Lessons I Learned in London

Read this: “I wanted to remember London bathed in gold, that’s what led me to the top of Primrose Hill on my last night there.” 

Or don’t. It’s your life. That post is a reflection on my semester abroad in London, written for CAPA, the organization I did my program with.

The post below is a bit more stream of conscious, anxiety-riddled, and introspective:

On Thursday, April 30, I awoke with the sun and was led to the Viennese subway by someone I’ve had the honor to call my friend since I was just twelve years old. I stood next to him, clutching my bags, thinking about the fantastic juxtaposition between my European friendships.

Sometimes I think about juxtapositions more than I should…

I came to London essentially knowing no one. A few familiar faces were able to ease my anxiety, but when it comes to knowing a person, I was with 26 strangers.

On our first night in London, we went to the Elephant’s Head, a local pub just around the corner of our flat. We drank English beer and attempted to make friends with each other in order to comprehend the fact that we were living in a foreign country for four months.

At the end of the night, we took this picture (with a cameo from a Welsh couple we met that night):

A month later, we took this picture in Amsterdam:

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A month after that, we took this one in Barcelona:

And then this one in Wales:

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We had gone from complete strangers to world travelers, friends who knew each other’s quirks, ticks, highs and lows as if they were our own.

On our last night in London, we made our way to the Elephant’s Head once again, to raise a glass to the old haunt that first brought us together. The next morning I awoke at 5 a.m. in order to catch a flight to Greece, where I would spend a week traveling with Jeff, one of my best friends from high school, someone who knew my quirks, ticks, highs and lows all the same.

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It’s a funny juxtaposition, four months versus eight years, seeing the world with new friends and old friends alike; it’s one that makes me truly grateful for the gift of friendship.

I think C.S. Lewis said it best when he wrote, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that gives value to survival.”

I have no doubt I will travel alone in the future, which is something I only dipped my toes in to while abroad. However, on this first great excursion, it is through others that I learned the most about myself.

I not only have my new study abroad kindred spirits to thank for that:

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Or Jeff, who came to visit me in London, and who I visited in Greece and Austria:

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But also two of my best friends from home, who sacrificed their spring break to explore London with me:

And my parents, who took time off work to visit their baby boy growing up:

I partly owe the success and wonderment of my study abroad experience to those who I shared it with. That wonderful juxtaposition is a bit easier to riddle out.  I generally believe that, near or far, we are often the sums of our influences. So to better understand ourselves, I now believe in the importance of leaving those influences behind (sorry mom and dad, sorry Missouri, sorry Chick-fil-a) in order to sink ourselves into new influences (Hi strangers, ‘ello London, one order of fish n chips please!).

That drowning in new influences is the journey, and one I’m eternally grateful for (if you haven’t yet read my 16 weekly posts from my four-month adventure, you can here)

But now what? I’m back. The journey is over and I’ve come up for air within the old. To keep it living on, my running mind has put itself to work and I’ve reached a place where I can begin to reevalute who I was when I left Missouri, and who I am now that I’m back – what should stay and what shouldn’t, what is vastly important to my make up and what is weighing me down?

Just when I thought life couldn't get any better…

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I now feel that the story of my (young) life has been cut into two halves, a before and an after. Am I a different person now that I’m back from living the gypsy life I have craved for so long? Yes, I think I am, but I also think it depends on how you define “a different person”.

I could also say: I feel like a fuller version of myself.

It almost feels like a physical weight, like there is more of “me” inside my chest, more to keep me stable, more to keep me standing. My mind has been re-chiseled and better sculpted in order to more accurately see the waking reality around me.

I have become a better observer of the world.

This journey of self-discovery and observation is far from over. Just because I’ve surfed in Wales and biked through Greece, met Grace Helbig and attended the London Book Fair, stared at Venice from the Bridge of Sighs and climbed to the top of Florence’s Duomo, doesn’t mean that I am done seeking my great perhaps.

But honestly, I am horrified that it will all slip away some how, that the memories will fade and the lessons will be unlearned. So please allow me to find solace through writing and list a few of the things I learned while drifting through Europe.

Trying to soak up all of God's beauty this Easter! So thankful for all His blessings! 🍫 #VSCOcam #Wales

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  • This world is full of people, and while they are all vastly important in their own right, you must be fierce with those who you allow into your life. Leaving my friends and family behind has taught me who I love and appreciate with fierce loyalty, as well as who loves and appreciates me, and who doesn’t – and how that’s all okay. I find this C.S. Lewis quote, painted on a beam at The Eagle and Child, a pub he, Tolkien, and their writing group The Inklings used to hang out at, to be quite apt:
  • The kid who was once horrified to leave his mother’s side is no longer afraid to leave the nest. Living in London taught me that as much as I love St. Louis, I would be okay if I chose to move away from Mom and Dad and take on a big city like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, or Seattle.
  • I have a notorious tendency for creating crazy high expectations. But London taught me that just because I didn’t have a whirlwind romance with a celebrity or a crazy night out like The Hangover, it doesn’t mean that my fantastic experience abroad wasn’t exactly what I needed. There can be perfection in normalcy, and adventure without Hollywood contrivance.
  • There is undeniable beauty in new friendships, but there is also an incomparable power in old friendships. It’s okay for people to fade in and out of your life, but there is something special to be said for those who have stuck around through changes and growth.
  • I can be hyper-aware of my imperfections that no one notices, but blind to the ones that others do – and I am not alone in this. I am an imperfect human, but everyone else around me is also imperfect. It may sound simple, but understanding unlimited human fallibility through yourself and others takes time. I am not perfect. My best friends are not perfect. My enemies are not perfect. Celebrities are not perfect. Yes, even the likes of Harry Styles and John Green have flaws.
  • I don’t have my life figured out. A lot of people don’t. A lot of successful people didn’t. As Hayley William’s sings, and as I had her write for me when I met her last July, “Gotta Let it Happen”. I now understand this so much better. We’re all just trying to figure it out, but you sometimes have to let go of control, and anxiety, in order to let life happen. IMG_0305
  • I still have lessons to learn. I don’t have everything figured out, and I probably never will, but over the past four months I feel like I have grown exponentially. And while the future is still horrifying, there is still a great perhaps to live, and I may just be ready for it thanks to London’s lessons.

