Wow. So all of that introspective, you-will-see-yourself-in-a-new-way-and-learn-so-much-about-yourself-while-abroad stuff that they talk about? Apparently it’s the real deal.
On Friday night, my friend and I decided that we felt kind of cooped up in Oxford and we needed to get out, so we planned a trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon, the home of the one and only Willy Shakes. It was pretty amazing, not just for the location but also for the time to stare out the window of the train and think, listen to music, and chat about… well, everything from summer camp to our greatest fears.
It was a good thing that my friend knew how to handle the trains and buses here, because I was pretty lost (seems to be a theme). We walked about 30 minutes to the train station, got on a train, got off the train, ran to catch a bus, got off the bus, and got on another train that finally took us to Stratford-Upon-Avon, where our first stop (after passing through a great little market in the square) was Magic Alley.
Magic Alley (http://www.seekthemagic.org) is a magic shop/café/museum that offers a sort of puzzle-solving exploration of their collection of “magical artifacts” from Doctor Who to Harry Potter to Sherlock Holmes (British, much?). Following the story of young Will (time traveller later to become William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright in history), you wander up and down narrow staircases and through dark rooms filled with old books, potions, Weeping Angels, and more, solving clues until you are left with the final puzzle of rearranging words to come up with the secret spell. While apparently most people struggle with this final step and have to ask for help, my friend and I (after spending a good 30 minutes thinking about it way too hard) finally solved it, and made our way downstairs to receive our Diplomas of Wizardry and celebratory butterbeer:
We got to walk by Will’s house:
As well as his grave at the beautiful Holy Trinity Cathedral:
Just by the cathedral was an amazing park (filled with really really cute dogs!!):
(realizing that 90% of the pictures I put up involve either gravestones or parks… you know what? That’s okay. They are gorgeous.)
We had a fantastic dinner at a Mediterranean place, starting with a hummus platter, followed by vegetable moussaka with delicious chips (fries), and ending in one of my all-time favorite desserts, baklava with ice cream, honey drizzled on top. It was heaven. And I forgot to take a picture. I am so sorry. (But also not sorry because then I would just start drooling over the picture and be forever craving baklava and ice cream.)
It was during dinner that we started talking about– well, lots of things, but among them stories. Stories that we created, stories we cared about, stories we were fascinated by. I was reminded of something I had discussed with my tutor earlier in the term. After reading Hemingway and Sylvia Plath, both amazing artists who struggled with depression and ended their own lives, my tutor brought up the problem of how writers often seem to trap themselves in their own narratives, to construct a fiction surrounding their life, define themselves in particular ways, and become as stuck in that self-invented world as much as their characters are forever stuck in their world within the pages of the novel.
I realized that I definitely have a tendency to do this, and I think it is not only a writer’s thing but really quite a common thing. We look to specific experiences and character traits to define ourselves. We pick and choose (consciously or unconsciously) what events we remember as turning points, while other moments– equally impactful– fade from memory. And those we identify as important almost never remain the same over time– we adapt the memory of them to fit our narrative, to create recognizable patterns and meaning.
Oh dear, look at me getting all Englishy and theoretical… What I mean to say is, I realized that sometimes I define myself based strongly on particular life events, often things that I warp, and while I have improved my self-esteem and mentality towards self-care drastically over the last 7 or so years, I still have some ways to go. I am terrified of hurting other people, and I am very quick to blame myself for others’ pain, regardless of how responsible I am. I struggle to lighten up sometimes, and particularly when I’m around new people, I can take things too seriously. I realized I’ve given too much power to some of the negative parts of my narrative, trapping myself in certain patterns and character traits that demand to remain constant. I see them as written in stone, inflexible and inalterable.
I don’t think that composing a narrative for oneself is necessarily bad– in fact, I think it’s kind of an important part of being. But that’s the key– I’m the composer of my narrative. When I’ve developed a really good character, I don’t feel like I dictate their story– they write themselves. Just like them, I’m not trapped in any set narrative, but rather one which I am constantly writing and rewriting. And after all, isn’t the most important part of a story character growth?
I’d like to end this entry on one of my favorite moments of the night. We were talking about stuff on our bucket list, and my friend expressed the desire to experience something no one else had ever experienced. I’ve been thinking about the subjectivity of experience a lot recently (woohoo phenomenology!), and so I responded “Aren’t you necessarily doing that already?”
#mind blown #subjective experience #personal epiphanies #I am the author of my own narrative #writing is rewriting #yay for spontaneous adventures
P.S.- Sunset over the city on our way back to the train station: