Part of me still rides the train into the city through the early morning haze, and sits at a table by the thatch-roof cottage, sipping tea and admiring the serenity of Richmond Park. Some of me still frolics through the fields of Kew Gardens, the air rich with the scent of flowers. Part of me still cringes at the thought of steak and kidney pie, but yearns for fish and chips with mushy peas. There’s a bit of me still wandering the streets of Bath, still sitting in an elaborate theater as the first haunting notes of a musical ring out, still getting lost in the maze of King Henry VIII’s palace, still nursing a pint or a Pimms at a cozy pub as the sun sets. In a way, I’m still standing in Leicester Square as dusk descends on the city, not ready to go back to the flat and call it a night – and certainly not ready to go back across the sea.
I went to England to learn and take courses, but some lessons could only be learned after falling into a puddle in Paris, exploring castles, or chasing a cat through a graveyard after one-too-many pints of hard cider. My first foray into the world beyond the East coast of the United Sates was too short, and my heart still pines for the fresh sea air of the beach at Brighton and strolls across the Thames. I want to see a snow-kissed England in the winter, and find out if the leaves look beautiful in the fall.
The rest of me eventually got on a plane and came home. I miss the part of me I left behind, but I know we’ll meet again someday.
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Some of you, particularly those of you who reside in the northeastern United States, might remember the freak snowstorm of October 2011, which resulted in near state-wide power outages and general icy desolation in some areas.
It was Halloween weekend. My parents were visiting for a few days, and would be taking my grandmother (with whom I lived for a year and a half during college) back to PA with them for the winter. Saturday, afternoon, my father dropped me off at my second job, and all proceeded as normal… until the first fateful flakes began to fall. Within an hour or so, it was a full-on snow assault. I made it almost all the way through my shift, worriedly peeking out of the windows as white began to conquer the parking lot, until my dad appeared to pick me up and I bolted out the door.
The journey home was probably the most tense, stressful car ride of my life, but thankfully, my father is a skilled driver and we made it safely home. Had I been by myself, I never would have made it; the highway was a wasteland, the snow plummeted in droves, and cars were careening all over the place as folks tried to make it to their destination, dodging downed tree limbs and power lines.
Once back at home, the power had already gone out, so we dined on cold chicken by candlelight, dug out the spare blankets to stave off the bitter cold, lit a fire in the fireplace and played UNO to fight boredom, and mourned as our electronics slowly died. As the snow continued to fall, I fell asleep (beneath several layers) to the ominous snap-and-thud sound of breaking tree branches in the forest behind the house, praying that none would fall on the roof and crush me during the night.
The next day, New England was buried in snow/ice hell. Power was lost in a huge portion of the region (including almost all of Connecticut, if I remember correctly – I lived about ten minutes from the border) and because the weather was so wonky (it was warm right before the storm, then warm again immediately after) there was extensive damage that reached far beyond just NE. After I called out of work for the day, my parents and my grandmother left me to endure Snowtober alone, since I hadn’t heard anything about classes being cancelled for the following day or any time after. TO THIS DAY I STILL CANNOT FATHOM WHY THEY DID NOT IMMEDIATELY CANCEL CLASSES DUE TO THE DEVASTATION but regardless, I sat and waited it out. It was cold, boring, and I had no means of contact with the outside world. I did manage to get my homework done, though; we were covering Emerson and Thoreau in my American Literature class, and, in a true display of irony, our assignment was to read “Nature.” I didn’t laugh, nor did I develop a deep appreciation for transcendentalism as I paged through my literature textbook by candlelight, munching on a stale bagel.
I am proud of my alma mater, but I was NOT pleased to be going to class the following morning when over half of campus still had no power, despite the fact that the snow had already nearly melted. I am grateful, however, that the Writing Center where I worked still had power… I was able to charge all of my electronics in preparation for the long, dark night ahead. While I was there, doing homework and getting warm, the school released a statement announcing that classes were cancelled for the rest of the week, and students were advised to return home if possible.
This was AFTER they had us go to Monday classes, mind you; so classes were cancelled until the following Monday. I only went to one class on Monday, too, since night classes were cancelled and one of my professors wasn’t able to make it to campus regardless. It was very difficult to tamp the lid down on my rage, since I’d missed a free ride home with my parents the day before, and I couldn’t go for the less-expensive Amtrak option due to the massive power outage. Luckily, my dad loaned me money for a last minute plane ticket (which is quite a price-gouge for a day-before splurge) so I wouldn’t need to drive 6 hours solo through two snowpocalypse-plagued states in order to make my way home.
Driving home from campus that night (after the Writing Center closed) was a total nightmare, since power was still out and none of the traffic lights were operational. It was like driving through the zombie apocalypse sans zombies – though I was pleasantly surprised to see that my across-the-street neighbors, who were lovely people, had left some chopped wood for my fireplace on the front stoop. Things were looking up… until the next morning, I awoke to the shrill, shrieking tones of my burglar alarm blaring throughout the house. There were no intruders, I think it had something to do with the power outage. The alarm company also wouldn’t shut it off, because the house and account are not in my name, so I had to leap through several hoops to get them to have mercy on me (and my neighbors).
Less than five hours later, I’d been ferried to the airport by my godmother, and was nestled safely at home in PA with functional power. While at home, I did manage to snag 36 extra hours of work and by Thursday, I heard that power had been restored to my area of New England – which meant there had been 5 straight days of no power. I returned home on Sunday evening and life resumed as normal, as all traces of the Snowpocalypse began to fade away, and autumn picked up once more. It’s difficult to imagine how much difficulty and suffering a one-night snowfall can bring, but I hope to never experience another storm of the same magnitude ever again.
Allow me to spin a cautionary tale about the importance of studying, and the evils of procrastination and putting off work.
Throughout my academic career, from kindergarten to college, I was a decent student – in the sense that I got good grades and I generally behaved myself. On report cards, I never got below a B; of the few B’s I earned, they were always in my poorest subjects, a.k.a, math or science. Or political science. Government class killed me, man.
But while I earned good grades, I was absolutely horrendous at studying and managing deadlines, and, thanks to those poor habits, I can attribute it to luck that I was able to pull off the academic performances I did. It wasn’t until my final year of college that I actually developed a normal/healthy routine with homework and school projects, but prior to that point, it wasn’t uncommon for me to put off an assignment until the day/night before and end up spiraling into a pit of self-loathing and intense regret as I brewed my fifth cup of coffee at 3:21 in the morning on a Tuesday before an 8AM class. I pulled about 5 or so all-nighters in high school, which isn’t all that bad, and I definitely did less in college; but during each of them, there always came a point where I would run a hand through my snarled hair and say, “I am never doing this again,” and yet, I’d end up inevitably doing it again regardless. I think the worst one was 10th grade – I spent a whole night doing the majority of a project that I’d had at least a month to do, drank 2 Full Throttle energy drinks to stay awake, and put “I’ll Make a Man Out of You,” from the Mulan soundtrack on repeat for 4 straight hours as motivation. The experience did not make a man out of me. Even way back in elementary school, I used to wait until the morning my reading logs were due to have my mom sign them, and ended up forgetting to do so on numerous occasions. It takes like, five seconds to have someone sign something, and I was too lazy at 8/10 years old to even do that.
Studying was the largest hurdle in my academic life… mostly because I was a prolific procrastinator, but also because I found it difficult to focus, as I have the attention span of an acorn and I am way too easily distracted. But I won’t deny that I could have applied myself much better, and worked harder to focus – it’s not like I was sucked into a Youtube vortex of fainting goat videos against my will, I chose to put off my work and bore the consequences because of that decision, and allowed myself to fall into that mindset multiple times. During my last year of college, I turned a page. I made sure my homework was done (or almost done) by dinner time, went to bed at 10 PM every night, woke up at 6AM to go jogging 5 days a week, always left to go to class with enough time to grab my usual latte at the campus center (the lady at the counter only had to see me coming and she’d start preparing it for me), I spent my weekends doing homework in my little kitchen nook, and, with what free time I had remaining, I either hung out with friends or worked on writing for personal reasons. I’d cut back my work schedule that year, and during my final semester I dropped my second job in order to focus on schoolwork. This was a massive help because I felt like I had more free time to do fun stuff, which sliced my procrastination level down. It’s a shame that it took me sixteen or so years to get into the appropriate mindset regarding school, because I could have saved myself a lot of suffering, and my caffeine dependence probably wouldn’t be quite as bad as it is now. I am down to 2-3 cups a day as opposed to the 6-7 I used to consume, so that’s progress, at least!
Once I began to apply myself, and worked out a schedule that afforded me a more or less well-balanced life between school/work obligations and personal matters, I noticed an improvement in my academic performance and a noticeable decrease in my typically-astronomical stress levels. I finished my assignments early. I wasn’t scrambling to finish homework the morning it was due. I actually wrote multiple drafts instead of just turning in my first endeavor at everything, and, as a result of all the changes I made, I even improved my diet and sleep schedule, which led to an overall boost in my mood. I wasn’t late to appointments. And it all felt so rewarding, to finally feel like I wasn’t drowning in papers and books in a vicious cycle of my own making.
Looking back, I actually cringe thinking about how I might have improved on some of my work and my assignments had I changed my habits earlier. Those ‘A’s could have become ‘A+’s. Those ‘B’s and ‘B-‘s might not have even happened, and my student ranking might have been higher in high school, which would have awarded me better scholarships. Luck was certainly on my side throughout my academic life, as I still managed to graduate college with honors… but, other than those final months where I turned it around, that success was at the cost of my health, both mental and physical, because it took me so long to reform my studying methods. Just because you are someone who can pull off decent/adequate, or even stellar work, at the last minute, doesn’t mean that you should. And as someone who used to ascribe to that way of thinking, and assumed I could put in just enough effort without really pushing myself to be even better, I definitely recommend that you do not.
When I was in college, I had several of my English classes in a building known as Emerson Hall, so I spent a lot of time there. Occasionally, I would get thirsty over the course of the day and would need to buy a water bottle from the vending machine. However, I quickly learned that one of the vending machines was not a normal beverage dispenser. It was actually possessed by demons. Oddly generous demons, that is.
One day, I went down and ordered a water bottle. I put in $1.25, got a water bottle, and started to walk away… and then I heard the rumble of the machine kick up, and it spat out another bottle. I scooped it out, thinking that I’d scored a duplicate by mistake… but then it happened again. And again. And again.
All in all, I ended up with 13 waters. One of my professors strolled by, saw my predicament, and muttered, “They really need to fix that thing,” before disappearing into a classroom. I ended up leaving a few of the bottles on top of the vending machine, but crammed the rest into my bag and handed most of them out to classmates.
Over time, many students discovered that, if you order one drink from the vending machine, it will sometimes spit out every single drink in that category all at once. A friend of mine got saddled with 11 Cokes at one point, another with 20+ Sprites. If you didn’t get lucky and hit the machine right after it was filled, it would typically run out after a couple of days, then not get refilled for a week or so.
It was a luck of the draw situation; a gamble. One person could approach, put in their $1.25, and get one drink. Then, the next person could stroll up, pop in their $1.25, and get 14 Dr. Peppers. Is it fair? No. It was all random; up to the fickle hands of fate and fortune.
That’s life, though.
Life is a faulty vending machine. Sometimes, you walk up and the drink you yearned for has been snatched away, and you’re stuck with sub-par alternate options. Sometimes, you put in the same amount of effort, or even more, than someone else, and they reap the rewards while you settle for scraps. Does life always work this way? No, sometimes it works in the opposite manner. Sometimes, it isn’t something that can be prevented – it’s just the way things are. Sometimes, you end up folding while someone else gets a flush, and the only deciding factor was chance.
But does that mean you stop putting in the effort? No, of course not.
Even faulty vending machines have their moments of functionality. They are full of prizes; of wonders and marvels. Sometimes, it won’t take your money. Other times, your packet of peanut M&M’s gets jammed and you can’t free it, even after trying to knock it loose with some Swedish Fish or a shoulder-slam into the machine. And every now and then, it will give you the wrong item instead of the one you wanted, and you have to make do with a danish instead of cookies. Does that mean you give up? No; you keep on trying. The peanut M&M’s will be yours, someday, no matter how elusive they seem.
Maybe life isn’t fair, sometimes, and it doesn’t always work out how you want it to, no matter how hard you try. But it’s always worth it to take a chance, and put in the effort, even if there are some mishaps along the way. With enough patience, you can also end up with 13 water bottles for $1.25. Because life may be faulty, but it is worth the effort.
There are a lot of things in this world that, when combined, make a perfect pair. Peanut butter and jelly, for instance. Cheese and crackers. Cereal and milk. Chips and salsa – or, alternatively, chips and guacamole. But some pairings are not so obvious… like Batman and Walt Whitman.
I decided to explore this unusual combo for my Major Authors/Walt Whitman class while I was at university. After struggling for several days to nail down a topic for my 20-30 page paper, I realized that there are only a few subjects that I know anything of substance about, and one of those topics is Batman. So, while sitting in an airport, I emailed my professor, asking “How far out of the box are we allowed to go with our paper topic?” Her response was: “Box =========>Topic,” thus assuring me that I could be as unorthodox as I desired. After presenting her with my ideas, she granted me her approval, and I set to work, scouring my many Batman-related resources and a well-worn copy of Leaves of Grass to achieve what was probably the best paper of my academic career… with the possible exception of a Tron: Legacy paper, which I am very fond of.
This paper led to me becoming an undergraduate presenter at the 2012 national PCA/ACA conference in Boston, MA. George Takei was the guest speaker that year, and there were so many amazing presentations and intriguing concepts that I instantly felt out-of-place upon my arrival. Since I would be making my presentation on the second day of the conference, my friend and I sat in on the first day of undergraduate presentations to get an idea of what I was going to endure. It was going well, at first. There was a presentation about The Vampire Diaries, one about gender equality. Then one girl gave a presentation about politics (I forget exactly what it was about, but it was very informative and she was well-spoken) and a man in the audience absolutely RIPPED HER TO SHREDS with questions. I was sitting in the back and could FEEL this girl’s bewilderment as this man tore into her, and there was nothing she could say to counter his scathing remarks. She just sank down in her seat and fell silent. It was mortifying to witness, and I began to fear for my life. What if the same thing happened to me? If someone questioned me like that after my presentation I would crumple like an autumn leaf! I CANNOT HANDLE THE PRESSURE.
After a night of nonstop worrying and listening to some tracks from The Dark Knight soundtrack to calm my anxiety, the next day arrived, relentlessly swift, and I walked into the conference room where my presentation was to take place. There were five of us set to present, and I was third in the roster. I was also the ONLY person who did not dress formally. The other four students were in suits, dress shirts, and proper business attire. One girl wore a dress. Me? I was in ripped jeans and a Batman T-shirt. No one informed me that there was a dress code.
My entourage was in the audience, ready to cheer me on. I had a fancy power-point presentation all set up, and even offered to let the other students use my laptop for their own presentations, so we wouldn’t have to shift cords and switch outlets. One girl gratefully took me up on the offer, but the professor of the first presenter snidely informed me that her student “would prefer to use his OWN laptop.” Okay. Great start.
Things went from bad to worse when our moderator/chair showed up… and it was the same man who lambasted the girl from the presentation I saw the day before. I very nearly fainted when I saw him walk in, and my friend and I exchanged a look of pure horror. I was doomed. DOOMED. Even the Caped Crusader couldn’t save me from this.
Anyway, I was, glaringly, the odd man out of this group. The first student presented something about football and hegemony, and the second something about Scottish nationalism. Both very esteemed topics. I wish I could say I remembered anything about their projects, but I don’t, because I was too busy ruminating my pending demise to really pay attention, which doesn’t imply anything about their speeches. Really, I was too anxious to absorb anything other than my own fear, and kept repeating, “Why did I agree to do this? WHY? WHYYYY?” over and over in my head.
My turn came. I drew in a deep breath, and, though my voice shook at the start, I launched into my presentation, which I’d practiced rigorously for a week. My power-point was masterful, featuring only the best transitions. I nailed the quotes, and the points of comparison. It was a blur of poetry and justice, and the memory of my own presentation is somewhat hazy in my head, but I remember the burst of applause, and the ensuing relief when I finished.
The final two presenters went, and then it was time for the final hurdle; QUESTION TIME. Naturally, a voice said, “I’ve got a question. For Miss *real last name*”
It was the moderator, of course.
