A Stuffed Head & 5AM Wanderings

I. Am Sick.

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This is incredibly inconvenient, as had planned to attend event at Foyles this evening, but no longer feel up to it. There was also an event earlier this week that I’d been hoping to attend there, but still more body issues got in the way of that. Anyhoo, for the past week or so, my horrible propensity for violent sneezing, itching, plugged ears, and a tidal wave of mucus in the Spring and Summer has reared its ugly head.

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But because my confidence in my body’s ability to deal with such things is ridiculous and excessive, I hadn’t bothered to buy medicine. Last night/this morning, I reached my breaking point. I did not sleep — I couldn’t — because my head was so full of fluids, I thought my eyes would pop out. I lay in bed miserable, cursing the lack of CVS and Walgreens in London. I think about how much I miss 24-hour pharmacies on an almost daily basis. That’s what I think I miss most about the US: being able to just get things when I want to. Some stores here are open 24 hours, but I haven’t found many. At around 5:30AM I couldn’t take it anymore (“it” = rolling around sleeplessly on a bed of used tp, the contents of my head sloshing about). So I pulled on a sweater, left on my sweatpants (b/c who’s around at 5:30AM?), and went a-rambling.

Yes, yes, this is 2015, so I checked my options online before heading out to see what (if anything) would be open. No pharamacies in my area of course. I was given the option of a 24-hour pharmacy in my online search…that I would have to take a bus, then a train to get to. No thanks. Fueled by righteous anger and a head full of snot, I tramped through the mostly empty streets of Acton. It’s so funny how early the sun comes up. I felt like I was already in the middle of my day when most people were still happily snoozing (with the help of blissfully empty sinus cavities, I might add).

It was kind of nice walking around with so few people on the street; a rare scene in such a large city. My first stop was a nearby, 24-hour “convenience” store. Ended up being inconvenient for me as they didn’t have any medication. This store sits next door to a Lloyd’s Pharmacy…that does not open until 8:30AM. I was…not happy. (Sidenote: one of the perks of being out so early is that you can mutter angrily to yourself out loud and no one will look at you like you’re wearing a tinfoil hat b/c their too busy sleeping).

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I remembered there was a Tesco a walkable distance away, and hoped they would be of help as I can usually count on Tesco in times of need. Lo and behold, there it was: a tiny section of medicines for the overstuffed. I bought Benadryl, Vicks VapoRub, Kleenex, immunity fruit smoothies, 2 big bottles of water, chocolate digestive biscuits, and a bag of Jacobs Mini Cheddar crackers, all of which dangled precariously from my arms since I’d only intended to pick up the medicine and hadn’t grabbed a basket. The man at the counter raised an eyebrow at me, then smirked when one of my fruit smoothies fell out of my arms and bounced onto the counter before helping me unload the rest. As soon as I got out of the shop, I popped a pill and waited for its miraculous 15-minute kick-in time, and the subsequent 8 hours of relief advertised on the box. Turns out these meds don’t work as well (for me) as I’d hoped. Glad I bought that VapoRub (which was promptly slathered on as soon as I got home). Finally, after everything, I was able to get some sleep.

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I report to you now from a nest of tissues. Doesn’t look like I’ll be making it to Foyles today 😦 Instead, I’ll finish re-reading Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, and HP & The Chamber of Secrets, silently cheering every time I’m able to breathe through my nose without imploding. I’m supposed to head to Brighton tomorrow. Let’s hope my nose cooperates!

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Have a good weekend, y’all πŸ™‚

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Writer’s Block.

Writing can be extremely cathartic. The moment after I’ve been in the zone for a while and finish the section I’ve been working on, and my brain is still humming — not knowing whether to write more or rest with the images still swishing around in my mind — is one of the best sensations I’ve ever felt. Writing can also be harsh. The holidays were fantastic for having fun with new and old friends, but I still had pages due on Saturday. It wasn’t that I had no idea what to write; I knew what came next, just not how to get there. Those are the moments when it feels like I’m taking a running leap into a brick wall. I bounce back, fall on my ass, and look up at this insurmountable hulk of a thing. I can see the footholds chipped away, the places to put my feet and fingers to make the climb. But each time I start pulling myself up, I slip and tumble back to the ground, scraping my nails all the way down. I wanted to bash my head against a wall this weekend. I didn’t quite reach my wordcount in the end, though I didn’t miss it by a horrendous amount. I sent the work off feeling equal parts excited, stunned, and worn out.

Writer’s block, for me, has almost nothing to do with writing. It happens when I have a million other things (or one huge thing) on my mind. Those other thoughts jam together and stop me moving forward on anything, not just my writing. Tension, looming worries, feeling isolated — all of these things and more take me down completely unproductive paths. What I’m talking about happens to everyone, whether you write or not. “Writer’s block” is just another term for stuckness. During my stop-and-start weekend of work, I tried pretty much everything that tends to help when I’m in a rut. So for all you folks out there trying to get unstuck, here are some methods you can try:

1) Music.

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Whether you love singing along (or harmonizing, like me), or you just like to get lost in the sounds you’re hearing, listening to music can work wonders in the unlocking-your-brain department. Close your eyes and picture yourself elsewhere. Play some solitaire with your playlist blaring in your ears. Dance around in footie pajamas with a shampoo bottle microphone! Set your life to music for a while and see how you feel.

2) Record your thoughts.

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Sometimes the most helpful thing to do is to put your worries into words. Writing down the challenges weighing on your mind and seeing them there in front of you gives you a measure of control when you feel like you’re just a helpless speck of nothing in the giant universe. I don’t know about you, but simply proving to myself that I’m aware of what’s troubling me gives me a small sense of triumph because it’s the first step to making things better.

3) Write a poem (or draw a picture).

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The way you feel isn’t always expressible in complete sentences. If you’re bogged down inside but can’t or don’t want to put your feelings into concrete terms, the abstract environment of a poem (or drawing) could be just right for you. Try writing down your feelings as they are, then substituting each factual phrase for a metaphor. It’s a nice way of turning what you know about yourself into a bit of a riddle. **Bonus Round**: give the finished product to someone who knows you well and see how they interpret it. Interesting times ahead for sure…

4) Watch something you know by heart.

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So this is one of my FAVORITE things to do. When I want to do nothing but escape and laugh, I go for Friends or Futurama. I know nearly every word of Every. Single. Episode. When I’m tired of trying to figure out what comes next in my writing (or my life) it’s insanely comforting to watch something where I know exactly what’s going to happen and when, and let my brain run on autopilot.

5) Get up and get out!

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I am looooong overdue for a hike, a journey down a river, a spelunking adventure, someΒ kind of outdoor escapade. After sitting in front of a computer screen for hours, my brain is in a constant state of deep-fry. I tend to favor walks, but you can do anything! Kayak around a lake; do cartwheels in your living room; start a random mosh pit with strangers while you’re waiting for the bus. Anything. Just do something that doesn’t involve sitting in front of a screen until your eyeballs melt.

6) Read.

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This one is particularly helpful for me when I don’t want to stop thinking about the writing I need to do. It’s good to see how other people handle certain writing challenges (and if the book is good, it’s just plain fun to read). Honestly, reading is a good idea for anyone who enjoys it. It can be nice to take a break from your own life and follow someone else’s.

7) Give yourself a break.

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Aren’t all of these about giving yourself a break? Nah, dude. When I say give yourself a break I mean don’t be so hard on yourself. I am the absolute worst when it comes to this (see what I mean?). It is SO easy, once you’ve fallen into a rut, to compound that difficulty by berating yourself for getting stuck in the first place. But don’t worry — it happens to everyone. You’ll make it through. And in the meantime, be proud of yourself for making it this far πŸ™‚

What’s your favorite way to get unstuck?

Getting Comfortable

During the awkward, post-info-session lunch with the other members of the English Department at Surrey (which our refreshingly blunt Program Director warned us would be awkward), I met one accomplished academic after another and, despite our PD saying we shouldn’t, did in fact feel unequal to the other scholars in the room. I came here with a clear idea of what I want to research and the story I want to tell…yet I felt silly talking about it. My supervisor took me aside before leaving and said something like “It wasn’t until the very end of my PhD that I got comfortable discussing my work. Don’t worry, it’ll get easier,” which made me feel simultaneously grateful and self-conscious. How do I sound talking about this? I thought. I actually think he may have overheard me at a point when I’d decided to change tack and, rather than give my scripted answer to the “what are you writing about?” question, distilled it down to the bare essentials: violence, murder, and insanity (the Big Three, amirite?). The same feeling of ineptitude crept in the other day when a flatmate asked me about my writing.

Creating anything is extremely personal. Add to that the fact that the mere thought of reading is extremely boring to some people, and that my writing occupies a somewhat small niche. All of this amounts to me deciding for the person I’m talking to ahead of time that they won’t be interested in what I have to say anyway — by all accounts a terrible habit. There’s no need to be apologetic when discussing your interests (unless your interests involve poking other people with sticks. Then you should definitely apologize). Especially since one of my favorite things about being in England so far has been the reaction I get when I answer the question, “What are you studying?” People have actually been excited when I’ve said, “creative writing” (and, incidentally, have made me feel like I could fly to the moon and back fueled only by awesomeness and the occasional Irn Bru). So, in addition to having amazing adventures here, my goal is to get much more comfortable discussing what I’m working on. Because if people didn’t really want to know, they wouldn’t ask, right? (Unless the question is, “You alright?” in which case they really don’t want to know.)

Monday, I opened a UK bank account (yay!) with Barclays. I’d heard so many good things, and so far everyone is right! The service there is fantastic, and…::drumroll::…NO FEES! I have never said (or typed) this before in my life but, YAAAAAAAAS!!! The only fee I’d have to pay is a flat rate to transfer funds in or out of a foreign account (Β£15 for EU accounts; Β£25 for non-EU accounts). But no monthly “maintenance” fees, no (in-country) transfer fees, and I do not owe them my first-born. ‘Tis glorious.

Before my bank appointment, I wandered around Guildford town centre. I found places I knew (like Waterstones, Pret A Manger, & Primark), and ton(ne)s more shops and restaurants to try. I’ve already eaten at Nando’s and Jamie’s Italian (both delicious).

I joined the mailing lists for a few organizations including the Postgrad Society, International Friends, No Wave Alt Music Club, and the Harry Potter club (RVNCLW4EVR), all of which have had some sort of welcome event that I’ve missed because I’ve either been in my room or in the library, reading. Didn’t the veteran PhDs say something about having a life outside of school…? Yeah, I should probably work on that. There are some pub crawls and quizzes happening in the near future that I’d like to do. I also reconnected with a friend in Oxford, and another working as an au pair in Spain, so I’ll be making my way to both places eventually (and around to as many other parts of the world as humanly possible), and I will blog about it here. LOAN MONIES, WHERE ART THOU? Srsly tho… where my money at.

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Now all I need is a UK mobile, a bus pass for ’round these here parts, and a railcard and I’ll be all set! I also think I’ve zeroed in on a good estate agency. Anyone out there work with Foxtons before or know someone who has? I’m itching to start seeing/doing things other than words/reading (though I will be buying more books because I can’t help myself. Don’t judge).

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Happy Wednesday, y’all!

Photo Dump & Update

Hey, y’all! (I wrote this on October 1st, but didn’t finish with it until October 2nd)

While I have yet to meet anyone in my department, today I met a bunch of new PhDs and attended an introductory Postgrad Research talk. I met PGRs studying Chemistry, Electronic Engineering, Environmental Science, and a few other subjects I can’t recall at the moment. Folks from Cyprus, Vietnam, Austria, Africa, and good ole England, too. Guess what? Our campus has a space center! I met two PhDs who will be researching there (and who will eventually be presenting their work to hundreds of NASA employees — Yowza o.0)! The talk this morning was led by a member of the Engineering faculty, and supplemented by current student researchers (in departments that include Translation, Medical Science, and Engineering) & program directors who sat in a panel up front and fielded questions from us n00bs. It was super encouraging to hear about their experiences on the road to receiving their doctorates. They advised us to set our own goals (because you can’t always rely on your supervisor to give you anything concrete to work toward), start writing our ideas down as soon as possible, but also not to let our research bog us down and keep us from living. I really appreciated their advice and was bolstered by everyone’s enthusiasm. Tomorrow is the day I get introduced to the faculty and students in my department. I am so ready to get started πŸ™‚

I had lunch in the library with an Engineering student from Cyprus I met during the welcome talk. I poked around the library afterwards and left with 6 books (they told us to get started early!). I also bought one book at the campus bookstore titled, How Novels Work (hoping for some nuggets of wisdom). I found like 80 books at the bookstore (including graphic novels!!!!) that I really, REALLY wanted…but I was good. I will be back though, oh yes…::insertmaniacallaughter[here]::

Tonight I went to my first quiz! I sat at a table by myself and eventually amassed some teammates. I was the only girl and the only Arts & Humanities kid at the table. We ate some curry, drank some booze, and threw ourselves into the competition headfirst. We ended up coming in 7th (oof) but I had a great time joking around with the guys on my team. Besides, I don’t feel too bad about our score b/c it wasn’t far below the teams above us — a few of them actually ended up tying and only placed much higher than us in sequence b/c their answers to the tie-breaker question (“How many rooms are in Buckingham Palace?”) were closer to correct than ours. We ended up with 37 points and 2 or 3 teams above us scored 42 points. Not a huge gap.

I have my appointment to open a bank account at Barclays next Monday, and hopefully my loan money will be put in immediately b/c I am running lowwww on funds (shout-out to the airlines I had to cancel and re-book with… 😑 ). I’m enjoying myself already, but I know I’ll have even more fun once I’m able to spread my wings (read: wallet) and do some traveling. One of my flatmates and I are dead set on seeing The Book of Mormon, so that will probably be my first show in London this time around (I saw Wicked in London in 2008… amazing). I look forward to every day here. I know this year is going to be a good one.

P.S.
I binge-watched seasons 1 and 2 of Orphan Black. If you haven’t seen it yet, drop (or utilize) your computer and go watch it. NOW! Cosima is my favorite πŸ˜€

Now, photos! (Disclaimer: these photos are NOT good. A proper camera is on my list of future buys.)

A quiet spot on campus.

A quiet spot on campus.

A bit of sculpture.

A bit of sculpture.

The Rik Medlik Building (with Alan Turing taking a permanent stroll in front of it, and another abstract sculture).

The Rik Medlik Building (with Alan Turing taking a permanent stroll in front of it, and another abstract sculture).

A tile mural on the OAK House building.

A tile mural on the OAK House building.

My sweet set-up.

My sweet set-up.

Thinking about getting in on this...

Thinking about getting in on this…

Neatly laid grave markers at Brookwood Military Cemetery.

Neatly laid grave markers at Brookwood Military Cemetery.

Brookwood Military Cemetery. The inscription reads "Perpetual light upon them shines"

Brookwood Military Cemetery. The inscription reads “Perpetual light upon them shines”

Brookwood Military Cemetery. Giant trees.

Brookwood Military Cemetery. Giant trees.

BMC. North Carolina soldier.

BMC. North Carolina soldier.

Salinger

Photo credit: Antony Di Gesu/San Diego

Image credit: Antony Di Gesu/San Diego History Center

Two days ago, I watched Shane Salerno’s documentary on J.D. Salinger. Even now, I’m still processing it. Salinger saw and endured so many things that I would never have suspected, including hundreds of days as a WWII soldier, the sudden engagement of a girlfriend to another man, rejection, incredible levels of misunderstanding, and the harsh realities of fame.

Salerno seems to, either knowingly or unknowingly, attribute much of the odd quality of Salinger’s relationships with others (in particular: women, his own children, and the fanatical public) to his time at war, and after reading more of his work and reviewing the anecdotes told by various friends and acquaintances, I can only agree. Who knows what sort of man he would’ve become had he not witnessed first hand how savage humans could be to one another? And then conversely, not encountered (as he did) the utter ridiculousness of people living in a world at war as if said war were little more than a play put on by children, or some other thing far removed from their own lives/personal realities. As it stands, Salinger became a man inordinately attracted to innocence and seems to have spent most of his life in a cycle of chasing it, then mourning its loss, over and over again.

He started out wanting more than anything to write and, beyond that, to be published in The New Yorker, a publication which, even now, remains the Holy Grail of Fiction writing (I, too, tried my luck and was rejected — as expected). As a young man, Salinger sent story after story to them. All were refused. By way of explanation at the time, they said (in part): “It would’ve worked out better for us if Mr. Salinger had not strained so for cleverness. We think Mr. Salinger is a very talented young man, and wish to God you could get him to write simply and naturally.” His reaction (in the paraphrase of a former friend)?: “They want me to write an O. Henry type of short story. But I have to find my own voice and this is it, and they’ll catch up to me.” As a writer of strange fiction who has constantly had to contend with the beastly reality of literary trends and “marketability,” his stance on the issue is heroic and incredibly encouraging to me. I find myself wobbling back and forth between confidence in my abilities and a crippling self-doubt, which inevitably leads to me asking myself “Should I try to write stories that are more… ‘normal?'” “Normal” as in formulaic. As in, “you plug a plot in here, exposition here, character development here and here, climax here, and a resolution here.” That’s not the way I write. Those aren’t the kinds of stories I tell. But I wonder sometimes (and hate myself for doing it), should I try writing the way other people do?

I’m so glad I watched that documentary because it forced me to decide what my answers are to a lot of the questions that have been floating around in my head. Mainly, questions about an artist’s responsibility to their audience. Even after removing himself from society and hiding away, Salinger had people knocking on his door, leaving him notes, waiting around in the few areas he visited on the rare occasion that he left his house. They came to him asking questions about life. And not just life in general, but their lives — because they’d read Catcher in the Rye and it had spoke to them the way nothing else ever had. They thought, hoped, believed that he would understand them. Thought he had to because he’d written a character whose thoughts so closely mirrored their own. But writers aren’t sages. They’re not yogis or gurus. And he told one fan (who recounted his run-in with Salinger in the documentary) as much. Salinger basically told the guy that he poses questions in his writing that he doesn’t necessarily have answers to. And that, in my opinion, is all anyone creative does. They create because they WANT answers, not because they have them.

And if I’m to speak only for myself (and I probably should), I write to more fully understand other people. Every character I write has a piece of me in them, but they’re also wildly different from me and, therefore, make decisions I wouldn’t make. I start out asking myself what a person like the one I’ve created might do if presented with a particular scenario. Then I add other people with different traits into the mix. I wind them up, and I watch them go. I observe people everyday, and try to puzzle out how those people might think, or how a situation might make them feel. Total empathy is the goal. I write to help myself understand. And if it opens a reader’s eyes, too, so much the better.