Lines and Dots (Writing 101, Day 18)

Lines and dots… that’s all a map really is.  Lines and dots printed in tiny colors on sheets of paper that you can never seem to fold the same way twice.  You don’t want to be seen with a map, else the locals pushing past you on the street mutter about annoying tourists under their breaths.  So you try to be as inconspicuous as possible, shoving it quickly in your purse, backpack, briefcase, or pocket to avoid notice.  The lines and dots are helpful, but can sometimes make you stick out like a sore thumb.

It’s what the dots mean and where the lines go that make a map important.

Consider the image below.  At first, it doesn’t mean much.  Can anyone guess where this is?

MyLondon Places (for blog)

If you guessed London, you’re right.  It’s nothing but a series of lines and dots.  In this case, the white and yellow lines signify roads.  The blue windy line is the Thames.  The dots here have numbers, symbolizing how many of my Facebook photos are tagged at different locations.

A map can tell you so much, but there hits a point where its meaning is different for everyone.

When you look at this image, you may see nothing but meaningless lines and dots.

When I take a peek, though, I see memories playing in the back of my mind of my semester abroad.  I picture myself walking through the campus of my host university, squeezing my way into a Tube train at Piccadilly Circus after attending the theater, and nipping in for a few minutes with my favorite paintings at the National Gallery.  The lines are paths my feet have taken.  The dots are places I’ve stopped to explore.  Part of my heart aches when I look at the image, wishing desperately that I could be back in that place.

A map can tell you all about a place, but it can’t tell you what it’s like to be there.  It gives you facts, but not experiences.

Great writers, though, can give meaning to maps with words.  Most fantasy novels have maps at the beginning of them, giving a guide of lines and dots to follow and the story fills in the details.

I don’t claim to be a great writer, so I’m not sure I’m able to give meaning to the map of London that I have shared with you.  However, being an English major has introduced me to lots of great writers who know the city even better than I do.  I have a complicated relationship with Virginia Woolf, but she gives you a pretty good idea what London is like in her novel, Mrs. Dalloway.

“One feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.”

There.  Do you feel it?  For a moment, you were right there with Clairissa Dalloway, Virginia Woolf, and me, walking the streets of London and basking in the bustle of life.

Do you have any maps with special meaning?  What places are most special to you and why?

This post is inspired by an assignment for the Blogging University class Writing 101: Finding Everyday Inspiration.

To Love London

There are days when I long for London.

I grew up (and attended college) in the country, but man… London has wedged its way into my heart.  When I left, its loss was searing.  I couldn’t go a day without longing to be back.  The longer I’ve been away, though, the more life conceals my love of England’s capital.  It’s like a piece of gold buried in my heart that is buried more every day.  Out of sight, out of mind–as they say.

But then, suddenly, it all comes back.

I remember the feel of my feet on the pavement.  The splatter of rain on my umbrella.  The sound of people of every age and color jostling for a place to stand on the Tube.  The twitters of excitement as the curtain draws at the start of a West End show.  The laughter of kids on field trips in art galleries.  Dogs barking in Hyde Park.  Red double-decker busses lumbering through the city.  Eager shoppers flocking on Oxford Street.  The warm laughter coming from pubs.  The musty scent of books haphazardly stacked floor to ceiling in the stores on Charing Cross Road.  The clang of Big Ben.  The elegant statues of Whitehall.

As the memories flood back, I’m overcome with longing.

Virginia Woolf states it best in Mrs. Dalloway:

“One feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.”

To love London is to love life.

Will I ever be back?

Being ironic on Valentines Day

On Valentines Day, it’s really easy to slip into being mopey when your relationship status is single.  However, I’ve gone through the routine enough times that I just ignore all the “Single Awareness Day” hate.  Yes, I’m single.  But I’m happily single.  I have no reason to be miserable on Valentines Day.

So, I’ve started playing a game:  How can I celebrate this romantic holiday in the most strange/ironic way possible?

Over the years, I’ve had some great moments.

During my junior year of high school, February 14th landed on a Sunday.  My parents were away for the weekend, so it was just my little brother and I in the house.  We skipped church and I spent the entire day reading the unabridged version of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.  The best part is I spent the majority of the afternoon plowing through the fifty page tangent where Hugo describes all the details of convent life.  Because there’s nothing more romantic than soaking in all there is to know about nuns!

