up. It took two weeks to get to it, but I managed to recruit my housemates and thus four American amateurs threw themselves into the freezing waters of a Welsh lake. Literally. We threw our bodies into the lake over and over and over again. Turns out windsurfing takes a lot more muscle than anticipated -- I never envisioned how the sail got upright, in my mind it always just was...but, no, you have to pull it up yourself. Then you have to hang on real tight and steady or the wind betrays you and everything goes tits up from there.*

I loved it, though, at least with all the parts of my body that hadn't gone numb from the cold. (My toes weren't a big fan but they'll get over it. "No one's ever lost an appendage doing this, right?" I asked the crew that was corralling us all back to shore via a small motor boat. "We have had people missing a few fingers do it!" They replied, taking a suspiciously long time to confirm it wasn't during windsurfing that the loss of fingers occurred...) During the few precious moments of standing upright, shoulders back, and gripping the angled sail without immediately losing balance I forced myself to take a deep breath and gaze ahead at the horizon. The sky was a clouded grey, thankfully dry, but smeared like dirty paintbrush water. Just above the tree line was a bright white as the sun began its descent, contrasting the forest green trees in a way almost prettier than on sunny days. The ocean lay just beyond the trees and behind me sat a small castle on a hill, as they often do in Wales.

It's these fleeting moments of serenity that I often try to solidify in my memory, "This is my life. I'm 22 in Wales and I'm windsurfing." Somehow stating the facts quietly to myself and blinking really hard and purposefully brings me fully into the present. I keep these small snapshots of myself at various ages (normally high peaks of emotion because obviously those are the most poignant, but really any moment can be infused with emotion and isn't that cool!?!?: passionately sobbing at 11, watching the sunrise at 14, clinging to my best friends at 17) in hopes of remembering at least snippets of what it felt like to be me at that age. I want to fully be able to respect my past and present self by preserving her as best as I can at least in my own mind. The fear of a failing memory is definitely one of the many reasons I'm so drawn to journaling, and even blogging. Maybe it's narcissistic -- what's so worth preserving? But fuck that, we should be important to ourselves. We're the only self we've got to know and love and enjoy and remember for our lives. Especially as constantly changing individuals we're all interesting AS HECK. Honestly, I generally love people's thoughts and feelings. I want to get to know you like I want to get to know myself. Being a person is pretty inherently interesting, everything else only adds to it.

I guess the goal is to be eighty and still be able to feel the Welsh wind on my face that I felt at twenty-two while windsurfing.


*Actual charming quote from a girl in my Medieval to Postmodern Lit class, referring to The Lais of Marie de France but it works here, as well, I think!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Iberia!

Last Wednesday saw me in my professor's office on the first week of school. I was there to anxiously inform him that, however amped I was to study Dylan Thomas, I would be missing the first two lectures of the term...because I was taking a week off to galavant through Portugal and Spain...because I'm an uncultured American who's never been anywhere and a girl whose life mottos are sometimes too heavily influenced by Hilary Duff...

"Enjoy Iberia!" He exclaimed as I left, relieved he'd been so understanding. I smiled and thanked him and perhaps threw a 'thumbs up' at him because for some reason Europe's done that to me?? It wasn't until I was on the other side of the door I realized it wouldn't have been ridiculous for me to ask him what "Iberia" was instead of contemplating on my own the word I'd never heard before. It's nice that even though I've yet to have a class with him, the prof's still managed to teach me something (with a lil help from Google.)


My Iberian adventure was unbelievable.

I bought myself a bottle of wine (rose, not the normal plane size bottle -- imagine a toddler size bottle rather than the teeny tiny baby kind) on the flight in while the man next to me taught me a few key Portuguese phrases. The airport shuttle ride was me and five middle aged vacationers who I informed, very excitedly, that it was my 22nd birthday in one hour, can you believe it?! The hour long ride from Faro to Armação de Pêra soundtracked by a night club kind of Portuguese/Late 2000s hits mix and I was in awe of Portugal at every turn. They dropped me off in front of a cyber cafe/convenient store (yes...for real) when I realized I had no idea what the actual apartment number was...Also I was apparently in the wrong place entirely...After an anxious 10 minutes the sight of Alexa and Gwen running towards me from the down the street, while the two kind Portuguese store clerks looked on in amusement at the wild American girls hugging and yelling, filled me relief and elation.

