The Original London Sightseeing Tour

We pause in our Parisian program today for a London-town themed update…

J and i were running on a strict budget and even stricter itinerary in our five days (including travel) in Paris and London. There was no possible way we could do or see everything that we wanted – particularly in London, where the touristy spots are pretty spread out. The nature of being a really old city and having a lot of history to tell, i suppose!

Since we only had two days in London and J had never been, i wanted to find a tour that would enable us to at least see the bulk of the major attractions. After an inquiry with the lovely and helpful crew at the Original London Sightseeing Tour, our seats were booked.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Original London Sightseeing Tour is an open-top, double-decker bus tour that offers three routes around the center of London to choose from (everything from Buckingham Palace to the Tower of London is included). With the price of the ticket you also get a complimentary river cruise and walking tours, which my father and i had done when last we were in London in 2011.

Both the bus tour and the river cruise are best known for their engaging commentary, be it with a guide or through the multi-lingual commentaries you can access with (free!) headphones. It was from the commentary we learned tidbits about conventional London hotspots (like how the Magna Carta was signed in the Tower of London) and more unconventional details, like the filming location for the interior of Gringotts in Harry Potter was the Australia House!

The aforementioned Australia House!

The aforementioned Australia House!

J & i atop the bus!

J & i atop the bus! We elected the open-air part in spite of the cold!

But the best part, for our compressed itinerary purposes, was the hop-on, hop-off nature of our tickets. Good for 24 hours, we were able to utilize the bus to actually see London (a luxury not afforded on the Tube) and hop off at the sights we took time to explore: Saint Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, and Trafalgar Square.

The view of Saint Paul's from the top of our bus!

The view of Saint Paul’s from the top of our bus!

The view of the Tower Bridge from across the Thames!

The view of the Tower Bridge from across the Thames!

In case it wasn’t already apparent, i’m a big fan of The Original London Sightseeing Tour (long name and all!). Their staff were tremendously friendly and there’s no better way to see London than by the famous double-decker bus. I’d recommend this for any combination of travelers: families, couples, friends, groups.

It is thus with great delight i have something to offer all of you – a 20% off discount code! This code is only good from March 22nd - April 22nd, but you can book your tour up to six months in advance!

So if you (or anyone you know!) want to book an excellent bus tour and river cruise for an excursion to London anytime in the next six months, use the following code for 20% your ticket price: wanderingwrites.

You can make your bookings online (www.theoriginaltour.com) or over the phone at +44 (0)20 8877 2120.

Bon voyage! And be sure to let me know what you think of your tour of London!

**Edit: please note, as of now (23 April 2013) this code is no longer valid! Thanks! xo

current jam: ‘london calling’ the clash.

best thing: adventuring!

Répéter: Trois Jours.

I should be writing my paper on sexuality and nationalism.

I’ve spent my afternoon making spinach-and-artichoke dip for my mojito chicken nacho dinner tonight. (The whole cooking thing? Yeah, it’s taking off with frightening fast elevation.  I think i’ve watched three or four hours worth of Sorted videos in the last two days alone). Before that, there was a stroll around The Meadows and the library under the ruse of “returning my books.”

You get the idea.

My restlessness is not unfounded, if resiliently unproductive. In a mere three days (THREE DAYS) J will be here for his spring break. I can’t breathe, i can’t focus, and i certainly cannot think about anything else (much less worrying over the intersection of sexuality and nationalism in a 2500 word essay).

So here am i, procrastinating in my most favorite way. Writing to you. My current second-favorite means of not-doing-homework is reading up on restaurants in Paris and London, where we’ll visit in the twelve days J is here. (If you have suggestions, please do leave them in the comments!)

As if seeing him were not enough, i’m finally realizing my thirteen-year-old dream of scaling the Eiffel Tower and downing more wine and cheese than i can imagine. Maybe the wine part wasn’t so influential in my eighth-grade-doodles. Whatever. Je voudrais deux baguettess’il-vous-plaît, i practice. Mademoiselle Kelly would be proud. I’ve come two inches in my French grammar since my middle school days. But i can rock the all-black-clothing with pouty-red-lipstick look like Amélie personally loaned me her wardrobe. My sense of fashion has certainly progressed since then

I have a running playlist of the strangest juxtapositions: Zac Brown Band (for him), Edith Piaf (for Paris), and the Hunchback of Notre Dame (for the guise of focusing, the reality of pretending to be Esmeralda in the famous cathédrale). Rinse, remix, repeat.

Rinse, remix, repeat. Mojito chicken, library, repeat. Three days, three days, three days.

current jam: ‘la vie en rose’ édith piaf.

best thing: affordable airlines.

Terry the Angel, Or: A Movie-Like Entrance to Edinburgh.

I oft think dramatic scenes in films are really just overdone, unrealistic portrayals of real-life events that are, in fact, quite boring. My departure from the states, however, was a drastic proving-lizzie-wrong moment.