Then there’s my sophomore year of college.  Valentines was on a Thursday.  After class, I spent my afternoon and evening judging a speech meet for the local high school.  The categories I had to judge were Serious Prose and Serious Drama.  This meant three hours of high schoolers describing suicide, abuse, rape, death, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, eating disorders, etc.  Talk about getting you in the romantic mood!

Last year, Valentines was on a Friday.  Virginia Woolf was my Valentine and I spent the afternoon in the library reading Mrs. Dalloway.  (As you can see by this post, our relationship didn’t really work out in the long run.)

This year, I am determined to live up to its ironic potential.  Once again, I’m spending the day judging speech.  This time, I’ll be at a massive meet in the cities.  Most of my day will be spent on a cold school bus and the rest will be spent sitting rounds filling out critique sheets.  If I’m lucky, I’ll get a handful of depressing categories.

Also, because I don’t have a significant other, I’ve chosen  William Shakespeare as my Valentine.  We’re covering Titus Andronicus at the moment in class, which is absolutely perfect.  Warm fuzzies abound.

So, readers.  Now you know about my weird Valentines Day traditions.  Please remember this is all in good fun.  I’m not actually obsessed with depressing stories.  I also don’t use these as coping mechanisms.  It’s true that I really, really look forward to the day I actually have a significant other to spent the holiday with.  Until then, I’ll remain happily single and will continue to find weird, quirky ways to celebrate February 14.

How are you celebrating Valentines Day?

A literary breakup

Dear Virginia Woolf,

It’s been a long haul this semester.  We’ve been through a lot together, you and I.  But I think it’s time that we go our separate ways.  It’s not you.  It’s me.  Okay, that’s not true.  It’s totally you.  I think it’s time we break up.

Our first meeting, way back in my Brit Lit II survey course, went exceptionally well.  You sure do know how to make a good first impression.  Thus, I was optimistic.  But then our relationship turned out to be rockier than I expected.  Your short fiction had me stumbling about like a silly lady trying to figure out what was going on.  But I attributed that to your innovativeness, and that I just had to get used to it.  Then there was Jacob’s Room.  Ugh.

It wasn’t all thistles and thorns, though.  We had some good times, Virginia.  We really did.  We were reading Mrs. Dalloway on February 14th and you were my Valentine.  That book took my breath away.  It had me singing stupid love songs, declaring my passion to the skies.

But then To the Lighthouse happened over Spring Break.  Although I appreciated what you were doing there, Virginia, it was a bit of a slog to get through.  I ended up writing my fourteen page final essay on that book.  Mr. Ramsay is a piece of work, so props to you for creating a character that made me feel like I was suffocating while reading his thoughts.  All in all, your rendering of visual perception is fascinating, but kind of took away my will to live.  (In a scholarly sense, that is.)

For a while, Virginia, I thought there was no hope.  I thought we were doomed to fail, you and I.  But then Orlando came along.  I sat there thinking, “I didn’t know Woolf could be funny!”  And you were!  You were downright hilarious!  If you could go back, I encourage you to do more work like Orlando.  It’ll bring more joy to the world.

Ultimately, though, you slaughtered me with The Waves.  What on earth were you thinking?  Why was that a good idea?  I didn’t understand a single bit of it.  And oh my goodness, my professor’s lectures on it only made it worse.  Was it your goal to make a book that’s absolutely impossible to comprehend?  Because if so, you definitely succeeded.  What is the price of your success?  My happiness.  My hope.  My joy.  My dreams.  My will to continue our relationship.  You sacrificed those things by choosing to write The Waves.

So, Virginia, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster.  And, frankly, I think it’s time we take a break from each other.  Some time and distance will help strengthen our relationship.  You wrote some things that were pretty miserable to read and I don’t know if I’m ready to forgive you.  Don’t worry, though, I’ll come back to you someday.  I still remember the way my heart raced as Mrs. Dalloway exclaimed “What a lark!  What a plunge!”  There is good to be found, Virginia.  So take heart.  I’ll be seeing you eventually.  Until then… I think I’ll spend next semester hanging out with the Victorians.  Charles Dickens and I have some catching up to do.

Happy summer,

Amelia

Friday Favorites Innagural

I’ve been meaning to do a “Friday Favorites” section for AGES.  But life, like it always does, keeps preventing it from happening.  On a Thursday afternoon, I’ll remind myself to come up with something… only to forget.  Or, I’ll think of it on Monday… which is not very helpful.  Now, though.  Now I’m going to make it happen.

Without further ado, here are my Friday Favorites!

This drink:

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Photo from http://th05.deviantart.net/fs71/PRE/i/2012/200/f/f/peace_tea__by_ifollowrivers66-d57vzmb.jpg

For only 99¢, Peace tea is a worthwhile investment.  It’s basically what I survived on sophomore year.  (Dining dollars well spent?  I think, yes.)  I managed to wean myself off of them after a while, but still pick one up every once in a while when I’m out grocery shopping.  My favorite is the Razzleberry, but I recently discovered the blue Sno Berry flavor, which is also fabulous.

 

This book:

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I just finished reading Mrs. Dalloway for the second time this week.  It is a breathtaking portrait of a day in London after World War I.  Having spent time in the city, I felt like I was right there–standing in a crowd outside Buckingham Palace, cruising up the Strand atop a bus, crossing Victoria Street… “What a lark!  What a plunge!”  How Woolf manages to capture all the beauties and complexities of a single day astounds me.  I could ramble on and on about all the aspects of the book that I love, but I’ll let you discover those for yourself.  Still…  I could read this novel once a year for the rest of my life and still not fully comprehend all of its elements.

This city:

Bath, England.  They just don’t make cities like these in America.  The lovely Georgian architecture, stunning cathedrals, old bridges, and ancient Roman bath houses… it’s like walking backwards into history.  Because it’s a World Heritage site, it looks pretty much the same now as it did in the 1700’s.  Plus, Jane Austen lived here… which is pretty much fabulous.

This song:

I want to do is hop in my car with all my friends and sing at the top of my lungs.  It’s all I’ve been listening to for the past week.

February 14

This morning as I entered the Student Center after class to check my mailbox, a guy opened the door for me.  He didn’t do the whole enter first, then prop-it-so-I-can-catch-it-thing.  No.  He pulled the door open, looked at me, and gestured for me to enter.  It was probably the most romantic thing to happen to me… well… in a very long while.  Maybe ever, actually.

It’s Valentines Day, which means love is in the air.  Campus is decked out in cutout hearts, friends are giving each other cards, and I’ve overheard multiple conversations between male classmates trying to one-up each other on their efforts to impress their vegan girlfriends.  (One guy acted all macho because he was going to make a salad with raspberry vinaigrette instead of ranch dressing… oh so classy.)

The funny thing about today is that for people without lovers, it inspires all sorts of angst.  “Single Awareness Day” they call it.  All the talk of romance brings out all sorts of insecurities.

As for myself, I find myself single for the 21st Valentines Day in a row.  Am I bitter?  Am I depressed?  Am I drowning myself in chocolate and romantic comedies?

Nope.

I mean… I’d like a romantic relationship any more than the next girl, but for the most part, I’m happy being single.  I always have been.  Why?  Well, when you plan on getting married someday (which I do), that means you only get to be single for a certain amount of time.  Going solo can be lonely at times, yes, but it also enables you to do all sorts of awesome things… like move to Europe!  Which I totally did!  Dating or Europe?  Dating or Europe?  Sorry, but Europe wins hands-down.  (Although if I happened to be dating someone and we happened to go to Europe together… I’d be cool with that.)

Anyways…

I’ve had some pretty odd Valentines Days.

When I was sixteen, I spent the day with my nose entrenched in Les Misérables (unabridged).  Now, this scenario has lots of potential.  I could have been at the part that describes Fantine’s lover who abandoned her.  Or, I could be experiencing Marius and Cosette’s beautifully written first encounter.  But… can you guess what part I was stuck on?  If you guessed the fifty page deviation Hugo takes where he describes all the details of convent life, you’d be right on the spot.  Let me tell you, nuns aren’t very romantic–especially when there’s fifty pages about them.

Then there’s last year, where I judged a high school speech meet on February 14th.  The categories I weighed in on were Prose and Drama.  Do you know what those speeches contain?  Death.  Rape.  Suicide.  Parental abuse.  Drug abuse.  Alcohol abuse.  More death.  More rape.  More abuse.  Talk about getting in the romantic mood, right?

As for this year…

I’ve got a date with Mrs. Dalloway, plans to watch a zombie movie with a friend, and (as you already know) a random guy opened a door for me.  So until I someday have a special someone to share this holiday with, I think this year sounds about perfect.

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