The First Quarter Update

FeaturedThe First Quarter Update

I’ve been terribly remiss with my blogging since I left. Mostly because, you know, I’ve been experiencing London and/or trying to find work and/or doing completely boring things that no one really wants to read about anyway, so why would I write about them?

And so, I welcome you all to the “Super Sara Catch-up Blog!” in which I will give you all an outline of what’s happened in my life since I made the leap across the pond.

Because it’s a handy writing device and it’ll make things a little more logical for me to write and for you to read, I’m going to employ a few useful lists. Lists: they’re great at keeping me focused, and less “Oh for the love of God, get to the point!” inducing for readers — genius!

Before I left, a friend of mine accurately described my intentions on this adventure by saying that I was going more for the “immersive experience” than anything. He was right (more right than I could have ever realized at the time, actually). Here are some things about the “immersive experience” that I have loved so far:

1. I love efficient public transit.

This needs no further explanation except to say that it now seems like a drag when I narrowly miss an Overground train because I have to wait a whole 4 MINUTES before another one comes along… WHO HAVE I BECOME?!

2. Developing a “local routine” has been really fun and surprising.

My local coffee shop is AMAZING: they know me by drink and the staff actually ask me about my life and comment on how long it’s been since they’ve seen me.

My walking routes are brilliant and mostly free of traffic. I LOVE THAT.

3. Everything is so close!

You never have to go very far for anything — food, clothes, fun, etc. The furthest I have gone for anything is a 40-minute train journey to work in the AM, and that doesn’t even seem like a long time.

4. You don’t have to go looking for interesting things to do or see because you stumble on them all the time. 

Seriously. I’m living in London — history and art and culture is… in the air I breathe. I often trip over it on the way to work. If you’re not paying attention, you can miss it. Fortunately, having lived on a limited budget many times in my life has taught me to pay extra diligent attention to the small stuff, and I have learned to love the little bits of London because of that.

5. I really did pick the right place to live.

Wapping is gorgeous and a part of London that has only recently (slowly over the last half century) pulled itself up by its bootstraps. I am comforted by the proximity to water and the marine culture here, and the cobblestone streets (though annoying to walk on when you’re wearing certain footwear) are a great daily reminder of “where I am”. It is quiet enough that I feel like I’m in a really cozy, quiet “home” when I arrive back at my flat at the end of a long day, but central enough that all of London is just hop, skip, and jump away.

Now that we’ve got the pleasantries out of the way, here are some things about the “immersive experience” that I’m not so fond of:

1. You gotta earn a living, man. 

The job search and all related business (use your imaginations!) hasn’t been a lot of fun. I’ve learned A BOATLOAD (several, in fact) about the international job search since I’ve been here, and I don’t regret a moment of it but wow, does it get emotionally and physically tiring after a while.

2. Adjusting to top-up culture has been a little strange. 

Almost every service here is (or can be) done by top-up: mobile, water, gas, electricity, etc. In ways, that’s really convenient and wonderful (mobile top-up via bank machine has saved me several times in the last few weeks), but it has certainly been a mentality adjustment. Not a big complaint, but one worth noting. It’s one of those little life things that can become incredibly annoying if you let it.

3. Giving up your space.

It goes without saying that the amount of personal living space I have at my disposal in London is significantly less than I had either in St. John’s or Shoal Harbour. I do have a great room in my flat (which includes a nice big bed — very important), but the space adjustment has been something else. They say that many Canadians who come to the UK end up in Scotland and I can definitely see why: there’s just more space up there. Love and adventure in wide open spaces — that’s where it’s at.

4. City living, while brilliant in some ways, can make for too much hurrying and too many long days. 

I love London, but there are moments when I just want to kick people for being inconsiderate, hurrying, jackasses. Sometimes it’s just a matter of rising above paying attention to that sort of thing, which I manage relatively well, but there are days when I just want to grab some people by the collar and say: “It’s not worth it! Unless there is a serious emergency you absolutely MUST attend to, for the love of God, SLOW DOWN!”

5. Dammit, I miss my community!

When I say “community”, I mean: family, friends, and members of my professional network (most of whom I count as friends anyway, but it’s worth noting separately). The unfortunate part about having moved when I did is that (as my mother so rightly observed about 2 months before it actually happened) it happened just at the point I had really started to feel “at home” and like I was building something in Clarenville. The results of this rather unfortunate timing have been incredibly instructive and have taught me more about myself and where I actually feel like I belong than anything else. Having gone from St. John’s to Shoal Harbour to London in the last year, I can safely say that while St. John’s and London are both fabulous, there is nowhere I feel more at home than in my actual home in Shoal Harbour. There are days when it’s harder to be away, and there are days when I just feel like I’m glad I know I’ll be headed back there eventually (which, unless something changes rather drastically, I will).