J, my significant other, and i arrived at the airport some two hours prior to my expected departure time. As RDU’s standard fare for security and ticket-counter time tends to be a mere 20 minutes on my usual Southwest flights, i anticipated only an additional twenty minutes or so to check two bags and print a boarding pass.

I was mistaken.

The American Airlines counter was amok with passengers-to-be dragging enormous baggage and wearing tremendously confused expressions. When we could not find a line that stated anything of clarity, J and i joined them in their befuddlement. Finally, after mis-printing two boarding passes at the self-check-in, i was loosely directed to the queue for “kiosk errors.” In this line we waited for over an hour.

Over an hour. There were barely eight people ahead of us, and yet there we waited. We remained calm – exceptionally calm for normally anxiety-ridden-overly-early-me – and tried to pass the time by savoring our last few hours together in the states. I kept fiddling with my luggage tags and checking the time and generally trying to distract myself from the two monstrously fretful things ahead of me: the fact that i might miss my flight, and more importantly, the impending goodbye that loomed in the corner of my every thought.

At last, a frantic first-class counter lady checked me in. “Now you don’t have to run to your flight, but you do absolutely have to go straight there after security!” she warned. It was 5:30. My flight left at 6:00.

With a flurry of rolling bags and hand-holding that hardly lasted long enough, we said goodbye. It was excruciating.

I sobbed my way through security. At 5:45, shoes re-zipped and passport in my clutch, i searched the signs for gate C 23. It was at the far end of the airport. As if in a film, i began sprinting through the throng of people. My black carry-on bag has been in my family for some fifteen years – and it’s starting to show. The right wheel clacks when it rolls – you can hear me coming from down the hall. Every airport i was in, people craned their necks to hear what that horrible thwacking every two seconds was.

However, the clacking came in my favor as it easily made a parted Red Sea for me as i dashed past parents wheeling babies in strollers and businesswomen with briefcases.

At 5:49, i arrived at my gate – weeping, wheezing, and wheeling what i now called Gimpy the Suitcase that Could. If i hadn’t been so overwhelmed by stress and sadness the whole situation would have been outrageously comical – my face ruddy, my lungs in revolt, and barely two minutes to spare.

I asked the gentleman ahead of me in line if this was the right queue for the London flight. He replied yes and, catching sight of my face, exclaimed in a lovely London accent, “Wow, you really ran here! … And had to say goodbye to someone too.” I nodded, clutching a stitch in my side and trying to wipe my nose in one very un-synchronized motion. “Call them when you land,” he said kindly, turning back.

To my surprise, he faced me once more with a tissue in his hand.”Here,” he profferred, smiling gently. I spluttered a thanks, catching sight of his face properly for the first time. For a second, i though he was Chiwetel Ejiofer – the actor from Kinky Boots and Love Actually and a million other things. The resemblance was so striking to me i almost asked if that’s who he was. Had i been in a state where i could breathe, i might have.

I learned later he’s named Terry. I learned this when he came back to check on me once the plane was in the air.

“Are you feeling better?” Terry asked me.

“I am, much better. Thank you for being so kind to me,” i replied. He asked who had made me cry so much before leaving and, before i could explain much more than J and how long we’d been together, he remarked, “Teary eyed again?” I couldn’t help it. And yet he was so sweet, telling me five months was going to fly by and that i should try and get some sleep before landing. We talked about what i was going to study, exchanged names, the usual small talk.

“I’m just – i’m letting myself be sad for 24 hours and then i’ll focus on the adventure of it all.” I was spluttering again, in spite of my every effort not to.

“It is an awfully big adventure.” He grinned again, joking about me needing some wine and crossing myself with each glass (i’d told him about the religion major). I chortled, and Terry went back to his seat.

The rest of my flight was spent in a far better state because of his compassion. I slept an hour or so, drank down plenty of water, and studied the map of the city some more.

I never saw him again. Terry, the angel in human form, whose five minutes spent in my life made it all the warmer.

Heathrow was fine – customs went smoothly, and i found my gate with relative ease. There was an all-too-brief conversation with J from a payphone in Terminal A to let him know i was safe and on time and trying to be brave.

And then, before i knew it, i was in Edinburgh. Having not slept, really, in 24 hours by then, it was a woozy greeting. I’d had a magical moment when we flew over London – snapping a few pictures of the twinkling lights spread wide like a net beneath us – but i’d had a nap then.

wee hours of the morning over the outskirts of london.

wee hours of the morning over the outskirts of london.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

somewhere in the south of england, on my second flight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As it turns out, the movie-like drama was not done with me yet. I’d been afraid, when traveling to Uganda two summers ago, that i’d lose my checked luggage. I had so many connections and was so worried about flying alone that it had been a constant source of stress. Not for this trip. Of course, i’d tucked extra underwear and t-shirts into my carry-ons (just in case), but this was always more symbolic than out of real worry.

I was wrong.

Half of my checked luggage came, but the bag with my sweaters and socks and books was still in London, to be sent later. In a delirious state, i gave my Edinburgh address and US phone number. Unbeknownst to me, i only gave my building address - not my flat number. Also unbeknownst to me was that my US Phone number would not work here (i’d assumed the charges would be astronomical until i got a new SIM card, but plausible nonetheless).

For this reason, the rest of my bags did not arrive until today – when i finally called from a university phone. It wasn’t really that horrible – Uganda did, after all, teach me how to be more flexible (the bags required no flexibility there, in the end – but there were plenty of other opportunities for growth!).

And, when the wooziness wore off courtesy of a chai latte, i realized: i am in freaking Edinburgh, Scotland. Birthplace of Harry Potter, home to me now, filled with kirks and a castle and kilts. 

(one of my first photos of the city - be sure to check back tomorrow for more!)

(one of my first photos of the city – be sure to check back tomorrow for more!)

Which is where i am now. Making friends, learning the streets. Gearing up to decorate my walls and select a choice outfit for orientation tomorrow. Grateful i studied so many maps and grateful i bought chocolate this afternoon while exploring some of the city in pursuit of a new SIM card (which i found!). Grateful for Terry the Airplane Angel, grateful for the privilege of being able to travel, grateful for the challenges and cheers ahead of me. Grateful for all the reasons why i’m sad to be apart from loved ones in the states. Grateful for the opportunity to fall so in love with this city i’ll be sad to leave it.

When i gave my (real) surname to the courier of my bags, he exclaimed “Well it doesn’t get more Scottish than that! You’re home at last, lass!”

Not yet, i thought. But soon, i will be home here. Soon and very soon.

current jam: ‘english house’ fleet foxes.

best thing: terry the airplane angel.

Sherlocked.

So you may have noticed from the abundant and not-so-subtle references peppering my posts of late that i’ve gone a little mental for one particular British show. It’s kind of a little bit – maybe more than the teensiest – okay. You all are, clearly, still with me despite my unfortunate tendencies to like things “unreal” so much they are ingrained into my own reality. I shouldn’t be so blushy to admit i’ve fallen deeper into the abyss – and yet, here i sit, pink at the ears because i’ve fallen in love with yet another BBC television programme.

For those of you who don’t spend your days mooning over the BBC and longing to live in the United Kingdom: i am speaking of the brilliant, classy, enthralling, and terrifying TV show Sherlock. A modern-day adaptation of the beloved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle classics, the series has placed a man always ahead of his time into our own world. Watson keeps a blog of his flatmate’s technology-ridden whirlwind crime-solving adventures (keeping with the motif that it was Watson who narrated the original stories) and every script is littered with clever references for Holmesian purists to delight in.

In short, the programme is sheer genius. The combined on-screen chemistry of one Mr. Benedict Cumberbatch (a suave, enigmatic, exquisite and utterly flawless Holmes) with Martin Freeman (who won a BAFTA for his frank, hilarious, and marvelous portrayal of Doctor John Watson) married to the hit-the-ground-running script prowess of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss easily makes for what i would say to be the best hour and a half of telly you’ll watch all year. Each episode, summing at 90 minutes, is comparable to a feature film of Oscar quality – and you get six of them across both seasons! It’s like Christmas, but six times over.

I first heard mention of the show on Tumblr, but the real pull for me lay in the fact that it was, well, a Sherlock Holmes story. Since my part as Mrs. Bassick* in a Sherlock Holmes play at Culbreth Middle School, i’ve grown to adore the quirky and ingenious ways of the pipe-smoking Victorian detective. While, at the age of thirteen, much of the more sophisticated and historically contextual ideas of the stories went a little over my head, i still found myself entranced by the science of deduction. To know, as they put it in the show, one’s life story by a glance, is remarkable and inhuman and so damn cool. Over the years my affections for the stories by no means abated, but i’d certainly stopped reading them with the voraciousness i had before. Yet when i heard the buzz about this being the best Holmes and Watson portrayal in decades, i knew i could not let it sit idly in my Netflix queue.

No moment of the show left me disappointed. I don’t think i left the room save once (for lunch) the whole day i watched season one, it was so engaging. My roommate, eyeing the fingernail marks i’d left in the pillow as i gaped at the screen, commented that i needed to remember to breathe while watching the show. It reignited my adoration for the science of deduction and, more to the point, made me want to dive back into reading the original Holmes stories.