I inhaled deeply, ready to be eviscerated, and he proceeded to tell me that he enjoyed my presentation and wanted to know what I thought about Adam West’s portrayal of Batman in relation to Whitman, to which I gave a reply of how Batman has somehow, in each of his incarnations, reflected society at the time, and then something about Whitman’s poetry doing the same. He nodded, satisfied, and then fielded the remainder of the questions, several of which were directed to me. I survived.
Better yet? I triumphed, in the face of fear and doubt. And now, when I get nervous about things like this, I ask myself only one question: What would Batman/Walt Whitman do?
In the spring/summer of 2011, I spent two months traversing England with a group of about 20 other students and a rotating cast of four professors. I had my inhibitions about going at first – I had only just finished a rough first year of college, wasn’t sure I would be able to make friends on the trip, didn’t want to be stuck with people who didn’t like me for the whole session, had never left the east coast of the United States in my entire life, and was seriously considering transferring to a university closer to home for the next semester. But when I called my parents and told them about the trip, and all of the reasons why I thought I shouldn’t go, they told me that I would be pretty foolish not to, considering the perks, affordable cost, and potential for an excellent experience. A couple of older classmates also told me that they were going on the trip and would welcome me into their ranks. So, with much reluctance, I decided to take a risk and go. And it was probably the best decision of my entire academic/collegiate career.
I did a ton of stuff while I was in England. I got to see one of my favorite performers, Alfie Boe, as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables on the West End. I chased a cat through a graveyard (long story). I got to stand in the ocean on the beach at Brighton. I saw a play at the Globe Theater and my inner Shakespeare fangirl was squealing pretty much the entire time. My classmates and I wore Krispy Kreme sailor hats and carried a bunch of balloons while touring Oxford for reasons which, to this day, are unclear. I got to touch the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Garden. Several of us witnessed a car chase while on a Jack The Ripper Tour in one of the worst sections of London. We started a “Fresh Prince of Bel Air Theme Song” rap during a trip on the Tube, and several of the other passengers joined in. Several of us got lost on a country walk, but ended up making it to an adorable pub with some of the best food I’ve ever had. I got to live in a quaint flat with some great roommates, even though we had to survive our “swamp bathroom” for the entire two months. I got to take a weekend jaunt to Paris with some of my very best friends on the trip, and got to see Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and parts of the Louvre. And, in a stroke of immense luck for all of us, it didn’t even rain a lot while we were there; rain was only a major issue about a total of seven days out of the entire two months. I packed rain boots and only had to wear them on the day we went to Portsmouth, and my feet were roasting by the end of that trip.
I have a lot of memories from England, luckily memorialized in photos and quotes. But there was one activity that I indulged in more than my other classmates; and that is frolicking. I’m not really sure what it was about the trip as a whole, but no matter where we were, if I saw an open stretch of grass, I determined that it was prime for the frolicking, and promptly spread my arms out wide and leapt my way across, sometimes taking more than one bound, just to make sure to reach my frolicking quota for each location. But not only that, I had to appoint official photographers to document all of my sick moves. Because let me tell you, I am a wicked frolicker. Like, people definitely stared at me whilst I pranced my way across several English landmarks and attractions, though they may have been more disturbed than impressed, but whatever.
There’s something inherently freeing about frolicking. The wind at your back, propelling you forward as you leap like a gazelle from one patch of grass to another. I frolicked across the grass at the Royal Crescent in Bath, where the attached photo is from. I frolicked through Kew Gardens – though, I assure you, no flowers were harmed in my ventures. I frolicked through the countryside, though Kensington Gardens, the water in the beach at Brighton, the deer-infested fields in Richmond, not far from where my classmates and I studied during the day. I was a frolicking machine.
And I think it all began with that first, tentative leap – the leap I took when I decided to throw caution to the wind and go on the England trip in the first place. It was, in my mind, an immense risk, because I am not a risk-taker by nature. If given two options, one being the play-it-safe route, and the other the high-risk/high-reward path, I am guaranteed to take the former every time. But after that first leap, the subsequent leaps got a lot easier. Less frightening, less intimidating. I stopped caring what people might think of me. I stopped noticing when people would frown or sneer or snicker at me for choosing to make myself look like a prancing, arm-flailing fool in front of both natives and tourists alike, because I was having fun. All it took was one little leap, and I found the courage to take several more – while I was in England, and also in the days and years that followed. Frolicking across the pond helped boost my confidence, and helped me turn that two month trip into one of the most memorable and influential experiences of my entire life, and thanks to that, I have a ton of memories – frolicking-related and otherwise – that I will always hold dear.
