11 February 2019

The Florida Project: How I got here.

Note: This is long. It's personal. But so many of you have asked me for more details on how all of this Florida business got started for me, so this is the best I can do to communicate that story to as many of you as I can at once. If you're reading this with any level of interest, you've probably been one of those people who have encouraged me and helped me and supported me over this last year. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there when I've needed you all the most.

For as long as I can remember I wanted to be a teacher.

In fact, one of my earliest memories was of me gathering all my friends into a semi-circle around me the minute my mother’s back was turned at my fourth birthday party and reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear to my friends just like my pre-school teacher had done with me. I loved playing school. The organization of it all was fun and I took endless glee out of writing on chalk boards. All my favorite heroines were teachers. Anne Shirley. Jo March. Laura Ingalls Wilder. (Hermione Granger. . . Sort of.) I could think of no other possible future for myself than in teaching.

My first year of teaching was mostly a dream. I had a week or two at the beginning where I wondered how on earth I would ever survive, and I remember getting some really bizarre advice from my BYU mentor that I’m still trying to understand (“Don’t ever accidentally offend someone.”), but aside from normal teacher challenges, I left my first year feeling triumphant and proud of myself and of my kids. I took to teaching like a duck to water.

What I had not taken to like a duck was life in Utah as an unmarried college graduate. My faith and my family and my own vision for my future would have had me married already. Most of my friends were by this point, but I’d had no success whatsoever with dating at this point (or. . . You know, this point.) I wanted to escape and try something new because a fresh start somewhere totally different felt like the bold move I needed to make to feel comfortable with myself again. I landed on Seattle. I flew there for my spring break and had a wonderful time. I loved everything about that city, including the handful of boys who asked me out for the first time in months. A few weeks later I went back to attend a job fair. I remember standing outside the transformed gymnasium and feeling the strongest spiritual impression of my life to that point. It said “Have fun, but you’re not moving to Seattle.”

I was dumbfounded.

I walked around the gym and idly chatted with one or two of the school districts in attendance, then went back outside, bought a truly disgusting sandwich at the concession stand, sat down on the carpet, and fought back the urge to burst into tears. What was I supposed to do now?

Enter Greg. 

I was in a show at the time and when I came back from being gone, mentioned to a few friends in the cast that I was looking for a teaching job in Utah now. I knew that there were a few teachers in the cast and I also knew that most of the jobs in Utah had been filled at least a month before. Through a series of really strange (and totally divinely intervened) events, I wound up having a conversation with Greg and his amazing wife Nicole about the possibility of my co-teaching a class with him. (Actually, the conversation with Greg was a long one. The conversation with Nicole was an easy “Yeah! I think it’s great!” She’s unreal.)

That initial conversation with Greg brought about the second strongest spiritual impression of my life: an overwhelming feeling of peace. Every time I thought about how crazy it sounded or how on earth I would get anyone to believe that I really did feel like I was inspired to do it or any other fear: I just felt peace. My logic was forced aside. 

Greg and I ended up building a program together for eight years. It was a complete and total labor of love. We’re both artists at heart with a great love for stories and a deep passion for teaching through inspiration. We believe that teenagers are capable of and searching for much more than most people think. We ended up taking our program to three different schools. When things were really clicking, we were able to engage students in projects and units that changed them in powerful ways. I could go on and on about how proud I am of what we created, and how I continue to be humbled and amazed by the students I was able to work with. They and their families became part of my own family. What we did was more than just classroom based learning. It was so, so much bigger than that. 

The problem is that it was always an uphill battle. We were, admittedly, doing unorthodox and weird things that required patience and intense trust and faith from our administrators, our students, and their parents. What we did was not right for everyone. Our class was a heaven for some and a hell for others. We fought to preserve what we had for the sake of those that it did work for, but the battle grew increasingly difficult. It was brutal during the last two years. We were in a new school where the structure of education was far more restricted and governed than the culture of our class. Truthfully, I can’t remember being so depressed and miserable since I went on Lexapro than I was during those two years. I was not a good teacher for those students. I wasn’t a good co-worker to Greg, who was having to cover for me when I was breaking and who had to compensate for my pessimism and anger. 

I started looking for options. I was desperate for something, anything else, but I had no idea where to even start. Grad school? (How could I afford it?) Teach somewhere else? (How would that solve anything?) Get another job? (Doing what?) It was suffocating. I felt trapped and utterly miserable. I couldn't see a way out or see a solution for how utterly miserable I felt. I started looking up grad-schools anyway and found a few that looked promising, but I had no idea what I would study. (They were all in England so at that point, did it really matter what I was studying?) Even so, nothing really felt right. 