When my dad and i were in London last October, i absolutely insisted we make a trip to the original 221B Baker Street. It was positively smashing to be in a reconstructed apartment made to appear like that in Sir Doyle’s time. Since then, i spent some of my time at home over break (and on the most recent 48 hour jaunt there and back again) re-reading my favorite detective stories (in case you were wondering, it’s always been A Scandal in Bohemia”). It was a wonderful way to be re-introduced to the tales i once so loved, even if at the cost of the shred of social adaptability i once clung to.

221B Baker Street!

Inside the famous flat! Pipe and all.

At any rate, i am most certainly not alone in this passion for BBC mysteries and penchant for over-liking things. Mount Holyoke, as a campus, seems to have gone positively Sherlocked all over:

(The SAW Center, as it so happens, is where i work. I really, really love my job)

In fact, the devotion of the fans of the series has grown far beyond any realm of even my own bizarre admiration of the consulting detective.

Now, what i am about to say next is a MAJOR SPOILER for those who have NOT seen the conclusion to series/season 2 of Sherlock. If you fall into that category of non-viewers, turn back now. Really. It’s so good you don’t want it spoiled.

Only loyal fans to Holmes still reading? Okay, good.

As you all (being people who have seen the series 2 finale) well know, the conclusion to “The Reichenbrach Fall” was shocking and gut-wrenching and positively tear-streaked. And since, thank goodness, there is the definite need for a third season to explain that last shot in the cemetery, some members of the fandom have taken it upon themselves to transpose the Sherlock universe into our own.

In an imaginative turn, many fans have decided that, should Sherlock Holmes have in fact been real, there would have been loyal fans to him in real life (via his website and John’s blog). By transitive property, surely some of these fans would have doubted the rumors of Moriarty being a fake – and, in turn, create a guerilla art campaign to fight against the papers.

As before, i first came across this idea on tumblr – only to awake the next day to a Mount Holyoke campus literally covered in such “I Stand with Sherlock Holmes” graffiti. I’ve been texting crappy cell phone pictures of these signs to a friend, and it was he who suggested i put them into a blog post to share. Thus, i give you all the depths of fandom:

And i know, i know. Defacing school property at the expense of a fictional character – i get it. But, at the same time, i cannot help but fall more madly in love with my university for being Hogwarts a haven for all types – including freaks like me. To be passionate, to live intensely and take things this seriously i see as a gift, and one to be treasured.

Elementary, my dear Watson.

current jam: “you’re the voice” john farnham (no one is suprised).

best thing in my life right now: vagina monologues opens in TWO DAYS!

*Who was, as far as i’m aware, a character loosely based on a number of villains in the employ of Moriarty (for fellow Holmesians). In our play, she was a suffragette by day and criminal mastermind in league with Moriarty by night. A delicious role, no doubt, if not one birthed from a mind independent of Sir Doyle’s.

Cartes Postales (Task #13: Completed)

On my list of fifteen tasks to accomplish before May of 2012, i seem to be making some decent headway. This, being my fifth accomplishment of the fifteen that i laid out before me, is easily one of my favorite things to do. These particular postcards are from the same collection i used when last blogging about sending postcards – the 100 original Penguin Book Covers box set.

I’ve mentioned before I collect postcards, but i think i neglected to say how despairingly crippling this addiction is. It’s hardly possible for me to go anywhere without stocking my pockets full of thirty-three cent souvenirs. It is even less probable that there is room for them on my wall. But, since i can’t seem to just send postcards – i have to paper the room with them – i find myself living inside a collage of all of the places i’ve traveled to in the last year. Verily, i did voyage to five countries in 2011 and twice as many quirky in-country destinations, so they make for quite the juxtaposition.

acquired at the london transport museum.

found at the genuine 221b baker street!

from the cathedrale nôtre-dame de montréal gift shop.

(Both the above and beneath postcards were bought in the boutique post-exploring the Harry Potter Exhibition at the Discovery Museum in Times Square in April of 2011).

this treasure i found after exploring fort sumter in charleston, south carolina, in january of last year. my uncle, as a demonstrator for an ohio-ian regiment, was re-enacting the first siege of the island from the american civil war.

from my day in october of 2011 spent roaming around salem, massachusetts!

And that’s not even to mention the postcards i’ve recieved. For, as much as i adore purchasing postcards and then hoarding them for my own selfish eyesight, i delight in receiving them even more.

a collection of postcards (and things) sent from the met in nyc, san diego, springfield, and north carolina.

from my beloved high school ceramics teacher! she sent me this almost two years ago and i still treasure it!

Which is, ultimately, why i love sending postcards ever so much. They are such perfect, microcosmic works of art and ways of saying that you’re on my mind. And besides, i may be an internet-age-lass, but that doesn’t mean i don’t squeal at a full mailbox.

current jam: ‘turn me on’ david guetta & nicki minaj

best thing in my life right now: stamps. and friends to use them on.

 

 

The 10 Things List in Review.

Greetings, Earthlings.

Ya’ll might recall in early September, i set forth for myself a challenge: to complete ten tasks in the course of four months. And while i managed to accomplish six out of the ten items, i by no means completed the challenge. Alas.

However, rather than ragging on like a negative nancy, i thought it an appropriate start-of-theapocalypse-2012 post to review the list of ten things and share brief reflections on each task. Therefore, without further ado, i present for you:

SIX OUT OF TEN THINGS LIZZIE DID AND NOW FEELS THE NEED TO TALK ABOUT EVEN THOUGH THAT WOULD BE A BARELY PASSING SCORE ON ANY KIND OF REAL TEST SO I GUESS IT’S A GOOD THING SHE IS NOT GRADED ON THIS BLOG.

or,

6 OUT OF 10: MEDIOCRITY AND MIGHTINESS. (a tale by lizzie mcmizzie).

#1: Spontaneously dye my hair an exuberant colour: Check. A mere two days after writing said blog post my friend Hattie (who, by the way, just met PRESIDENT OBAMA) donned some latex gloves and i busted out the red goop and sold my soul to be a ginger. And while i adored my red locks for the time they were with me, i began to really miss wearing rouge or pink. My wardrobe, in all of its vibrant glory, shrank considerably when the hair went all red-like. Thus, the locks have once again been hacked off, and, after some considerably creative dying techniques per my hair-dude Mike, are now a vaguely copper-ish-brown-blonde-still-alittlebit-red tint. Still, the red was fun while it lasted.

i'm fred weasley! but alive...

after!

#2: Vote in local NC elections. Well, despite my political rants, this did not happen. It will, though, in this the election year, occur come November. Alas.

#3: Go to a local band concert in the Pioneer Valley: Okay, so this kind of is cheating. I’m counting the Harry and the Potters concert i attended in November as passable, even if they aren’t technically local. However! Wait! Teacher no! I did have three bands on my show this semester based in the Pioneer Valley, so in a way i attended three private concerts of local groups. So, mission (mostly) accomplished.

paul degeorge, pre-falling on top of me (for the first time...)

#4: Read a book during the semester purely for the enjoyment and pleasure of reading the book, not for explicit academic research or reasons. Um. Yeah. Reading, that’s funny. Do people still do that sort of thing? For fun? What? That’s riddikulus. (While i didn’t accomplish this task, i did start writing my own novel, so… i’m okay being a loser on this one).

#5: Travel somewhere historic in Massachusetts that I have not previously visited- like Salem, or the Lizzie Borden House. Ka-ching! I bonded with my bffl and her momzies on a tour of historic Salem (of the witch trial fame) and shrieked at people in corny face paint while munching on funnel cake. ‘Twas a dream of a day.

bonding.

#6: Read an Emily Dickenson poem on the Dickenson property. I have no excuses, except my abundant suck-ish-ness at planning and carrying poetry in my pockets.

#7: Write actual postcards and letters. Mail them. I did! Many a time! In fact, if you want a postcard from me, email/comment your mailing address! If that, you know, doesn’t weird you out or anything… (i am, after all, actually a forty-year-old man living in a basement preying upon young women for my feasting and satantic rites, so i would be pretty cautious about such information were i you).

#8: Visit a temple, synagogue, or place of worship from a faith that I was not raised in. Unfinished. Much to my chagrin. After my time spent at the Ba’hai House of Worship in Kampala i was so gung-ho to go exploring for other kinds of temples (etc) in the Valley but the semester got the best of me. Sigh.

#9: Go to bed by ten on a school night. I DID THIS ONE! Never blogged about it, nor do i have any photos for proof (such pictures would expose my true identity as the Satanist in the basement with a rather impressive moustache) so i guess you just have to believe me. Lucky you.

#10: Visit London & see a Shakespeare show! DONE! This was, by far, the biggest and most rewarding and most beautiful and most duckling-filled delightful task on the whole list. And, with the help of one Ralph Fiennes and one even finer dad, i breathed London air and cried tears in the West End while in the audience of The Tempest. Twas remarkable.

the globe theatre! (not where we saw the show, but still. you get the idea).

Alright folks, that is all for now! I have another big road trip coming up soon – one for which i hope to be writing to you plenty. My love to Mafalda.

current jam: ‘king of anything’ sara bareillis (thanks to becca for this recommendation!)

best thing in my life right now:  padfoot and robots.

ALSO: i am now on google+ and while i still have no idea what exactly it does and stuff, i’d love to be your bud (or whatever).

Obligatory Year End Wrap Up Title (a Thoughts in my head Reflection).

We pause now in our regularly scheduled programming to bring you an obligatory wrap-up of the year two-thousand-and-eleven. Well, perhaps not obligatory, but certainly well-warranted and most definitely time-sensative.

2011 was, well, probably the craziest year of my life. As i consider all that has changed in the past year – and nearly everything in my life has changed – i find myself at a tension. The year was one of the most incredible, inspiring, beautiful, and brilliant years i’ve yet had; i finally lived (albeit briefly) in Uganda; with the resilient and wonderful people of South Sudan i witnessed the birth of the world’s newest nation; i, at long last, made it to Platform 9 and 3/4; i declared my double-major after much anguish and discernment; i deepened some of the most important friendships of my life, dyed my hair, survived my first 300 level seminar, fell in love with my cats, saw the final Harry Potter film installment,  embarked upon 6 road trips, saw two Harry and the Potters concerts, started a blog (oh, hello, you (you look lovely, by the way)), and took more risks and plunges than i ever thought possible.

And yet, for personal reasons, this was also a year of profound pruning. Living abroad was not so easy as i’d dreamt, adulthood is not as glamorous as i once thought it might be. The year was a year of dualities; beauty that stole the breath from my body, pain that made me heave with the effort to intake oxygen. Yin and yang, perfection and price.

What it all seems to boil down to, though, is my right leg. Yes, you read that right. You might recall, dear one, that on my first day in the city of Kampala, after my first tousle and whir on a boda-boda, i … scraped … my leg after dismounting from the bike on the wrong side. And by scraped, i mean burned the skin clean off. Well, to be totally honest, it was hardly a clean wound. To spare you the gruesome details, i shall merely say it was no pleasant sight and an even more brutal endurance to be had (God, i’m a good whiner). For my foolishness i still bear a pretty impressive scar about the size of my palm; my mom says it looks like a butt-heart (thanks, Ma) and she’s putting it mildly. As far as scars go, it is no lightening bolt.

But i love my scar.

I love everything about it; the discoloration, the fact that it’s just this amorphous blob of gross-looking skin, the fact that it is fully visible in warm weather. Most of all, though, i love that the scar on my leg reminds me that faith takes risk. And sometimes, such risks hurt. Badly. They might take time to heal, and the healing may involve a limp and tight-lipped grimaces and some not-so-fun antibiotics. But in the end, you can choose to purchase your fancy scar-removing creams or surgeries, or you can choose to embrace the imperfection. The reminder of a lesson, an adventure, a lifelong journey.

2011 was a year of choosing the latter, and learning to deal with such ramifications. For all that was good, and all that was not, i am deeply moved and deeply grateful. Such pruning gives space for the vine to grow with branches wider and roots deeper.

Faith takes risk, after all.

current jam: ‘ever after’ from into the woods

best thing in my life right now: stephen sondheim, haircuts, and tamora pierce.

(our regularly scheduled programming should resume, apocalypse pending, on the morrow lads and lasses)

It’s Not as Weird as it Sounds: My Online Friends

Let’s just clear the air: i have friends i’ve made online.

Immediately whenever i disclose this particular piece of information to people who have not done the same, i (99% of the time) get one of two reactions. The first is a mild, “oh-that’s-nice” which reeks of subtextual fear and disapproval. The kind of response that means that people might ask politely intended but poorly phrased questions indicative of their worry that i only have friends online because i’m incapable of making them “in the real world.” I’m not a fan of this response, but i understand it. Making friends via YouTube is still relatively new in the broader discourse, despite YT’s years of existence.

The second response is one of overt judgement or worry – people who make comments like “that’s really weird, lizzie,” or “how do you know they’re who they say they are?” To the first comment, my initial response is simply to say: well isn’t any way you meet someone weird? Who defines normality?

But such esoteric smartass replies are not precisely conducive to communicating my point.

Because, at the end of the day, i get it.

The stereotype of creepy, predatory men lit in a dark room only by their computer monitor is a real one. At least, Criminal Minds tells me it’s real. The idea that there are dangerous people out to manipulate, scare, control, or abuse people (particularly young women) is not merely an idea: it’s a grim fact. I don’t discount that – but i also am aware that there are bullies and threatening people in every corner of our world. There are as many dangers as meeting someone online as there are in meeting someone at a bar or coffeehouse. You have to use your intellect, street smarts, guts, and meet in public places the first time around.

But here’s the other thing about said stereotype: it infers that i am talking exclusively to creepy men in their fifties preying upon my youth via chatrooms or facebook. The reality is quite different (not that you can’t make friends that way). My closest “internet friends” (a term i only use to distinguish them as people i met fist via wireless, and secondly in person, not that they are any less important to me than my “real life” friends) i met because of YouTube.

Which, understandably, might even compound the confusion. I would wager (again, in my non-expertise, totally subjective opinion) that 90% of people who use YouTube watch videos only pertaining to cats (totally acceptable), music videos, Rick Perry parodies (also completely okay), and the occasional school project for the super cutting-edge teacher. What is not included in this is how i got into YouTube – video blogging.