And now for a brief interlude of experiences I’ve had since I arrived: 

1. Made some great friends and gained some wonderful flatmates.

2. Spent Canada Day in central London and loved it.

3. Worked jobs in St. James’s Square and Grosvenor Street in Mayfair.

4. Roamed around Shoreditch at an unGodly hour of the morning and witnessed all manner of disgusting and horrific things in the process, including: levels of drunkenness I don’t think I realized existed previously (and that’s saying something), fashion choices that are burned into my memory in a bad way, more vomit than you’d ever want to see in one night, and a truly tragic accident scene that most people were just strolling by (emergency crews were on site, but it was so hard to see).

5. Spent a lot of time walking and reading in the various wonderful parks of London (I love London’s green spaces –one of my favourite parts of living here!).

6. Shopped in some amazing markets (Spitalfields is my absolute favourite! Brick Lane is a close second).

7. Developed a real love for the city at night through visits to Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s, etc. after dark. London is even more dynamic and haunting at night.

8. Stumbled on some really fabulous street performances — one of the “everyday pleasures” of London living.

9. Attended the “celebrity arrivals” part of a movie premiere in Leicester Square.

10. Had some amazing culinary experiences, including some brilliant Italian and Indian food.

And finally, the list of things I’ve learned so far:

1. Making the move you’ve waited a lifetime to make will not make you as happy as you always thought it would… at least, not right away. 

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned (and there have been many, but this is the biggest) since I made the jump, it’s that moving really doesn’t ever turn out how you imagined it would, even if you’ve got a plan. Moreover, it shouldn’t turn out exactly how you planned it, because somehow, that would be the opposite of what it was meant to do for you, the role it was meant to play. Going on an adventure and taking a leap as I have done has, more than anything, helped me define myself in ways that I didn’t quite expect, and outlined for me the sort of people I want and need in my life, the sort of atmosphere I want and need, and the incredibly large divide between what I once thought would make me happy and what actually does make me happy.

Sometimes, you’ve got to break out of your comfort zone to find and define both yourself and what you want that comfort zone to be on your terms. After 3 months away, I feel like my whole vision of myself and what I want my life to be has been smashed to smithereens and that I’m now putting it back together, piece by piece, friendship by friendship, professional move by professional move and — most importantly — act of love by act of love. It’s incredibly empowering to find out who you’ve been all along, who you’ve become, and how that can dramatically change your vision for the future.

…I think I’ll leave that last list at 1 because that pretty much sums it all up: everything else I’ve learned feeds directly into that one point, and I needn’t belabour it. There will be no belabouring of points, here!

On a closing note: I sometimes think I should be doing more, or that I should have accomplished more since I’ve been here, but you know, I think moving to another country on my own, smashing my life to smithereens, and beginning to rebuild it is enough to accomplish in 3 months. Let’s see what the next 3 bring!

“The Sara Swagger” or “On Beauty”

Featured“The Sara Swagger” or “On Beauty”

I think it would be difficult to come to London and not enjoy it. Who was it that said “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”? I never remember, and I’m not even going to bother to look it up because it’s the wisdom and sentiment of the statement that matters, not the particular person who said it. Many have said that very thing (or a variation on it) in their own way, as I have just done, and it rings true no matter who says it.

I have settled into my small corner of the city quite easily, and I feel as though it could become home for me very quickly if things continue to go as well as they have been. I have been met with such positivity since I arrived that I am a bit in disbelief: the customer service experiences I’ve had so far have been nothing short of amazing, the weather has been a perfect balance of sunny and summer-chill, and the world seems to have opened up to me in a way that I hadn’t expected at all but am positively floored by. I’m sure I can attribute some of this feeling to the “new glow” of my first few days in the city, but let me tell you, I am thankful for every bit of it, whether it’s “new glow” induced or not.

