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.

Moments of Transition (Writing 101, Day 13)

As I stood in the crowded hallway clutching my trapper-keeper, the writhing in my belly felt less like butterflies and more like a jar of wriggling worms.  I huddled near the haven of my locker, cringing as the unfamiliar bell clanged, longing for the safety of Mrs. Klinke’s fifth grade class.  But the happy days of recess and snack time were gone.  Unfamiliar faces pressed in from all sides.  They all seemed to know each other.  I took a deep breath.  This is my life now.

———- ———- ———-

“All right, girls, is everyone in their bunks?”  I watched as my ten-year-old charges clambered up under sheets.  An occasional fluffy stuffed animal could be seen, clutched tightly to the campers’ chests.  “Lights are going out in five… four… three… two… “ I flipped the switch to a chorus of giggles.  I groped for my flashlight, finding my way to the counselor’s bunk.  Wiggling into my slippery sleeping bag, I pulled out my journal and pen.  Eyelids heavy, I began to recount the day’s adventures, scribbling memories into the wee hours.  This is my life now.

———- ———- ———-

The air felt stale, like plastic and greasy pizza.  The sun had sunk beyond the prairie horizon hours ago.  You couldn’t see them, but plastic packing boxes littered the floor of my new dorm room.  Clothing and books were piled on every free surface.  The endless stream of faces at the door had finally ceased.  Huddled in my lofted bed, I listened as the stranger who I now lived with snored noisily and tried not to think about the way my parents held hands as I watched them from my fourth floor window.  I blinked back tears.  This is my life now.

———- ———- ———-

Pushing against the surge of people outside the Tube station, I stepped into the unexpected sunlight.  I thought it always rained here?  A tall clock tower gleamed ahead, proudly surveying the stately streets.  A pang of pleasure surged in my chest.  I would recognize this place anywhere.  After a lifetime of dreaming, I had finally crossed the pond.  My face broke into a silly grin as I stepped in with the crowd.  This is my life now.

———- ———- ———-

Hunched slightly from an afternoon of packing apples and harvesting pumpkins, my fingers dart quickly across the laptop keys.  My eyelids feel sluggish, product of too many hours at work and too little sleep, but I continue to write.  In the next room, Dad’s voice orders everyone to be quiet so he can hear the weather report on the news.  Mom calls from the kitchen to make salads for dinner.  I’m about to respond when an unexpected softness brushes my calf and I look down to find my yellow cat, Paco, watching me expectantly.  With a sigh, I hit “save” in my document and reach down to give his head a scratch.  This is my life now.

———- ———- ———-

Today’s assignment was to write a series of vignettes.  I chose to capture different times of transition throughout my life, starting with my first day of middle school and ending with the present day.  It’s been a long time since I did any kind of creative writing.  What do you think?

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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?

Halloween in Scotland: A scary story from my time abroad

I kind of dropped the ball on Halloween this year.  After briefly considering slapping together a “Hipster Belle” outfit, I abandoned the idea after an unsuccessful thrift store run.  Then school took over my life, and holidays were out of the picture completely.  It’s been a blast, though, seeing my fellow students wandering out campus in various costumes.  I’ve passed Loki, demonic bunnies, Anna from Frozen, pirates, Homestuck characters, Mario and Luigi, Link, Catwoman, and many others.  I did a double take as I passed one of my former professors dressed in a gorilla suit.

In light of my lack of plans, how about I tell about what happened to me around Halloween last year?  It’s a pretty good story, and fits the holiday well.

A year ago, I was in Edinburgh, Scotland.  We took the morning train up from London and spent the afternoon wandering the streets, touring the castle, and dining at the Elephant House (the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the first few Harry Potter books.)

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View from Edinburgh Castle.  Photo by me.

Once the sun had set, we did a ghost tour of the oldest parts of the city.

Guided by a charismatic young Scotsman named Hugh, we wandered around St. Giles Cathedral, down some of the closes, and learned about public hangings, beheadings, and the nightly gardyloo (where everyone dumped their chamber pots into the street).  We then went indoors and Hugh showed us a room filled with medieval torture devices.  He explained how all of them work.  Let me tell you… Edinburgh was a VIOLENT city.

Then, we went into the secret underground vaults.  These vaults had been used way back when for tons of different purposes, varying from illegal pubs, hiding spaces from fires, and a place for homeless people to escape from punishment (apparently, it wasn’t legal to be homeless in the medieval times).  Then, at some point, they had been locked up, forgotten, and left to fester for over a hundred years.  They were rediscovered by some students in the 1970’s.

When I hear ghost tours, I usually expect interesting historical stories mixed with the occasional story about a creepy incident that happened there.  There’s a hint of reality to the hauntings, but mainly shameless tourism and fun history.

Yeah… that’s not the case in Scotland.

The vaults we entered were home to all sorts of horrific events.  Murders, cholera, famine, plague, rape, violence, brawling, people locked in and left to go blind and die, and countless cases of violence followed by rape followed by gang rape followed by murder.

There was a Wiccan temple in one of the rooms, all lit up and decorated in colorful banners and trappings.  There was a room with a stone circle where the Wiccans had supposedly trapped a demon.  In one of the rooms, Hugh made the girls stand on one side of the room and boys on the other.  Apparently, people were frequently tossed about violently by unseen forces and separating the genders sedated the activity.  We were then told that the room we were in was the most haunted room in Scotland.  At this point, my friends Mackenzie, Anna, and Marisa and I huddled close together.

It was, without a doubt, the darkest place I had ever been.  The very air felt evil.  As Hugh guided us from room to room, telling us story after story of the ghosts that haunt the place, I could feel their dark presences.  Being a Christian, I knew that I was protected from all forces of darkness, but that night I learned all too well what it feels like to be in the presence of demons.  I could feel them reaching out at me, scraping at my spirit like fingernails on a blackboard.

When the tour finally ended and we stepped into the cool Scottish night, Anna turned to us and said, “That was the worst place I’ve ever been.  I need a drink.”  So we finished the evening at the hostel’s bar sipping cider and thinking about our tour of the Highlands the next day.

This all happened the night after Halloween.  It’s the scariest story I have to tell, and I hope it stays that way.  The thing about my encounter is that forces of darkness are real and coming face to face with them changes your perspective.  It’s not something you easily forget.

So there you have it, readers.  My scary Halloween story.

What’s the scariest thing to ever happen to you?

Or, here’s a lighter question: What did you dress up as for Halloween?

Anniversaries and adventures

Yesterday marked the anniversary of my departure for London, England.

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I can’t believe it’s been a year already.  It feels like yesterday that I stepped on that airplane.

The thing about adventures is that they change people.  It happens in books all the time.  In The Hobbit, Bilbo returned to the Shire a very different person who left.  No matter what he did, or how much time passed, he could not go back to the simple life he had before.

My adventure changed me.  I became aware of how much I can accomplish; confident in my ability to follow through; and incredibly independent.  I learned to see the world beyond my limited American perspective.  I learned to be globally minded, and gained a deep appreciation for people and cultures apart from my own.  I got to see amazing things–the Alps, Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, the Cliffs of Moher, the Scottish Highlands, to name a few.  I met wonderful friends that are still dear to my heart, people who understand parts of me that no one else can.  I experienced how dark this world is, but also gained appreciation for the light that does exist.

Like Bilbo, I returned home a different person.  And adjusting back into normal life was a challenge.  People who had been dear friends no longer knew how to relate to me, and I to them.  I tried, for a while, to make up for ground that I had lost while away, but eventually gave up.  Connections were lost, and I decided to move on.

Being an English major, my three and a half months abroad changed the way I read.  In my Victorian Literature class, not a day passes when my experiences fail to enhance my experience.  Just today, someone put a map of the city up while discussing a historical detail and my heart gave a tinge because I know those streets.

The other thing about adventure is that once you have a taste, it never lets go.  You’re hooked for life.  Already, I feel the desire to see lands unknown rising up in me.  I long for city streets to explore, train rides through countries that are new, and conversations with people from far away places.

Thank goodness I’ve only got one year of school left.  Because adventure is out there, and I am going to chase it.  Who knows where I’ll be a year from now?

So there you go

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting a lot about what God has done in my life over the past year.  It was an incredibly challenging time–I was pushed and stretched in just about every area of my life.

But not many people know about it.

You see, I tend to keep things pretty close to the chest.  I don’t tend to open up to people until they make an effort.  In a way, you have to work to get the Amelia beneath the surface.  It’s not that I’m not friendly–that’s definitely a word I’d use to describe myself.  I’m friendly, cheery, positive, optimistic, the list could go on.  But when people ask, “How was London?  How was your year at school?”  I tell them that it was fantastic.  It’s not a lie–while abroad, I went and did all the crazy things I’ve dreamed of doing my whole life.  But it was challenging.  It was dark.  It was lonely.  For weeks at a time, I’d feel depressed because of the spiritual weight associated with where I lived.  There were times when all I wanted to do was go home.  I missed my friends, I missed my campus ministry.  My friends at home were too busy to Skype me.  I felt like they didn’t care.  When I finally got home, I hoped things, after a brief transition, would fall back into place and return to normal.  And they didn’t.  Nothing was the same.  My friends moved on without me.  Relationships that had once been deep were suddenly shallow.  People I had leaned on were suddenly unavailable.  Almost all semester, I felt like I had no one I could talk to who both understood where I was at and cared enough to reach out.  I was constantly dissatisfied with almost everything around me.  I was unhappy.  I was so eager to get out that, the second my final papers were submitted, I packed up and bolted home.

The whole year, all I wanted to do was do something practical for God.  I wanted to use my hands, I wanted to get down to business, I wanted to plunge into ministry.  I wanted to pour into others.  God has given me some incredible gifts, and I wanted to use them to encourage my brothers and sisters.  I tried and tried and tried in London to get my foot in the door of some kind of ministry or church.  God shut all the doors in my face.  When I got home, again, I tried and tried to do something for the Kingdom.  I lead a Bible study.  I tried stepping back into prayer ministry.  I sought for people to pour into.  But, again, God had other plans.  He told me to be still.  He told me to wait.

So there I sat, exhausted and frustrated, waiting on God.

Sitting and waiting is hard.  But through it all, God showed me incredible things.  I learned about the depth of His faithfulness.  I was alone in Europe, disconnected from any kind of spiritual body, and every single day, when I opened my Bible, God was there.  It says in Lamentations that God’s faithfulness is new every morning–it’s so true.  No matter how dark it got, He continued to shine His light into my life.  He continued to wrap His arms around me, He continued to speak comfort and whisper beautiful promises into my ears.  He protected me from the darkness and gave me hope.  Over the past year, I have learned that God is enough.  Community is important, yes, but when it comes down to it, God is the ultimate sustainer.  His faithfulness is incredible.

After all this, God lead me back to Camp Shamineau, one of my favorite places in the world.  Today was the last day of staff training.  I’m on Program staff this year, and have had the honor of helping pour into the staff as we have trained them for a summer of ministry.  This morning, we had a chapel service where we worshipped and took communion.  While I partook of the elements, I reflected on all God has done.  I thought about the darkness, about the confusion, the loneliness, the frustration. We sang the song “Cornerstone” and in the line about Jesus being our anchor in times of darkness, I just about lost it.  Because, even though I had just gone through one of the toughest years I’ve ever had spiritually, God was still good.  He still loved me enough to use me.  As we sang, I looked around at all the exceptional people around me–my fellow Program staff, the counselors, SMT’s, and support staff.  I realized that, after such a trying year, God had finally brought me to a place where I could do everything I longed to do.  I could pour into others, pray for them, encourage them, step up in leadership, and help spread the Gospel.  Here I was, doing something practical for the Kingdom at last.   And I thanked God.  I praised Him.  For, even though I fail daily, He is so incredibly good.

So there you go.  For more on my spiritual journey during my time in London, stop by my old travel blog!

Shifting seasons

Once again, I find myself at the end of a year of school.  And, once again, this has put me in a reflective mood.  So much changes in a year, I cannot help but look back and see who I have become.

It’s funny, actually, how much changes in just a few days.  Just two days ago, I was submitting the last of my essays, working my final library shift, and savoring the last few hours with my friends.  Today, I found myself back in the orchard doing manual labor–hauling brush, mopping out the apple cooler, uncovering fields, that kind of thing.  In such a short period of time, my life is totally different from what it was.

This year, though… this year was tough.

The thing about life changing adventures is that, when you come back, nothing ever stays the same.  I knew that when I left for London.  A year ago, I knew that the Morris I left would not be the one I returned to.  And, although I was prepared, that didn’t change the fact that coming back was hard.  Old friends had left, new friends had come, and the friends that had kept me grounded for so long were no longer available.  Things smoothed out eventually, but all semester long I could not seem to bridge the gap that a semester in Europe had caused.  There was a lot of loneliness and uncertainty this school year.  There was enormous frustration–with myself, with my professors, with friends, with everything.  The frustration ate away at parts of me, especially the part of me that writes.  For most of the semester, I could barely pen a single word.  I wanted to badly to fit right back into the seam of Morris, to settle into my niche and take on the world.  But the problem is that I no longer fit into the space I once occupied.  I’ve grown and changed too much.  All I wanted (and still want) was to find that one place where people needed me, where I fit like a puzzle piece.  But, as much as I waited and waited and waited… it never happened.

Yes, it’s been a year of frustration, but it’s also been an incredible year of growth.  All the change, all the uncertainty, all the pushing and pulling have rendered me stronger, deeper, and more confident than I have ever been.  I understand this dark world so much better.  I got to meet parts of myself I didn’t even know existed.

Despite everything, it’s amazing how my love for my school grows every year.  What is it about such a tiny town on the middle of the Minnesota prairie that captures one’s heart so?  I love being an environment of intelligent, passionate people who strive to make a better world.  I love the wind turbines, the mall, and the sketchiness of the Bent and Dent.  I love the caring, flawed, wonderful people who are my friends.  I love the kindness of the professors, the spunk of the librarians, the wisdom of the spiritual teachers and mentors.  (However, I have no kind words for the wind.  And the winters.  Those can die horrible, miserable deaths for all I care.)

The past few weeks, I’ve been extremely restless.  When I left Morris a couple of days ago, I packed up and left as quickly as I could.  I can feel the seasons changing inside of me.  After months of sitting and waiting, I’m ready for something different, something new, something exciting.  When seasons change, I often mourn the loss of things that are passing.  This year, though, is different.  This time, I’m ready.  This summer is going to be a special one, and I can’t wait to find out what’s coming next.

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My last night in Morris was absolutely gorgeous, so I trekked to the wind turbines with a friend.