I’ve posted some videos here before of my own making, and more often than that make references to my favorite vloggers, John and Hank Green of the vlogbrothers. While the Green brothers by no means started the idea of a video blog (vlog), their channel and the community subsequently created around it has initiated an entire online movement. In 2005, the two brothers committed to a year long project where they would engage in text-less communication, predominantly through videos they would make for each other alternating every day of the week. The project, though not daily videos, has grown and persisted into the impending year of the apocalypse 2012. Because of their wit, insight, nerdiness, and utter abandon of self-consciousness on the web, these two gleaned, somewhat surprisingly to them, several hundred thousand followers (over the span of several years). As part of their mission to “decrease world suck” (which is literally to fight, through the power of love, anything that sucks in this world) they believe that all people are “made of awesome.” To this end, anyone who is “made of awesome” (who can be anyone) and wants to combat “world suck” is a “nerdfighter.” Meaning, if you like Doctor Who or Harry Potter and want to support small business owners in developing nations, you are a nerdfighter. Or if you’re into other things, that’s okay too.*

As i’m writing this, i can’t help but giggle a little at how strange this all sounds to put into a textual body. “Made of awesome” may not reek of Shakespearean eloquence, but it is pretty communicative and expressive of what the community is about. Yeah, the vlogbrothers are quirky and strange, but they have – through their own self liberation – given space for the inner nerd flag of anyone with an internet connection to be flown with pride. In their wake, thousands upon thousands of people have started their own vlogs, created nonprofits, made friends, hosted “gatherings” of nerdfighters, and generally united over a front to fight what they see is bad in the world by making connections with people who believe the same.

It’s no different to me then meeting someone at a Harry Potter appreciation society. Or a meeting for a campus organization seeking to promote awareness of injustices within the US Court System. A group of people, with common interests, meeting and talking. The difference is a computer screen.

In January of 2011 – exactly one year ago – i started a vlog. To be honest, i was wretched. My videos were too long, i had no clue how to edit, i talked too much, and never had much of a direction. But, six months new to the nerdfighter community, i desperately wanted to be a more involved part of it. That, and i was doing a little participant-observer research of my own for a potential senior thesis (more on that another time).

And, within a month of making videos, a fellow nerdfighter sent me a message on YouTube asking me if i would possibly be interested in a collaborative channel with herself and three other nerdfighters. I was both flattered and a little apprehensive – making videos on a channel with four people i’d never met before? Talking about what exactly? All of the responses i now get when i saw i have a video blog ran through my head. And yet, a part of me knew that this would be a really cool thing to try, should i only give it a chance. If it failed abysmally, it was just a little internet experiment. If it rocked, then i would have really been a part of this online community. Thus, allmadeofawesome was born a year ago this February made of myself, Jenn, Candace, Sarah, and Sara Michelle.

Fortunately for the five of us, i would say our little project rocked. It’s not famous, we’re not renowned among internet folk or anything like that – but that is not the point. The point is that, in spite of the weirdness of it all, i started talked to four other incredibly motivated, intelligent, and totally nerdy women about nerd culture and being at university. Basically, what i do with my friends “in my real life.” And through our videos, i’ve become genuine friends with these ladies. Not pornography, no predators, no venting of pent-up emotions i am incapable of expressing to people i see and hear and touch in the “real” world. Just friends.

Such good friends, though, that i’ve now hung out with two of them in person. Sara Michelle, who has the Friday slot on our channel, lives pretty close to where i go to school. We’ve attended two Harry and the Potters concerts together and have plans to do more nerdy stuff of the like – and when we’re hanging out, it’s just us talking and driving around or eating guacamole sandwiches (well, the last part is just me with my neurotic eating tendencies). Not weird. Not creepy.

okay, the normalcy argument may be lost here. but look, no serial killers!

With Sarah, i got to see her when i was in London in October. Sarah is, in fact, one of the major reasons i started watching Doctor Who, because she being British means that it’s somewhat compulsory to be awesome and nerdy and moon over Matt Smith (i know, sweeping generalizations (it’s a joke!)). Thus, when i’d fallen so deep in the time vortex that i wanted to go to the Doctor Who Experience in London, i invited her along – and we had such a marvelous time. For, despite his many waonderful attributes, my father is not precisely a Whovian. He was such a dear in spending the four hours with us in the museum, but it was Sarah with whom i geeked out over the tenth doctor’s actual TARDIS and the Ood prosthetics. She got the geekdom, the excitement, and the exhiliration at such silly things the way i did. Friends. Real friends.

sarah and i...in the tardis!

All of this to say, yeah. I have online friends. They’re real, they matter to me, and i realize that culturally this may not be the most acceptable. But as much as the internet has changed, so has our culture. The internet is a vehicle, i think, for what you make of it. For friends, for news, for connections, for cat videos during exam week. I think if we exercise appropriate caution in the same way we do in tangible reality, we can use the internet as a tool for good.

What are your thoughts? Have you made friends via the interwebs? Think i’m still a freak? You are all most welcome.

current jam: ‘safe & sound’ taylor swift, t-bone burnett, & the civil wars

best thing in my life right now: kitties, coffee, and my new mug.

*if this is not clear, i recommend this video as a better, from the horse’s mouth introduction!

Thoughts from the Journey: London Edition

Once more, i am writing to you, dearest reader, from the comfort of my own desk in my own room, at my beloved Mount Holyoke College. It’s a strange feeling – being back – because there’s this sense of normalcy and regularity to my rushing to class, downing continuous cups of coffee, and making endless color-coded homework charts for the oncoming weekend. In some ways, i feel like i’ve woken up from a blissful dream to Reality, without a moment passing at all.

And while, to be fair, my time in London was incredibly brief, it was concurrently immeasurably special. England has existed in my mind for so long, shaped by my consumption of Potter novels and films, the writings of the brilliant Jane Austen, the pouring over my favorite Shakespearean plays. My thoughts and dreams of what London would be were undeniably influenced by Doctor Who, by my guidebook’s quips, and by what i longed for the experience to hold. To be on the streets i’d dreamed of while reading about Harry and Ron and Hermione, envisioned while singing along to My Fair Lady, was literally the summation of so many dreams – a treasure compounded by the fact that i could share the journey with my fantastic father.

Someone commented on my post about Day 4 spent in the city that places like London and New York exist in our minds long before we ever encounter them in person. I think this is indisputable; i also contend that my imagination will continue to paint my memories and thoughts of such places. London is tangible to me now, surely, for i can remember the hotness and cramped sensation of riding in the Tube – sensations i had not anticipated. Yet the wonder, the idyllic glow i’ve cast over the winding streets and platforms, shall persist whether consciously or not. My London will never be the same as any other’s interpretation, but my London has changed for me in the span of seven days.

It is this kind of living in the dream that is so often the best part of traveling. I didn’t stay long enough to be infuriated by the delay in traffic, or fret over the never-ending threat of rain. The time was brief enough that every moment was satiated with the exhiliration of uncovering a new place, and thereby discovering more about my own tastes and talents and shortcomings. The journey, wherever it may be, is always the greatest adventure in the scope of wandering around the world.

And, yes, I’m suffering a bit from post-travel tribulation (did i mention my weekend is now divided up according to green time for paper-writing and blue time for research?). But i know the UK has more for me to wander through, and that for everything there is a time and place. For now, my time and place is at this gorgeous university with my brilliant friends and a wicked amount of work to be doing.

current jam: ‘poison’ nicole scherzinger

best thing in my life right now: my new TARDIS mug! my friends in my life again!

Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing (London, Day 6)

We all knew this day would come, and all too quickly it has. Father and i are all but packed up, cramped in out bunked-bed hostel room awaiting a non-peak hour on the Tube to catch it to Heathrow. From thence, we’re bound for New England.

Alas.

But! All good things must come to an end (to quote Shakespeare…again) and i am assured of this: London has not seen the last of me. Nor had the UK; in fact, dearest reader, plans are in motion for a considerably longer-term commitment to this island. But i’m not spilling until those plans are solidified!

However, to leave London in this state of contentment is a blessing unto itself. For last night i saw what is easily one of the most superb pieces of theatre i have ever seen: The Tempest. I confess prior to seeing the show, i’d neither read nor seen any version of the Shakespearean script. Partly, over the last few months, on purpose; i wanted my first time encountering Prospero to be one where he was speaking, living, breathing on stage. I wanted to be enraptured in the play and not anticipate any forthcoming plot developments.

I knew that The Tempest is considered to be two key things: Shakespeare’s last work done completely on his own (some dispute and say Henry VIII, but i’m on Team Tempest for this one) and one of his (weird!) experimental pieces. Unlike most Shakespearean shows, the context of this play literally occurs over four hours and is neither tragedy nor comedy, but something suspended in between. Bearing this in mind, i entered into the Royal Haymarket not really knowing what to expect – except Ralph Fiennes to have one bushy beard (and a nose).

It was brilliant. It was beautiful. The set was astonishing, the lighting ingenious, and – sufficed to say – the acting was amazing. Prospero’s final monologue is oft interpreted as Shakespeare’s own, autobiographical, farewell to the theatre. As the character is meant to be played by a man in his late forties/early fifties, it seems likely that The Bard himself would have played the role when performed at the Blackfriars playhouse or the Globe Theatre. In this knowledge, the farewell becomes all the more poignant and sad and gorgeous. Fiennes delivered it magnificently.

And, you know, he was perfectly lovely to speak with after the show!

(Okay, i’ve got a plane to catch. Never letting the dust settle for long!)

current jam: ‘set fire to the rain’ adele

best thing in my life right now: voldemort signed my playbill!