Saturday, March 20, 2010


I was searching for a book to read tonight. I usually don't have the luxury of reading for pleasure, but my third track-out commenced this morning, and, in-between my exhaustive portfolioing, I think a little Austen might do me good.

As I perused the titles on our various bookshelves, I came across an old leather bound journal. I was never a very good chronicler in my youth. My mother kept me well stocked in lovely volumes, and I would dutifully fill out a page or two and...that was about it. This particular edition is unique in that it has five entries, covering about a 6-year period in my life.

It starts with me talking about friendship and ends with me talking about being a new wife. It goes from my crush on Paul Rudd to my complex relationship with my husband. It starts with me reminiscing about a childhood companion and ends with me discussing how much I dislike a former childhood friend. I amusingly mention having heart palpitations in several entries; I was a little high strung, I guess. I almost want to show it to my students to prove to them that I was young once and also thought the world began and ended with a phone call from a certain boy.

Mostly, the journal gives me pause. I am a few days away from turning 28. I am a full-fledged adult. In that journal, I, like the hoards of teens who came before and after, wanted so badly to grow up so I could experience that lovely break from parental strife and suffocating dependence. I begged for it. Now, I have it. Why don't I feel older? Why don't I feel like that's a 28-year-old woman looking back at me in the mirror? Why don't I feel like I have changed from that precocious, silly girl who wanted to marry someone who looked just like the guy in Clueless?

Perhaps, my chosen career has warped me slightly. I can't grow up because I am surrounded by my miniatures--girls who are equally consumed by the storm and stress of adolescence. I live in a special world--one where you go home to the same boy you fell in love with in high school and where you wake up each day and go back to 10th grade and help comfort a girl crying in the bathroom. I even worship at the feet of a new Mr. Broadhurst each afternoon and ask him about belief and history.

My life is different, too. I am missing people who were with me for those first decades, and I no longer pretend to be a Wizard of Oz tree shaker in the side yard of Den Tree Court. But that girl...that girl who wrote that she wanted to be cuddled by a boy and that she wanted her parents to get along and that she couldn't believe she was getting married in two weeks...that girl is still very much coursing through this increasingly aging body. Is it normal to not change?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

'Enery the Eighth, I Am...

I, like millions of other people fascinated with the English monarchy system, have always enjoyed reading about Henry VIII. He was a pretty interesting guy, and that whole six wives thing was definitely eyebrow raising. Not to mention he catalyzed a religious war in England because he wanted a male heir so bad.

Last Saturday, a friend and I went to Hampton Court Palace. While Cardinal Wolsey (Henry VIII's main advisor in the Catherine of Aragon period) was the one who built it, it was eventually inhabited by the king himself once Wolsey had been demoted. It was here that Anne Boleyn stayed (wife #2), here that Jane Seymour (wife #3) gave birth to the child that would later be known as King Edward VI, and here that Henry married Kathryn Parr (wife #6).

Hampton Court Palace

We were once again lucky to experience a piece of history on a beautiful day, and we took our time investigating the different sections. Oddly enough it was the historical re-enactments that interested me the most. Several character actors were playing the different parts in the marriage of Henry VIII to Kathryn Parr. The man playing Henry was excellent and I even had the opportunity to help him cheat at a game of cards with Thomas Seymour (his third wife's brother and the former flame of Parr herself (and her husband after Henry died)). I also really liked the special exhibit they had on the six wives.

Thomas and Henry, Playing Cards

The Ancient and the Modern

I have often wished that I could go to these places, not just as a tourist, but to sit and read in the gardens. Most of the palaces in England have amazing green spaces, and I feel remiss that I have not had more time to sit in them and just soak in the beauty of these tremendous parks.

We took a boat cruise along the Thames home (around 3 hours). It wasn't as picturesque as the earlier parts of the day since it became much colder and rained a little, but I still enjoyed looking at the crowded banks and imagining a royal barge going much the same route 500 or so years ago.

