If time travel ever comes to fruition and I meet the version of myself from 2011, when I was 20 and before I had boarded my plane to England, I don’t think I’d recognize myself. Neither physically nor in my demeanor.
I wonder what I’ll be like two years from now.
I awoke at 7:30, gulped down a couple of ibuprofen, beat the rest of my hall to the showers, and nipped that hangover in the bud before it even began.
I decided that it was a center part kind of day, and then after I failed, I put on orange lipstick before heading to Hy-Vee for a successful grocery trip, during which I bought two bottles of wine and not much else. As I returned to my car, I noticed that it was 40 degrees outside (a far cry from the 80 degree high a few days ago)— So obviously I decided it was time to go for a solitary hike in the nature reserve by my school.
When I was in studying in Cambridge, I would go running through the countryside through tiny villages, past ancient churches and Green Man pubs, regularly making accidental discoveries of natural gems like Byron’s Pond. I used to hop on the train for day trips to London, where I would get lost hiking in Hampstead Heath, an entire wilderness within a city.
Usually, you won’t find a more calm, content Kasia than a Kasia who is embarking on a solo walking trip in the country, far away from the perplexing world of people. But today, despite the crisp air and the trees turning colors in typical autumn fashion, I was sad. I’m unable to stop comparing my life now to my life this time last year. Missouri versus Cambridge. The present just can’t win.
Later today, I had a Skype date with my three best friends from England. Despite the fact that it’s their last year in school, they seemed to be more keen to go out every night of Freshers’ Week than the first-years. Unabashed and un-ironic enthusiasm, that’s what I love and miss about my Cambridge babes. They were pre-drinking before the first bop of the year. It was only 1:00 p.m., but I broke out the Riesling and drank with them.
It’s fine. It’s just sadness. And this too shall pass. It always does.
I’ve lived in Cambridge for almost an entire year, and in about one week, I board a plane to return to the States.
I’m not generally one for sentimentality. I think it’s overused, which robs it of any power. But every so often, my life comes to head with an End, and my heart presses against my chest and I would sell my soul to escape my own thoughts, if only for a moment.
If I were to divide place into binaries, it would go something like this:
Missouri. A place of anxiety & pressure, growing up too quickly, defining myself as the majority’s opposite, not fitting in, closed-mindedness, being boxed in by giant cars and giant houses— unoriginal, utterly stagnant, unhappy Jesusland.
Cambridge, England. A place of growth, self-discovery, self-confidence, friends! (friends with whom I can identify, no less!), non-judgmental environment, walking and cycling everywhere, hard cider, pints & pubs, nightclubs who know their students (i.e. get ready fo’ some Outkast circa 2003), fun!, dynamic students driven by curiosity; one of the only places where I’ve felt belonging. The city where I learned how to enjoy myself.
And let’s not forget the weather: I’ve completely adjusted to the English mindset. The past few weeks have been consistent in their high of low-to mid-60s in Fahrenheit. In spite of the occasional rain, it’s been comfortable. Three weeks ago, when the weather hit a high of 79, I was literally suffocating. How am I supposed to return to the burning heat (& humidity) of southern Missouri, where it rarely drops below 85 on a summer’s day? What a fitting metaphor. Just swallow me up into the fiery hellish temperatures of the Midwest.
Of course, adhering to strict binaries is harmful, and I know that. There are certainly parts about Missouri that I miss. I miss those dear to me, obviously: my friends and my family. I miss spending the summer nights outside, possibly playing a game of soccer in the backyard, possibly staring at the stars and listening to the cicadas chirp their familiar rhythm. I miss the hikes in the Ozarks hills, float trips down rivers, and walks around the several acres surrounding my best friend Sarah’s home. And in general, I miss that wistful American thought that at any moment, you could just stand up, grab your keys, and just drive for days, passing through wide open spaces of desert and mountain, forest and plains. In England, you drive anywhere two hours and you’ve already crossed half the country.
And simultaneously, I struggle with the paradox of change. One reason I have trouble coming to terms with moving back to Missouri is, despite my nostalgic memories as described above, I’ve learned how to move on. Returning seems like taking a step backward; I want to trek on with my life and jump into new adventures. But I still have one year before I graduate, and unless I drop out (which would be extremely unfair to my parents), I have no other choice but to put up with it. After all, one year isn’t painfully long… but then what? If I’m so happy to accept change, shouldn’t I resign my desire to return to Cambridge? Perhaps this time as an undergrad student is limited, and I should give that a fair understanding before moving on. Perhaps I’ll apply to Cambridge for an M.Phil. Who knows? Maybe I’ll try accept my time in Cambridge for what it was and aim for London (my favorite city in the entire world) instead. Maybe I’ll try my hand at writing movie scripts in L.A. I think the only path that would lead to unhappiness is taking advantage of that basement in my parents’ house of Springfield, Mo. It might be strange, but I like the idea of my life being constantly in flux, moving from one city to another, one country to the next. Perhaps one day I’ll have a desire for stability or roots, but I doubt that will be any time soon. The problem, of course, with the wayfaring life is constantly being forced to say goodbye.