Birthday excitement flowing through my veins it wasn't even that difficult to get out of bed for a beach sunrise. The serenity of a deserted oceanfront at daybreak, soft sand, warm water, everything awash in oranges, pinks, blues, yellows; I've never known colors that vibrant. It was the perfect start to an absolutely perfect day.

Dranks In The Ocean
We returned to the beach a few hours later properly packed to settle in for the day, equipped with enough wine, beer, and snacks for the afternoon...Not enough sunscreen, however, I literally emptied my bottle right then and there, which left all of us burnt in unfortunate and strange patterns across our bodies.

It was six hours of laughing, bonding with new friends, catching up with old ones, discussing the future and the past, eating everything, briefly going topless because we could. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and I didn't have a care in the world. (This is not a normal feeling for me, a constant ball of anxiety.) It was the most relaxed I've ever been in my life.

I treated myself to a birthday steak dinner, obviously, and extremely overpriced Sangria, then we hit Albufeira for the night clubs. As the area's a tourist spot, the bars were mostly middle aged Brits on holiday (seriously Brits get to go on SO MANY HOLIDAYS; jobs here just let people have time off...all the time. Like, every year. It's bonkers. Get that together, America), but one club played "Gasolina" followed by "Jai Ho" and then Shakira's anthem "Waka Waka" and it was the highlight of my night.

happy girls
The next day took us to Lisbon, where we stayed at the world's greatest (medium-sized) hostel, according to HostelWorld and according to ME out of all the hostels I've stayed in so far. It's literally called HOME, it's cozy AS HECK, with a patio, living room, and full-experience three course home-cooked meals every night made by the owner Mamma for only 10 EURO. She literally takes everyone's personal dietary restrictions into consideration. It was incomparable. We saw Lisbon's open-air church and museum, the Castle of St. Jorge, and unreal views from a couple of the cities' miradouros. One of Portugal's 'things' is free shots upon welcoming someone and with every dinner and it is one of my favorite countries in the world, so far. Portugal and Ireland have absolutely stolen my heart.

Cheetah Girl's 2 gave me high hopes for Barcelona, and it met them, but October in Iberia means winter's coming and that means rain season. It absolutely poured straight through our first day in Spain, the kind of storm that doesn't allow for great exploration. I managed to see a lot of the Gothic Quarter though, and honestly, it was some of the most incredible and oldest architecture I've ever experienced, so, cool. I ate patatas bravas either with or in substitute of every meal and mixed a lot of wine and cerveza.

The overcast skies didn't deter us from what I came to Barcelona determined to do: Monserrat. It's a serrated mountain ridge, with an old church and abbey built into it, and Spain's first National Park. Astonishing doesn't begin to describe the entire impact of being there. It was by far the peak of the trip and potentially my entire life -- Four years in private Catholic school, forced to go to church at least once a week, and I've never felt closer to religion than literally above the clouds, sitting atop a Spanish mountain.


Gwen, Ashley, and I then braved the extremely aggressive club promoters of La Rambla and Plaça Reial and spent the night bumpin' and grindin' in an undeniably hip but small, sweaty basement. I'm pretty sure we left around 2/2:30, but the club showed no signs of slowing down. At all. The clubs literally stay open until the party dies and sometimes the Barcelona party don't stop until, like, 7 AM. I was busing to the airport Saturday morning at 7 and actually watched hoards of drunk people crawling from clubs to cabs with the sunrise. It was honestly kind of beautiful.

The third day was finally sunny and warm and we hit the dry pavement, covering over half the width of the surprisingly large city, passing by Gaudí's Sagrada Família and spending the afternoon wandering Park Güell. It's been hard to say goodbye to every city so far, but the end of a trip is always a confusing co-mingling of relieved exhaustion, disappointment that it's over, and excitement to move on to what's next.


Swansea welcomed me home again with clear skies and a huge group hug from my lovely new Swan friends.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My Space: Not the Website

“Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke . . . She will need her sisterhood.” - Gloria Steinem

It's very frustrating to realize that all of history has strategized to create a society in which men feel absolutely entitled to my space.

I went out to the bar with a friend -- I'd been having a fantastic evening and I was jazzed to have a beer, dance, hang out. But all night long I encountered the same problem...Extremely forward men. I don't know if it was worse than normal, or if I was just more aware of it, but I ended up feeling uncomfortable the majority of the night until I ended up home early with a stomach ache unrelated to the singular beer I consumed but completely tied to the way I was treated by random men.

It was several different things, beginning with the Aggressive Staring across the bar that is like, theoretically harmless except undeniably threatening and violating nevertheless. All I can do to avoid potentially dangerous confrontation is try my best to ignore them, avoid their eye-line, and pretend that dancing under their gaze doesn't make me feel like I exist to entertain them. That's not my job. (If you want to watch me like that you really should be paying me, I'm just saying.) I could not possibly care less how a random man in a bar -- or anywhere -- perceives me; why do they feel the need to wink and wave like I should be grateful for their approval when I've CLEARLY spent all evening grimacing at their advances and distinctly shifting away from their approaches?

That's one thing...Then there's the Cornering.

It happens literally out of no where: two grown-ass men will swoop in together and all of a sudden, there's one in front and one beside and only one way out. It happened twice in one night! At one bar! In the same general area! Four different men! What is this?! I'm very small, but I'm not invisible...even if they aren't making eye contact (????????? what is this about ??????) I know that they see me. I've been dancing in this spot for an hour. Back yourself up. But no, I have to grab my stuff from the spot beside me and shimmy down the bar, the bar that is entirely empty on either side because it is 12:30 on a Tuesday night, and re-establish a position over there. Amazingly enough, a minute later the men decide they aren't so attached to that specific spot anymore and leave. Shocking. What made that particular spot so appealing just a moment before?

That move must be totally unrelated to my presence, though, right? Am I making this all about me? Am I being self-centered? Except then I sit on the wall, an elevated shelf there, and I'm just minding my own business, casually swaying to Lil Wayne and watching Betty White inexplicably on TV. Then BAM! In the blink of an eye, there's a man directly blocking my left and an even larger man blocking my front -- completely barring me from being able to hop down to the floor without confrontation. But they won't look at me! They're both literally UP AGAINST MY KNEES!!!!!!! But they won't actually make eye contact! (I mean, I definitely don't want to make eye contact with them, that can turn aggressive too quickly. It's just such a strange sitaution. It's like they're ignoring me from directly on top of me. Why?) I stare in stunned disbelief, and heave a sigh. I'm appalled. I throw my hands up and pull my legs onto the bar instead of jumping down; I step over the pile of coats and scarves and bags and sit on the other end of the entirely. empty. bar. AKA: where they could have gone to set up in the first place instead of forcing me to move. Then (NOTICING PATTERNS) they leave. As soon as it registers that I'm gone, they evaporate into thin air. Unbelievable.

It is an entirely empty bar, but they choose to stand in my lap. When it happens twice within an hour, it's not a coincidence or merely oblivious drunk dudes...it's a problem with an utter disrespect for women's personal space.

The cherry on top, the complete trifecta of Awful Interactions With Men, was the Verbal Attack in the form of a man directly pointing out my physical disadvantage to him. My friend and I had decided to finish the night at another bar, ran into the rain and across the street, but of course it's crazy to think that two young, attractive females could hope to exist in a bar undisturbed. While I had been annoyed originally, pissed off by the second intrusion, it was the third instance when I knew the night was over.

Let me break it down for you: There's a giant problem when a drunk man at the bar leans into my face, staring unseeing and uncaring at my disgusted expression, and points out repeatedly that I would be unable to fight him off. That is literally what I had to deal with and I'm expected not to pepper spray him just for saying such a thing. Thank you for needlessly pointing out our size difference! Thank you for senselessly disregarding the fact that I am ignoring you and just continue to repeat the phrase, "You have no bows!!!! You have NO BOWS!" in reference to my lack of muscle mass over and over and OVER again until I literally throw my weight into the elbow I do possess an inch from your face and I want nothing more than to obliterate your nose right then and there. He continues, "I'm like, 250 pounds. You've got nothing. That's weak. That's weak."

I could vomit right now just remembering hearing that.