Yeat’s poem that features the line, “Cast your mind on other days…”, the title of this blog, could just as easily be Paramore’s song Future, so, in typical fashion, allow me to quote my favorite band and say:

“Just think of your future

And think of your dreams.”

“I’m writing the future

I’m writing it out loud”

 While I feel partially heartbroken that this fantastic, beautiful, beyond-words journey abroad is over, I am thinking of my future, and thinking of my dreams, and trudging onwards perpetually seeking my great perhaps. And I am thankful.

That being said, I also plan to spend some time reflecting over the past during the next few months. While abroad, in each country I visited, I purchased a copy of a different Harry Potter book in that language – a set of unique souvenirs and a testament to the personal meaning of one of my favorite stories.

So, on this blog I’ll be exploring the different countries I visited (England, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Wales, Greece, and Austria), likely using the book I purchased there as a reference point. I’m not quite sure how the nitty-gritty of it will work yet, but if you like geeking out and reading about travel and misadventures, then I implore you to stay tuned.

Thank you so much for reading.

Cheers, M

Like the Fog on the Thames // Tell Me It’s Okay to be Happy Now

I have lived in London for 64 days. And counting. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. I’ve reached the halfway point.

If you’re wondering what I’ve been up to week-by-week, you can see my weekly posts on CAPA World. Here are a few snippets: (And if you don’t care, and want to read about constant anxious self-examination abroad, just scroll past)

“I just keep thinking about the little kid who thought the sushi would come alive in his stomach. What would he say, seeing his older self eating lamb in a foreign country? Would he believe it?”

“When my train pulled into Gare du Nord Station, I attempted to somehow meld my previous conceptions of Paris – a romantic city of renaissance art and camembert cheese – with my latest understanding of the political upheaval.” 

“Wheatgrass smells, well, like grass. It was clipped by a bearded hipster right before my eyes, and then stuffed into a grinder that produced a ruffagey green juice.”

“That’s one of the things I’ve discovered while abroad, how gentrified things are becoming, especially from American companies, and it makes me think twice about my American identity.”

“You’re the best of the best,” Jack Antanoff of Bleachers said when he came back onstage for his encore. “Don’t put this online, but you’re better than everyone else. You’re the best, alright? This country and this city has the greatest music fans…and if we’re breathing, we’re gonna come back over and over and over and over again. Us and you guys, we’ll always have it.”

“I also have a tendency to blame myself if things don’t go perfectly the first time around. And so, admittedly, this fun combination of quirks and flaws led to pretty catastrophic first day at my internship.”

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(Photo Credit: Ellise Verheyen)

I’m thankful to be able to write these weekly posts, as it forces me to focus on the simple things, getting slightly out of my head to observe the world, which is something I often struggle with. That being said, just as this English adventure is an opportunity to appreciate the present, it’s also a time of growth and self-exploration.

And for posting those really wonderfully cliche-but-still-totally-beautiful study abroad pictures. *Cough* Follow me on Instagram *cough*.

Each week brings a new adventure, and I am so thankful for some of the life-changing things I’ve seen.

Paris offered me vast amounts of cheese, a starlight sparkling Eiffel Tower, and the bookshop Hemingway and Joyce often frequented while they lived and wrote in the city of old, white stone.

A weekend in Amsterdam showed me a museum dedicated to the tragic life and stunning art of Vincent Van Gogh, a simple bench physically manifesting the power of a story that transformed me, and midnight memories with friends new and old that will forever live in infamy.

And I just spent a week adventuring through Italy and Spain, which was an undeniably life-changing experience. I’ll be doing a whole post about my travel adventures soon.

But then there’s London. I want to see every last cobblestone of this glorious city that has become my home, and God it’s so hard. Every second that my breath isn’t being taken away feels like a moment wasted. Which is something I’ve admittedly struggled with a lot since I’ve been here. I am so acutely aware of how my time here is fleeting. I have dreamed of living in this city for years, and now I am here, and I know, logically, that I am sinking into London like the fog slips onto the Thames – in other words, I am doing the damn thing, but I’m afraid it’ll come and go too quickly.

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I’m working with locals, eating in hidden markets, visiting museums and taking historical tours, going to grungey concerts and drinking in dive bars. It feels safe to say that this is the happiest I have ever been in my entire life. I am learning so much here, about both myself and the world around me. But, London isn’t perfect. And neither is Europe, nor my adventures within it. There are moments of awkwardness and sadness and confusion, and, most shockingly, moments of intense normalcy. There are times when I just want to spend the night-in, shovel ice cream into my mouth, and watch Friends. Or times when I sit in my flat and watch YouTube videos by myself while eating a poorly-cooked meal. There are times when plans fall apart, when people aren’t perfectly quirky and outgoing, when you get cursed out on the street or fall asleep in the tube.

Those are the things you don’t put on Instagram, don’t tweet about, don’t use to portray a perfect life abroad – and they still happen. It’s the new, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one’s around to hear it, does it still make a sound?” If you don’t filter it in Instagram and post it to Facebook, did you still really experience it?

Obviously, the answer to both of those questions is: Abso-friggen-lutely.

Life in London is fantastic, but I am still living in reality. I’m still anxious about my future. I still replay awkward conversations in my head. I still stress out about how others perceive me, and I still have all my insecurities. My life in London isn’t some English version of The Lizzie McGuire movie, as much as I would love to be mistaken for Harry Styles, get thrust on stage, and then become best friends with a posse of celebrities, only to find out that love was by my side the entire time, that’s not how life works – and that’s okay! Because my life in London is full of fantastic adventures, and the fact that they don’t live up to unrealistic expectations, is, for me, such a good thing.

My life here seems to be deconstructing me one day at a time, building me into a better version of myself. Ah, the power of traveling into the unknown! But some things never change, and on some-level I’ll still always be an angsty 15-year-old at heart, and so, let me leave you with some Paramore lyrics that I have come to find wonderfully apt in these past couple of weeks.

Maybe it’s been years since I genuinely smiled
And maybe it’s been years since I wanted to be a part of anything

And lately I’ve been good
You know, I’ve actually been great
Man, I even laughed a little today

Oh, it’s so strange
It’s so strange

Tell me it’s okay to be happy now
because I’m happy now
Tell me it’s okay to be happy now
because I’m happy now

Cheers,

M

The Lovely Waves of London

Everyday I write in this journal. It’s small and brown and smooth. I’m careful not to scratch it with my fingernails as I unwrap the leather string that secures my inner thoughts.

On the tube, in a coffee shop, on the bedroom floor of my flat, I scribble the ink into cursive loops in the hope that maybe, just maybe, I can convince myself to believe in the strange life that I’m living.

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Some days it works better than others.

I’m afraid as each day rushes past, I will forget the vortex of emotions I’m experiencing. Because being in this city is just far too precious to forget.

“London calls me a stranger, a traveller.” Two years ago Ed Sheeran sang those words to a small-but-packed venue back in St. Louis. At the time, I hadn’t thought about how intimately I would one day experience what he was singing.

Of course, I must admit, it is a bit different – I am not a touring musician missing his home. But the point remains the same, London is vibrant, rich, and undoubtedly bewitching, and I feel like a tourist here. My departure in May is a lifetime away, but God, I can feel it approaching already. I keep forcing myself to stop, to breathe, to take everything in: You are not just passing through this city – you are living here, you are making it your home.

Because I absolutely love it here. Something just feels right about this place.

And I’m sure that’s a terrible cliche that every study-abroad-er says to their friends and family after a week or two in their foreign country. But, screw it, because it does.

Of course, that feeling of rightness is a spectrum. The Love I have for London is not a stationary constant.

Because I suck at transitions. Terrible with them. Change and I are frenemies – I crave it, and then when it comes, my mind and body react beyond logic. So yes, I have had a couple of international panic attacks since I’ve been here. I’ve hyperventilated in a Starbucks and typed rapidly to my parents in a tiny bathroom. You can’t control the waves, but you can learn to surf. Which is something a handful of supportive people have said to me on various occasions, and it’s totally true. Because you know what I’ve realized? Surfing can be really, really fun. Even if you’re thrown off your board and water gets up your nose a few times.

And I’m having the time of my life surfing. I never thought I would truly ride some of the waves that I have: I’ve been challenged to karaoke by a beautiful hipster Welsh couple; I’ve drank the ancient, medicinal waters of Bath; I’ve had a couple of pints in one of Amy Winehouse’s old stomping grounds; I’ve looked upon the place where Ann Boleyn lost her head; and, most importantly, I’ve taken a risk and moved to a massive city an entire ocean away from my home.

Obsessed with this city. Each view is more spectacular than the last. #VSCOcam #London

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So, yeah, I’ve surfed some pretty freakin’ cool waves. But I’ve also realized that the waves aren’t always as big and majestic as I expected them to be. As illogical as our emotions can be sometimes, they still affect how we see the world. Although I am falling ever-so-quickly in love with London, it is not Oz, and there is no Wizard here to grant my every wish. Even in London, there is no such thing as perfection.

“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good,” said Voltaire. He’s right. And I certainly won’t let it be the enemy of great. Because these first two weeks in London have been pretty damn great. I am experiencing something truly tremendous, a real gift, and I want to cherish it in each passing moment. And while the road may be a bit bumpy at times, while the waves may fling me into the brine occasionally, it’s all still a fantastic ride.

Enjoy the journey. (Thanks for your wisdom, Mom.)

Thanks for reading and following my incredible study abroad adventure! Every week I’ll be writing a separate blog post for my program, CAPA, and it’ll appear on their website. The first post, London Calling: Thoughts from the Plane is up now!

Cheers!

