nothing to do; nowhere to be.

The idea of nothing to do and nowhere to be should be revered, not feared.

At first, the preparation genius in me twitched uncomfortably at the lack of planning that was put into the spring break trip to Moab, Utah that I joined up with rather last minute. From figuring out which route to take once we were already bolting down Hamilton, Starbucks in hand, to getting directions for a free campsite texted to us hours before our arrival to stopping at an abandoned playground on our way south to the general lazy consensuses that were agreed upon in the early morning sun that determined what, exactly, we would be doing that day.

In truth, I didn’t mind so much that the group hadn’t made any plans, but more I wondered how I was expected to soothe the little voices in my head that like to be told what to do and where to go so that they can know how exactly they should prepare for the experiences in front of them. One side of me rationed that it wasn’t worth it to worry about things that will surely happen, one way or the other, while the other side rashly bleated that it needed to know everything now – and it means now – so that it can prep and devise and write scripts for itself in anticipation of the known plan.

As I went through the week, however, I noticed that the rash and bleating side of me subsided and allowed room for a certain kind of graceful silence and peace to take the reins. There was a definite loveliness to our spontaneous plans made in the morning over a pancake breakfast and between sips of coffee. There was something liberating about not having plans, classes to skip off to, papers to write, agendas filled to the brim with scribbled due dates and page numbers.

This all seems rather obvious and I admit, I feel almost foolish typing it out on paper for the prying eyes of Bulletin readers to laugh and point – but I have grown to rely on the stringent schedules and the busy(-ish) lifestyle to keep my mind subdued and unthinking about the realities that life could usher in for me. While I spent my time adhering to deadlines and agendas, thinking that I was busying myself to prepare for (and subsequently not think about) my impending future, I didn’t even realise that I was also shutting out the unacknowledged beauty of an empty agenda. My university state of mind congratulated me when I was busy and stressed and admonished me when I had nothing at all to do for a day – leaving me no choice but to appease the part of me that pats my back when I’m stuffed in the library on a sunny day, catching up with what my agenda says I should have done already.

I find it funny, because this seems to be a lesson that I must learn and relearn. Perhaps planning is in my bones or simply handed down to me from a line of prodigious preparers, it does not seem to matter much. I like planning even though I’ve learnt, over and over again, that freedom and discovery and learning most often comes from plans thought up two seconds ago rather than two months ago.

Even more interesting is that I am always happy to slide into the idea of unplanned occurrences only after a legion of arguments and pouty attitudes rage through my head for a couple of cross-armed-days. I can never just look at an empty schedule or hear that the plan is to play it by ear (so the plan is that there is no plan?) without making inner snarky comments (as observed above) or having a minor eye-widening paralysis where I can help but think, “What now?”

I suppose it is my lot in life to keep relearning this important lesson: that having nowhere to go and nothing to do and nobody to see is something to be revered, cherished and anticipated rather than feared, shied away from or hidden by an invented busy lifestyle and filled up agenda pages. Instead of looking ahead with fear and trepidation at an unsolved next step, I must learn to see an empty page not as an enemy to be filled with meaningless clutter, but as a gift to be written on in due time, with various unplanned presents, lessons and adventures waiting for me and my white blank page.

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To London: a ballad of love and doubt

I had never believed in love at first sight. But in 2009, I went to London. And it reinforced these beliefs. My time there as a mere sophomore in high school was rotten in my eyes – the weather was blisteringly hot, our location was less than ideal and I was more focused on what I was missing out on at home rather than was I could have been experiencing in London.

Always the believer in second chances, I revisited the idea of London as the greatest city in the world a bit later on in 2012. While this trip included milder conditions, a more posh locale and less worries about the folks back home, the city still failed to wow me like I had been promised to be wowed – where was the glamorous dirt and grime, the tenuous balance of beauty and grotesque, the old and new twisting together to form one unique city?

Then I came here for a third time. This is when I fell in love. This is when I was here long enough to spot all of the beauty and all of the terrible in one walk to work. When I could sort out the best and the worst and choose to focus on the best, relying on the worst to make the best appear better. This is where I dove deep into a city that was begging to be tapped into. Where friends and arts and culture waited for me to get beyond the sightseeing and spectacle gazing and oohing and ahhing and to delve deeply into the joys that come from late buses and rainy walks and delayed Tube lines.

And now I’m back for a fourth time.

I am here on business, taking a weeklong break from school to learn through meetings and dealings and interactions rather than through PowerPoint slides and hour-long lectures.

