Writers: Masters in the Art of Selfishness

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The solo traveller, the happy traveller.

Oh, I am a bad, bad blogger.  Yes, I’ll admit I’ve been neglecting my blog.  But there is a reason for it.  As I alluded to in my post ‘Finding Time To Read & Write,’ big changes are about to take place — are already taking place in my life.   As many of you may know, momentous life changes tend to disrupt one’s weekly routine.

In approximately 6 weeks, I will be moving to a town in England — specifically the southwest region — called Exeter.  Here I will begin studying towards a Master’s degree in British literature and creative writing.  Though I had been accepted to the program back in November of last year, I only decided not too long ago to enroll at the University of Exeter for my postgraduate degree.   But ever since my mind was made up, there has been much paperwork to complete, accommodation to secure, etc.  Only yesterday I finally sent out my visa application to the British Consulate after weeks of acquiring the proper documentation.  At last, this move — this major life change — feels real.  So why did it take me so long to decide?

Looking back, It’s hard to believe I brooded over this decision for eight months.  I can’t really pinpoint why it took so long; I only recall the elation I experienced on days I was leaning towards going, and the despair on days I had convinced myself this venture was too risky, to expensive…too reckless.   Today, I only wish I had decided sooner — if I had, I probably wouldn’t be scrambling around like mad trying to meet the requirements for a Tier 4 Student Visa.

But now that I definitely am going, this decision feels so right.  I have yearned for a change for quite some time.  A change in environment, lifestyle — the type of all-encompassing change that one can only get from immersion into a new country and culture.  For some people, I understand this urge to make  a drastic life change is lacking ; the thought never arises.  Perhaps it is instead viewed as a ‘disruption’ to one’s ineradicable daily routine.  For me, I know I will not be content with a linear life path — go to college, get married, move to suburbs, have kids, etc.  When I consider these generic life ‘goals’ most people share, I envision a future of such mediocrity that is terrifying enough to disrupt my sleep.

I strongly believe there is no reward without risk, nor is there success without suffering or failure.  These rules hold true for any type of profession, venture, or dream.  I am prepared for this.  And I also have to say that as a writer, one has to be selfish in some regards — one being the demand to experience the delights of the world through one’s own eyes — meaning, alone.  Writing is a solitary practice that must be devoid of disruptions.  Writers are self-involved in this way.  More than once, I have heard remarks from family, friends, and colleagues about my decision to move abroad, things like, “How could you move away from your family?” and “How are you going to survive there?”  I laugh inwardly at these questions mostly because they’re so worried while I, the one going, am not at all.

There was a recent article in the New York Times Magazine entitled “Yes Please, Party of One.”  The author Andrew O’Hagan discusses the bliss of traveling solo as a writer.  He says:

“I believe that traveling alone is the last great test of who you are in a world where everyone aches to be the same.”

Yes, I am going to England to get my Master’s degree, which will probably lead to a PhD, so that I can one day teach British literature at a university in the states.  I am going because I believe a degree in British Literature from a British university as opposed to an American university will hold more weight.  I am going because it is time to do something responsible and get the wheels moving on a career.  I am going because as I mentioned before, risks must be taken to escape the monotony of life.  But above all, I am going  for the reason Mr. O’Hagan has stated above.  In my own words, I am going for self-discovery.

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4 Literature-Inspired Trips

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about reading, writing, and traveling and how these three passions of mine are linked.

Sometime last year, I decided I wanted to spend a significant amount of time for the rest of my life writing.  This awareness coincided with the understanding that most (if not all) of the destinations I choose to visit while traveling are influenced by something I’ve read.

The fact is, certain books (whether fiction or non) influence me and my cognitive process to a great magnitude.  So great in fact that what I read inadvertently predicts where I travel.  This was not a terrible realization by any means; I’ve visited a great many cities because of my curiosity to see and experience either a) where the author wrote a book and how their surroundings inspired them or  b) a landmark or location where much of the story takes place.

Here are 4 literature-inspired trips I’ve taken so far:

Oxford

Eagle & Child

eagle and child

tolkien

This is the old pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis among other literary geniuses called ‘The Inklings’ met and discussed their writing.  A special room called ‘The Rabbit Room’ has a shrine dedicated to Tolkien and Lewis who were among the most famous writers to spend their after-teaching hours drinking a pint in this historical pub.  Heck, if I lived in Oxford I would write here in the hopes of feeding off the creative energy. Inspiration: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings.

Oxford Botanical Gardens

oxford tree

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You’ve probably noticed I am a huge Tolkien nerd.  If not, take a look at this photograph of me sitting underneath Tolkien’s favorite tree in Oxford. He used to grade his student’s papers here, and it’s in this very spot that he thought of the first line of The Hobbit: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

Oxford University

ocford campus 2

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I’m sure an array of books and films have been inspired by Oxford’s ancient and mystifying campus.  The dining halls were certainly used in filming some of the Potter films.

London

Ebenezer Scrooge House
 door knocker

I spent this past Christmas in London; it was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.  On Christmas Day along with a staggering amount of European tourists, my mother, sister and I went on the Charles Dickens Christmas Carol walking tour.  I was fascinated as the overly informative tour guide pointed out all of the locations where Dickens grew up and some of his inspirations.  One of these spots was the door knocker which supposedly inspired the scene in A Christmas Carol where Jacob Marley’s head comes to life and frightens the living daylights out of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Peter Pan Statue

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J.M. Barrie’s famous children’s book was one of my favorites growing up.  The same weekend I visited Oxford back in college, I made a point to stop in Hyde Park first to catch a glimpse.  Inspiration: Peter Pan.

Tower of London
exeution

During my Oxford weekend excursion I took the Tube to the Tower of London, only to realize I didn’t have enough time to go inside before my bus departed.  I endured the crowds this past Christmas if only to visit the execution site of Lady Jane Grey and Anne Boleyn, among many others.  Inspiration:  Innocent Traitor by Alison Weird and The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.

Edinburgh

The Elephant House

elephant house

rowlings view 2

Name look familiar?

Name look familiar?

This is the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  There’s plenty of Harry Poter memorabilia inside, as well as a view of Edinburgh Castle (an inspiration for Hogwarts) and a graveyard.  In Scotland, graveyards are way cooler than in the states.  Rowling must have strolled through this particular graveyard more than once; she borrowed many of the character’s names in Harry Potter from these very gravestones.

Rome

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Two years ago, I spent Thanksgiving in Rome.  It was an enchanting city, and I was only sorry I hadn’t visited back when I was studying abroad in Amsterdam.  I’ve always had an interest in the history of the Roman Empire when Rome was at its most powerful.  After reading Rome by Robert Hughes, I knew I had to go and see the ruins for myself.

A few book-inspired trips I’d like to make in the future:

  • Alexandria, Egypt.  I’m a bit obsessed with Cleopatra and have read several of her biographies.
  • Savannah Georgia.  Ever since I read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, I’ve wanted to visit the Mercer House.
  • Chatsworth.  This is one of the many stately English castles I want to tour.  It’s also where Mary Queen of Scots was held captive by Bess of Hardwick and the Earl of Shrewsbury.  Fun fact:  Chatsworth is Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley estate in the A&E version of Pride & Prejudice.
  • Brontë Parsonage Museum.  Former of the Brontë sisters in West Yorkshire and where most of their literary masterpieces were written.
  • Jane Austen’s House Museum.  Also known as Chawton Cottage, this is where Jane Austen spent the last 8 years of her life writing Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.