This is not flirting. This is not cute. This is threatening. I am aware I am very much half your size, male person, I am reminded of this every second of every day in every situation I am ever in. The fact that the idea of my inability to defend myself was something this man fixated on so passionately...It makes me sick. "That's comforting, thank you," I replied. There was no life in his eyes and he couldn't see me, let alone imagine me as fully human. A friend of a friend I just met two seconds previous and with no relevance or provocation whatsoever he began screaming that I "have no bows." It wasn't even like we were cracking jokes about play fighting or something weird and dumb and casual; I didn't say more than "Hi, yeah, I'm friends with so-and-so," when all of a sudden he was obsessed with my elbows and stature.

What a magnificent time to be had by all. Once again, after only being in the bar for five minutes, I couldn't do it anymore and left.

I feel like there's so little I can do in response to these things! That's the most frustrating part. Is there a Best Way To React? I'm forced to leave the environment that they've now claimed as their own because I am small and helpless and "a bitch" if I say something.

Forget that.

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year, New Resolutions

"I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something." - Neil Gaiman
 
Seasons, semesters, holidays, years, months, days, birthdays -- all tools we have instituted into society in order to keep track of time. And I love them.

I'm a hugely nostalgic, sentimental sap, while slightly embarrassing and childish, it might be one of my favorite parts of myself because I genuinely derive so much pleasure from marking the passage of time. Whether that's through journals, pictures, blogs; I eat it up. I seek out books and songs and people that make me feel deeply because I LOVE IT. I think everyone generally enjoys, you know, feeling, duh. But to someone who doesn't, I don't know if there's a way to capture the catharsis of crying it all out to songs from the TFIOS* soundtrack. Or standing on the steps of the New York Public Library, watching the sun rise between the buildings lining fifth avenue and silently tearing up to Sara Bareilles's "Chasing the Sun."

We read Tennyson's "In Memoriam"** in my British Lit. class, which gave me all the platonic love feelings (my favorite) and all the romantic love feelings...so many feelings. It's great. I just want to live my life knowing that I've felt as deeply as I can for as much as I can? That sounds like a dumb sentence, but whatever, it's true. I always have this nagging fear that I'm not doing enough to preserve This Moment; I think that's a common thing considering the popularity of Instagram and Twitter, etc. I can stress myself out so badly about the expectation I have that I end up getting FOMO even while participating. (Especially true of nights like New Years Eve that get built up so much that it's nearly impossible for the night's reality to live up -- that pressure is unbearable. I constantly have to remind myself to chill on the expectations.) That's ridiculous and counter-productive! I have to make that stop. It's the reason I have to force myself to put the phone down during a concert, even though my Snapchat instincts are on fire because if I'm not even briefly present in that moment I'll regret it. But of course, there's balance to be found in everything. As someone who's standing on the precipice of another year in the life (and someone who puts a lot of stock in that type of thing, other birthday-worshipers and NYE resolution-makers are with me on this), I have GOALS, man. I know no one really associates the word "balance" with the age 21, specifically...but I'll do my best.

New Years is a time practically invented for reflection on the previous year and the rapid rate at which it flew by -- there's no way it went as quickly as every year has ever gone before. No way. So fast. Unbelievable. Similarly: I was such a different person a year ago! I have grown so much! So much has happened! Where has the time gone? Who will I be a year from now? Life is crazy! So on, so forth. All this reflection occurs simultaneously with an eye on the horizon and what the future could hold. This is why I love resolutions, they're how we take control and decide what we can do to make the most of this potential. I know that many resolution haters will roll their eyes and say that a day is just a day, you have the power to change at any time, stop waiting for arbitrary timelines and Live Your Best Life Today. Blah, blah, blah. Resolutions are FUN. Here are some of mine: (I filled an entire three pages of my journal with goals and hopes for how I'll grow in the next year, but I'll spare you.)
  • Forgive myself
  • Drink more water
  • Give gifts
  • Watch my posture
  • Take creative projects seriously
  • Put myself "out there" as often as possible
  • Unabashedly live in Selfie City
  • Make money, get turnt
Please share some of yours with me! I'm always on the hunt to steal the best resolutions.
 
*Birdy's "Tee Shirt" when you want to cry, though. For REAL.
**aka: "'tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" (aka - the motto frickin yolo)