Now, five years later, some leaps still frighten me – but the idea of taking risks doesn’t paralyze me like it used to, and I look forward to frolicking away to other parts of the world, someday.
Whilst digging through some old flash-drives, I found one of my old creative writing pieces from the first semester of my final year of college, in 2012. Just thought I’d share it because the memory made me laugh. For reference, I’m now 24, and I was 20 when this was written.
Some mornings I wake up ready for the day, and some mornings I end up locked in my bathroom with no means of escape.
I have lived alone for a year now. It’s been a relatively stress-free experience, save for a few security-alarm system snafus and several instances of burned dinner setting off the fire smoke alarm. But one morning, after finishing my two-mile run, I took a shower, but when I went to leave the bathroom, I realized the door was locked.
The alarming part is that the door does not even have a lock.
I stared at the doorknob for a good thirty seconds, shocked. I yanked on it, turning it as hard as I could, but it was stuck. The reality hit me. This is where I’m going to die.
After five minutes, I realized the door was not going to open – so I opened the bathroom window, pulled the screen up and leaned out into freedom. It was still semi-dark outside, and, at about 6:45AM it was very cold – and I was in a ‘Yankees Suck’ T-shirt and old track shorts, with no shoes or socks.
I wanted to cry.
The window is small enough that a child of about five or six can crawl through easily. Since I am not a five or six year old child, I faced a bit more difficulty. After several feeble attempts, I was able to slide myself out the window – bad leg first – and I cautiously leapt onto my air conditioning unit. Unfortunately, it was too cold outside for me to fully appreciate my ninja-like moves. I ran back into the house, and the first thing I did (after discovering that the door was stuck on the outside as well) was call my dad to explain the situation.
After he stopped laughing, he gave me his permission to break the door if necessary. Given my history of broken appliances and such – an extensive list which includes 3 printers, a microwave, and a coffee maker – it was probably going to happen regardless of whether or not he gave his blessing.
For the next hour, I took a hammer and a screwdriver to the door. It was futile – mainly because I have the arm strength of a wet noodle, though I did succeed in punching several holes in the wood. It became increasingly clear to me that I was going to have to go back in from the outside. I was going to have to launch myself back into the tiny, claustrophobia-inducing bathroom.
I trooped back outside, grabbed a ladder from the garage, put it against the side of the house, and vaulted myself back through the window, hammer and screwdriver in hand. Head-first, horribly ungraceful, and extremely grateful that none of my neighbors were awake to see it.
I took the hinges off the door, and it finally started to weaken. But it was still jammed. If there had been a table in the bathroom, I would have flipped it. Enraged, I manned up, channeled my inner MacGyver, and pulled the door as hard as I could, splintering part of the wood, and breaking the latch – which had been the whole source of the trouble. The door fell on me – but I was so happy I ignored the pain and let out a strangled victory cheer.
I called my dad with the joyous news – his first question was, “Did you break the door?” and my jubilant response was, “WHO CARES DAD, I’M FREE.” I also promised to pay for a new door, since we are selling the house in the spring, and a door-less bathroom is not exactly a selling point.
Despite the fact that I am a twenty year old college senior who lives alone, has two jobs, and does her own grocery shopping, I have never really felt like an adult. I’m not registered to vote, I can barely drive, and I still wake up early to watch Spongebob Squarepants. I have always been haunted by that question: When am I going to grow up? When will I start to feel in control of my destiny? When does that independence begin?
I can now say that the moment I began to feel grown up was a Friday, early in the morning, when I broke myself out of a locked bathroom. Not exactly ground-breaking in the grand scheme of things, but certainly a door-breaking moment – Past Allie probably would have curled up on the tile and cried. I am finally growing up.
…Although the first thing I did after getting free was pour myself a bowl of cereal and turn on Spongebob Squarepants.