This is my last official post for now. I wrote this reflective piece on my last day in London. I hope you have enjoyed the journey with me. Tallyho!
Dear Future Self,
Mind the Gap
Pay attention more to the little things. To the things that appear mundane. The smallest details can turn into something big. They can change your perspective on anything.
A month ago when I was preparing to come to London, I was basically stuck in a rut. As a writer, I was always told I was a good writer. The one problem was I did not know how to write. If anyone asked me to do a lesson on how to write, I would not know where to start. My writing was okay, but lately it had become stale and my writing felt forced. I was not prolific at all, to say the least. The most I was doing was writing for my blogs, which I enjoyed. But as for poetry and any other type of writing, my heart was not in it as much. Most of the time it was because I did not know what to write about; I thought I did not have material.
On top of that, I was feeling stifled living with my parents. It is stressful to live with my very religious Christian parents, especially my mother, and barely have any faith in religion at all. Although I have interests in how religions are connected and the spirituality behind them, organized religion frustrates me because of how people in power have used it to control people. Although I love her,it will be hard to try to tell that to my often stubborn mother. It will take a while for me to get the courage to do that. I was feeling suffocated where I was; I needed a breather for a while and I felt this was it.
When I arrived, I was like any other tourist. I wanted to see all the typical sights: Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Eye, the Double Decker buses, and the red telephone booths. The truth was that I did not know that much about the city of London or England besides those places and things, and the several musicians that I enjoyed, like Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Clash, The Who, David Bowie, The Noisettes and Adele. I realized that I knew very little.
Surprisingly, I was just as attracted to the quieter places, the more common objects and people, the relationships I formed and what I could do on my own. Reading Acroyd’s two opening chapters in London: A Biography about the sea and the stones gave us a sense of the basic elements that make up the city not the grand structures we focus on now. Arriving at Queen Mary University, the two spaces that drew me in were the Regents Canal right next to it and the old cemetery with flat tombstones embedded within it. At first sight one might not think it would be interesting, but their placement there was enough interest for me.
On our trips out of the campus, I was surprised by some of the things I did enjoy and some of things I did not enjoy as much. I was not as amazed by the Tower of London nor compelled by most of the other castles. Instead I enjoyed the walk along the River Thames and the two staircases that led to the river. In my research, including a chapter from Ackroyd’s book, I found out about watermen who were like taxi drivers on the river used these. I would have never known that if I did not see those stairs there.
In the shopping and tourist attraction areas, such as, Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden, I immediately took to the street performers, buskers. The tin man, the living statues, the musicians, the dancers, the comedians, and the stunt people were all there. One notable performer was a man at Covent Garden, who was dressed in a red tutu and had three volunteers, two men and a little girl, dressed in tutus also. They hilariously danced to music like Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing.” He also did a juggling trick with two swords and an apple while balancing on top of a board and cylinder. They were the ones who pulled me into the streets around me.
Then there were the moments at the tube stations. Obviously, the first thing a New Yorker would do is to compare it to the subway. Although the tube wins in time efficiency and cleanliness, they do not win when it comes to size, air conditioning and availability after midnight. One time after we went to the British Museum, it was around six in the evening and a crowd was forming outside the train station at Holborn. In New York, the overcrowding usually takes place once you are inside the station. But in London, we waited outside for about half an hour because someone was under the train. We stood there debating whether or not to take a bus when finally they began letting people in. Rush hour here can feel like an inferno when many riders are cramped into the small space of the tube trains and there is no air conditioning. I think I sweated more in there than I did outside walking.
Another time, Stacey, Sunnie, Sabrina and I decided to go for a walk at night in the city. When we were ready to go back to the university, we were not sure which bus to use. It was around midnight, so, we rushed for the central line tube station and we weren’t the only ones. As the announcers broadcasted that this was the last train, hoards of peoples rushed and packed themselves into the trains. I felt like a squished sardine. It is just too much work to travel after midnight in London.
