When I Left

When I left England, part of me stayed behind.

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.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

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Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience: From Westeros to Boston

Contains spoilers for major moments of HBO’s Game of Thrones s1-6 and the Live Concert Experience. 

Last August, the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience was announced, and, as a diehard fan of both the books and the show, I eagerly scanned the list of dates/venues to see if it was coming to my area. Unfortunately, the closest was Philadelphia on 2/26/17, which is about 2 hours away. I’m unfamiliar with Philly and the date was questionable for my schedule, so I didn’t think I would be able to attend… until I saw the location of the 3/6/17 show, and a lightbulb sparked above my head.

Since I’ve got family/friends in NE and I’m much more familiar with the area, I snagged tickets for the Boston show. Also, because my parents decided to start watching Game of Thrones with me and have spent the past ten or so months getting all caught up,  we made a mini family-vacation out of it and split the expense.

I bought the tickets way back when it was first announced, so by the time March finally rolled around, my excitement levels were at a potential Cleganebowl level. We got to the TD Garden about an hour ahead of time, and  the atmosphere inside the stadium was definitely meant to ramp up the hype-meter. Outside, they had some of the costumes from the show on display, which was a treat to see. There were smoke machines; not terribly intrusive, which set the scene with a light mist. I had gotten tickets for the “middle-ish” area of the stadium, so we had a great view of the screens and the stage… I’d initially gotten seats for one of the ends, but after some research, I called and swapped my seats, and the new ones were significantly better. For a Monday night, the turnout was decent; it wasn’t sold out, but the middle areas were packed, even up in the nosebleeds, and it seemed to me as though the empty seats were all on the ends, where the view of the concert was restricted. But as for the set up, there was a main stage connected to a smaller stage, which the soloists frequently moved to, as well as two smaller satellite stages, so, even if you couldn’t see the main screens from your seat, there was something to look at the entire time. There was an onscreen clock counting down the final minutes before the concert began, and from the moment the lights went down and the orchestra began the “Main Theme” as the Iron Throne materialized through a plume of smoke, I was as excited as Sansa was when she found out she was going to marry Joffrey…. you know, before he had her dad’s head cut off.

After a pleasant introduction by Ramin Djawadi, the creator of the music and themes all GoT fans have grown to love, the next track was an amalgamation of sorts of the character/house themes, as the sigils/banners unfurled from the rafters and the characters appeared in clips on the screen. I may not be a Lannister fan, but I got chills when their theme began; it might be my favorite motif from the series, and listening to it live was equal parts chilling and thrilling. Hearing the audience cheer for their favorite characters/houses and boo for their least favorites (Joff and Ramsay, in particular) was a surreal experience.

A major highlight of the concert was the soloists that composer Ramin Djawadi brought on tour with him; Christine Wu on violin, Cameron Stone on cello, singer Stevvi Alexander, and Pedro Eustache on winds, as well as a couple of others whose names I couldn’t manage to track down on the internet. Christine Wu played a wonderful solo as a “Weirwood Tree” descended and bloomed around her onstage, complete with red leaves raining from the sky, Cameron Stone rocked out on the cello during the Greyjoy number (on a water-soaked platform, no less) and Pedro Eustache played a 14-foot “wildling horn” in the midst of a snow squall during the White Walkers bit. Shockingly, no one went running for the doors when “The Rains of Castamere” (sung by soloist Stevvi Alexander) started, nor when they launched into the Red Wedding (“The Lannisters Send Their Regards”) afterwards. One truly understands what it means to be a fan whilst watching such misery play out onscreen with hundreds of other fans, though they did edit the sequences from the show to show less stabbing (of the back/neck/chest variety) than the full episode. The performance of the soloists/choir also gave those with a poorer vantage point something to watch, including a semi-reenactment of Cersei’s walk of atonement (no actual nudity, obv) and “warring” cello and violin during the sequences from “Battle of the Bastards.” The choir even donned Harpy masks for the relevant number. As someone who could see the screens perfectly well, it was nice to switch my view between stage and screen, and thus experience the entire concert without fearing that I missed anything big.

All in all, it’s hard to peg my favorite moment from the night – I enjoyed every note and each performance. The setlist featured a lot of the big musical and thematic moments of the series, such as the dramatic dragon-hatching ending of season 1, Jon and Ygritte’s doomed romance, and Sam seeing the library in Oldtown for the first time. One of my favorite episodes is season 2’s  penultimate “Blackwater,” so hearing the music live whilst watching the sequences play out onscreen was a treat for my inner fangirl. I also loved soloist Stevvi Alexander’s haunting and beautiful rendition of “The Rains of Castamere,” and her vocals, combined with the talents of a local choir, brought new life and fire to “Mhysa” and various other tracks, such as “The High Sparrow,” “Sons of the Harpy,” and “The Winds of Winter.” Ramin Djawadi also played the dulcimer during the Arya-centric “Needle,” and it gave the song a new, vibrant sound. The “Battle of the Bastards” segment was stellar, and the performance of the orchestra complemented the action-packed scenes of one of the greatest episodes of the series. Hearing the music in person, often with instruments added and the occasional new vocal or twist, also gave me a new appreciation for songs that previously had never stood out to me, such as the Greyjoy themes and Melisandre’s/Stannis’s.

The concert also included special effects aside from the images and scenes on the screens, which enhanced the overall experience and made for a visual feast for most of the concert. My favorite track from the season 6 soundtrack is actually “Reign,” so when the clip of Dany and the Masters played, with our favorite Dragon Queen saying “My reign has just begun,” I was thrilled; but add actual fire into the mix? We were several feet away and could feel the heat when the flames shot into the air. Gosh, it was like Drogon was actually present! Well, not really, but it was an awesome addition to the concert nonetheless. The second major instance was “The Light of the Seven,” the piano-centric track that leads up to Cersei’s act of ultimate vengeance in the final episode of season 6. Djawadi took the piano for this one, on the smaller stage, and as the song reached its peak, he was engulfed by green light and smoke. Thankfully it was all for show, and Djawadi did not suffer the same fate as poor Margaery, Loras, Kevan, and the others in the sept.

As all ride-or-die GoT fans know, the show would not be what it is without the gut-wrenching (and occasionally vindicating) stream of character deaths. After the orchestra finished the  last number, the hype-tastic song used to close out season 6 known as “The Winds of Winter,” Ramin and his band members played “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” while a montage of deceased characters played on the screens. A brilliant way to both close the show and offer a bit of a recap of our heartbreak, misery, and, in some cases, victorious moments over the last six seasons.

One complaint? Not NEARLY enough of the suave and mysterious Jaqen H’ghar/Faceless Man. (I jest, I jest – but he is my fave.)

The Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience was exactly that; an experience, and one I definitely recommend to anyone who is a fan of the show and the music. It’s approximately 2.5 hours of music and action – what’s not to like? I cannot imagine the amount of preparation and precision that went into making this concert, and I left the stadium with an ear-to-ear smile – a testament to what Djawadi has done with this score, and what GoT means to fans of the series. Ramin Djawadi and all those who have brought this concert to life have done an excellent job creating this experience and bringing the music to fans in a new, dynamic way, and I am so thankful I got to see it.

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Worth 1000 Words #5: Our Little Life

In the late spring of 2014, I got to visit every English major’s dream locale; Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare.

I have actually been lucky enough to visit a few literature-based landmarks on my ventures across the pond, including the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Gardens (Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie is one of my all-time favorite novels,) the infamous Platform 9 and 3/4 (though the ‘4’ had partially worn off when I went, so it was more like Platform 9 and 3/1… so Platform 12, I guess,) and the Jane Austen house in Bath. Stateside, I actually attended university in the same city where Dr. Seuss lived, and have seen many tributes to his works, including the famed Mulberry Street. The only place on my list I have left to visit is NZ (Hobbiton and such) and Tolkien’s grave in Oxford, which I did not have time to visit when I was there the last time.

But visiting Stratford is a different experience – more definitive, more meaningful. Because this is Shakespeare, we’re talking about. The MAN. The LEGEND. The BARD.