Fall of 2017 I was asked to help fill in for the school musical. One of the cast members had a medical emergency and wasn’t going to be able to do the show, so, given that I don't look my age, I was called to come in clutch to help cover. At the cast party before the closing show, I was talking with the director of the show and her son, who had flown in from Anaheim to see the show. Her son worked for Disneyland and talked about some of his experiences. I casually mentioned that I'd love to work for Disney sometime (who wouldn't want to work for Disney?), and went to get ready.

Before the show started that night, Elaine (the director of the show), took me by the shoulder and told me "You need to go work for Disney." I kind of laughed and rolled my eyes. "I couldn't do that now. Maybe someday," I said. How could I afford it? What about my house? My cat? My friends and family? "You need to work for Disney now." She insisted. Sure, Elaine

It felt right. 

And I knew it felt right because I didn't want it to, but it did. There was no way I could afford to live in California, which would mean moving to Florida. I didn't want move there because my first visit to Florida had been full of insane humidity and heat exhaustion and I had vowed never to return. (I had been in August, which was a terrible choice.) But in spite of all of that, it felt right. I hated that it felt right. I hated that it felt right because it was in the literal opposite corner of the nation that I'd prefer to be in, but it felt right., and when I feel peace about something that I don't want to feel peace about, that's when I know that God is really trying to talk to me. And when God is really trying to talk to me, I get to work. 

I started applying for any job on the Disney website that looked like it could even sort of  fit my what my resume would say I had skills to complete. Pretty much everything came back with a rejection almost at once. I ended up visiting Florida at the end of January to attend a job fair to try and see if I could find a job, any job. 

I was, admittedly, terrified that I would walk into that career fair and have the same experience I had before in Seattle. I also decided I was going to throw out all the advice I'd read about career fairs and talking to your preferred employer last and went directly to the Disney booth. I was determined that I would get them past the standard spiel telling me to go directly to the careers website. I wanted to get them talking. 

Truthfully, it's been long enough now that I don't remember exactly who I spoke with or what was said, but I spoke with her for several minutes. I shared some of my story with her and what I hoped for my future with Disney. She was extremely encouraging and positive about my prospects with the company and shared her email address with me so that I could stay in touch with her. Where the fair in Seattle had felt dark and wrong, I left my conversation with this cast member feeling totally light about my choice. It was going to work. It was going to work. I ended up only talking to Disney at the career fair. I had no desire to give up everything and come to Florida for any other reason.

I flew home and drove directly from the airport to Barnes and Noble to apply for a bookseller position. I knew from talking to the recruiter that having more recent sales on my resume would only help, so I walked into the store, told them I'd worked for the company before, had a degree in English Education, and was willing to start immediately. A week later I was back to work at the "Barn". 

It was in March that I finally heard back from the Disney Reservation Center about a sales agent position. (I say "finally" since it felt like forever, but was really only about four and a half months since I'd started the whole process of applying. All things considered, it was a bit faster than it is for some people.) I had an online assessment, followed by a phone interview and then an in-person interview. Once I was called in for an in-person interview, I put my house up for sale. It sounds a bit arrogant, but I know that I interview well. To date, I've never (knock on wood!) interviewed for a job I wasn't offered. I knew it was risky to put my house up for sale before securing a job, but throughout all of this I was doing everything I could to pray for help in making the right decisions, and I felt like the "right decision" in this case was to put my house up, just in case

Turns out I probably could have held off on selling my house if I needed to, because I had about ten offers on my house within 72 hours of putting it on the market. In fact, the day of my in-person interview, I had to be ready to either turn down or accept an offer on the house. I had thought that I would get an answer on whether or not I had the job on the day of the interview, but that wasn't the case, so I had to take yet another rather terrifying leap of faith and accept the offer on my house before I knew if I even had the job. 

(I still can't think about that house without feeling a little sick and sad. I miss that place and its glorious views of the mountain and its garage and its carpet and granite countertops so much. It was my first home! It was the fulfillment of so many of my single, feminist dreams and the product of so much hard work!)

Fortunately, I was confident in how the interview had gone. I was prepared for that interview. Now that I sit on the other side of those interviews, I realize how abnormally obsessive I had been. I put together a chart of every single Walt Disney World resort, where it was located, what theming it had, what types of amenities it had, and I memorized it. I could rattle off every single resort and its category off by heart. The cast members who interviewed me even told me they'd never seen someone come so prepared. I left the interview and called my mom. Then I texted my realtor and told her to agree to the sale. 

 I came back from Florida and immediately started to pack up my house. I always take down pictures first. For some reason this helps make the whole place feel less like a home and more like a building. I started making the rounds to say good-byes. I resigned from my job. I was so busy that I didn't have too much time to focus on how hard it was. Not until the last few days, at least. 

