Living in London: Chapter 3

Hello – I’m back.

I know I’ve been rather quiet these past few months, but I’m finally sitting at my desk, ready to write. I have a cup of coffee, a camera full of photos, and some bizarre stories to share.

Let’s start with the worst piece of news.

Two weeks ago, my grandmother died.

In the shocking aftermath of her death, my family was left with the bitter task of cleaning out her apartment. Although my dad and aunts handled the grunt-work, each of the cousins (and I have a lot of cousins) visited the apartment at some point or another.

While wandering through her home – a place that had always been filled with color and grace – I kept gravitating towards a lovely floral pillow. My grandmother had stitched it herself. Actually, she had stitched the front image, never bothered to turn it into a pillowcase, and used a pearled pin to attach it to an old pillow.

So really, it was a paltry pillow with my grandmother’s needlepoint attached to the front.

Her stitches were small and exact. Pink, yellow, purple, green, pink, lighter pink, green. When you look too closely, you see nothing but stitches. Minuscule loops of thread in an array of pastels. But when you place it on my grandmother’s couch, where it belongs, the color unfolds as a blossoming flower, not lifelike enough to be real, but too beautiful for nonexistence, so it exists in the abstract, in magical worlds of color and patterns that made sense to The Illustrious Margaret Rogers.

It’s possible I’ve had too much time to think lately – working on your master’s in writing will do that to a person. But the more I stared at that pillow, the more I realized how similar my life has felt lately.

I’ve had stitches or moments or pieces of time, each with its own color and personality, some wonderful, some awful, and all disconnected from one another. While I claim to eschew routine and monotony, I crave at least some normalcy in my life, and since February, very little has made sense. My life has been utterly lacking in continuity. Just individual stitches.

And that’s okay. We all lack continuity sometimes – rarely does life work out quite as seamlessly as we’d like.

But many people have been asking why I haven’t been blogging lately, and I thought rather than simply saying, “My life has been batshit crazy,” I’d opt for a more detailed response. My life has consisted of stitches, or moments, and they’ve all been so different from the last, I haven’t been able to find the time to look at the complete image, reflect, and write. So I’ve been quiet.

To be clear, when I say batshit crazy, I am not exaggerating. On the flight home for my grandmother’s funeral, a man died in his seat behind me. I sat in front of a dead man for seven hours.

A lot has happened.

But a lot of wonderful things have happened as well, and today, for the first time in a while, I actually felt like writing.

I first started blogging out of a simple desire to share the emotional experiences I felt while traveling. At the time, Paris – and the people I knew there – meant something. The feeling was intangible and ephemeral, but I knew it mattered, and I wanted others to experience what I felt. Paris was climbing the rickety stairs of my apartment building after a long day, and sitting by the window to watch la tour Eiffel illuminate the night. Paris was eating kebabs and drinking wine from the bottle on the edge of Canal St. Martin, while nearby Parisians sucked on their cigarettes, so the odd smells of food and smoke and perfume soaked into our scarves and coats. Every day, I seemed to experience something new, something so different from my life back in Wisconsin, I felt the need to capture these emotional moments through writing, so that everyone could experience the city.

And now that life in London has begun to quiet down, I genuinely want to share those kinds of moments with people again. Not the man dying behind me part. I’ll spare you those details.

But the feeling of standing on the back of a Venetian boat, glass of champagne in hand, watching as we passed eroding stone steps, now lost to Venice’s green waters.

20160213-Venice 2

Or standing atop the belfry of Bruges, holding my hands to my ears as the bells clanged beside me, watching the city move slowly – slowly – somehow existing beyond time, where ancient marketplaces and cobbled streets still define this preserved piece of life.

me at bruges tower

Or sunbathing on Primrose Hill while Londoners celebrated the first warm day of the year with relentless enthusiasm (it involved parents drunkenly dashing down the hill in pursuit of hard-boiled eggs while their kids awkwardly stood by and watched).

Those moments, I do want to share.

So thank you for sticking around through the lulls! I’ll soon write more on my recent adventures. And if you’re new to the site, you can check out some more popular posts from the archives here.

Now, onto general London updates…

East London Weird continues to be East London Weird. (But in a good way).

East London Weird

The sun has reminded Londoners of its existence.

Sun!
Sun!

I finally visited Camden Market.

And if you’re in London anytime between now and May 15th, you should check out the Botticelli and Treasures exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery. I spent two hours poring over Botticelli’s sketches and Renaissance manuscripts with a magnifying glass. The nerd in me was happy.

courtauld

London Find of the Month

This really doesn’t count as a “find” given its popularity, but if you’re interested in a nice London walk, I’d recommend Regent’s Canal. On the eastern edge, you’ll find bookshops in boats and pop-up cafés, whereas if you walk west, you’ll find Camden Market and Regent’s Park. Highly recommended for a nice sunny day.

Book of the Month

I’m going to cheat and recommend two books.

One, The Land of Stories. I don’t care if it’s childish. I don’t care if the writing isn’t “perfect.” And I don’t care who mocks me. I love this series.

Chris Colfer (famous Glee actor) has written one of the best fairy tale retellings I’ve ever come across. He’s witty and creative, and the books are perfect to read before falling asleep.

Two, How To Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell

Bakewell’s biography of Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592) far exceeded my expectations. It’s charming, engaging, and filled with the philosophical puzzling that so intrigued Montaigne, a man Bakewell describes as the world’s first blogger. He may not have had a WiFi connection, or even decent plumbing, but his essays indicate a unique obsession with introspection and self-writing that surpassed his time.

Besides, we could all do with some Renaissance advice on how to live, don’t you think?

News

I’m currently in the process of attempting to publish my YA fantasy book. Cue stereotypical agonized writer freakout.

In the meantime, I’ve started writing the second book in the series. If you’d like to know more, message me!

As for my favorite moment lately?

At times, I’ve felt rather overwhelmed by everything that has happened lately. But sitting here, trying to choose a favorite moment, I’ve recalled far too many to pick just one.

Happy in Venice
Happy in Venice

Seeing my family again? Exploring Venice? Sending my finished manuscript to potential agents?

Or maybe, as morbid as this sounds, it was in the middle of my grandmother’s funeral. The pastor mentioned walking through a valley of the shadow of death, and my younger brother turned to me and whispered, “Wanna walk a little faster to that valley there?” Yes – that is a Titanic quote. I hadn’t been able to stop crying all day, but in that instant, I laughed and shook my head at him – the perfect epitome of our relationship. And I suppose if you can smile at your sibling through the awful moments, life really isn’t that bad.

My bizarre collection of moments still might not make sense, but I’m thankful nonetheless. And perhaps ready for a little normalcy.

Until next time!

XO

Alex

Leave a Reply