As for this week, history has been on the backburner as I finish my class responsibilities. Yesterday was the last day of classes, so today we went to see a play (The Monster Under the Bed) at the Polka Theatre and soon we will be meeting up at a pub for our last meal together.

I came home alone today after the theatre, and the one thought that struck me as I was riding an escalator in one of the tube stations was that this place is as familiar to me now as Roanoke. England has become another home to me. England. Who would have imagined....

London By Boat

Monday, July 20, 2009

Final Countdown

Last week in London! I cannot fathom that I have been in England for over three weeks. My brain just cannot process it. All the sights--the lakes, the hills, the small townships, they all have blended in my mind and I feel like I experienced them in a dream instead of with my own feet, eyes, and hands.

I have had more of a chance to relax in the past few days, but I have also been lulled into a lame duck period where my head is already on vacation back in the states. Three plus weeks of thinking about literature, discussing literature and writing about literature has turned my grey matter into mush. However, I still have one last rewrite to do of my short story, and it needs to happen in the next 24 hours. Hopefully I will rise to the challenge.

I still need to recount my last week or so in London. A week ago Tuesday, we hit all the Winnie the Pooh sites and saw what inspired A.A. Milne to write his stories. Like many of the early 20th century writers, his story is not necessarily a happy one. Just as Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) was barred from having a relationship with the Liddell family after having been such a big part of their lives growing up, just as J.M. Barrie was to become sometimes too involved in the Davies boys' lives and create conflict with at least two of his adopted sons, so too did Christopher Robin, Milne's son, have issues with his father for making him famous through his works. Knowing that Peter Pan's namesake may have committed suicide as a result of a long history of depression that was partially catalyzed by his adopted father's famous story changes the work. But the work is so good; I don't want it to be marred by the truth of its writer and his family. Thus, when I'm playing poohsticks on a small bridge in the woods or watching my professor climb the famous tree in the 100 Aker Wood (sic), I tend to block out the history of the place because the power of those stories has in some ways balanced the pain and suffering that sometimes accompanied their initial publication.

On Wednesday, we went to Egmont Press and met with the heads of their editorial staff. Each year at Hollins, we have an opportunity to interact with people in the "business." My first year we met an agent at HarperCollins, the next we met a literary agent, and now we have actually visited a publishing company itself. This company happens to publish my creative writing teacher's work, so she hooked us up with a great afternoon of lectures and discussion on the children's publishing industry. I always find these meet-ups a little soul crushing because you do start to realize how slim your chances are of becoming published, but they are very nice about it and still try to encourage you to keep at it and see if you have what it takes.

Our last major event last week was to see Rowan Atkinson in a production of Oliver! (exclamation mark is in the title). For those of you who don't recognize the name, you may know him as Mr. Bean. Funny, funny stuff. Not exactly Charles Dicken's Fagin, but he kept us in stitches, and the whole production was a great example of well-executed set design. The pieces flowed so well together, and the kids were adorable. Some of my classmates have been living in the theatre while we've been here. One classmate has seen three plays on top of the three we've gone to for class. I would love to see a performance at the Globe or see an original musical on the London stage, but the tickets are incredibly expensive and there are some things I would like to wait and experience with Bryan.

Technically we had a free weekend after the Oliver! performance. I did enjoy myself on Saturday, but the other two days were a mixture of work and play. I have visited the National Portrait Gallery and Harrods, so I have done some Londony things on my own. Harrods is a frightening place. It's beautiful but I have never been in the vicinity of luxury clothing before. There are some worlds where I will never belong and I can add that department store to the list. I'll stick with Macy's.

The one thing that was on my mind all day today was the fact that Franklin Academy opened its doors to its students this morning. If any of my new students have ventured this way, hello! I will definitely be back on Monday, and I will try to refrain from showing you all 1000 pictures of countryside and ancient buildings. Maybe just 800 or so....

