Green Fig Tree

Hello all!

No grand adventures this week, just mostly working on my dissertation’s literature review and being a test subject for new recipes. I’m totally cool with both. The weather is officially spring now, with temperatures hanging around 14 C and even getting up close to 20! It’s been deliciously warm and sunny the last two days, so I’ve been taking breaks between reading with walks around town and through the park. It also gives me time to listen to the news and not slowly become one with a desk chair, and is well appreciated.

In terms of dissertation though… I can see amongst my friends that dissertation is nearly their entire life, at least according to Facebook. And it brings some real pressure with it. I mean, getting through your undergraduate degree is stressful enough, but then grad school starts. You are let loose with some vague references to literature and told to come back with something good and useful. You get a sampling of this in your undergrad, but it’s a new learning curve to adjust to when you go for your master’s. And really, I suppose if you’re still in the running by the time you get to your actual dissertation, you’re doing pretty well. Still.

Recently, I’ve been really struck with something. I think it’s because with the end of taught lectures a lot of us are scattering to the winds and I will be losing friends back to other countries again. That and the prospect of actually looking for a real career soon is looming. I don’t think it’s regret that I’ve been struck with by any means, as I’m happy with my life choices, but maybe something similar. Have you ever stopped and realised you’ve missed an opportunity in life? That you’re officially past your sell-by date on something in particular? I noticed it at the ballet a couple weeks back. Watching the ballerinas glide across the stage, I realised that yes, I could definitely still go into ballet and probably be decent if I tried hard enough, but in all likelihood my chances of being prima ballerina at the Royal Opera House are long gone by now. It wasn’t a sad feeling, just kind of odd to consider.

I’m also seeing crossroads in my past and just find it interesting to see how many different directions my life could have gone if I had made just one different choice, said yes instead of no, or no instead of yes. When you’re younger you don’t really have this because for the most part everyone is supposed to be achieving the same goals. When you’re 25 though, there are suddenly a lot of options that you could (or have) chosen – marriage, babies, education, moving, careers, passions, travels… It suddenly makes it a lot harder to think you know if you’re doing well or not. I can also see why people have an odd mental timescale of when they’re supposed to have done things by, though it seriously depends on what social circle you’re in.

It just makes me think of the quote from Sylvia Plath:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Relate to that girl, but don’t be that girl! Really, I’m just writing down what I’m sure literally everyone in my social circles is thinking, so I’ll wrap it up. We’re all in flux right now and nothing is permanent and to be honest, I don’t know if it ever will be entirely, nor would I want it to be. I guess go with the flow, enjoy the ride, and all those cliches?

— Kate

cats in a kitchen with a kettle

In Which She Travels Even Further

I’ve made it to Day 7 and have managed only minimal jetlag. Sleep is a bit wonky, but turning out okay. It’s been around this time in the late afternoon each day that I start regretting not making a second cup of coffee or tea, but I have yet to learn from this. Let’s see… What have I gotten into since? Well, on Tuesday a handful of students in the program all met by the clock tower (We originally were supposed to go to the Starbucks at the university, but I got two of us lost… Thankfully everyone was fantastic and they came to the tower.) and all grabbed some coffee and lunch and chatted for an hour or so. It’s SO nice to meet people before term begins, and everyone was awesome. I’m greatly looking forward to courses with them!

After we all went our separate ways, I continued with my new tradition of wandering aimlessly around the city – half genuinely lost, half somewhat aware of landmarks and just adventuring. Not having a car and aiming to walk everywhere teaches you some important lessons pretty quickly. Firstly, you really don’t need all that crap in your bag that you always take with you. Secondly, the more you can fit in your bag, the less you have to carry in flimsy plastic bags that cut off circulation in your fingers. Thirdly and most importantly, if you cannot carry it all comfortably in a basket in the shop, you are going to have a heck of a time getting it home. The only time a shopping cart is a good idea is when you have a willing victim alongside you that can help carry things home, of which I did not. Amazing what you’re capable of when you realize it’s either sit on the street and wait for an expensive taxi to come by and take your lazy rear home or just suck it up and walk already. Needless to say, I’m gaining new callouses on my feet.

Walking back from meeting fellow students and there’s a very drunk man staggering through the streets and screeching (at 3 pm). I stopped and asked some shop staff:

“What exactly is he going on about?”

“England. And some profanity. That’s all we can understand. He just came out of the pub, so sports maybe.”

Exciting.

Back at my flat, it was time for mail call!

Have I mentioned recently that I have amazing parents? Because they not only sent me things I needed that were going to be hard to walk back from the shops with, but also a surprise with the sweeteners.  I have since christened the coffee machine and can gladly dismiss the stereotype that the British do not have good coffee. Picked up a Colombian fresh roast from Tesco that tasted great.

After unpacking presents, it was a walk to the train station to catch up with one of my favorite Twitter people! I take great offense at people who say that technology is ruining our social lives and that we all need to leave the phones at home. Yes, you should always engage with those talking to you, but the internet only helps to broaden that scope. My life would be much poorer without the weirdness of social media, and I wouldn’t want to change it. Heck, even meeting everyone from the program ahead of time was due to Facebook and email. Making new friends, the millennial way. 😉 Had a massive “You’re a real person again!” squeal, then set out on the city to talk and catch up with so much that’s happened since last we saw each other in November.