Since I’ve already done a lot of the touristy things one does when one comes to London for the first time, and since this trip is not just a short trip but a more involved work experience for me, I’ve been taking it easy and getting to know the areas around me in a more intimate way. I’m staying near King’s Cross-St. Pancreas Station and I’ve been doing a stroll through the Departures section of the station at least once a day just to watch the travellers as they hurry by. I’ve been making mental notes of shops I want to return to when I have money, and trying out different local cafes to see which ones I like the most. I’m jotting down shows I’d like to see, exhibitions I want to take in, and restaurants that I’d like to try. If you were able to watch me out and about in London over the last couple of days, you’d probably be asking, “Why is she just… walking around?!” The answer to that is: you can see and experience a Hell of a lot while “just walking around”, and I expect that I’ll be here long enough to have a rich and varied experience of the city and the country – I’m not in a mad dash to do it all in the first few days.

During the time I’ve been walking around and taking in the sights, smells, and shopping in London, I’ve noticed something: I feel more attractive. In a city filled with ridiculously well dressed, attractive people, you’d think your first inclination would be to feel a little inadequate in that department, but it’s working out to be quite the opposite for me. I actually caught myself in a serious hip-swaying swagger yesterday and had to laugh a little. I have come to this conclusion about it, though: there are so many different types of beautiful people you pass on the street here in the run of a day that it relaxes and widens your perspective and your perception of beauty, and you suddenly make more room for your own beauty in the midst of it all. If moving to the UK yields nothing more than that for me, it will have been enough. Somehow though, I think there’s more out there for me, yet.

And now I’m off to have a late lunch, exercise my brain a bit, and look for glamorous jobs. More to come soon!

London After Midnight

London After Midnight

A couple of nights ago, I had the extraordinary experience of taking in central London after midnight through very tired eyes and it has officially eclipsed all other sights I’ve seen since I arrived.

Normally, I make sure I’m home before last (Tube, Overground, DLR) train in the evening — I don’t like to be out (especially on my own) after about 10 or so in the evening, and so I am usually safely back in my flat by the time it’s completely dark outside. This past Sunday evening though, I happened to be headed back into London quite late from a weekend away for work and I didn’t get into the city until after 11. It being a Sunday evening, that made it impossible for me to catch the right combination of trains to get home, so I had to find a bus route. The particular bus I had to catch departs from Trafalgar Square and I had come up out of the Underground at Oxford Circus.

While walking down Regent Street toward Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, I was surprised at how safe I felt. Everything had a lovely glow about it: the weather was warm and calm, and the buildings were beautifully lit with the colours from the shop signs reflecting off the stone walls and windows, and the usual break-neck, frantic pace of the central shopping and theatre district had slowed to a leisurely stroll. Piccadilly Circus was alight, as usual, but felt bouncy and joyful instead of claustrophobic, and when I walked into Trafalgar Square to see the buildings and statues bathed in a peaceful, silvery light, the fountains at a simple stand-still, and people of all ages walking slowly around taking in the night, I instantly felt the comfort of being at home in the midst of the overwhelming amount of beauty and history around me.

I feel as though I’m making a lot out of a little, but that seems to be what London has been so far for me: it’s the little things, the free things, the views, and the unexpected moments that are the most satisfying and that have made the last month completely magical. There are so many things to do and see, and London can be ridiculously expensive to enjoy, but it doesn’t have to be. I am still thinking about how breathtaking (seriously — I actually lost my breath for a moment) that experience was and it’s two days (and a lot of sleep) later.

I caught my bus and the route carried me through Covent Garden, through The City, and past St. Paul’s. As we were passing St. Paul’s, I looked up at the dome and thought: “My God, that’s lovely. It’s just… stunning”. After all that, it’s quite safe to say that my next paid, tourist attraction-y type activity will be catching the London By Night bus tour — London is a magical city by day, and I really can’t wait to see more of it by night.

Paying Attention & Seeing Signs

Paying Attention & Seeing Signs

Why hello there, folks! My apologies for the lag between blog entries: the first couple of weeks in a new country are hectic, as you might imagine, and blogging quickly falls down the priority list when one is looking for a job, searching for a flat, and trying to fit in some “I’m in a new country!” fun at the same time. Today, I’ve decided to stick close to my temporary home and catch up with the world, and I’m happy to report that catching up also includes blogging.