The Sacred Spot in the 100 Aker Wood

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Catching Up

I do find it amusing that now that I have regular internet access and my own room, I'm having a harder time writing blog entries. We just saw so many beautiful things while touring Central and Northern England, and now that we're in London we're all in crunch mode. We only have one more full week of scheduled work, and then I have a day and a half on top of that before departure.

So to recap, we got here on Saturday. Saw the digs, got very happy, bought some groceries and settled in to start response papers and the like. I had a very tough time with my Peter and Wendy one and rewrote it around 5 times so that was a two day affair. However, in the midst of writing short essays, I had a very eventful Sunday.

We started with a trip to "famous" London and attended church at Westminster Abbey. Yes, that place where they crown kings/queens and bury poets. The service was mostly sung, and we got to hear the official choir which is made up of young boys and middle aged men. It was beautiful. Hearing those voices in that space was a very spiritual experience.

Then we encountered a big of a snag on leaving because there was a 10K going on right outside. We were on the Big Ben/Parliament/Westminster side of the street and across was the tube station that we needed to use to get home. The race was funny because I had a serious Hot Fuzz flashback since everyone was racing for their own charities (rather than for one like at home). We saw chickens and a Spider-Man (who stopped to take a picture of Big Ben, very odd), and a man wearing a dress. On our way to the next tube station, we saw the London Movieum and they had a movie/television car show going on outside. We saw the DeLorean and the Ghostbusters' ambulance and the General Lee. Very random but very fun. Finally we returned home and went to Kensington Gardens, where J.M. Barrie initially met up with the Davies family. Our tour guide was in costume, so we got a few stares. The gardens are very large, but it was a sunny day and some very patient people let us all get a solo picture with the Pan.

We then saw a production of Peter Pan in a large circus tent in the back of the gardens. Very high tech and very well performed. I saw Peter Pan performed a few years ago, but this time it was completely different because they did a lot more flying and all the actors were adults. After all that, we went home and crashed. It was a very full day.

Compared with all that fun, Monday was a bit of a bore. We went to our third library (the British Library) and had a workshop on how to use their resources. I have some issues with this particular library because they went through all this information on how to use their stuff but they have made it very difficult for us to get the readers' passes we need to actually retrieve things. We did get to see some original work including a 2nd edition of The Hobbit (the first with the watercolors we saw at the Bodley), one of Lewis Carroll's journals (the one where he described the boat trip with the Liddell girls), and some of Charlotte Bronte's works. After that we went to another library (University College London). There we did get library cards and the full tour but they close at 6PM. Not very convenient. All of these road blocks prompted our critical teacher to completely rework our last few assignments, so we all started to breath a little easier after that because we are not going to be able to get much research done while we're here.

I'll save Tuesday through Thursday for tomorrow. Suffice to say, I am really enjoying London but also wishing I was back by the lake. There are a lot of people in this city right now. A lot.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


It's been a few days and they have been wonderfully eventful. I will try to recount my adventures in another day or two when I have caught my breath. The stress of 2.5 weeks of traveling and writing is starting to show itself in the bags under my eyes and my inability to walk two feet without tripping over something.

However, how can I be tired or unhappy when I get to enjoy a dorm suite after weeks of bunk beds and noisy hostels?

How can I be overwhelmed when I get to see Big Ben on a sunny Sunday morning?

How can I be anything but elated when I get to watch a chicken run a 10K after church at Westminster Abbey?

'Nuf said.

Christopher Robin's Favorite Tree

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Cities and Walls

I said goodbye to the lake last night as I read a little from The Amber Spyglass. That part of England is my England. We're in a city again, and I already miss the hills. Our hostel (which is nice but very basic) is on the same street as the Pizza Hut and Burger King. London will probably be more attractive since we're staying in a local college, but I still want to make that sidetrip to Wales if at all possible. The city I'll be visiting is on the Irish Sea and I think it will be a nice goodbye to this wonderful island. We'll see.