I would like to apologise to the now local ( 😀 ) people in my life as the anthropologist in me has been having a field day. Coming to a new place you’ll always have new experiences to process, (sometimes happens just crossing America) but instead of just shrugging it off with a “well that’s odd,” I have an intense curiosity to find out why things work that way. It’s my motto to always look at life and new things as interesting, never weird or “not like home.” The world works around things in many different ways, and societies are fascinating because of it. Over the space of dinner my poor friend was questioned on how the bank overdraft in the UK works (you can pull much, much more over the limit of what you have in your account than in the US), the why/when/how of putting x’s at the end of text messages (best stick to loved ones to be on the safe side), and the curious absence of doggie bags/boxes in UK restaurants (though honestly, if you walk everywhere it’d be a pain to carry that around). And of course, any time you share restaurants around the world, you’re bound to get a giggle out of the menus and signs.

This leads us into Wednesday, which was a travel day. Brief wander around town, but I had also packed up a bag and made sure to wash the dishes in the sink. By the afternoon, I wheeled my bag to the train station and hopped on the first of two trains to Colchester, where I’ll be visiting for a little over a week. Trains really are the way to get around in this country, though there’d have to be a cultural shift to have something like this happen across the United States. Maybe when gas hits $10 a gallon it might become more of a thing. Be sure to bring something to read with you though, because playing on your phone will suck the life out of it and unless you’re in a first class seat, there’s no guarantee you’ll have a charging place for your plug. Also, if you qualify for a railcard and plan on doing more than a quick journey or only one ride, it is well worth the price for the card in the savings you’ll accrue over time. Train travel is still at reasonable costs, but that little bit helps.

On the train from Leicester to my change point in London, I just happened to sit across the way from two Texans visiting friends in Nottingham and heading back to London for the evening. Sadly, they were University of Texas alumni and my family are Texas A&M alumni, so we were sworn enemies. I kid, I kid! It was nice to hear a random “y’all” so far from the source. 🙂

Oh! An important thing I learned when you come in to London in one station and have to leave from another to make your connection – you don’t have to cough up cash or your Oyster card to use the Underground as long as you go from point A to point B. Make sure your ticket has a little cross printed on it somewhere on the bottom and you’ll just feed your ticket through the reader at the Underground barriers, letting you both in and out. Basically, DON’T LOSE THAT TICKET. You’ll also be using it to get through the barriers coming and going from each train station as well. Another random but important fact – there are toilets on the trains, but you can’t use them in the station because the flush system just dumps it out of the bottom of the train on older models. Eww.

So as I write this, I’m now safely in Colchester, about 2 hours away from Leicester by train. I’ve got near and dear people to pester, and as it turns out there are a few other foreigners that I may get to catch up with in London! The world is shrinking every day, and it’s pretty interesting to witness. Hope all is well wherever you are. 🙂

— Kate

Bon voyage!

 

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Except the small problem that British Airways doesn’t currently offer WiFi on their planes. Boo. You may be right now thinking, “But Kate, you’re writing on your blog. Where did you find the WiFi?” This one is a scheduled post from the past — I just couldn’t resist using an Oatmeal reference. As you read this (within a reasonable time of posting) I’ll be settled into a window seat and picking through whatever choice of movies the airline has decided on, probably fidgeting and annoying my seatmates. Sorry seatmates. I really am.

I think they’re offering tea and coffee now and I can’t say no to that. I’ll to talk to y’all later. 😉

— Kate

Closeness Has Nothing to Do With Distance

It is truly astounding how easily you can stay in contact with anyone across the globe if you really want to. This is why it annoys me to no end when people go on a sermon about the evils of technology and how we all need to put down the tech. If the only thing keeping my tenuous link to loved ones is my tech, you can get off my case. I wouldn’t take away similar from you.

But less gripey Kate.

With the way things are today, you can text and talk via Skype, which while great to chat with friends in town, it’s a lifesaver for friends across the world. Add that you can use the program to make dirt cheap international calls and I would recommend that everyone have it on their computers and smartphones. (Seriously, 2 cents a minute to call the UK from the US!)

Beyond Skype there is the smartphone boom. I personally rely on iPhone iMessage for keeping in touch with everyone, as it seems nearly everyone that I talk to on a regular basis has one. Great minds think alike? (Okay, okay, please don’t start a fanboy war for this. 😛 ) With iMessage, you can run off your data plan and text any iPhone number, anywhere, for just your standard data cost. Considering you can send text, audio, picture, and video from nearly anywhere without killing the battery on your phone as quickly as Skype does, it’s my favorite when I’m out and about.

And of course, there is social media. Between Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, I know a lot of people who keep in contact on a regular basis and are up to date with life events from the sites.

Other than straight up snail mail, is there anything I’m missing? Anyone else use a different method of contact with the important people in your life?

 

— Kate