Since I’m a person who needs time to adjust to not only the particulars of living in a new place (transport, navigation, cost, etc.) but also the rhythm of it, the last two weeks have been a real exercise in paying attention. As you might imagine, there’s a whole Hell of a lot to pay attention to in London, which makes adjusting both intellectually and physically exhausting at times. London is a whole world unto itself: it’s got so many bits and pieces, so many systems and quirks, so many delights and horrors that trying to take it all in would truly take a lifetime. All that said, I can confidently say that the most important thing that I’ve discovered about the city since I arrived is that trying to figure out which part of it you want to put down roots in is really the most important and most difficult part of moving here.

I had some indication before I arrived that there were places to trust and places to avoid, and I’d done an incredible amount of looking at where I might like to live. The truth, of course, about that particular research is that it’s all well and good until you actually hit the streets and start looking at places. Because I’m on a budget of sorts, particularly while I’m still looking for work, I’m restricted in what I can and can’t afford to consider (which is heartbreaking, sometimes). That said, it’s made for a very interesting set of flat-viewing experiences in different regions of the city. My “Flat-Viewing Tour of London” has brought me to Lambeth, Haringey, Wandsworth, Hackney, and finally to Tower Hamlets, all of which have had their individual charm. I walked away from each viewing with a sense that I could fit into any of those boroughs, but I turned down a couple of them for different reasons, and a couple were taken by other people. There was one flat in Brixton I was particularly sad to see go to someone else, but nothing seemed to fit quite right until earlier this week when I ended up in Wapping.

Wapping is very near The Thames and located in Tower Hamlets. I knew nothing about Wapping before I ended up there, and was so pleasantly surprised by it that I’m still a little bit in shock, days later. I stepped out of Wapping Overground Station and was actually smacked in the face with (of all things) silence. The station was small, quiet, and clean; the street was nearly traffic-free, and the buildings in the area were tall, well maintained, and filled with flats. I had arrived in the area early so I could check it out and make sure I found my way to the right place in time, so I started walking. I found the flat with relative ease and so kept walking around the block a little. As I did so, I stumbled on some signs (both in the literal and metaphorical sense) that seemed to underline to me that I was, in fact, in the right place.

Some of you have heard me speak of how much I admired (and still admire, of course, though they’ve both passed on) my grandmothers: they are my heroes, and will always be. As women and as role models, they’re really quite hard to top, and I live my life the way I have and do partially in the hope that I might one day be able to say that I came close to bringing the same level of grace, joy, and strength to my life and loved ones that they did during their lifetimes. My grandmother Inkpen’s name was Pearl, and my grandmother Dean’s name was Hilda. As I rounded the corner while waiting for my viewing in Wapping, I noticed that, while the flat was actually designated as an address on one main street, it backs onto a street called “Pearl Street”. When I first noticed this, I smiled and walked on. I rounded another corner, casually looking up and around to see what else I could see in the area, and my eye caught sight of another sign: a giant banner painted on a building that said “Saint Hilda’s Wharf”.

I actually got chills and stopped dead in my tracks. I promptly hauled out my phone to take a photo of the banner, and then marched back to take one of the Pearl Street sign as well. I’m a person who has always paid attention to life signs and, while some are a little more vague and might be influenced by my tendency to search them out, these were more than a little bit huge and obvious. I mean, even if you’re a skeptic when it comes to life signs, those two are really quite difficult to ignore, especially when you consider the overall calm and pleasant feelings I had when I arrived in the area. I know a couple of you are wearing your “Sara’s Being Fatalistic, Cosmic, and Silly” smirks after reading that but I swear: those few minutes were like being hit over the head and hugged at the same time, and that’s really hard to ignore.

After I had my viewing, I decided that even if that particular flat didn’t work out for some reason, Wapping was where I wanted to be. I walked around the area and found lovely little restaurants, coffee shops, and corner stores, and then I stumbled on The Prospect of Whitby (reputed to be London’s oldest riverside pub, having existed in some form or another since the reign of Henry VIII). As you can imagine, I opted to have lunch there and realized that, if I moved into the area, this ancient relic of a pub could become my own local. Well, that sealed the deal: a local pub known for its age, its reputation of being a watering hole for sailors and scoundrels, and its view of The Thames? Yes, please! I had to laugh to myself about the amazing things I was finding in Wapping: none of the other areas I’d visited made near that much sense, nor were they as near water, nor were they as safe. I’d been paying close attention everywhere I went in search of a flat, but Wapping whopped me wholly in the heart and that is there you’ll find me.

