F is for FINALLY.

So remember when I did that post about life resolutions? I’ve been making progress on them and I’m feeling pretty good about it! Really, these are things I probably shouldn’t pat myself on the back for because it just means I’m being a grownup for once and taking responsibility for myself and blah, blah, blah. But you gotta start somewhere, right?!

I’m officially halfway through writing my novel!
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It feels SO GOOD to say I’m halfway through this thing. Muuuuch better than saying I’m almost halfway through it. I’ve learned a lot along the way. Primarily that you’ve gotta work at your own pace (and silence those evil voices in your head that mock you for not having accomplished as much as so-and-so with the ridiculous 5 million dollar advance for their first book at the ripe old age of 19). That voice is a liar. You can only ever work at your own pace. You can only ever do what’s right for you; if you don’t, things have a much slimmer chance of working out the way you want them to. I’m learning to be OK with how I work, with what I actually want to do with my life, and with the way those two things take shape together. This is the first big step (after a bazillion smaller ones) in making my career what I want it to be, and I am making real progress on this effing monstrosity. When it’s all done, we’re gonna have the biggest party ever. Yes I said “we.” You’d better come. And bring booze.

I’ve been working out consistently!
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I bit the bullet and got a gym membership and I’ve been working out every other day! I recently watched a vlog where someone mentioned how weird it is that they hate the idea of going to the gym, but love how they feel once they’re done working out. That’s exactly where I’m at. I hate EVERYTHING when I’m on my way there, and curse myself for even getting out of bed because what difference will it actually make?! Then I go in there and rock shit like I never thought I could, and walk out like I won the lottery. It’s amazing. And weird. I’m stilllll getting the hang of this healthy eating biz… but baby steps, y’all!

I’m saving money!
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I bought a little heart-shaped bank from Tiger, one of my favorite UK stores ever (like a much smaller Ikea, minus the furniture). Whenever I have any change (including pound coins), it goes into the bank (which is kinda inconvenient when I need change but…eh). I’ve also drawn up a weekly budget for myself and am doing a (mostly) OK job so far of sticking to it! Again, baby steps. But the progress is visible.

I got my hair done!
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You’re probably looking at the screen like “Huh?” but trust me…it’s a big deal. I started my dreads in the fall of 2012 and have been maintaining them myself since then. It’s not hard to do, but it is time consuming. And with how annoying it can be to get your hands all mucked up with wax/hair grease stabbing yourself in the head with 1000 metal clips, and no access to a sit-under hair dryer, I’ve just been putting it off and putting it off (and looking crazier and crazier). Yesterday was the first time someone else has taken care of my locs for me — using a method called “interlocking” which is like crocheting your hair, and which I’d never heard of before. And apparently what they did at the salon = me not having to touch my hair again for months, which is amazeballs! Freedooommmmm!!!

What progress have you been making lately?

Happy Monday!

E is for Epiphany.

I saw the movie Brooklyn last night and it was gorgeous.

Not just the way it was shot but the direction, too. Just the right amount of time was spent on every significant moment. Nothing was milked or overdone. Nothing was rushed before you could get a handle on how you felt about it. And the whole story was especially poignant to view as an expat.

Brooklyn (based on the novel of the same name by Colm Tóibín) is about an Irish immigrant named Eilis who moves to Brooklyn, New York at the behest of her older sister, Rose. Rose arranges a job and a place to stay for Eilis in America because she wants a better life for her little sister than she’d have in their small town. So Eilis leaves her sister and widowed mother behind to make a new life for herself. At first, she’s terribly homesick. She can’t even manage to fake-smile through her shifts at work. But one day, she meets an Italian plumber and they fall in love. She grows into her life in Brooklyn and finally begins to feel at home. Until something terrible calls her back to Ireland for a visit. While there, forces conspire to make her stay. She must decide what’s most important to her in the end: the familiarity of Ireland, or the life she’s built for herself in America.

I cried like a baby watching this film. Everything about it is lovely. And what added another dimension to it for me was knowing that Saoirse Ronan, the film’s star, is Irish. I wondered how it must have felt to put herself in the place of her forebears. Watching this film allowed me the safe space to think about my own ancestry and what living back then might have been like for those I descended from (without the harsh imagery of what I know they experienced).

At the end of the film, Eilis says some beautiful words about leaving home to go elsewhere. She talks about that feeling, of finding someone who isn’t connected to your past in any way, someone who is just yours, and by extension, a life that is just yours. I realized that’s exactly the reason why I’ve moved around as much as I have. Finding a place that no one who knew you before is familiar with and making it your place. And knowing that all the people you meet only know the you in front of them now, not the you who existed before. There is something so alluring in that, in building something new that no one from your past has any claim to. It’s an attempt to build a better version of yourself. The you that you’ve always wanted to be. But the internal struggle between this new life and the comfort of your old life will always be there, rearing its head from time to time. But like Eilis, I think it’s important to look ahead. Own that commitment you made to yourself to start fresh. Because there’s a reason you went away in the first place. And whoever you are, and whatever that reason is, it’s probably a good one.