So here’s to the future, and the past. Memories and the occasional bit of sentimentality. And most importantly, here’s to Ends… and the Change which follows.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
No, I’m not… I’m not being facetious, I swear. Just because I don’t have a beau with whom to celebrate means that I have to lounge in my pajamas while testing out my Domino’s-Ben-and-Jerry’s combo recipe and watching JennaMarbles bitch about cinnamon on YouTube? No way, man. Replace viral videos with terrible chick flicks starring beautiful people, and I tried that already when I was 18 years old. But a lot has changed since then. JennaMarbles hadn’t been invented. I couldn’t yet buy wine for myself. And I was still living in the Midwest.
Now, I live in Cambridge, a place where all the expectations of growing up in Missouri are reversed. My peers don’t have significant others, and it certainly doesn’t bother them. They are too busy with perfecting the balance of hard work and enjoying their youth. Suddenly, I’m an a place where my perspective on life isn’t just recognized— it’s the norm! Good God, pinch me.
You see, growing in the rural Midwest, people were always suspicious non-obsession with boys. Why is finding Prince Charming not your priority, Kasia? Why are you so focused on school and books and writing? In short, what is wrong with you? Even my sister, who is still in high school, recently informed me in a Skype session that she had found the man for me to “marry.” When, in an irritated mood, I retorted in defense and asked her to stop with this unsolicited advice, she responded, “Well obviously you’re being defensive, so there is some truth to you being lonely.”
On the contrary, little sister. In my entire life, I’ve never been happier. My favorite activities are reading books on my own and dancing with friends, and I’ve done plenty of both this year. For the first time, too, my impulse to not give a rat’s ass about a boyfriend has been received as perfectly normal. Before, I felt lonely for two reasons. First, I was met with that ubiquitous response, “there must be something wrong with her.” Secondly, any “romantic” experience I’ve had so far—whether it be dating or hooking up with a guy in a club—has left me with that disgusting sinking feeling in my stomach…just pure, elemental self-loathing. If countless hours of pouring over poetry and novels (gross, English major) have taught me anything, a guy worth having should make you feel good about yourself.
But the fact is, I can finally accept myself as an independent young woman. I now understand that I was never solely lonely (I’ve got the most wonderful friends in the entire world). Instead, I was upset that I was unable to conform to expectations. Now, I know better; finally, finally, I’m becoming comfortable in my own skin. I’m happy for those who are in relationships (perhaps the most telling change of all), which is why I honestly do hope that you have a lovely Valentine’s Day. But if you’re single, this message is for you: don’t despair. If romance isn’t your priority, there’s nothing wrong with you. It only means that you’re driven in some other way, whether it be for your career, religion, family, or whatever else… and that’s just fine.
I will certainly be celebrating Valentine’s Day; I’m about to shower before cocktails and dancing with my friends. And since I’m on Tumblr, I might as well say it: my ship is Kasia x Self-Respect.
I promised to edit an essay for my little sister by tomorrow, which is why I was digging through the documents saved onto my computer. I found her essay, but I also found a word document called “writing in Poland,” with about ten unfinished pieces from my holidays. I had already forgotten it. Was I really visiting my family in Poland only three weeks ago?
It’s probably not a good idea to publish it, but I’m so sleep-deprived I don’t care. Here is something of a journal entry that made me particularly sad to read, and not just because I referred to myself in the third person.
Kasia had forgotten how to write. Not logistically, of course. She still knew her alphabet. She knew how to hold a pen to paper. And she knew how to type on a computer. And she hadn’t forgotten how to write everything. She could still write a mean essay and a damn good journalism article.
But there was a reason that she wanted to study English in the first place, and that was because she wanted to be a writer. The kind of writer who knows creativity, and can write a story that sucks the reader into a different world and then lingers in the reader’s mind for days, months, and years afterward. And this was what she had forgotten.
That’s probably why she hadn’t updated her study abroad blog for a while, and was focusing instead on her original tumblelog, typing up personal posts about New Years’ resolutions and pop culture analyses. It wasn’t that she didn’t have the impulse to write, because she certainly did. And writing these dinky little articles not only came to her as naturally as tying her shoe, but she enjoyed it greatly too. Crafting each sentence, picking the right words. Making clever jokes here and there. It was great fun for her to write. But she could no longer write a story.
She didn’t know how to end this story, for instance. So she sat there, on a crowded bus, staring at the Polish dude on the television screen who was instructing passengers that gambling was strictly prohibited on the 15-hour ride.
She didn’t know how to end this story.
(A poem by Wyslawa Szymborska)
Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence - this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”
Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they’ll never let her get away.
Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.
They forget that what’s here isn’t life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof’s full stop.
Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?
The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.
Szymborska is one of two Poles who receieve the Nobel Prize for Literature. I’ve been blogging about my home in terms of the Ozarks, but a part of me is also a Polish patriot, proud to identify with Szymborska. Do I belong in the Ozarks or in Poland? Is it possible for both identities to reside in me harmoniously? I wish I could say yes, but I honestly do not believe so. I want to feel at home in either culture, but every time I visit “home” in both Missouri or Polska, there’s always a part of me that feels out of place.
This night is turning out to be kind of dark for me, isn’t it? In most of my creative work, I have a very satirical sense of humor, but this blog is turning into something very serious and very personal. Maybe I should change directions? We’ll see, I suppose.