Blogversary

WordPress wished me happy birthday today, making this terrible toddler three years old now.

I remember I started this blog as a New Year’s resolution in 2016 when I was nearing graduation from my undergrad and had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my adult life, but figured I might as well document the way there.

Three years later, I am back in the same place, but without even having a job offer or not on the Spring horizon to give me a hint. Or, as in 2017’s case, a place in a masters course or not. I got the job; I’m currently getting the masters (in (marketable) literature), but Spring 2018 has no answers in sight. I’ll have to wait until right up until the end of this course in the summer to know what my next steps are. Where I’m going. What country I’ll live in. What I’ll be doing. Who I’ll know. If I’m—for once—staying put.

It is that time of year spent reflecting on the past, and I’m curious how a deeply strange 2017 will inform a 2018 and beyond.

I started 2017 in Paris, but was living in the small French town Pézenas near Montpellier teaching English as a foreign language.

Then I moved back to Flagstaff for three weeks of training to mentor youth on environmental work with the Arizona Conservation Corps, ending up eventually assigned to a full summer in the hellishly hot Verde Valley.

Then I moved to Dublin, started my masters, lived in a hostel, lived in a six-person two-bedroom apartment in Temple Bar, lived in an adorable cottage next to the biggest metropolitan park in Europe, Tindered way too hard for a little too long, started seeing someone, started tutoring writing online, started barista-ing at Starbucks, joined a community choir, also joined a chapel choir. In short, 2017 ended overbooked, and so 2018 starts.

Working on this fancy MPhil in literature and all (it comes with a lace border hand-stitched by Long Room elves, whereas MAs normally only get a lace-it-yourself kit, and BAs, of course, get a slap in the face), I accidentally confuse real life for literature all the time. Right now, light deprived in Northern Europe, I can’t help but feel like I’m in some kind of nighttime limbo between 2017’s day (France and Arizona were so sunny) and 2018’s. I may not be able to see what’s coming in the dark, but it is a sleep full of vivid dreams. Hopefully, at least one of them will turn out a premonition for tomorrow.

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Coming Back to Aalborg

I took down all of my postcards. All year, I’ve been collecting post cards both from the cities I visit as well as random free ones they give out at Aalborg’s studenterhus. After striping my walls of the 160 postcards I managed to collect, I decided to stop the packing process because it was too depressing and could be put off some more.
Diary Entry from June 14, 2014

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Postcards are fascinating.

Mail is mail, of course. There is nothing special about communicating through the written word today, although it is slightly more quaint and artificial (artifactual) to do so through paper moved across the physical space between one person and another. Postcards, though, are unique. They don’t just move through space but highlight it. This is where you are; this is where I am (temporarily). Here is a blurb worth half the space of a picture of where you are not–and may never be–held in mirror image to your address from Elsewhere.

I am fascinated by the pictures deemed twice as worthy as anything anybody has to say about them.  Monuments, cityscapes, national cultures, stock images of cats and dogs on vacation pasted over a beach. Postcards are an exercise in idealism, reduction, and symbolism. How do you diminish an entire city/country into instant recognition from a 5.8 by 4.1 inch rectangle?

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I, too, am always trying to evaluate and reduce cities. Specifically those making up my life in its past, present, and future incarnations. Since birth, I have lived in ten different cities, spanning three American states and four countries. I have fucking loved it, but it also complicates the cities’ definitions.

Aalborg, Denmark is one such city. My sophomore year of university, at the bidding of a friend, I studied abroad in Denmark’s fourth largest city (population 200,000). I was nineteen, and I absolutely loved my time there. Although I came from a metropolitan area of almost seven million people (Phoenix), the European city was so condensed that it felt like a living, bustling metropolis in a way that Phoenix’s stagnant freeways and isolated, spread-out homes never did. I had a group of three friends that felt like the greatest sense of family a friend group has ever resembled for me. It was the year I learned to cook (the first year I ever tried coffee, hamburgers, eggs, avocados, etc.). Learned to have an apartment. Learned to drink. Dipped my toes in adulthood one painful fuck-up at a time (lost and homeless with no money or communication in the Southern French countryside on the winter solstice for example).

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When I reduce Aalborg to a compartmentalized identity, it has always been metaphorically enormous, proportional to its place in making me me and the quantity of memories it gave me.

Recently, though, at the bidding of the same friend, I went back for a couple of days three and a half years later.

And Aalborg was fucking dinky. It was cold and run-down and small and borderline-lifeless. My friend, who also studied abroad there and had even returned several times since, felt the difference too.