M

The Year of the Great Perhaps

I don’t want to write a typical, overly-nostalgic, super-feely New Year’s blog post. And you don’t want to read one, either.

In a few days, I am moving to London for 4 months. I know…

I have no idea what it’s going to feel like, and thus I have no idea how to emotionally prepare myself. But I do know this:

Looking for Alaska by John Green is, dare I say, my favorite book ever. It’s a coming-of-age story about first loves and last words. Miles Halter is fascinated by the dying words of the French poet Francois Rabelais, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” The novel is his story of attempting to extend himself beyond an ordinary life in search of his Great Perhaps.

So, I will simple say, may 2015 be the year of the Great Perhaps. Of mine and of yours.

But I’ve learned that you have to do something in order to make it to your Great Perhaps. It seldom just happens upon you. So make a change, take a risk, go against your instincts or follow them for the first time.

This is, of course, totally, brutally difficult. It’s not easy. It’s not an instant epiphany. It’s something you have to fight for – and I’m no expert in this battle, I’m just another soldier with a sword, charging at life with a shaky grip and only one eye open. But, hoping for the best, I believe we get better at this in time.

Yeah, I think we’ll get there. And when we do, I bet we’ll get cool buttons like this one.

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2014 was a pretty mixed bag for me, as I assume it was for most of us. Highs and lows, shocks and sadness sprinkled with love and friendship and learning. It was a year of growth, and I am so much more proud of the person I am right now than the person I was a year ago.

I hope you are, too. If not, well, hit a punching bag, get a haircut, take a deep breath and make a change.

You’ll be fine, I promise.

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(Everything’s better with a monkey, isn’t it?)

A little part of me wants to leave you with a sappy quote. Maybe something like,

  • “If it’s both terrifying and amazing then you should definitely pursue it.”
  • “Get your shit together, Carol!” Kristen Wigg, Bridesmaids
  • “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” John Steinbeck
  • “Sure, I peed on her. And if I had to, I’d pee on any one of you!” Joey, Friends
  • “I don’t know a perfect person. I only know flawed people who are still worth loving.” John Green

But all of those would hinder this from being a sappy-barf-free New Year’s Eve post. So instead I’ll leave you with some Ron Swanson gifs to even things out.

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See you across the pond!

M

What if I meet Harry Styles and don’t know what to say?

It’s the weird little things that are getting to me, that are forcing me to realize I will be leaving the country in just under three weeks.

I was watching the latest episode of American Horror Story: Freak Show and at the end, after the promo for the next episode, the dark, creepy voice-over announced that, “American Horror Story: Freak Show will return on Wednesday, January 7th.”

And I just thought: Wait, what?…Umm…I’ll be in London then. When the next episode airs, I will be living in a different country. 

Surprise bitch

And it’s not that I’m freaked out about missing the new episodes of my favorite TV shows, I promise (although don’t remind me about potentially missing the final season of Parks and Rec – HOW DOES TV WORK OVER THERE? I NEED MY FIX OF LESLIE KNOPE & WAFFLES – but I digress…) Now the distance between me and London is more countable, more reachable – next semester, or a couple months, or a couple weeks, those periods of time all feel so vague, moving either glacially or quickly, unbeknownst to me, but the next episode of something – I know what that feels like.

So it’s getting closer, and, as usual, I’m filled with a thunderstorm of excitement and anxiety. I’ve never been away from my family for that long. I’ve never lived in such a big city before. I’ve never been away from a full closet of clothes! (one suitcase? How do I fit 4 months of clothes into one suitcase?!)

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Point being: the “What If’s” are running ever rampant through my head. Allow me to share with you a few of the less the-plane-will-crash-and-I-will-die-or-the-tube-will-crash-and-I-will-die-or-I-will-be-brutally-murdered-in-the-street-by-gypsies type ones.

  • What if I meet Harry Styles and don’t know what to say?
  • What if I meet Emma Watson and don’t know what to say?
  • What if I spend 4 months in London and DON’T meet either Harry Styles or Emma Watson?
  • What if I don’t understand soccer as well as I think I do and I accidentally do something wrong in a pub full of angry Brits?
  • What if I’m at something swanky and don’t want to embarrass myself and I accidentally ask where the bathroom is and someone furrows their brow and points me towards a door, and I go in to realize that bathroom means “room where there is a bath” not “the toilet” but want to play it cool and then have to pee in a bathtub so as not to embarrass myself further, even though doing so totally embarrasses myself further.
  • What if my boss asks me to make him tea and I totally botch it and he scoffs, “Bloody Americans!” and then I have singlehandedly jeopardized US-UK relations with a single cup of tea?
  • What if I point out to someone that “US-UK” looks like “U SUK” and then they deport me?
  • What if I get terribly lost and have to find my home just wandering around the city?

Okay, that last one is bound to happen, and I have to admit, I’m kind of excited for it.

But I think facing the rest of these totally plausible situations will grow me, along with the cornucopia of situations I must face that I have yet to even imagine. Ah, yes, the journey of self-discovery winds ever on and on!

But the exciting news is, you’ll get to hear about it all on a scheduled, weekly basis! The group hosting my study abroad, CAPA, has chosen me to be their official blogger for London! Every Friday, once I get over there, I will be posting over on Capaworld.capa.org (and I’ll post links to those blogs here, as well). The posts will be a bit more themed and travel-y, which means I’ll still be posting emotional anxiety rambles on this blog – so fear not!

It’ll be just like I never left, right?

Again, I am so grateful for all of the support and excitement I’ve received as I begin to embark on this exciting new chapter.

Talk soon,

M

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London Child

Last week, I purchased a plane ticket. An international plane ticket. A plane ticket that has me departing in January, and returning in May.

My passport and visa forms are at the UK Consulate, awaiting approval by Brits who want to make sure I’m not a murderer or cult leader or croc-wearer. And if all goes well, I will be spending four months living, working, and learning in London, which is so overwhelmingly exciting I have yet to legitimately understand it as truth.

It is completely unfathomable.

***

I’m supposed to have my life together, right?

I mean, I’m supposed to be killing it. I’m supposed to be published (a young writer prodigy!), and have developed my own personal brand (social media superstar!); I’m supposed to be on my way to achievement – a physical, tangible sense of marketability. Why am I not there yet? Other people are!

I want these things for myself. But we know how that goes…

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“Don’t compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20”

“Compare where you are to where you want to be and you’ll get nowhere”

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.”

And of course, all these things are so painfully, obviously true! Versions of these sayings are knitted on pillows and splattered across tumblr dashboards, but we don’t buy them, or, at least, I don’t buy them, because their directions are so vague when we’re actually attempting to apply them to our own lives.

You see, I am constantly inspired by young artists forging their own way through a creative life. Two of these artists are Jack and Finn Harries, a filmmaker and designer respectively. They’re British twenty-something twins dominating the artsy side of YouTube.

In the latest episode of their documentary series “Following Heart,” Finn reintroduces himself:

“Hi, my name’s Finn.”

Jack: “I think they know what your name is by now. But they might’ve forgotten, or, someone might’ve subscribed in the last, like, 3 months and they wouldn’t know who you are.”

*Both laughing*

Finn: “Yep.”

*Honest, loving, genuine laughing*

Jack: “How’s life?”

Finn: “It’s been good, uh, I went away for a bit to find myself, and now I’m back, and I’ve found myself, and I’m excited to be here.”

It was so casual. How could anything so life-defining be such a nonchalant topic? Finding myself? That sounds horrifying! I don’t know how to do that! I don’t know who I am! Umm, I like naps. And I like writing things? I like throwing myself into fiction, using stories to explore, um, people, places, and things…?

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Yep. People, places, and things…

Is that all I got?

But, maybe I’m not alone? I mean, here is this talented, successful young artist talking about going away to find himself.

Are we allowed to not know who we are? Is that acceptable?

ZeFrank has a wonderful video in which he talks about how the advice “Be Yourself” is one of the most horrifying things we can hear as a child. How are we supposed to know what the hell that means? Be yourself? More like pee yourself!

As a child, I was more like a caricature of myself. In grade school, much like Ze, I somehow learned how to pick out the particular aspects of my personality that people enjoyed and play them up. My thing was always changing. One year, I was the kid who liked cheese (I even went as cheese for Halloween – a yellow mattress pad with a Greenbay Packers styrofoam cheese hat). Then I was the kid who was really good at math, obsessed with money, and destined to be a banker (a handful of my shirts had different variations of the dollar sign on them – I think it was the original Nerd Chic). And then I was the fifth-grader obsessed with the TV show Friends, who wrote an essay about Monica and Chandler’s relationship, and who taught his whole class how to sing “I’ll Be There For You”.

Yeah, I was a weird kid, I know.

Through middle school and high school, shaken by varying levels of teenage angst, depression, and anxiety, I continued the trend, albeit in a slightly different way. I became the quiet one, the one who never bothered anyone, the one who you could look at and say “meh, he’s fine”, or I was the wannabe skater kid, the kid with a weird taste in music, the emo one (as emo as you can get for a Catholic private school). Later it progressed to better, more stable versions: the theatre geek, the nerd, the writer, the quirky one.

I will admit that as a twenty-year-old, junior in college, I still don’t know who I am. Maybe I have somewhat of an idea? Maybe a combination of all my former past selves? I’m not sure – but I do know that as far as the whole journey of self discovery thing goes, I feel a bit stalled.

Of course, many would argue, including Troye Sivan, that it isn’t about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself. And, to be fair, maybe he’s right – I’ve seemingly spent my entire life wiggling in and out of temporary personas.

Am I some sort of personality shapeshifter? A chameleon? Is that my true self? Or is it something else entirely, a hidden clay waiting to be molded?

I have no fucking clue.

But I think that spending four months in another country, away from my family and friends, I may just be able to figure it out.

***

I am so grateful for my parents unconditional love and support in sending me across the pond. Come early January, I’ll hop on a plane to Heathrow, drop my overstuffed suitcases in a London apartment, and begin taking classes and interning at a London PR Agency.

It feels too cliche to say, “Dreams DO come true!”, but, there, I said it – so deal with it.

Get ready for international blogging, mates. Next time I post, it may be from the local pub, where I’ll be having a pint and chowing down on fish and chips.

God, I hope they don’t hate me over there. I will do my best not to be a terrible American stereotype.

But I will be updating you on my perilous journey of self-discovery every step of the way, in the hopes that you find solidarity in my words.

Thanks for reading – cheers!

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Art is Risk, and Writing is Pickpocketing

Words are hard…

…said the aspiring author.

Yesterday, November 1, was the beginning of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) and it has me feeling things.

Mostly fear.

If you know me personally, then you know that I dig writing novels. I dig writing all things, actually (even angsty poetry that will never, ever, EVER see the light of day). In fact, I dig writing things so much that I eventually want to make a career out of it.

So writing shouldn’t scare me, right?

Wrong. Totally wrong.

Maybe one day it won’t scare me. Maybe with each word I type, writing will scare me less and less. But the creation of any type of art is an inherent risk – a risk of rejection, a risk that the words that I write will be absolute, utter shit, a risk that my painstaking work will reveal that I am a talentless, hopeless shell of a human who should really just give it all up before he ruins the rest of his life.

But I guess the thing I love about writing is that you essentially get to teach yourself; you can always, always get better. I think some people are more naturally talented at it than others, but, overall, the more you write, and the more you read, the better you are.

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So I’m basically a pickpocket – aren’t you proud, Mom?

I’m still technically in the query process (which means I’m attempting to get picked up by a literary agent, who would then sell my book to a publishing house, essentially) for my Young Adult Fantasy novel The Phoenix and the Halcyon. It’s my first attempt at publishing, and I’m honestly not sure what, if anything, is going to happen to with this story – but I’m really proud of it, regardless, for both the content itself and what I learned about writing from crafting it.

But, alas, I have many stories inside this overcrowded, anxious brain of mine. And so I have officially begun the first draft of a story I am tentatively titling Thunder Only Happens When It’s Raining. The story is a tongue-and-cheek combination of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and every hilariously awkward journal entry I wrote in high school. I have good feeling about this one, I think.

So I’m going to spend November pounding out a crappy first draft of a story I already love, and, thus, scares the bejesus out of me. (Random thought: What’s a bejesus? Why is it inside of me? Should it be there? Is scaring it out of me a good thing? Is it imperative to my health?)

November is going to be a busy one, friends. Wish me the best of luck. Sorry if I don’t answer your calls, texts, or emails right away, I still love you, I promise.

It’ll be fine. I’ll get there. I’ll live. I don’t know.

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Oh well, back to writing!

Sleeping amongst the dead – facing my fears at the haunted Lemp Mansion

6:59 pm: It is literally a dark and stormy night.

I’ve just checked into the “Charles Suite” at Lemp Mansion – which, according to Life magazine, The Travel Channel, and myself, is one of the most haunted places in the country. The Lemps are an old St. Louis brewing family, and the mansion they lived in has seen much tragedy. Over two generations, three members of the Lemp family killed themselves inside these walls. Another son, a boy named Zeke who was deformed and likely had Down’s syndrome, also died inside the house. Zeke has the heart of a child, and is still searching the house for his mother; apparently she’s looking for him too, a spirit unaware of her own death. Elsa, another Lemp daughter, also killed herself, though not in the home.

The last surviving Lemp son, Edwin, moved out of the mansion and died of natural causes at the age of 90. According to the ever-trustful Wikipedia, his last order to his caretaker was to destroy his art collection and family heirlooms.

The Lemp Mansion was then transformed into a boarding house. If you’ve read your share of ghost stories, you know that nothing good happens in boarding houses. Some spirits remain from those days, including a young girl named Elizabeth who died a violent death and a man named Oscar (a la Oscar the Grouch) who releases the smell of rotting flesh to announce his presence.

Spending the night at the historic and extremely haunted Lemp Mansion. Wish me luck. #Lemp #vsco #vscocam

A post shared by Matt Linenbroker (@mattlinenbroker) on

So, this should be fun.

I have a rosary around my neck, some holy water in my bag, and a pendulum to react to energy. I’m not sure I believe it works, but it’s pretty convincing when it’s happing in your hand, right in front of you. The pendulum swings certain directions in response to your questions (for me, it swings clockwise if “yes”, and then stops to swing diagonally if “no”). Maybe it’s crap, but personally I think it’s more fun to believe than not to.

The “Charles Suite” is dimly lit, with a big bed, a luxurious couch, and a delightfully creepy piano. It’s namesake, Charles Lemp, killed himself and his dog in 1949, leaving the note, “St. Louis Mo/May 9, 1949, In case I am found dead blame it on no one but me. Ch. A. Lemp” Old paintings line the wall, and I imagine Scooby Doo-esque eyes watching from behind them.

It’s still light outside, and I don’t feel too unnerved.

Yet.

Dana just pulled out her dowsing rods, two copper rods that are used to conduct energy, answering yes or no questions in a similar way to my pendulum.

This place is so spiritually active and the rods are going crazy, answering yes or no questions extremely quickly (pointing right for yes, left for no).

Apparently Charles is greeting us, through the rods.

Dana says she feels comfortable here, more comfortable than she has been in about a week. She likes it here, a lot.

Emma, playing with her own pair of dowsing rods, grabs our attention: “Guys? Guys. Guys. I just asked if we’re going to be safe tonight. It said no.”

Dana: What do you think’s going to happen?

Emma: I don’t think anything’s going to happen. I think it’s going to be fun because we’ll make it fun.

Me? Well, I think the night is dark and full of terrors. No, seriously, I think I’ll be fine. I think I’ll get scared. And I think I’ll learn some of the limits to my fears.

But let’s just say, I brought an extra pair of underwear.

Dana: Don’t you just feel better when you walk into this house?

Emma: Maybe, until I have to shit on my own.

8:40 pm: Emma and I nearly jumped out of our skin. We heard noises – a whisper, we thought. Then footsteps. Then CCRAASCSADFK.

It was an ice machine. We were standing right next to it.

We’ve explored the house. The third floor unsettles me. Narrow halls and sharp corners. Sticky, wet heat.

I thought I saw a shadow in the corner of my eye. They say to be aware of your peripheral vision. Maybe it was nothing, maybe it wasn’t.

The third floor is notoriously more active than the second.

I did not like it up there. Not. One. Bit. After hanging out in one of the rooms for near twenty minutes, I was ready to go. I sensed unpredictability. Maybe I freaked myself out, but I’m relieved that our suite is on the second floor.

Back in our room, with the sun down, our room is painted in an amber haze. Dana and Emma sit on the bed, playing with the dowsing rods, while I type to a well-crafted Lemp Mansion playlist: Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Amy Winehouse.

Every bedroom in the house is booked tonight. Our neighbors have just moved in – our door is open, we’re a friendly bunch.

But as it gets darker, the creepier it gets. Dana’s eyes are lit with a spiritual curiosity. Emma’s are more like mine, excited with a sprinkle of trepidation.

I’m fine, I’m just not buying the “I survived my night at Lemp Mansion” t-shirt just yet. I feel comfortable in a big room where I can see everything, with my laptop under my keys, a lamp shining behind me, and my friends laughing on the bed.

Late night exploring, though…that’ll be different.

Scared by an ice machine #lemp #vsco #vscocam

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9:36 pm: Dana is talking to someone with the dowsing rods. She’s asking him to make the lights flicker. He’s doing it.

I don’t think we’re alone here.

9:54 pm: I coughed loudly. Emma did not enjoy it.

9:56 pm: The house staff leaves at 10pm, and then it’s just us and the other guests. We met a mother and her twin daughters who are staying in the room across from us. They seemed nice, and they totally didn’t remind me of the twins from The Shining at alllllllll.

Let's explore #Lemp! #vscocam #vsco…totally #scared.

A post shared by Matt Linenbroker (@mattlinenbroker) on

11:34 pm: I am emotionally exhausted. Scared. Jitters. Nerves.

My overactive imagination is at play. Who are the other people staying in this house? What do they want? Are there other spirits, not the Lemps, who are here? Who are unfriendly?

We explored. Late at night. In the dark. We stared down dark hallways. We forced ourselves around corners. We prowled the old basement, blackened doorways on every side of us.

We sat in a dining area and watched the light flicker over a painting of Billy Lemp’s wife. It only flickers when you talk about his suicide. He killed himself in that room, and the gunshot flung his body against the wall. Sometimes, people still hear the THUD.

I’m done. I’m tired. I want to go to sleep.

I’ve reached a level of fear that I’m comfortable with. I’ve pushed myself. I’ve stood in the dark of a spiritually active place, while no one else was around.

I don’t want to do more.

I want to go to sleep, but I’m afraid of what may go bump in the night.

And I don’t want to wake at the Witching Hour.

12:15 am: Dana and Emma wanted to hang out on a bench outside our door. I wanted to stay in the locked room, and, as per usual, I watched YouTube videos to calm myself down. Thanks, Grace Helbig.

After fifteen minutes passed, I opened the door to check on them. I should have thought that one through, I suppose. They freaked out.

My bad, guys.

Then the phone rang. The phone from downstairs. And one of the creepy twins came from around the corner.

I’ve been happily barricaded in our room since.

The phone just rang again.

Is it morning yet?

7:17 am: …

I am alive.

I feel strangely comfortable in the room we’re in. Something about being behind locked doors. And being next to a major highway provided the reassuring buzzes and zooms to remind me I wasn’t alone.

I didn’t sleep well, but I don’t blame the room. I blame myself, for never being able to sleep well in a new bed. Besides waking up a handful of times, scanning the room to make sure there were no huddled, dark masses plotting from the corner, I was fine.

The majority of the scares we had, we created ourselves. Thoughts of spirits rushing me, grabbing my wrist, pulling me around dark corners and up staircases. The doors to our room violently shaking, with guttural screams of “GET OUT, GET OUT” echoing through the house. Losing control of my body, my senses, my soul. I’ve always had an overactive imagination, and the fear of those possibilities kept me on my toes. But I did it. I survived.

I did almost have a panic attack because someone else was walking with their luggage, though. The heavy sighs of a weary, wandering spirit were really just the exhausted puffs of a tired guest not thrilled about dragging suitcases up a spiral staircase.

Did anything life changing happen? No. But they say life begins at the end of your comfort zone. If I can hang out with spirits here, I can hang out with them anywhere.

If I can conquer this fear, I can conquer others.

Onward!

Book Update: A Description of Feels in Gif Form

My name is Matt and I am an aspiring author. If you know me, you’ve probably known that I’ve been working on a book for, well, forever. Okay, really just for about four years – but it feels like forever. I could ramble on to you about how it feels like these characters are a part of me, and how this story has become my story, and how this is my life’s work right now, and all of those things would be true, but that’s not the point of today’s lesson, class.

I’m beginning to think that writing the book is the easy part. It’s definitely the fun part. Trying to “sell” the book, to get an agent, to begin the process of getting published…well, it’s a wonderful journey and what not, but as I am taking the crucial first few steps, I would like to relate to my tumblr-loving youths and say that “THE STRUGGLE IS REAL”.

Right now, I am unagented. I do not have a literary agent. When a literary agent decides to take you on as a client, they work on selling your book to a publishing house. When your book is sold, it gets published.

This is the simplified version of a highly specific, intense, detail-oriented process that make you realize what amazing people agents, editors, and publishers really are.

I’ve gotten my manuscript to a place where I am proud and comfortable with it. Now I’m working on a query letter – essentially a cover letter that pitches your book to an agent, in the hopes that they’ll read your book and decide to represent you.

Writing a query letter is an art, and right now I’m feeling a bit like 7-year-old painting on a plastic easel pretending to be Monet.

So, as I go through revisions and revisions of my query letter, I present to you my current feels. In my experience, this is what it is like to work on a query letter – in gif form:

And then finally you hit a point and it’s just like:

But hopefully soon my reactions will be something more like this:

or this:

or even like this:

The struggle is real, but I’m praying that great things are waiting on the other side!

And if not…well…

Err…just kidding!…

BOOKZ: What I’m Reading, Summer 2014

Summer is here! Do you know what that means?

Suns out, guns out! 

But let’s be real, I mostly use my muscles for lifting books. So while you’re power lifting the A Song of Ice and Fire series, squatting A Dance with Dragons so you can get that Hodor physique, why not read a few of these? Here’s what I’ll be reading this summer, along with their Amazon descriptions so you can join me, if you like! Let me know if you have any further suggestions of books I should check out!

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Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?” 
 
Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you’ve come to the right book, mostly!

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Though Jack Kerouac began thinking about the novel that was to become On the Road as early as 1947, it was not until three weeks in April 1951, in an apartment on West Twentieth Street in Manhattan, that he wrote the first full draft that was satisfactory to him. Typed out as one long, single-spaced paragraph on eight long sheets of tracing paper that he later taped together to form a 120-foot scroll, this document is among the most significant, celebrated, and provocative artifacts in contemporary American literary history. It represents the first full expression of Kerouac’s revolutionary aesthetic, the identifiable point at which his thematic vision and narrative voice came together in a sustained burst of creative energy. It was also part of a wider vital experimentation in the American literary, musical, and visual arts in the post-World War II period.

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A self-described Francophile from when he was little, Rosecrans Baldwin always dreamed of living in Paris—drinking le café, eating les croissants, walking in les jardins—so when an opportunity presented itself to work for an advertising agency in Paris, he couldn’t turn it down. Despite the fact that he had no experience in advertising. And despite the fact that he barely spoke French. After an unimaginable amount of red tape and bureaucracy, Rosecrans and his wife packed up their Brooklyn apartment and left the Big Apple for the City of Light. But when they arrived, things were not eactly what Rosecrans remembered from a family vacation when he was nine years old.


Paris, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down is a nimble comic account of observing the French capital from the inside out. It is an exploration of the Paris of Sarkozy, text-message romances, smoking bans, and a McDonald’s beneath the Louvre—the story of an American who arrives loving Paris all out of proportion, but finds life there to be completely unlike what he expected. Over eighteen months, Rosecrans must rely on his dogged American optimism to get him through some very unromantic situations—at work (writing booklets on how to breast-feed, raise, and nurture children), at home (trying to finish writing his first novel in an apartment surrounded on all sides by construction workers), and at every confusing French dinner party in between. An offbeat update to the expat canon, Paris, I Love You is a book about a young man finding his preconceptions replaced by the oddities of a vigorous, nervy city—which is just what he needs to fall in love with Paris for the second time.

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The extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller that has captivated over 1 million readers.

I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse. 

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face.WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. 

“Wonder is the best kids’ book of the year,” said Emily Bazelon, senior editor at Slate.com and author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.

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In this brilliant, breathtaking book by Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. As India starts to prosper, the residents of Annawadi are electric with hope. Abdul, an enterprising teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Meanwhile Asha, a woman of formidable ambition, has identified a shadier route to the middle class. With a little luck, her beautiful daughter, Annawadi’s “most-everything girl,” might become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest children, like the young thief Kalu, feel themselves inching closer to their dreams. But then Abdul is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy turn brutal. With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds—and into the hearts of families impossible to forget. 

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In his New York Times bestselling novel, David Levithan introduces readers to what Entertainment Weekly calls a “wise, wildly unique” love story about A, a teen who wakes up every morning in a different body, living a different life.

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

With his new novel, David Levithan, bestselling co-author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, has pushed himself to new creative heights. He has written a captivating story that will fascinate readers as they begin to comprehend the complexities of life and love in A’s world, as A and Rhiannon seek to discover if you can truly love someone who is destined to change every day.

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“I want you to do something with the place. Something epic.”

After being entrusted with her brother’s Los Angeles apartment for the summer as a graduation gift, Emi Price isn’t sure how to fulfill his one condition: that something great take place there while he’s gone. Emi may be a talented young production designer, already beginning to thrive in the competitive film industry, but she still feels like an average teen, floundering when it comes to romance.

But when she and her best friend, Charlotte, discover a mysterious letter at the estate sale of a Hollywood film legend, Emi must move beyond the walls of her carefully crafted world to chase down the loose ends of a movie icon’s hidden life, leading her to uncover a decades’ old secret and the potential for something truly epic: love.