The walks in London were another feat for me. A few weeks before I came, I decided to do a 40-50 block walks around my neighborhood for the exercise, time to think and to test myself. Coming here, we heard Morgan tell us that this is not a walking city; I kind of shrugged it off. I wish my feet believed him. I mean, it is walkable, just not an easy walkable. Walking the Thames Walk from the Tower of London to the Barbican was like a treasure hunt, and that, along with the 311 steps of the monument, the hill at Greenwich, the tor at Glastonbury, and the steps of the tube stations at stops like Russell Square, was equivalent to the feeling Rocky had when he danced at the top of the stairs in the movie.
I live with my parents and I am their only child, so they have babied me a lot. Thus, living in a dorm is a new experience to me. Having to share a flat with other people has not been easy. Sunnie, Stacey and I became friends easily from the start, but the other half of the suite made it harder to live here. It was not that they were mean, but they tended to be inconsiderate of the others who lived with them. The dirty kitchen with the dishes left unwashed for days, the food left out for days on the counter, the loud music and noise at inappropriate times were some of the problems we had to deal with. But eventually the problems began to level off towards the end and now the two sides are at least tolerating each other.
Living on my own, I learned to do things on my own without the feeling of my parents over my shoulder. I did my laundry myself, I made my own meals, I bought my own groceries, and I went where I wanted to go. I did it all on my own. It felt very liberating and something I have to continue when I return home.
As for the classes, getting up five days a week for three-hour classes in addition to readings, writings and touring were overwhelming, and several times I wish I was outside instead of sitting in a stuffy classroom. However, I do love to learn and Morgan, the readings and even myself have taught me a lot. If it were not for this class, I would not have learned the process of writing, the history behind certain places, why Londoners act a certain way, and the history within the readings and movies.
For example, we stayed in East London, near Whitechapel, where Jack the Ripper committed his murders. The reason why every place in London has the “keep fire door shut” sign is that Londoners are still fearful of fire from The Great Fire of 1666. V for Vendetta is based off of Guy Fawkes and his gunpowder plot. All of these small facts were based off of these big events in history that I would have not known about before or even would have bothered to look up.
In the last days of our stay, the London riots broke out. Stacey and I were in our dorms when Sunnie told us how the riots had reached our neighborhood and boys with masks on their faces were breaking the window at the Budgens store near the university and looting it. All night we heard police sirens and the next day, we saw police cars and police on foot in the afternoon. The riots have spread throughout the entire city, fires have destroyed several buildings and clashes between rioters and police have escalated. Many are now thinking how did it come to this. Was it because of the police shooting and killing Mark Duggan or was it something more? All I could think of was an article I read about the riot in which a man said how this had been building up for some time. He spoke about how they had marches two months ago in Scotland Yard and the media and government did not pay attention. “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?” he said. All of this was boiling up and people were not paying attention.
I began to think of a lot of the things we learned during this course. London has survived several destructive events, like the Great Fire and the WWII bombings. Could it survive another one? I thought of the Brixton Riots in 1981, which I learned more about in the Museum of London exhibition, and how riots are breaking out in Brixton again. I thought of The Clash’s song, “London Burning” and how the punk era started out of the youth feeling disillusioned and disenchanted because they had become expendable. Both Stacey and I reflected on the Communist Manifesto, the clashes between classes, and the western economies worsening with the major gap between the rich and poor widening. We also thought of V for Vendetta and Guy Fawkes and how regular people becomes so disgusted with the system that they decide to take matters into their own hands. It was all coming together.
So, I plan to go back to New York and try the same thing we did here in London. A place that I lived in for over 20 years and there is still so much I have not discovered. I will go back and read New York: An Illustrated History, a textbook that I bought a year and a half ago for class, and go from there. Who knows what I will find and maybe through that I can find more opportunities to be able to go further out on my own. Already I formed a connection with Stacey and will be joining her in her Common Ground poetry showcase each month and the café is in my neighborhood. Now that I know how to consciously and actively write better, I will continue to work on becoming a better writer and explore other genres.
There are connections and opportunities everywhere; go and find them. I am learning to understand myself and others around me better.
Stop looking for inspiration to come from something big. Notice everything around you, seize them, and do not take them for granted. Have as what Sean Penn says, “The uncommon thought on the common matter.” Your imagination will take you places.