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Obviously, it is my friend and I who have changed and not poor Aalborg, but the experience has me obsessing over how exactly we categorize and think about cities in general. I recently read this amazing article  by a former professor of mine about a (stupid) experimental community in the Arizona desert where I attended my first and only music festival two years ago because it was free, highlighting the space between a city’s potentially idealist invention and the realism of what life makes in its execution. The city as idealism comes up, too, in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Brazil’s fascinating capital Brasilia (a city deliberately designed in the shape of a cross with zoning to encourage social blending but, ultimately, fostering strict ghetto and slum systems).

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What is the space between a city’s postcard image and its reality? How much of my memories actually reflect place and how much are associations with experience, people, and time in ways that do not allow physical return? Do others who stay put conflate this shifting sensation with time, and is this feeling the root of conservativism when we grow old?

Specifically, as I find myself at yet another crossroads of needing to decide what the fuck I’m doing with my life, this return to Aalborg has me wondering about my perceptions of every city I think I know. How have I drawn these postcards? What spaces must I travel between now and the future? Does space actually really matter at all in the end?

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The First Week in Dublin

First of all, thank you to the overwhelming support I got from real-world humans after my last post, and I PROMISE I’m okay! Y’all’s hearts are too sweet.

Second, I’ve officially been in Dublin for a week, and it is beyond incredible! If everything that happened leading up to this move was unlucky, it was only balancing the scales for everything that would follow. Due to a missed flight, I didn’t end up getting into Dublin until after midnight last Friday, and I did get a little lost finding my hostel (in what I’ve since been told isn’t a great part of town) and ended up circling the same block three times with about eighty pounds of luggage. Eventually I found it, a man with giant eyes and a vaguely Eastern European accent gave me my key, and I passed out in what I’ve since become convinced was a dirty and currently-in-use bunk.

The next morning, I woke up at 6 am in a panic that all my electronics were dead, I had my first apartment viewing at 11, and I didn’t have the right converter for Ireland. So I set out on the town to find a converter, revive my electronics at a coffee shop, and look up directions to the viewing. I then went and got a phone plan (um, 20 euros a month for unlimited data????) and headed to the viewing. It was a studio apartment, and I knew I had no chance of getting it in Dublin’s absolutely insane renting world, but I thought I’d try. Instead, I ended up meeting a really cool French woman in the same situation as me, and we exchanged contact information to get together later.

I wandered. I went to the National Gallery. Within twenty-four hours of being in Dublin, I was sipping Irish whisky on a park bench with a ginger Irishman in Saint Stephen’s Green and staying up until 4 am with the city.

Every time something has started to go wrong in this country it has fixed itself. Was supposed to make an appointment with immigration ten weeks in advance, but can instead try gambling on something sooner at 2:30 every day? How about noon next Monday. The hostel seems to come from the pits of hell (i.e. a chain smoker who didn’t stop smoking in the room from the moment he moved into when he was kicked out the next day; a large, fat man on the bed above you who amps himself up to get to the top bunk in his underwear next to your face around 4 am every night; a man flat out sleeping naked there)? Let it make you bond with the other international students  that the French woman introduces you to, and have them hook you up with a spot at their accommodation in the middle of downtown.  Find a surprise negative charge on your Trinity account that seems to have come out of nowhere? Oh no, that’s just because red and in the negative somehow means that the school owes you that number and then gives you everything you need to open an Irish bank account to give it to you. Are fifty cents short for a bus ride? Just get on anyway.

One of my best friends from when I studied abroad in Denmark came to visit and we got drunk at the Guinness Storehouse (a kind of Disneyland meets a museum meets alcoholism fiasco), watched a full rainbow fall over the city, and sunbathed over vegetarian food in Merrion Square.

I got to meet an Irish friend I’ve had online for almost a year now in person.

Got a beautiful apartment with beautiful roommates. Got a hand from a beautiful friend in the move.

Have somehow wandered into every scene from a bad Irish romance novel several times over.

I seriously just can’t believe how happy and at ease I feel in this city.  I can be a pretty shy person, but I genuinely feel like I want to talk to/befriend/get to know every single person that I see here. There is nothing that a city can give a person more than the simple sense of belonging, and I have never felt this more than I do in Dublin. I absolutely cannot wait for the year to come.

The First Couple Weeks Back in Europe

…have been really fucking intense. Like, Jesus Christ, has it always been this bad? No cheeky tongue-in-said-cheek artsy-ass way to convolute it: the past few weeks have just been an adventure.

My original plan coming back to Europe before starting school in Dublin on September 11 was to go and WWOOF (organic farm labor in exchange for food and housing) near Paris for about a week and a half, move to Dublin, get a phone/housing/bank account/etc etc, and start school. I found an orchard just a train ride out of Paris that looked quite lovely, and the host and I set up the ten-day arrangement for mid-August.

Starting at the Chicago Airport on my way to Paris, things already went awry when I had paid for two checked bags that somehow didn’t show up on my ticket (calling Kiwi did nothing, by the way), and I dealt with it simply by weeping at the check-in lady until she let both on the plane.