I’ll admit, I was a bit wary to be coming back to this place that gave me so much my last time. I learned quite a lot here and I was almost scared that I would return to find a city that was just that – a city. A place that held so much magic because of who I was with and what I was doing, not because of what it actually was in and of itself.

Luckily, I was wrong.

The moment I stepped off of the plane and walked the long and tiring walk to customs, I couldn’t wipe this goofy grin off of my face because I could feel it in my swollen feet all the way up to my ruffled hair – the feeling that this city is as electric as I had known it to be since the very first time I saw London for what it was, the beautiful mixture of old and new, of grime and splendour. So as soon as I reached the hotel, I dumped my stuff into my room, took a quick shower and immediately hopped back onto the London streets and explored my new surroundings.

Red double-deckers rushed by, small cars honked incessantly at each other and at pedestrians, dogs pulled at the leases of their wary owners, struggling to juggle their pets and their lattes. I couldn’t help but smile as I waited to cross the road and cars whirled by, refusing to stop for the lone pedestrian, when to think that at school, cars would come to a quick halt to accommodate the harried student on their way to class.

I don’t know why, but I loved the whooshing of the cars speeding by, ignorant to my waiting for a clear path. It made me feel like a distinct part of the city, not stopping or slowing anything down, a part of something whole, like partners working together in a synchronised dance that welcomed anybody ready to curtsey and bow as directed to keep the music flowing.

While I am only here for five days before I jet off to Frankfurt, I need only the fervent and passionate melody that I hear as I walk the streets of London to reinforce the tale that I sing back to the city – adding to the music, adding to the story.

how to summarise?

The last of the fourteen columns that I wrote for my school newspaper during the Spring 2013 semester from London.

LONDON – I worried, fretted, thought about backing out. Wondered how easy it would be to kindly ask for my visa back. Knew I had to go.

Went.

Met my future best friends on the first night. Almost all got run over by a car coming from our right instead of from our left. We were leaving McDonald’s. Oops.

Did touristy things. Wondered if I’d ever have alone time. Had alone time. Didn’t like it when I was alone. That was different.

Thought about how long four months is. Planned trips with my new best friends. Went on trips with my new best friends. Cooked in the kitchen with my new best friends. Sung in the kitchen with my new best friends. Drank in the kitchen with my new best friends. Cried in the kitchen with my new best friends. Four months can be short too.

Longed for when I could start my internship. Tapped my toes impatiently. Started my internship. Wondered where all my free time went. Found out what next year is going to be like. Tried to stop time. Time can’t be stopped.

Found out my friends and I have the sleeping patterns of our grandparents. Discovered we were okay with this. Talked about life, experience, the future. Tried not to think about the very near future.

Three months can be short too.

Crossed my weeks off until work would be over. Realized I was counting down until London was over. Stopped crossing off weeks.

Introduced my new best friends to my home best friend. Thought about how people are the same all over the world. Wondered why we have to be separated by things like time, distance, religion, prejudice. Still haven’t found the answer.

Started replacing Zs with Ss in words like ‘realise’. Changed my settings to British English. No more red lines. Realised I had shin splints from walking to work every morning. Thought about how I drove three blocks to Safeway last semester. Resolved to walk more. And buy more comfortable shoes.

Flourished at work. Found that my eyes were clouded when looking at myself. Learned to accept compliments. And give them too. Saw that confidence drives success. Puffed my chest out. Got pooped on. Kept my chest where it should be. Saw that humility actually drives success. Didn’t get pooped on again.

Went to a work party. They ordered too much champagne. Stumbled home from a work party. Saw them all through my sunglasses the next morning. They offered me their Advil. Wished I could take back the crossed off weeks.

One month is a short time.

Talked with my friends about things we still need to do. Didn’t do them. Instead did stupid things with my friends. Wondered if I was getting the “full” study abroad experience. Turned on my iTunes. “It’s not where I am, it’s who I’m with”. Didn’t wonder anymore.

Last day of work. Had a picnic and talked about my future. Realised the picture I’ve been painting for 21 years has been erased. Found out I’m okay with that. Learned to embrace it. Thought about painting London there next. But a year is a long way away. It’s goodbye for now. Who’d have thought work could be so fun?

Travelled too much. Packed too much in my backpack. Packed too much in my schedule. Time raced away from me. Tried living in the past and in the future. Found out that the present is the only place to be. Time slowed down. Life is bittersweet.

And a week is too short.

Or is it?

