Tales from London

So I’ve decided to cheat a little bit and repost an entry from one of my other blogs. I’ve been extremely busy lately, and thus unable to update my blog as often as I’d like. I’ve recently been hired by a mortgage company, and the starting date is Monday. Hooray for employment! In any case, this was a blog I wrote while I was in London. Enjoy!

Written Feb. 17th, 2012 in London, England

Hey everyone! Today I’m going to write about something a little different. Instead of detailing what I’ve been up to, I’m going to blog about something I’ve learned.

I’ll go over what I’ve been doing briefly. I’ve spent the majority of my time studying for school, of course. This term seems to be going by so much faster than the last one! I’m already almost halfway through! This next week is Reading Week, which means that I won’t have classes. I’ve only had two outings these past few weeks that are of interest. I went with my friend Raney to see “The Importance of Being Ernest” at the Royal Haymarket Theatre. It was an amusing play — most Oscar Wilde plays are. The director made some interesting staging choices, combining a modern set design with Victorian costumes. I also went with my friend Esmond to a place called Merton Abbey Mills, a very small and extremely old market town on the outskirts of London. There is an old building, formerly a water mill, situated on the banks of a small river. Its old water wheel is still intact, and spins flawlessly! It is now used as a pottery store, and the plain wood interior (complete with noisy spinning water wheel) is very quaint. Esmond and I had lunch at a rustic cafe, strolled passed the unique little shops, walked across the river to observe the animals at a local farm, and then had drinks at the local pub, which is also right next to the river. I had a lot of fun!

This afternoon I decided to explore the South Bank of the Thames. I already live on the South Bank, but I’ve spent the majority of my time exploring the North Bank of the Thames. The North Bank is where my school is located, as well as many of London’s most well-known monuments (St. Paul’s, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, etc.) It turns out that the South Bank has many interesting place to explore that I had never even noticed before. There are many shops – some of them tiny art galleries – and restaurants. There is a weekend carnival that has multi-colored children’s rides and carousels located directly underneath the London Eye. There is a cool concrete area, completely covered in graffiti, that young boys use to skateboard. There is also a small book fair where they sell used books. It is here that I made a very interesting discovery. While rummaging through the piles of books, I came across a section that had some vintage collections. And when I say vintage, I mean very old books, published more than one hundred years ago. I found a book full of old journal articles called the “Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal,” which had originally been published in 1853. It smelled musty and had yellowing pages, but the black cover and spine were still surprisingly strong, so I bought it. It was only £10 – a deal you could only find in Europe, where hundred-year-old antiques are commonplace. I wanted to learn more about the book I had just bought, so I did some research. Here’s what I found out:

The Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal was founded by brothers William and Robert Chambers in 1832. It’s basically an old newspaper/magazine that was originally published in Edinburgh, Scotland, and then later moved to publish in London. The journal ended up lasting for over one hundred years, from 1832 to 1956. Much like newspapers today, the Edinburgh Journals were published on a weekly basis — every Saturday, to be exact — and would probably have been purchased at a newsstand or stall. Each journal is sixteen pages long and contains an eclectic mix of articles — art reviews, book reviews, moral essays, travel writing, popular science, short stories, and poetry. There is even an index at the beginning of the book that lists all the articles by subject. If I had to give the modern equivalent, I would say that the Edinburgh Journals is a cross between a newspaper and a magazine, as it provides both entertainment and information for its readers. The book I bought contains all the journals that were published from July to December of 1852. The pages are yellow and the binding is a bit ratty, but it is otherwise in fantastic condition and is very easy to read. I love history and literature, so I am ecstatic about my new purchase! I’ve already starting reading the first journal (published Saturday, July 3, 1852). The first article is a review of several art galleries in London, and the review is called “The Art Season”. You can imagine my surprise when I happened to read the title of the second article: “Bill Williams: A Story of California.” How awesome is that! This was a piece of travel writing about a group of men from Manchester who sailed to California in search of gold. They at first landed in San Francisco, then sailed down to Sacramento, where they were planning on digging for gold. Among other things, it gives a description of what Sacramento looked like in 1852:

“…at length, we reached the new town, the golden city, which takes its name from the river, christened in old times of Spanish voyaging by some discoverer for his Catholic majesty…When I first saw it, it consisted of some hundred huts and tents, a large frame-house, in which an advertising board informed us there was an ordinary, a gaming-table, and all manner of spirits. And there was a timber wharf, somewhat temporarily put together, at which we landed. Yet the city was rising, as cities rise only in the western hemisphere: broad streets and squares were marked out; building was going forward on all sides; while bullock-wagons, canoes, and steamers brought materials by land and water. The enterprise and vagrancy of all nations were there, as we had seen them at San Francisco; and those not engaged in building the town, were going off in caravans to the gold-gathering.”  

Isn’t that amazing! I’m so glad that I bought this journal. It’s incredibly fascinating. The book has “Volume 18″ written on the cover, which means that it is only one in a whole series of Edinburgh Journals. I wonder if all the journals (1832-1956) are still around? If so, I’m very tempted to start collecting them. In fact, it makes me want to collect lots of old periodicals. The improvement of print technology in the 18th and 19th Centuries created an explosion of publications, of which the Edinburgh Journals would have only been one.  In any case, the volume I have is a piece of history – an ancestor to modern newspapers and magazines. I’m absolutely delighted with it, and I can’t wait to read more!

Seeing the beauty in one’s own backyard

I may not be traveling at the moment, but I can certainly learn to appreciate “my own backyard,” so to speak. One of the things I learned while living in another country is that it’s so easy to take your hometown for granted. I live only forty-five minutes away from Los Angeles, one of the most vibrant cities in the world. Yet, having been raised in Southern California, I’ve always just assumed that there was “nothing to do” here. This was especially true when I was a teenager.  By contrast, I have a friend born and raised in Taiwan who is now living here in California. She’s always up to something – camping, river rafting, attending shows and art exhibitions, etc. I used to wonder how she kept herself so busy, and how she managed to find so many cool things to do, even in “boring” Southern California. What a silly girl, I was! Not to mention spoiled. I have now come back from spending a year in London, as well as a month on the East Coast, and it has enabled me to look at my hometown with new eyes. I now realize that there are many things – the rugged landscape, the warm weather, the beaches, the trendy city nightlife, the good food, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood – that make Southern California (or, as the locals would say, “SoCal”) unique and exciting. I think I’m going to take it upon myself to explore what’s in my own backyard. I’m beginning to develop a new appreciation for the place in which I grew up…and in the end, shouldn’t we all do the same?

Speaking of appreciating one’s own city – yesterday I did something that I’ve never done before. I went down to a local church and volunteered to help feed the homeless. It’s extraordinary to me that, despite my hometown’s rank as one of the safest cities in the nation, there is still such a large amount of homeless living here. I suppose I hardly need say that helping those less fortunate than yourself always makes you thankful for what you have. I admit that there are times when I’m too apt to be dissatisfied with my life. After living on my own in another country, especially in such an exciting city as was London, going back home can be kind of depressing. As explained in my last post, I moved back home to live with family after graduating from college in London, and I am now in the process of job searching. People keep telling me how bad the job market is out there. Here I am, a college graduate living with relatives, and apparently I’m entering the job market at a very difficult time. It’s no wonder that I sometimes feel anxious about my life and my situation.

My volunteer work, however, has given me a little more perspective. I arrived at the church in the evening and met with a girl named Liz, the supervisor of the food drive for which I was volunteering. She was a hip, attractive, red-headed young woman sporting an edgy, shoulder-length hair cut. She introduced herself, unloaded the blankets and bags of food from her car, and then led me inside. The room we were in was small and plain. Liz explained to me that it was used every Monday as a soup kitchen and sleeping place for the local homeless, and that we volunteers were there to help set up and prepare for their arrival. We placed mats, blankets and sleeping bags along the perimeter of the room and arranged the food – vegetables, fruit, and pizza – on a small table. It wasn’t long before the homeless began to show up. They arrived one after the other – ashen-faced, carrying all of their belongings in backpacks and satchels. There were men and women alike, most of them middle-aged or older. We served them food and coffee, and did our best to make them feel comfortable. One woman in particular caught my attention. She was tall and thin, with straight, sandy-colored hair and a long, narrow, care-worn face. Despite her somewhat ragged appearance, she didn’t look like the stereotypical vagrant. Had I passed her on the street during the day, I never would have guessed that she was homeless. I’ve often read that the majority of the nation’s homeless are either drug addicts or mentally ill.  This woman was neither. She was completely normal and quite intelligent. She was, in fact, a working-class adult who had hit hard times. When I spoke with her, she explained to me that she was “newly homeless”. She had originally made her living as a cab driver, and this occupation had sustained her for some years. The recession, however, had taken its toll. She explained to me that fewer and fewer people were paying for cabs, and that competition had become too harsh for her to handle. She had lost her job and, no longer able to pay her rent, she had lost her home. During the conversation, she asked me what I did for a living. I told her that I was a college graduate and aspiring writer.

“Oh,” she said, “I’d always wanted to write. Children’s novels, actually.”

“Really?” I said. “That’s great! You should do it!”

“Maybe,” she said. She shrugged her shoulders. “I never really had the time. I’m sure you’d be much better at it than me, though. You’re the one who’s educated.” She smiled.

“But that doesn’t matter,” I insisted. “I’m sure you’d have a lot of cool stories to tell.”

She shrugged her shoulders again. “Nah, that’s alright. You’re a sweet girl, though. Thanks for the food and blankets.”

I didn’t speak to her long enough to learn whether she had any friends or relations to help her. I guess she didn’t, given the circumstances. What a strange coincidence, I thought to myself. We were two people with the same dream, but with vastly different lives. And, if I’m being honest with myself, fate had presented us with vastly different opportunities – dealt us immensely different hands. Hearing her story made me much more grateful to be where I am. What right do I have to complain, really? Through the support of my family, I’ve had the opportunity to attend school and acquire two degrees – something many Americans have been unable to afford. I’ve also lived in another country for an extended period of time. How many people can say that? Right now, I’m living with my uncle and his family in a nice house, situated on top of a hill on a beautiful tree-lined street. It’s quiet and peaceful, especially in the early evenings, when the hazy yellow sun hits the craggy hills behind the house, and all you can hear is the faintest breath of wind. If you climb to the very top of the street, you can look out over the tips of the trees and see a spectacular view of the entire valley below. It’s not a boring place, not at all. My hometown is really quite beautiful, when I stop to look at it. Come to think of it…those are the key words. Stop. Look. Slow down and enjoy what you see around you, even if you’ve seen it a million times. It’s an almost meditative process, really. And in today’s fast-paced, tech-savvy world, I don’t think we slow down enough to appreciate our own lives.

Take the time to re-explore the familiar. Slow down and look with new eyes — with renewed vigor. You may be surprised by what you find. 

The classic “introduction” blog

Hello world. So here I am…a recent college graduate and aspiring writer. And, like millions of people before me, I’ve now decided to start a blog. I don’t know what this blog is going to be about, yet. Perhaps this will be a place for me to express myself, as well as to practice my writing skills. So – a “self-expression” blog? That’s not terribly original. In fact, it’s downright cliché. But I have to start somewhere. Might as well be here…

In any case, I should probably introduce myself. My name is Jennifer. I am a native Californian in my late 20’s. My entire life, up until this point, has been spent in school. Needless to say, I’ve taken a little longer than most to get my life started. Instead of entering the rat-race immediately after obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree in English, I chose to return to school to get my Master’s. I had always wanted to travel to the United Kingdom and was lucky enough to get accepted into a Master’s program at a school there. I have therefore spent the last year living and studying in London. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in that beautiful city, and, perhaps, I’ll devote an entry or two in this blog to describing my experiences there. After I graduated from my program, I moved back to California to be closer to my family. I have only been back in the U.S. for three months. I’ve spent some of that time on the East Coast, visiting relatives in Virginia and Washington D.C. But I have now settled back in California, determined – finally – to start my life.

People often tell me that this is a bad time for college graduates to be looking for work. Despite everything, though, I remain optimistic. Then again, it could be that my youth and inexperience is making me complacent. I have to admit that, as I engage in job searching, I find myself facing the classic college grad catch-22. That is, in order to obtain work experience, I have to find a job; but in order to qualify for (many) of these jobs, I need to have work experience. It’s really frustrating at times. I have a lot of education, but I’m still working on gaining practical skills. I’m sure that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of college grads out there who have the same problem. My struggles are not unusual, especially in today’s economy.

Be that as it may, it’s far too soon to be cynical. I’ve only just begun my job search. It’s ridiculous to give up before you’ve even started! How silly is that! I just have to keep reminding myself that determination is what one needs to succeed – as cliché as that sounds. The banality of the idea doesn’t make it any less true. In any case, my ultimate dream is to become a published author. I have decided that, while I look for work, I will also be volunteering at local charities and writing creatively as much as I can. This blog will help me with the latter.

So here I go.