There is, undoubtedly, a reason that Shakespeare stands virtually unparalleled as perhaps the greatest wordsmith in history. Someone might personally find his writing boring or dull, his poems too florid, his histories tedious, his tragedies overly dramatic. I am especially fond of Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Much Ado About Nothing, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see All’s Well That Ends Well at the Globe Theater in London, plus I adore all of his poetry that I’ve read, and his sonnets are brilliant. However, I would be lying if I said that I like all of his works.

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The OJ and scones at this place are the bomb, btw.

I am not a big
Richard II fan, for instance, and I’ve struggled with reading some of his works in the past, so I guess I’ll never earn a true membership to the Shakespeare fan club.
But regardless of personal opinion, it’s impossible to deny that his influence has left a lasting impression on the literary world. The man paved the way for future literary giants and created stories, characters, words, and plots that continue to color and impact the writing of others to this day, centuries later. His works, from his sonnets to his plays, are still taught because of how dynamic, malleable, and utterly powerful they are, and there are hundreds of adaptations and versions of his work out there for consumption, a testament to his genius. His legacy has endured, and will likely continue to endure, for as long as writers and readers find something resonant in his words, and I wholly believe literature would not be what it is today without him. Besides, we have good ol’ Willie to thank for the words “besmirched,” “dwindle,” and perhaps most importantly,”hobnob.”

Sadly, I was on a time limit when I visited the Shakespeare house in Stratford, but for the brief time I was there, I got to experience quite a bit. Some actors put on a passage of a play (I believe A Midsummer Night’s Dream) for us while we snacked on scones and champagne/OJ, then we got to free-roam around the garden outside and tour the actual house at our leisure, as long as we met at the designated meeting place on time. I also might have shoved a gaggle of rambunctious French schoolchildren out of the way for a photo of Shakespeare’s cradle, but hey, my options were limited. Pardonne moi wasn’t working, their teacher wasn’t wrangling them in, and I wasn’t about to let them stand in my way of that photo op. I also procured a book of sonnets from the gift shop to add to my shelf, right next to my mini-edition of Romeo and Juliet that I bought at the Globe.

Before our tour group departed Stratford, so we could then head off to Bath and Stonehenge by way of the Cotswolds, I got to take a photo (see above) outside of the house. My dad took the photo, and he did not know how to use the zoom on my camera, so that’s why it looks like it was taken from a distance. And I had to crop some obnoxious kids out of the frame. But looking at the photo now, and recalling my visit to the birthplace of the Bard, I have a new perspective.

Being there, and learning about Shakespeare’s life, writings, and his massive accomplishments… it made me feel quite small. Not in a bad way, though. It’s not like I had an existential crisis about my mortality and my writing ability, bemoaning that I’ll never be as talented or leave an untouchable legacy as influential as Shakespeare. Because let’s face it; no one’s ever gonna do that, and for good reason. But that doesn’t mean that such efforts are wasted; that attempts to create beauty are all for naught, when such great lofty heights are impossibly distant. Creativity comes in various forms – small, large, far-reaching, close to the heart.

In this universe, we are all small. But being small isn’t so terrible, especially in a world as immense as ours; in fact, one might say that this great world consists of small things and would not exist without them. Though we may be small, everyone is capable of greatness in some capacity. As the Bard would say,”All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” If we are all players, not everyone will have the same role to play in their life; the spotlight might shine on a deserving star, while someone else is more suited to a side role, or even relegated to the stage crew. But in your own life, your own little life, you have the main role – and the stage is yours. Your role is what you make of it and your path is yours to forge, in your own life and on the world’s stage.

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Worth 1000 Words #4: The Limping Duck

Allow me to tell you a story about The Limping Duck.

It actually sounds like a name for a pub or a tavern of some sort. A cozy, if  eccentric hole in the wall known for attracting curious passersby while managing to land few regulars. I’m sensing a semi-nautical theme, perhaps antique style with a floral touch. In fact, if I ever open a bar (an unlikely scenario), that’s what I’ll call it – The Limping Duck. Alas, this is a tale about an actual limping duck.

During my study abroad trip to England in 2011, my classmates and I visited a beautiful site known as Kew Gardens; a botanical garden abundant in flowers and many other kinds of flora and fauna, which also features different kinds of glasshouses, conservatories, and other ornamental/historical buildings. In a previous blog post, I discussed my frolicking experiences in Kew Gardens. Needless to say, it is a brilliant and effective frolicking location, and it is well worth a visit. If you are a tourist, I definitely recommend checking it out.

Kew Gardens is also home to a lot of avian creatures- and if I’m remembering correctly, several kinds of waterfowl in particular. While scrolling back through my pictures, I spotted a heron or two, numerous geese, and what might have been a loon. But the most memorable of these creatures is the limping duck.

Our jaunt to Kew Gardens was a relaxed one; we were about to enter the Creative Writing portion of the course, but we were in a sort of in-between period. The study abroad trip was actually divided into two sessions, so students could either take one section of two classes (either the first session or second session, whichever they wanted) or they could take both sections for a total of four classes, and, essentially, a full semester of credit. I took both sessions, so while the students who elected to take only the first session were on their way home to the states and the second session students were arriving, we set off for Kew Gardens and a day of sight-seeing and picture-taking and, in my case, leaping across the grass with wild abandon.

A few of my friends and I encountered the limping duck on what I believe is the Sackler Crossing; a lovely bridge connecting two parts of the gardens. The bridge wasn’t super busy on this day, so it was easy to notice a tiny, feathered straggler as he hobbled his way across the planks.

The duck was easy to notice because of the slight hiccup in his step, though most of the other garden-goers didn’t seem to give it much notice. Because the plights of injured/disabled animals make me emotional, I immediately commented on it to my friends, saying something to the effect of “OMGGGGG loooooook!” After stepping a bit closer, I realized that one of the duck’s feet was turned inward; possibly the result of injury, and the likely source of the limp. It was just plucking its way across the bridge, letting out some quacks, hobbling at a slow, but persistent pace.

My first reaction was to feel bad for the little duck. I mean…. ducks have enough to deal with as it is without having to limp their way through life. Inferiority complexes about geese. Having to scrounge for food amidst lake-weed and pond scum and beg for bread crumbs from sympathetic passersby. Bad feather days. Turf wars with the local loons. You know… typical duck problems.

The duck also reminded me of a goose I came across many years before. I know that sounds weird… most people are not personally acquainted with geese. Because geese are mean. Seriously. Have you ever heard a goose hiss? As someone who has been wrongfully pursued by an angry, spitting goose, it is an unpleasant experience and I do not recommend it. I think the only waterfowl meaner than geese are swans. Swans are jerks. Beautiful, snooty jerks.

There’s a restaurant in my area that has a sort of weird creek/river/pond behind it, and a nearby shop used to sell food/pellets (or something of that nature) to feed to the ducks and geese that hung out there. It’s unfortunately not a real “sylvan” area… so, because the geese chill in the area before flying off for the winter, there are “goose crossing” signs by the side of the road. I’ve nearly been late to work a couple of times waiting for the horde to honk their merry way across the street.

One goose remained for several seasons – a goose with a broken wing. Every time I saw it shuffling around, I felt bad for it. It couldn’t fly off with the others, and I’m not sure if someone took care of it while the rest of the flock left each winter, but it was around for quite a long time, with its crooked wing jutting out perpetually to the side. It couldn’t fly, but it persisted. Pretty sure it got hit by a car at some point, but it wasn’t the broken wing that did the goose in; just a lack of being able to look both ways. It didn’t let a handicap get it down and it lived on despite its wound.

My initial reaction to the limping duck was one of pity, as well – but it quickly turned to something else. Because while the duck’s handicap bit at my heart, the duck itself chugged along like nothing was wrong and quacked at passing folks as though to greet them and welcome them to the gardens. Eventually, it made its way down to the water and swam off beside some other ducks. The limp didn’t seem to affect its swimming as badly as it impacted its waddling.

Pity became admiration, because if a little limping duck can find a place in this world and make it work despite unfortunate circumstances, when things start to get rough or bleak, what excuse do I have?

 

 

 

 

Worth 1000 Words #1: Frolicking

248619_10150287907168132_5808987_nIn 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.