Soon, London won’t be my home. Soon, I won’t be surrounded by my new friends. Soon, my Google app will call Spokane my home and my iPhone will call Pacific my time zone. Soon, I’ll get to climb again. Soon, I’ll cry when I think about my new friends. Soon, I’ll long for London. Soon. But not now.

Now, I live.

You can’t be what you can’t see

Why living and working abroad is important

LONDON – As my loyal readers (my dad and my cat) will know, I have spent the past eight weeks working at an arts marketing firm in Southeast London acting as an intern and second pair of hands for the five person crew.

Since being brought on mid-February, I’ve had the opportunity to live tweet the launch of a UK-wide project, draw up a consultancy brief for an up-and-coming client, offer my views on event names and attend meetings for large-scale projects.

And to think that on my first day, I was stressing out about messing up their tea.

Before I came abroad, I thought I’d pieced the puzzle together. Everything seemed to line up – what I wanted to do, where I wanted to live, how my future would probably play out. It was neat and tidy and, in my mind, there was definitely a pretty little bow on top.

That was, until I started work at The Cogency. Led by two powerhouse women, the five person arts marketing company takes on projects that a huge corporation would cower over. But “I can’t” simply isn’t in The Cogency’s vernacular. Except maybe, “I can’t resist another cup of coffee”. Seriously, the coffee is overflowing there.

As you can imagine, it was a pretty intimidating office to waltz into.

But quite contradictorily, I was suddenly laden with the thought of “I can’t” after my first harried week of work. I’d never worked in the arts before, much less in arts marketing, much less in the arts capital of the world! How am I supposed to know how to advise clients on what they should and should not do? How is my view valid amidst my dedicated and intellectual coworkers? How is some 21-year-old small town American undergraduate qualified to be working and living in London?

And what if I mess up their tea?

However, I signed a contract that solidified my eight-week commitment in cold hard legality, so I ignored my feelings of inferiority and allowed myself to become a part of The Cogency team – eliminating “I can’t” from my vocabulary and thoughts.

And now here I sit, finished with my time at The Cogency and wondering where I would have been had I had the freedom to walk out of the door. Probably back where I was before – thinking that my puzzle was perfectly arranged, painting glue over it to seal it in all its puzzling perfection.

To work abroad is to shine a light on a darkness that you didn’t even know was there.

After my time at The Cogency, my puzzle pieces are scattered about – lost in unknown imaginations and possibilities. And that’s just the way I like it. If I’ve learned anything from my time here, it’s that there is no possible way of nailing down fate.

Every plan and vision and idea is just a human attempt at making sense of the real confusion that is the future. It’s only natural. But the real fun rests in the knowledge that you shouldn’t even try to figure it out – you’ll probably end up restlessly searching for invisible pieces while the reality sits in front of you, waiting to be put together.

My semester working in London has left me more confused than when I came. I don’t know where I want to live or work or travel. I don’t know what I want in the next year or five or ten. And I don’t think that I should be trying to find that out.

The future will always be the future but the present only happens once before it becomes the past.

So I’ll be happy with my constantly ruined puzzle, piecing things together only to have them scattered again. It’s like a game – one that rewards those with patience, open mindedness and not a bottle of glue in sight.

stubbornness abroad

PRAGUE – It’s three o’clock in the morning and I’m sitting on the curb of a deserted street in Prague – backpack beside me, friends to my right, river below me. And there is a smile on my face. Maybe it was the delirium setting in, but there was indisputably a smile there.

Rewind to nine o’clock. My friends and I sit divided in our hostel room. It has never happened to us, but we are in disagreement about how to carry on with our night. Tensions rose and eventually we set out of our hostel door with no plans and heightened sensitivity.

We walk the cobblestoned streets and talk like strangers. Eventually, we say nothing at all. It’s my last night in Prague and I have to catch a bus at three o’clock in the morning – so no clubs for me. Or pubs. Or anything alcohol-related. But still we follow our friends who didn’t have our unfortunate flight time on a pub-crawl.

It started out predictably sketchy – an alleyway meet up with a middle-aged dude whose English is shaky at best followed by a five-minute walk to a smoky pub.

I’m still holding on to my resistance to this plan. I am almost determined to not have fun – to be the martyr of The Night Out, living proof that nothing good is to come from the events of this night.

But then I thought about those words that are flashing across my mind. I am actively snubbing fun, enjoyment, Prague – I am consciously making a decision to ruin my night to prove that these plans would ruin my night.

How backwards is that?