There’s a lot more I’ll be paying attention to over the next while, and a lot more of London to see (including some signs, no doubt). Once I have my place in Wapping I’ll be more settled and more able to write and post about my adventures. For now though: I’m happy, healthy, and having a great time. I’ve met some wonderful people both on purpose and quite randomly, and I’m finally starting to feel as though I’m getting the hang of existing in such a rich, stimulating, and busy environment.

And so, until next time, I say: pay attention to where you are — you never know what signs you might see.

“Sara has arrived!” or “Ink from Clink”

“Sara has arrived!” or “Ink from Clink”

Hello from London, England!

I’m writing from my hostel near King’s Cross. It’s a giant hostel, it’s got lots of different, awesome people staying in it, and I’m really enjoying it here so far. When I finally arrived here around suppertime my first night, I could have kissed the floor (I didn’t – bad idea for many reasons), but the lead-up to arriving is the more interesting story so, ladies and gents, I present to you: Sara’s Seriously Tiring (But Brilliant!) Trip To London.

Continue reading ““Sara has arrived!” or “Ink from Clink””

Since I’ve been home

Ever since I moved home to Shoal Harbour a few months ago, I’ve been getting the same question from friends, family, and foes alike: “How’s living in Shoal Harbour?”. It comes in various forms, of course: “How’s home?”, “How are you making out in Shoal Harbour?”, or just plain, “How are you surviving?”. Some who ask are genuinely interested in my life and how it has changed since I’ve been here (essentially since September, 2012); some who ask are curious in a sort of “what manner of life are you leading in a ‘small town’ after having been in a city for 10 years?” way, and some ask while attempting to mask a sense of “I look at you differently, and kinda think you’re stupid for moving home; what are you going to do with yourself in Shoal Harbour, you fool?”. Thankfully, I don’t get too many of the last variety, but so many people have asked that I’m inspired to write about what it actually has been like living at home in Shoal Harbour these last months.

Continue reading “Since I’ve been home”

Praise for my Winter Writing Slump

I have a love/hate relationship with my winter writing slump. I hate that, during the winter, the majority of my writing goes in the ‘draft’ file and never sees the light of day. I also hate that the amount of writing I produce is a fraction of what I produce during other parts of the year, which means I’m harder on myself, which means I write less, which becomes a big, ugly, unrelenting cycle of negative writing activity.

BUT!

In the first flush of spring, I inevitably look back at my frustrating winter writing slump with loving eyes. I’ve always been of the opinion that everyone needs to experience downtime during the year to balance life, and I think that applies to writing time, too. Though the winter is hard and cold and inescapable (at least for those of us who don’t have the money to be jetting around to warmer climes), it does provide me with an awful lot of time to think, to reacquaint myself with anxiety, to contemplate, to keep failing (in my mind), and thus keep trying.

Today is one of the many days in the spring when all of the thinking I did during the winter is beginning to pay off. I am the sort of person who likes to carefully consider my next move in life (though I am working on that a bit — it’s crippling in some instances), and I feel I am far more confident in the writing decisions I make during the latter two-thirds of the year, after having time to gain perspective and weed out some of the truly terrible ideas I generated during the winter. I may mourn my productivity during the colder months, but it helps me to celebrate and focus during the warmer ones.

As many times as I’ve considered trying to change my winter downtime, there is a certain comfort in it, and it’s a comfort I’m not willing to give up. I balk at the idea that we should always be happy and productive — I don’t think we’re designed that way. There’s more to it than that, though. One of the best parts of having that downtime, that unproductive time, is the feeling that comes when you know everything will be just fine; when the sun starts shining and ideas come streaming from your mind to your fingers and onto blank pages, and before you know it, your wretched winter downtime is partially responsible for some gems you didn’t know you had in you.

There’s no use in saying, “Well, I could have written that months ago if it hadn’t been for my wretched winter”. The truth of the matter is that you wouldn’t have written the same thing: the time in-between the last thing you wrote and the next thing you write always informs the latter, even if that time is spent lying around watching DVDs of old TV shows on your laptop in the dark. That DVD-watching, junk-book reading, navel-gazing time is helpful — and even necessary — to your writing process. It certainly has been helpful to mine.

When I sat down to write this afternoon, I picked up my pen and my notepad and just went with what came out. I needed to focus, get the juices flowing, and get started for the day. What came out was this: that time you hate when you’re not writing? Learn to be thankful for it. The crap you do write and that no one ever sees? It’s part of the process. The darkness that descends in the winter months? Feel it, know it, and be confident that it does end. And then: take the darkness and create something from it.