So trust yourself and your judgment, fellow expats. Know that, however hard it gets abroad, you made the best decision available to you at the time, and that wherever your life is headed, it’s someplace better.

Hope you’re having a good Thursday 🙂

C is for…

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Duh.

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I’ve got 2 fuzz-butts who I love to death. I mean, what’s not to love about cats?! They’re furry, cunning lil therapists. Seriously. Whenever I’m sad about something, Neal wanders over to console me. And whenever I’m angry and yelling about something, Choko comes over and yells along with me (unless what I’m yelling about is her, in which case she’s nowhere to be found) then rubs her head against my leg. There are some pretty great C’s out there. Like…

Cheese
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Chocolate
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and Cookies

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Hey look, more chocolate!

As magnificent as those are, I love cats even more.

They’re so capable. They could go into cosmetology…
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…or massage.
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Instead, they grace us lowly humans with all their adorable nonsense. Aren’t we lucky?
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They’re also slightly insane, which can be entertaining.
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And they know how to relax.

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Neal, keepin’ it classy.

A world without cats would be super boring. There’d also be a lot less nuzzling and purring going on, and I’m a fan of both.

Hooray for cats!
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B is for…

I like monsters. It says so right over there  (>>>) in my little bio blurb! Whether they’re monstrous on the outside or on the inside (or both) makes no difference — I love ’em all. Because what makes a so-called monster monstrous is that it’s different from the rest of us in a way that’s perceived to be dangerous, which (in my opinion) makes them fascinating. That’s why B is for Beasts.

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I’ve always been compelled to do things that scare me. Going into Hot Topic for the first time as an 11 year old after my dad insisted the store was “demonic” (my dad’s not a fan of death metal XD ); eventually reading Johnny the Homicidal Maniac all the way through despite being scared shitless the first time I picked it up (and it opened to a panel featuring a dismembered corpse in a bathtub full of blood. I wanted to cry.); getting pierced in various places; getting tattooed; and befriending the loners who other people made fun of or who seemed standoffish/mean. I needed to know what all of these things and people were really like.

People made fun of me, too, for being weird, but I thought I was a pretty good person all things considered. Therefore, I figured there must be more to those other folks who got harrassed, too. And, perhaps predictably, every single time, those “weirdos” actually turned out to be some of the coolest, most interesting, and most accepting people I had ever met. But that’s the way, isn’t it? The things that scare you tend to become less frightening the more you learn about them. Monsters are the figurative embodiment of what every society fears most. Once you unpack that fear, there’s no telling what you’ll discover — about those beings and about yourself. (FYI, this is kinda what my thesis is on. Sorry y’all, but it’s taking over my life!)

Here are a few of my most favorite beasts.

1. The Beast, Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

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Everyone knows this guy, right? Well in case you don’t, he’s a prince who, as a preteen, is transformed by a sorceress disguised as an old hag into a monster because he turned her away when she came to his castle seeking shelter. The only way to break this curse is for someone he loves to return his love, despite his appearance, before the last petal of the enchanted rose the sorceress gave him falls on his 21st birthday. When we meet the prince again 10 years later (“10 years we’ve been rusting…”), he has (understandably, you might say) become the royal French equivalent of the old guy who sits on his porch with a gun and screams at anyone who even thinks about coming near his house.

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First, can I just say that kids can be jerks? Especially kids who are used to having it all. It’s through years of life experience and help from the grownups in your life that you either learn to be kind, or become an even bigger jerk. My point is, should a 10/11 year old kid really get turned into a beast because he won’t let a strange old lady into his house in the dead of night? I dunno man. In any case, he certainly learned his lesson, huh?

What I love most about this character is that he actually takes the risk, after so many years alone, of letting someone in (literally and metaphorically), and when he does, he ends up finding real happiness. The story is slightly complicated in that you can understand why the townsfolk are scared of Beast, but at the same time, after getting to know him through his budding relationship with Belle, the way he’s misunderstood doesn’t seem altogether fair, especially with douchey Gaston as his beloved opposite.

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It’s another one of those “never judge a book by its cover” stories, and a damn good one at that. It teaches us that underneath every shouty, hairy beast with an amazing library is a hot guy with a castle and a lotta money. Isn’t that the greatest lesson of all?

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2. The Beast, Over the Garden Wall

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Here’s a purely malevolent monster for ya. Over the Garden Wall was a special miniseries that ran on Cartoon Network briefly. 10 episodes, each around 10 minutes long (give or take). OtGW follows a pair of brothers, Greg & Wirt, who get lost on Halloween night and need to find their way home. They end up in this crazy world where animals go to school, dead people dress up in pumpkin suits after they’ve become skeletons, and evil lurks around every corner. The Beast is the most feared and evil creature of all. A woodsman is forced into the employ of The Beast, gathering special wood from a special forest. The branches he collects are turned into a unique oil which fuels a magic lantern, a lantern the woodsman thinks contains his daughter’s soul, and which he thus protects at all costs. The wood the oil is made from is actually grown from captured human beings who’ve become trees. But the lantern, which The Beast warns must never go out if the woodsman wants to keep his daughter safe, doesn’t contain the soul of the woodsman’s daughter after all — it contains The Beast’s soul. Turns out he’d tricked the woodsman into keeping him alive.

This isn’t one of those beasts that is portrayed as “misunderstood” in a way that begs sympathy. This beast is deceitful, and causes others pain on purpose. There is, however, a lot left unsaid about him. You never learn his origin, how his soul came to be in that lantern, anything. He’s simply a baleful presence whose influence seems to extend endlessly. He also sings opera. You only ever see him as a silhouette with glowing eyes until the very end, when the woodsman learns the truth and shines the lantern on him.

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There is something we misunderstand about The Beast until the final episode that links him to the rest of us: he feels fear. Specifically, a fear of death. The reason why he tricked the woodsman into capturing all those people and turning them into lantern oil in the first place was simply because he wanted to stay alive. Everybody’s afraid of something, amirite?

3. Dorian Gray, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

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This one you probably remember from high school. The Picture of Dorian Gray is about a young man who is the object of an artist’s infatuation. The artist paints a portrait of Dorian that completely captures the way the artist views him, i.e. perfection. As Dorian becomes more and more depraved, the Dorian in the painting grows more ghastly, a representation of the real Dorian’s horrific nature, while Dorian Gray himself remains ageless and perfect as a painting — his wish come true. Dorian Gray is one of my favorite literary villains of all time. I couldn’t believe how terrifying he became. And of course this story has one of the best, most inimitable endings ever: Dorian stabs his portrait self in the heart, but with the destruction of the painting comes the sudden rapid aging of the real Dorian Gray, who is found bearing the mortal wound he inflicted on the painting. The portrait on the other hand returns to its original state of beauty.

I haven’t read this story in years, but I remember enough to say with confidence that calling Dorian a shit is probably the understatement of the century. That guy is on another level. Certainly beastly. But it’s his desire for absolution that ultimately leads to his death. I really need to reread that one.

What/who is your favorite beast?

Later!

A is for…

Hey, hey, hey, everybody 🙂

I’ve been taking a break to do thesis things and get my life together a little. How have you been?

I thought I’d try something new…again. This time, I’m going to go through the alphabet and do one blog post per letter. I won’t be doing this every single day. More like every other day. I’ll be writing about everything — food, books, things to do in London — all the things you’d normally see here anyway, just in a different format. And once we get to Z, well… who knows?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’ll start at the beginning.

A is for Acton.

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One of the first photos I took after moving here.

This month marks my one year anniversary of living in London! I moved to England at the end of September 2014, but didn’t move to London until February 2015. Even though I’d been living in England for a few months by the time I moved, I hadn’t done enough exploring to figure out where I really wanted to live. The flat I found in Acton was the cheapest I could get at the time (or so I thought) without a roommate that still put me relatively close to the London action. I had nowhere else to stay and no more time to look, so I moved in here.

Acton is in Zone 3, next door to Shepherd’s Bush (Zone 2) where there’s a Westfield mall, a Vue cinema, and a number of restaurants, shops, and concert venues. Shepherd’s Bush also has two tube stations (Circle and Hammersmith & City, and Central lines) and an overground station (National Rail services will resume there soon, too) all within walking distance of each other. Acton itself has two overground stations (South Acton and Acton Central), Acton Town tube station on the Piccadilly line (which is quite close to Heathrow airport), and North, East, & West Acton tube stations on the Central line. Not to mention the various buses that run through here.

In truth, it’s not the most exciting place, and I’ve since discovered which boroughs would actually be ideal for me. But in the meantime, I’ve got easy access to Chiswick, which is lovely and villagey, Richmond which is pleasant, clean, and has a bunch of my favorite shops, and transport links into central London and all it has to offer.

Not too shabby.

There’s also a great artisan wine shop with a wine bar only steps away (both owned by the same super nice couple), and pubs scattered all over with some pretty great deals. There’s one nearby that’s got pints for £2.50! (Once you’ve been to a few pubs in London, you start to realize what a rare blessing a cheap pint is.)

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For the non-boozers, there’s a cute little park beside Acton Central Overground, fitness centers, and plenty of sidewalks to stroll/ride along. In other words, there’s something for just about everybody. And like I said, whatever isn’t here can surely be found in Shepherd’s Bush or Chiswick.

I’m counting on freedom starting today or tomorrow, which means I’ll actually be able to go out and do things in the city again. I’ve also gotten started on a couple of those life resolutions of mine. I’ll let you know what kind of progress I make 🙂

Happy Monday!