My hand was clenched around what I wanted, what I thought was right, what I, I, I… So much so that I couldn’t grasp anything else. Holding on to my stubbornness wasn’t going to make my night any better. So I decided to let it go (cue readers to start singing “Let It Go” in their head…) and see what this night in Prague held for me.

It started out with an overly drunk guy waddling over to our table and hitting on an engaged friend and ended in a five-story club dancing to eighties hits with my raincoat tied around my waist like the 2000s never happened.

We walked the Prague streets – through historical squares, past ancient clock towers, over legendary bridges – thinking not of a plan or what we wanted to do or anything else except the fun that can be had between good friends.

Joy knows no circumstance. It is wherever you want it to be, so long as you choose to look for it. Had I stuck to my stubborn ways, the drunk guy would have been too annoying to be funny and the club would have been too loud to be able to stand.

But it didn’t end up like that. I ended up having the time of my life doing things that could have gone either way – and they didn’t go the wrong way because of luck or circumstance or coincidence, but because of a personal choice to readjust my outlook on the events playing out in front of me.

It’s three o’clock in the morning and I’m on a curb in Prague waiting for the bus that comes in fifteen minutes. It starts to rain. My friends and I look at each other and laugh. We’re in Prague, we just danced on a disco floor to the Macarena, we have a flight back to our home in London. Why hold onto something when you can reach for so much more?

My hands unclench and open up to the world of possibilities.

a weighty issue

LONDON – “And they say English food isn’t good.” We think we’re being hilarious, defying the widely held belief by stuffing our faces full of perfectly delicious English food. Fish and chips, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, with the added diversity of London ushering dishes from India, Lebanon, Holland, France, Spain, Italy…In short, you can trust me when I say that the food here is utterly divine.

And twelve weeks in I can tell you something else about it. Something we all whisper about when our friends go abroad and what all of us over here joke about, pout about, fret about, eventually decide to do nothing about.

Pounds. And I’m not talking about the currency.

At first, I tried to ignore it. Then I was justifying it – “it is my second week abroad, after all”. And slowly, slowly I couldn’t ignore it anymore. My jeans were getting decidedly smaller and belt notches had to be reversed.

As with most things, it was joked about a lot. But underneath my self-conscious jokes lay real anxiety. My lifestyle had been completely uprooted when I came across the pond. I’d climb often and do yoga twice or so a week, had an entire gym and riverside trail at my disposal, my meals were well planned out, and I had a comfortable university schedule, complete with a car, a ten minute walk from home to classes, the works.

But that kind of activity simply couldn’t be kept up here. A gym membership was £40 a month, a climbing one similar. I didn’t even bother looking at the prices of yoga classes in my posh Chelsea neighborhood.

To be fair, I did try to be active when I got past the “denial” stage. I’d do yoga from a free app on my iPhone (thanks, Starbucks!) and climb at a place that took me an hour to get to and cost me £7 each time I went.

But every time I’d have to block out time to climb or do yoga, I’d be missing out on a fun London trip with my newfound friends. It was a choice between fitness and friends. And I chose friendship. I chose experiences and sightseeing and discovery.

That choice didn’t come without a cost. As vain as it sounds, gaining weight isn’t an easy thing to come to terms with. And it’s something that we’ve been taught to fear – tainting occasions such as going to college with labels like the ever-ominous Freshman Fifteen.

But I didn’t choose to study abroad to be comfortable or to have an easy path. I wanted a challenge and I got it. Even if it is my own mindset.

As I see it, London is a town marinated in culture – it is all around. From the narrow towering town houses to the gold covered statues to the hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant with specials on weekdays from 5-8. Culture is not merely holed up in a museum or encrusted in sculptures, it lives and breathes and, coincidentally, eats on the streets of London.

To truly live here, to call this place my home, I found I have to treat each inch and pound as a souvenir.

Because, really, it is.

What is the St. Patrick’s Day parade without a Guinness or two (or three) or a hard day of work without a biscuit to dip in my tea at tea time or a football match at the local pub without a cold pint to accompany me as I pretend to understand what’s going on? What is a stroll through Borough Market without picking up a sample or two (or three) or a day walking in the rare London sun without an iced coffee from our favorite French café or a visit to Shoreditch without checking out its frenzied food stalls?

To fret and worry and stress about a couple of extra pounds is to deny myself a true cultural experience. And while I’ve managed to find more balance here – I do try to use that yoga app after work – I don’t tie myself to it over an experience that can truly only be seized here and now and with the people that I’m with.

Friendship, culture, life is more important that an inch or two (or three). I promise.

shit happens.

in battersea park, luckily not being favoured by the bird population.

in battersea park, luckily not being favoured by the bird population.

LONDON – Well it finally happened. I’ve been trying to calculate what the odds were that I could pass through the city without it happening to me. I guess I can put away my calculator watch, because it has happened.

 

That’s right, on Thursday a bird pooped on me. Twice. On my way to work.

 

In a cruel twist of British irony, I had begun that day with a simple epiphany: that mindset can guide your day to be whatever you want it to be. Life is life but your experience is your outlook upon life’s happenings.

 

So onward I marched to work – bumbling my way through the shaky Tube, tripping up steps, tripping down steps, purposefully directing my thoughts toward the positive. And in response, the things that usually cause me to scowl brought a smile to my face. The sun was shining and I was singing – a little louder than usual, which drew stares. But hey, I was thinking positively. And the results were grand.

 

Bring it on, I dared the world.

 

And promptly, the world responded. With a quick splat, my entire mantra was brought into question. My experiment of sorts was brought to its crux. The hilarity of it all overwhelmed me and I laughed under the bird-filled tree in the empty walkway to work.

 

“It’s good luck!” A straight-faced passerby yelled to me, “Think of it as a good omen.”

 

With this in mind, I went to work, washed off thoroughly, and went about my day – periodically laughing at the absurdity of my morning.

 

This, I’ve come to learn, is a symptom of London culture. People simply don’t take things personally here. It’s smart, really. If you latched on to everything that could ruin your day, every day here would be a nightmare.

 

When you travel on a stuffed-to-the-brim Tube to get to work every morning and have to navigate across honking streets with cars that don’t stop, taking things personally is a doomed path to take.

 

It explains why, when I walked into the office with white streaks down my front and in my hair, my coworkers barely gave pause. When I told them the (what I thought was) hilarious and exciting story, the thrilling conclusion was not met with shocked gasps and exclamations of, “No way!” As it would have been in any self-respecting American office, but rather with casual stories of their own under-bird misfortunes around London’s best known landmarks.

 

Apparently, getting pooped on is just another bit of London life. Much like being perennially delayed on the District line, getting caught in the rain without an umbrella, or realizing that tights are a mandatory part of the British wardrobe even in 65-degree weather.

 

As they say in the edited-for-TV version of Forrest Gump, “Stuff happens.”

 

While studying abroad, it’s easy to get caught up in the rollercoaster of emotions that encapsulate your experiences. It’s easy to forget that stuff just…happens and that it’s not personally aimed to destroy your day. Forgetting this fact seems to be an art perfected by sensitive Americans and, as a result, perfectly good days can be ruined by a stranger’s glance, a malfunctioning iPhone, a bird pooping on your head.

 

This city is full of beauty and beasts alike. The key is to not take the beasts too seriously.

 

After all, it’s not personal – it’s London.

Friendships abroad.

MARCH 2014

20140121-152655.jpg

LONDON — It’s a strange thing, making friends abroad. There is, quite literally, a ticking clock counting down the days until your only contact with these people is via Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. It’s depressing and whenever one of us mulls over the idea, we quickly shush them and go on living in forgotten frenzy.

When I left Spokane, I’ve come to find, I left more than a city. I left familiarity and family. I left friends who knew what I was thinking with just a glance. I left behind hours spent laughing, days spent lounging, months spent trying to find Spokane’s hidden treasures.

And after 10 hours on a plane, it was all gone.

I stood in Heathrow Airport, alone and small, and felt a rush of independence. Fear soon followed. The knowledge that I knew nobody here and that nobody here knew me was enough to make me want to run back onto the plane and beg them to take me back to what I knew.

But border security already let me through. No going back now.

I waited at the baggage carousel and let the prospect of making new friends weigh me down. I mean, truly, it is a very daunting task. Fake laughter, fake questions, worrying about first impressions, then after you bomb those, worrying about how you can redeem yourself the second time around.

It was only until I was thrown into the tourist-tour-extravaganza of an orientation that I realized that I didn’t leave anything behind in Spokane. A plane ride doesn’t make experiences had and laughs laughed disappear. Those are pieces that have added to the whole of me, but surely there’s room for more. Even my old friends had to once be new.

And so, with my new pack of friends, I tromped around London taking pictures, singing songs about Stonehenge, laughing at yaks, complaining about classes, running to Waitrose to get food and drinks for late-night kitchen parties. I was building around me the familiarities of friendship.

But, as I said earlier, friendship abroad is a strange thing. I knew that the days spent getting closer and closer with them was also time inching closer and closer to another 10-hour plane ride leaving behind these new additions to my life.

I tried to think of solutions. So I looked at costs of planes. Strike one. Three-day road trip, anyone? Strike two. How about everyone just transfers to GU! OK, strike three. I felt like that mouse in Cinderella that tries to stuff as much corn into his mouth as possible only to lose it all. Fine, I know that his name is Gus-Gus. I felt like Gus-Gus.

And then I found it – the perfect solution. I was reading “The Screwtape Letters” on my lunch break at work and a piece of it practically jumped out at me: “Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; only fear, avarice, lust and ambition look ahead.”

The way to love my new friends is not to live in the future, trying to solve the unsolvable and worrying about the unchangeable. Love is living with no preoccupations. Love is ignoring the tick-tock of the four-month clock. Love is singing along to ’80s songs in the kitchen oblivious to the existence of anything else in this world but that kitchen, those songs, and these people.

The friendships that I’ve made here won’t disappear after that 10-hour flight home. They’ll come out in stories and memories and pictures. And with gratitude I’ll look back on these moments, with love I’ll bring them into my present life, with love I’ll refuse to look ahead.

To love is to live.

London Bridge is falling down.

MARCH 2014

Flowers in the springtime on my walk to work.

Flowers in the springtime on my walk to work.

LONDON – I walked through the garden on my way to work and breathed in deeply, steeling myself for another eight-hour day. I inhaled. The usual scents of car exhaust and cold weather weren’t there. I inhaled again. Spring. Light and floral mixed with a deeper hint of forested musk. I looked around me and noticed cherry blossoms in bloom, purple sprouts peeking out of the green earth, families walking about with nowhere particular in mind.

 

It fell upon me like the first drop of spring. The beauty of it all, the innocence, the joy. It was enough to buoy me through my research-laden day and have me skipping all the way home.

 

Spring has sprung! I excitedly thought as I lay down at the end of my day. Spring has sprung! I sang as my eyes closed for another night’s sleep. Spring has sprung! I dreamt the whole night through.

 

And just as quickly, spring rescinded its floral promise as I looked out of my window the next morning to a chilly, frosted picture of King’s Road. I buttoned up my winter coat and headed out into the honking mess.

 

This, I have come to learn, is the story of London.

 

Throughout London’s massive history – dating back to 43 AD – it has been thought of as a city of contradictions. It has known both glory and shame, peace and revolt, rain and fire. And its citizens reflect this same fluidity – often combating tragedy with humor and finding beauty amid the dirt and grime of the reality of their city.

 

In my British Contemporary Culture class the other day, we watched a BBC film called A Picture of London (2012). It explored London through the centuries and found a common pattern seen in people’s reactions to the city.

 

Time and time again, beauty was found artificially – forced upon London in inaccurate paintings or romanticized writings about her. Every time the city found itself in ruins, grand plans of restructure and order were put into place. And every time, London resisted and narrow twisty streets, dark gothic buildings, and chaotic markets thrived while orderly architect’s designs withered out of sight and mind. True beauty, the film finds, is borne of the city’s unplanned and muddled nature.

 

While watching the film, I was reminded of Victor Hugo’s Preface to Cromwell in which Hugo states that “it is of the fruitful union of the grotesque and the sublime types that modern genius is born”. He means to prove that the grotesque things in life, the evil, the horrific, the ugly, are not merely parts of life – they are necessary for beauty to exist at all.

 

Without the dirt and grime and muddle of London, its beauty would cease to exist as well.

 

The picture of London is this, then: a delicate balance of the sublime and the grotesque. Beauty is at the mercy of the ugly. Had I not have smelt car exhaust and cold weather for two months, the beautiful moment of spring could not have given me so much joy and warmth.

 

This story weaves throughout London and now that I’m privy to it, I see it. Complaining about late busses makes the on time ones feel like a special surprise. Grumbling about the rain makes the sun seem brighter and feel warmer. Thinking, “Why am I not in a pub right now?” makes being in the pub that much better. Or maybe it’s just the beer.

 

Nonetheless, this story of London is still being written, and now I am a contributor. This is a city that I call my home – even if I only occupy about 15 feet and 4 months of it. It is with this in mind that I press onward, embracing the ugliness in the beautiful and the sublime in the grotesque.

 

That is what London is. That is what life is.