Today we went to class, ate our last meal in Ambleside at the classroom tables, and then got on a bus for Hadrian's Wall. The trip was uneventful but the views were spectacular. I can't quite do justice to what we saw, sitting in that bus with large windows, looking down and seeing that we were on the edge of a cliff that dove down into a rocky valley dotted with sheep. It was absolutely breathtaking. Some of the articles we read before we got here suggested that the England described in a lot of popular novels no longer exists. It does in the Lake District. It absolutely does.

We ended up at a Roman Military Museum. The Latin teacher in me came out immediately. It was a little cheesy and I definitely have been to better exhibits, but I still had fun looking at all the Roman artifacts and learning more about Hadrian's Wall itself.

Then we went to the wall and it was a great experience in a different way than I had planned. What was fun was being on there with my friends and taking silly photos and thinking about how imposing it used to be. Unfortunately, as is the case with most Roman ruins, there isn't much left but we had a great moment, sitting on the edge, looking out on the hills and thinking about the divide between the civilized world and the barbarian one. On a side note, there were some crazy sheep on the walk up. They kept making these death rattle noises. Very creepy.

Afterwards, we drove into Newcastle and got settled into our new digs. The hostel has free wi-fi....yay! However our room has two bunk beds and a fun house mirror (my legs have never been so tall!). And no more full English breakfasts. I'm back to peanut butter bread and apples. However, it will probably be a good thing for my heart because I've eaten a lot of hash browns these past two weeks.

Most of us went to an Irish pub tonight (well, a place that called itself an Irish pub) and had dinner. I went for something somewhat authentic--a chicken and mushroom crock pot dish that was super awesome. All my favorite things--chicken, mushrooms, mashed potatoes and cheese. Again, may need to improve the food intake soon.

Now we're relaxing and this old French man keeps trying to talk to us and we don't understand a thing he is saying. I think we got across that we're students studying literature, but I'm not sure. I will probably try to get some writing done tonight. I'm doing well with my critical class, but the creative juices are not flowing. We are traveling so much and have yet to find a place where we can be on a computer and snuggle down. Unfortunately I am not a handwritten manuscript kind of gal so the computer is a necessary tool in all extensive writing exercises. I even use it in class for our small exercises. I know London will provide regular library access and hopefully some comfy chairs and then all my problems will be solved. In the meantime, I'll try to get a page or two written tonight and maybe I'll feel like I've accomplished something.

The Girls on the Wall

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Footsteps of the Past

One of the hardest concepts to absorb during this trip is that a lot of the places we have visited were in habited by the authors we love. Our time in the Lake District has certainly exemplified that since we have visited the Brontes, William Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, and Arthur Ransome’s old stomping grounds. Visiting the homes of the first three listed there was especially intriguing. Admittedly you are never quite walking the same floors or the same paths as them since the floors have been refurbished over time and the ground has certainly eroded and changed over time. But you can’t help but go numb when you hear the words, “Wordsworth and Ralph Waldo Emerson walked here.”

I certainly don’t feel that the creative abilities of these authors have soaked into my skin as I have looked at their letters, run my fingers over their furniture or sat in their chairs. But it is amazing how much work has gone into preserving their heritages, and the diverse range of individuals who make pilgrimages to their homes. I think it truly puts into perspective how powerful beautiful writing can be and the impact it can have on the world for generations to come.

The Lake District has also been the intermission in our trip between the cities that bookend our studies. We did our time in Oxford and we will be in London on Saturday and spend the last two weeks there. There are definitely some perks to returning to the city—regular wi-fi access, individual rooms, easier access to grocery stores. But I think I will quickly begin to wish I was back here where you are surrounded by beautiful hills, gorgeous lakes, and you are serenaded to sleep by the quiet baaing of the sheep outside your window.

Tomorrow we will retrace the boundaries of the Roman Empire and go visit Hadrian’s Wall. As a soon to be full-time English teacher, there is some irony that this was the year I went back to Rome, and now will see Emperor Hadrian’s Wall for the first time.

A quick look at the sites from open two-story buses and walks along the hills: