Will you still need me/Will you still feed me/When I’m…halfway ’round the world?

Tr- Tr- Tr- Travel Thursday, y’all!

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After reading lots of travel blogs and talking to other expats, I’m about 98.7% sure that the hardest thing about being an expat for me is also the hardest thing about it for pretty much everyone else: Missing friends and family.

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Luckily, technology has moved light years ahead in just the last few years, not to mention the last decade or so. Now, we’ve got Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp, and a bunch of social media platforms to use to show people how we’re doing and what we’ve been up to. But if being back in the US for a couple of weeks revealed nothing else, it made clear how much better it is to be in the same room with the ones you love. Watching movies, eating out, discussing the mysteries of the universe — it’s so much more fun to do these things with a living human instead of a head on a screen.

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A great thing about moving abroad is that it really shows you how much you mean to the people you left. Whenever I move, I’m consistently visited by the same people. I know that no matter where I am in the world, my mom, my mom’s parents, and certain friends will come see me. If they don’t visit, they’ll keep in touch regularly. I’ve gotten letters, greeting cards, emails, Skype messages, and the like to let me know they’re thinking of me — and I do the same for them. If you want to whittle your social circle down, move abroad. You’ll figure out very quickly who your nearest and dearest are. (This is of course excluding folks who would write/see you if they could, but for important reasons, cannot.)

Another amazing thing about moving abroad? Coming home for a visit! There is absolutely NOTHING like arriving at the airport and seeing someone you love waiting for you.
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And when you’re in the car staring out the window, you get to see what’s changed since you’ve been gone and what’s stayed the same.

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Going home for the holidays is particularly special. I won’t get to be with my mom for Christmas, so we had Thanksmas instead. I also brought along gifts for a couple of friends, too. I felt alllll the warm fuzzies when they unwrapped their gifts and loved them b/c it meant that, although we haven’t hung out regularly since I moved, I still know them well enough to give them something they’ll love 🙂

I’m super grateful for the people who take time out of life to let me know I haven’t lost my spot in their hearts despite being so far away. In fact, I think I’ll go hop on Skype… 😀

Happy Thursday, y’all!

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(Nearly) Back

What up, urrybody!

I’m heading back to England tonight.

On the one hand,

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But on the other hand,

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I had such a good time seeing/talking to people I miss like woah after months apart. I wish I could stay a little longer. However, there are people I miss in England, too. And cats (who apparently hid under the bed the entire time I was gone. Poor things).

I may or may not blog this week. It took my body a couple of days to adjust to the West coast’s timezone, and then another day to readjust to the East coast’s, so it’s fairly likely that I’ll be dead to the world for a while when I get back.

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So I wanted to check in before slipping into a week-long coma, and tell you how much fun I had. I ate amazing food on Thanksgiving, exchanged gifts with my mom (since we won’t see each other on Xmas), and did my first escape room (and SUUUCCCKKKKEDD worse than anything XD ). I saw my best friend, and watched Steve Jobs, and wrangled drunks. I also got my first subscription boxes, but was so pumped to get them that I just tore them open without making a video/blog post. Whoops.

In other words: Good times.

We’ll be back with your regularly scheduled programming by next week.

In the meantime, Happy almost-Xmas!!!

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One of those sappy posts…

Hey there!

I know I’ve said it before, but I’m a one-woman irrigation system when it comes to most things. Sadness = tears. A show of kindness = tears. Anger = tears. Extreme confusion or stress = tears. Lots of laughter = tears. I’m a sensitive little jellybean, and that’s A-OK 😀 My favorite tears are, of course, happy tears, and one of my favorite things to do to make ’em is watching a movie or TV show that I love. And yes, OK…the ones that make me cry usually have something to do with love — you caught me 🙂

Saturday is my favorite day, whether I have plans or not, to watch a movie or TV show that gets me teary-eyed. Here are 5 of my most favorites!

1. “The One With the Proposal” (Friends)
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This is one of my favorite Friends episodes of all time, and not just because Monica and Chandler get engaged at the end. The reintroduction of Richard (the former love of Monica’s life) complicated things in a very real way. We all knew she would eventually choose Chandler, but how long it would take her to do that and what would be enough to make her decide to was in the wind until the proposal itself. I ALWAYS get misty when Monica starts crying after getting down on one knee, and again when Chandler gets choked up during his speech. I lovelovelove that they proposed to each other in the end.

The Monica-Chandler relationship was such a surprise when it first happened, but ended up making a lot of sense. MON + CHAN 4EVER.

2. Pride & Prejudice (2005)
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There are a few tearjerker moments sprinkled throughout this entire film (for me). The movie itself is gorgeous, and the casting is absolutely perfect. Joe Wright & friends send me spiraling through every emotion ever felt from the start of the film to the very last scene. I want Keira Knightly’s Lizzie to be my BFF and life coach. I also want to punch Mrs. Bennett in the face a few times. Anyhoo… I never fail to shed tears over Darcy’s speech when he confesses his love to Lizzie for the 2nd time (“You have bewitched me body and soul, and I love– I love– I love you.” FEELS.) But one of the great things about this film is that Lizzie and Darcy aren’t the only characters you come to care about. My eyes turn into friggin’ waterfalls every time I watch Jane’s response to Bingley’s proposal. WAAAAHHHHHH!!! 😥

3. The Holiday
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Most of my teary moments in The Holiday — maybe all of them — happen during Iris’s story. I honestly could’ve watched an entire movie dedicated to her (though imagining myself as the Amanda to Jude’s Graham is fun, too). Iris has all these little moments where you know exactly how she feels. When Jasper’s engagement is announced and she’s trying not to cry, when she’s telling Miles about why she’s there and gets choked up (“…those years of your life that you wasted…”), when she first went inside Arthur’s house and saw his awards…and then saw what his life had become. Kate Winslet is an acting god. I’m pretty much convinced she’s part of an elite acting council, alongside Cate Blanchett, chaired by Meryl Streep. I get completely lost in Iris’s story because of all those little instances of genuine emotion. This is also my favorite role I’ve ever seen Jack Black play. It’s just so easy to root for Iris and Miles: two sweet, sincere people who’ve been sh*t on one too many times, and finally get the happiness they deserve.

P.S.
Shout out to Hans Zimmer. His genius score puts every scene over the top.

4. Ore Monogatari!! (aka, My Love Story!!)
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This one’s for my anime peeps out there. Holy crap, y’all. I finally found a new anime to love, and it’s so flippin’ cute I just can’t even. I’ve never been into anime that’s billed as “Romance”; I don’t mind when a love story is woven in, but for my favorite animes, romance is usually secondary. This one, however, is so good and SO SWEET that there’s at least one part of every single episode that makes me cry.

It’s about a high school freshman named Takeo who’s never been popular with girls because he’s so big and (they say) too strong. Every girl he’s ever liked has gone for his best friend instead. Takeo is incredibly kind and a good guy in general, but very few people are able to see past his appearance (even the people he helps end up thanking his best friend instead of him). Then one day, he sees some perv on the train he’s riding grope a girl his age and he stops the guy. Takeo and the girl he saves, Yamato, fall in love, and it’s the most adorable thing EVER. Yamato is the first girl to openly appreciate all that makes Takeo great. Not only is their story together cute, but Takeo’s relationship with his best friend, Suna (who always turned those other girls down b/c they’d talked badly about Takeo behind his back) is also D’AWW-inducing. And like anything good, it’s not a one-trick pony: there’s romance, but also plenty of comedy and drama. It’s a well-rounded, sweet show 🙂

5. Big Fish
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Like Ore Monogatari!!, Big Fish is more than just a romantic love story — it’s also a love story about a father and his son. Watching Billy Crudup’s character act so harshly toward his father throughout the film, demanding that he tell him the true versions of all those tall tales, only to watch him soften up at the end while he’s telling his father a tall tale is a heart-destroyer (especially that moment when he cry-laughs mid-sentence). This story is so multi-layered! You have the father and son, the young Edward Bloom and Sandra Templeton, the old Edward Bloom and Sandra Templeton, and the little girl from the town of Spectre who fell in love with Edward twice in her life, only to be rejected both times. It’s a weighty film, and (as much as I love creepy shiz) my favorite Tim Burton’s ever done.

What are some of your favorite tearjerkers?

Happy-making life things.

I was so, so happy to move to London. I was absolutely, 100,000,000% planning to grab life by the hojos and take full advantage of this city.

Ooooh!

Ooooh!

Aaahhh!

Mmmm…

Lovely!

Lookit how pretty!

But then I remembered…I don’t have a job yet. And in exchange for many goods and services, humans often require monies from you. Even the guardians of public transport. Curses. As such, I’ve mostly reverted to shut-in status. There’s also the fact that I have to write every day, and…it’s just easier to do that while sitting at my kitchenroom table (if you saw my “living room” you’d laugh until your eyeballs burned in their sockets), staring out my big, pretty window. But there are lots of things about life in my London flat that I’m crazy about (and things that put a small, satisfied smile on my face). Aaaaannnnd, here they are!

1. My Big, Pretty Window.

Choko likes to spy on the neighbors. :)

Choko likes to spy on the neighbors. 🙂

There’s a giant, house-high wall of ivy directly opposite that looks like the secret entrance to some magical land. But if I don’t want to spend my time staring at angry shrubbery, that’s cool, too, because I have a bay window which offers a wider view of the backs of my neighbor’s houses and their beautifully manicured gardens (well…a few of them are nice, anyway). Also, their dining rooms and kitchens. My neighbors don’t like to cover their windows.

2. Taking Baths.
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I can’t tell you how long it had been since I took a proper bath. Now that I have a bathtub, it’s all I ever do. I also run to Lush at every opportunity to load up on bath bombs. Lying in my fizzing tub while my favorite show or movie plays on my laptop is one of my favorite ways to spend time.

3. I CAN HAZ DISHRACK.
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This may seem totally lame, but I am SO. HAPPY. to have a dishrack. When I first moved in, I was doing the dishes and using my tea towel to dry them. When that didn’t work, I had to use ALL the paper towels ever because I couldn’t let my moist dishes just sit by the sink in a stack. Then *bumbumBUM* Tiger did away with my dish-drying woes! Having a dishrack has actually made doing the dishes more enjoyable for me because I know drying them won’t be an utter Hellfest. It’s the little things, y’all.

4. Kitchen! With Working Oven!
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One of the things I’d been most excited about was having my own kitchen again. Then I got here and couldn’t use the oven. *WOMPwoooommmmp* But now, all that’s over! I’ve made pizza, and garlic bread, and…well…other carbs. I eat a lot of carbs, OK? Blame the oven.

5. Doing Laundry Without Leaving the House.
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When I lived on campus, I had a Circuit Laundry card. A card that I needed to go to my preferred laundry room to purchase, then go home to top up, then go back to the laundry room to activate the funds. It’s actually a bit like this prepaid gas meter biz (which I’m not a fan of. I REALLY need to arrange it so I can top up online…). Anyhoo, I didn’t do much laundry, even if I wanted to, because it rained in Guildford. A lot. And I didn’t want to go outside. Now, I don’t have to, and even though it sounds like the end of the world every time I do laundry, my happiness over the convenience far outweighs my annoyance at the seismic activity caused by my washing machine.

There are other great things: great bakeries and shops nearby, theatre (saw The Nether last Friday — it was ace), getting leads on jobs… Also, this:

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😀
Happy Monday!

Poetry Pit Stop #2 and A Tiny List of Tiny Pleasures

More foolin’ around with words:

The Hard Way
Every goddamned thing
that’s river stone smooth,
I bypass
in favor of jagged rocks.
I like to cut the
thick skin of my feet,
pull back
the curtain on my red,
suffering soles,
leaving sticky footprints,
DNA-laden.
A map of vexation;
sticking pins:
Here I cried
Here I laughed
Here I tried
Here lies
one more layer
of sensitive reason
scraped free.
I have time to dream
of the things I want but don’t have.
Time to smile on them
like memories,
when I know they’re no such thing.
Time to carry them
in sleep,
nudging them awake.
Be real
Be true
Let me live the painted life that hangs
scene by scene,
frame by frame.
A solo show
the artist hides with her body
but demands
you try harder to see.

© 2014 Gianni Washington (heh…)

Sometimes, I manage to savor the mundane things that make me happy. I know it’s what we’re “supposed to do” anyway, but I feel genuine pride when I accomplish it. Little things like:

1. My room smelling like vanilla when I walk in.
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2. My bed when it’s made.
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3. Being smack in the middle of laughing at something HI-larious.
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4. Finishing a book.
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5. Making noticeable headway on my thesis.
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6. Having a full refrigerator.
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7. Listening to a new song by an artist I love and getting goosebumps because it’s so good.
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8. Walking into a restaurant alone and not caring.
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9. Making someone else laugh.
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10. Seeing pictures of my cats. (Yeah…I went there.)
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What would make your list?

Happy Monday 🙂

Nothing Like Affirmation

So this week’s been an interesting one. There’s been more good than bad, but the bad was, admittedly, threatening to pull me underneath a wave and drown me. However… let’s discuss the good 🙂

I had my first meeting with my supervisors this week. I submitted pages before the meeting — over 2000 words of my novel’s beginning, and a page on how I think the critical and creative portions of my thesis will fit together. My supervisors are great, not least because they seem genuinely excited about what I’m working on. It was such a pleasure to watch them bounce ideas off of one another, and to participate in a discussion with both of them at once. They’re both incredibly knowledgeable and I just know I’m going to come out of this loaded down with the things I’ve learned from both of them.

My primary supervisor is a published fiction writer, my secondary is a scholar of the Gothic in the English Literature department. Both were very encouraging and offered a number of suggestions regarding literature I should check out and ideas I should consider. I was particularly happy with my primary supervisor because the things he pointed out in my manuscript that needed fixing were things that I felt funny about myself — so I know I can count on him to catch the things that aren’t quite right in my pages. When I first sent him my work, I was beyond anxious. Ever heard of Imposter Syndrome? It essentially amounts to a feeling that you don’t deserve whatever it is you’ve accomplished, and that you’ve somehow bamboozled everyone into believing you’re smarter than you actually are. Camila over at The Things I Am Crazy For wrote a great post on it (check it out!). I attended a workshop this week called “Welcome to Your PhD” and the woman running it included a slide on the condition in her PowerPoint presentation. She said it’s a common feeling among grad students, and I’ve definitely been feeling the symptoms since I’ve been here. But after I met with my supervisors, it finally started to fade. My primary said a few things that made me feel like I’m undoubtedly on the right path with what I’m doing. One of my favorite soundbites from the meeting was when he said he wanted new pages from me because “he wants to know what happens next” in the story 🙂

One of the students who studied in this program before me, Liam Murray Bell, actually had interest in his manuscript for publication before he even graduated. He’s now published two novels, the first of which was his thesis for this program. His first novel is called So It Is, and it follows a young girl who grew up during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The narration is split between close 3rd and 1st person, covering her childhood into adolescence & her adulthood as a paramilitary respectively.

The 3rd person narrative voice is thoroughly Irish, naturally incorporating the colloquialisms of the culture. It’s an interesting read. His second novel, The Busker, was released in May of this year. It’s about a folk singer hoping to follow in the footsteps of Bob Dylan, but who ends up stalling out on the road to success. I haven’t read it yet, but I intend to.

I’m going to work hard with his success in mind; if I stay focused, maybe I can accomplish the same. There’s an event here called the New Writers Festival, which includes panel discussions by writers, literary agents, and publishers. I’m really excited about all of the opportunities to network and get your work heard here. I’m going to a vintage fair today, and one of my friends & I are planning a trip to the Tate Modern (which I’ve wanted to go to forEVARRRR) next Friday. I can’t wait! I’m loving what’s available to me now that I’m here, including the possibility of getting a new tattoo by a crazy-talented artist.

Stay tuned 😉

So Stinkin’ Wonderful

I had a freak-out on the plane ride over.

I was somehow convinced for a little while that living and studying in England wouldn’t be what I wanted it to. That every past failure would absolutely follow me, and being in a new environment would do nothing to improve my mind or my life. I’d be my old self in a new place, bringing nothing of value with me. I’d watch everyone around me follow their dreams while sitting stuck in the mud. I wouldn’t make any friends. I wouldn’t write anything worth reading. I’d be forced to go back to America defeated.

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Wrong, wrong, WRONG.

I didn’t realize until that moment on the plane how frightening and important removing yourself from a comfortable routine to begin building a life elsewhere truly is. Probably because I was distracted by doing all I could up until the very last second to make that flight. So finally, sitting thousands of feet above ground, my brain caught up with what I was doing and the anxiety-palooza began. I’m sure you’ve had (and will continue to have) similar moments of insecurity right before taking a giant risk. It happens; we’re human. Luckily, I was proven wrong pretty quickly 🙂

After an otherwise pleasant flight with a seatmate from Bristol (a lovely, older woman who was visiting her expat sister in Asheville, NC), I made my way to campus without the aid of a student ambassador. I took a bus to London Victoria station, waited a few hours, then caught another bus into Guildford. My giant suitcases and I wandered around for a bit, unsure what direction my room was in (I live in a dorm that’s about 20 minutes or so walking distance from the main campus). I called the International Student Office and a very helpful woman on the other end directed me to the nearest bus stop. I waited, and soon a bus to my part of campus showed up. The driver was patient with me as I fumbled for the correct change. When the bumpy ride knocked my suitcase over for the 30th time, a fellow student smiled and righted it for me. When we’d made it and were about to disembark, another student helped me carry one of my suitcases off the bus (my luggage was pretty awkward to walk with, haha). I got my key from reception, found my awesome room, and took it all in for a while (I also found a giant spider that I hit with 3 different shoes and a small box just to make sure it was dead).

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I went to Tesco, bought bedding and food, had a fun chat with the cashier, then walked back to my dorm. Along the way, each of my grocery bags broke open in turn, the cup I bought smashed into a billion pieces, and I had to stop every few minutes to rearrange things (carrying groceries and a duvet/pillows is kinda tough!). Along the way, some very nice people picked up the items I dropped and placed them carefully atop the swaying pile of stuff in my arms. When I’d made it to the building housing reception, more stuff fell, and I heard someone say “Need some help?” A new undergraduate and her mom helped me carry my banged up groceries all the way to my room! After I put them away, I walked back to the store to check for outlet adapters, but duh, British people don’t need an adapter that makes American plugs usable in England. So I walked back empty-handed. When I got back to my room, my ankles were the size of grapefruits.

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And I couldn’t have been happier.

I’d had a long day, but I’d met some super friendly people. I’d made it to campus and my room safely. I’d done my shopping. I’d organized my belongings. …And nothing went irreparably wrong. I felt — I feel — at home here.

The next day was even better. I attended orientation events, took a coach tour of Surrey (where I had cream tea, learned some interesting facts about the county’s history, and saw sweeping, gorgeous views of the countryside), and made a few friends who I have plans with tonight. I even showed a new friend from Hong Kong how to wish on a dandelion 😀

I’m really loving it here, and not because everything has immediately fallen into place and I’m a wealthy, baroness with a slew of servants, 5 best-sellers to my name, and everything I could ever want at my feet. I love it here because it feels good and normal and right. Because I already know it wasn’t a mistake.

I’ll post actual photos as soon as I find some wi-fi and can get them off my phone!

If you’re happy and you know it

I may not have a visa yet, but thanks to awesome friends, family, and general feelings of happy, I feel better prepared to peace out to another continent 🙂

List of happy-making things, GO!

1) My munchkins have temporary housing!

You can see where Neal got shaved for neutering, haha.

You can see where Neal got shaved for neutering, haha.

One of my oldest and dearest friends has agreed to let my crazy cat babies stay with her during my first school term. They were unhappy (and scared :/ ) when I first dropped them off at her place, but they’re being more social with her now that they’ve gotten used to being there. I REALLY didn’t want to have to fly them to yet another brand new place just to pay a buttload for them to live in what is essentially a closet for 3-4 months. So now, thanks to the generosity of a great friend, I can enjoy my first term knowing my furries are comfortable, and look for a flat the three of us can live in together 🙂

2) Electric Run 2014

Those discolored smudges on our faces are paint, hahaha.

Those discolored smudges on our faces are paint, hahaha.

Lately, my mom’s gotten into running. She’s been training for her first 5k for about 2 months, and ran it this past Saturday night. It’s called the Electric Run and for good reason. It takes place at night, and all the runners/walkers wear hats, earrings, bracelets, etc. made out of glow sticks, fluorescent paint all over their bodies, neon clothing, retina-sizzling wigs, and light-up tutus & legwarmers (not necessarily all those things at once, but some people do walk in looking like a laser factory — and it is epic). The money Charlotte participants paid to register this year will go toward supporting Special Olympics North Carolina. Even though I hadn’t been training, I wanted to do it, too, and I’m so glad I did because we had a great time! There was electronic music playing and crazy-colored blow-up decorations everywhere, like giant gummy bears, ice-cream cones, neon umbrellas, and jellyfish. Afterwards, we totally ruined the healthiness of being active by eating a large slice of pizza each and drinking beer 😀 There was a stage set up, and a DJ played more crazy-loud dubstep. Everyone including us was glowing and dancing and having fun. I’m glad we got to do this together before I leave!

3) I realized I have room for more books!

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I own more books than anything else. I know I won’t need more than one suitcase for clothes because right before my last big move across the country, I gave a lot of them away. So, hooray for not having to pay for an extra bag at the airport! Because my clothes will/should all be able to fit into one bag, I can use my carry on and “one personal item” (e.g. purse/backpack) to hold a few more books than I initially thought I’d have room for. Woot! I’ll have the rest of my tomes shipped to me when I move into an actual flat.

4) Tier 4 realness.

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I haven’t made my visa application yet, but I should have everything I need to do it (and be able to purchase my flight) by the end of the week! As soon as I book my flight, I can reserve a spot in the Orientation program. *Double plus bonus*: the cost of my intended flight hasn’t increased!

5) Watching Saved!

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This is one of my favorite movies of all time…which I incidentally left off that list of favorite things I posted a while back. Anyhoo! If you haven’t seen this movie, check it out. It’s guaranteed (OK not really, but probably) to bring on some high school nostalgia. It’ll especially resonate with anyone who grew up in an uber Christian household. Also, Eva Amurri and Macaulay Culkin are hilarious and adorable in it.

I still have to make my two largest and most important purchases, but some major burdens have been lifted. I’m down to weeks instead of months. Kinda scary… but bring it on!