Then, at the orchard, I was (somehow) surprised to find that the host was a single old man retired from a career as a lawyer. Without thinking, I had just assumed it would be like the last three times I had WWOOFed where it had always been a family with at least one other WWOOFer. A little nervous about this set-up, I went along with it for four days that, I found, just got creepier and creepier. The man complimented me consistently on everything from my French to my personality to (especially) my looks. One night, I couldn’t get away from him to go to sleep because he wanted to talk to me about how a smile like mine was a gift to the world for fifteen minutes straight. I had read his reviews on the WWOOFing website and they had all been very positive, so I stayed thinking that it was probably just me being overly sensitive. However, one day, he took me with him to the grocery store, and, when he asked me if there was anything French I particularly missed, and I said the Trésor cereal, he bought it and said I could maybe thank him with a kiss. When I recoiled a little, not sure what to say, he said “no, maybe not here” and then gave me a big speech in the car ride home about how it was more important to give than to receive. Upon talking to the boy I had dated in France this past year—who now lives in Brussels—about it, he told me I needed to leave, and that I was welcome at his for the next seven days before I left for Dublin.

I booked the bus. Unsure of what to tell my WWOOFing host, I said I was going to Brussels for the weekend and just needed to take all of my things with me because I owed my friend a lot of books and instruments. He believed me for a few hours, but then got suspicious and demanded over and over that I tell him the truth. When eventually I said I was going to Brussels for good, he yelled at me that I was a coward and a liar all the way from packing up my things to carrying them all the way across his gravel driveway in the pouring rain to the gate out of his property. It was insane. If you are thinking of WWOOFing, it is absolutely wonderful (usually), but BE CAREFUL and make sure you will not be alone!

This past week in Brussels was nice, but certainly intense in its own way due to spending more time with my ex-boyfriend than we probably ever did while we were actually dating. I had nothing to do (why I had wanted to use this time for WWOOFing in the first place) and picked fights. Alcohol is cheap in Belgium, and we probably drank a little too much. Then, two days ago, the Fella got in a bike accident that sent him over the handles of his bike and into the street. Although he did not go to the doctor and says he’s getting better, he’s been in pain and unable to move his right arm since.

I almost fell for a housing scam in Dublin yesterday.

Currently, I am sitting in the Paris Beauvais Airport for the next nine hours after having already been travelling for eleven hours straight because, due to a string of unfortunate events, I missed my flight to Dublin by fourteen minutes.

I hate to believe in luck and, if there is such a thing, I know that I have an obnoxious amount of it. But I still can’t help but wonder if I am momentarily cursed, and when it will lift (I had just gotten in a car accident and, separately, a flat-tire on the freeway the week before coming to Europe).

I keep beating myself up for being here, and, as always, reading about what’s crumbling to pieces at home.

I hope these weeks have not been a reflection of what this year is to hold. I am incredibly, beyond excited to live in one of my favorite cities in the world, but, after all this, I am honestly feeling discouraged and a little out of my depth.

Olargues and Bédarieux

For my last week in France, my fella decided to show me the village Olargues, a village officially listed as one of les plus beaux villages de France, with a stop by Bédarieux on the way home. I seem to be having some luck with forecasted rain and surprise sunny, perfect days, as was the case when I went to St Guilhem le Désert for my birthday Thursday, and again in this instance. We wandered some streets, explored some castle ruins on a hill, sat on a bridge, had coffee at the most adorable organic marché/café in Bédarieux. Despite my hesitancy, we hitchhiked home in the perfect weather, and it was just magical walking along the road in the sunshine between rides.

Pour ma dernière semaine en France, mon gar a decide de me montrer la village d’Olargues, une village connue officiallement comme une des plus beaux villages de France, avec un arrêt à Bédarieux en route chez-moi. J’ai la chance récement avec les prévisions météorologiques pour la pluie qui résultent en les journées ensoleillées et parfaits, comme quand je suis allée à St. Guilhèm le Désert pour mon anniversaire juedi, et encore dans ce cas. Nous avons balladé quelques rues, exploré quelques ruines d’un château, assis sur un pont, pris du café à la bio-marché/café la plus adorable à Bédarieux. Malgré mon hesitation, nous avons fait l’auto-stop jusqu’à chez-moi en le météo parfait, et c’était simplement la magique en promenant la rue dans le soleil entre les trajets.

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35mm

As a Christmas/New Year’s/Getting-In-To-Grad-School gift to myself back in December, I got a Pentax Spotmatic film camera off of Le Bon Coin and I absolutely adore it. Here are a few pictures from around the region, namely Pezenas (my town), Castelnau-Le-Lez, Mèze, and Montpellier. (These are pictures of the pictures taken by my digital camera woops).

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