To be honest, I still can't think about April of 2018 without feeling horribly, horribly depressed. Those weeks were brutal. I went to Ogden to say goodbye to my grandparents and has my usually lighthearted and not terribly emotional grandparents give me tearful goodbyes. I said farewells to my theater family. My church family. My actual family. To everything I had known for my independent adult life. The night before my mom and I pulled out of my home I remember sitting on top of the tub in my bathroom and just shaking. Suddenly everything I had done felt intensely and horribly reckless and just wrong. I couldn't believe what I had done to myself. I spent half that night sobbing.
I didn't really sleep that night. But somehow mom and I managed to get everything loaded into the Pod, managed to drug my cat and get her into a carrier (that she broke out of about half an hour later), and we started our drive east. 

The months that followed were some of the strangest of my adult life. I started out as a nomad, waiting for my house to finally close in Utah, and then Florida. I woke up so early for work that my family in Utah and Arizona sometimes hadn't even gone to bed yet. It felt oddly like living on another planet. I was lucky enough to meet some really supportive and generous people who helped me move and invited me to play in the theme parks and out for dinner and generally gave me a safety net when I arrived. Even so, I'm a person who thrives not on quantity but on quality of relationships, and such relationships take time to develop. I was intensely lonely. 

What was worse, though, was coming to terms with the reality of everything I'd lost and how little I knew of what I was going to do next. I wanted good relationships, but I'm independent enough that after spending all day in training (or, later, taking reservations on the phone), having some time alone was usually not the worst of it. What was so, so much harder, was saying goodbye to all I'd known and trying to figure out where I was going to throw my passion. 

To be clear, working for Disney has been about 95% awesome. There are so many things about working for this company that are completely fantastic. I've had supportive and generous leaders. (Heck, I was able to be promoted to the training team about four months after being hired in the first place, in large part thanks to some truly amazing leaders who encouraged me and went out on a limb to help me.) The perks of working for the company are fantastic, and it's great to work for a place that is so diligent in creating magical and happy experiences for both guests and cast members (employees.) The hardest parts have mostly been about adjusting to corporate America after years of working in a much smaller pond. That said, when I was hired to work in the reservation center, I knew it would be a pit stop on the way to something else, because while I am good at sales, I can't really say it's my life-long passion. I didn't know what that was any more. I had thought it was teaching, but I'd been so betrayed by that, I had to work through that grief every bit as much as the loss of being somewhere familiar and away from all of my friends and family. 

Fortunately, God hasn't quite finished with his mischief in my life. Actually, I think he needed to make it as hellish as possible for me so that I would stop being so cautious and just go for broke on anything. So much of my life has been shattered over the last year that things I'd put on the "impossible" shelf were dusted off.

Remember when I said that for as long as I can remember I wanted to be a teacher?

I could say the same thing about working in a theater. 

I was an actress before I really even knew what that meant. Next to playing school, you were most likely going to find me playing pretend. I forced many a childhood friend into acting out The Sound of Music, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and so on and so forth. (I would like to issue a formal apology to all the friends I had as a child who were forced through such things by my younger, bossier self.) ((I'm looking at you, Heather and Liz.)) The older I got, the more I realized how unlikely a responsible career in the arts would be. I put those aspirations on the back burner and turned the heat to low. I would be content with a few shows a year in a community theater. 

To further complicate my vision of the future, I met Scott. Scott and his wife Natalie have been in the same circles of theater friends I had back in Utah for ages but while I'd heard about them I hadn't actually met them until I came here to Florida, where Scott is getting his MFA at the University of Central Florida in Theater for Young Audiences. The more Scott told me about his program the more jealous I was. That's when God started whispering in my ear again. (What if I didn't come to Florida just to work for Disney? What if now was finally the right time for me to fulfill my dream of getting a Masters?)

So that's where I am now. I've applied for the MFA program at UCF. What does that mean for my future with Disney? The plan is to stay with the company while I get my degree. I'm not sure what role I'd be able to fill that would allow for that to happen, but at some point in my time with the company I'd love to be involved in entertainment, or have some experience in the parks, just to say I've done it. I’ll be getting a degree in Theater for Young audiences, and I want to focus on theater that impacts families and possibly also theater that helps teenagers cope with trauma. Working in a regional theater as an education director or artistic director of some kind would be an absolute dream. 

Truthfully, I feel like the end result isn't what I'm supposed to focus on right now. So much of my life I have known (or assumed I'd known) the end from the beginning, but now I feel like the best thing I can do is stop worrying so much about that responsible adult question of "but what will I do?!" I don't know what I'm going to be doing five years from now. I hope it's something awesome, but taking the enormous pay-cut I did to come work for Disney has taught me that having a job with a positive environment matters more than a better paycheck. I've learned that I can make do with less. I've learned that when I do what I feel God wants me to do, that miracles happen. 

So where am I now?

Well, I'm dreading the GRE (even though the program director at UCF told me that I could bomb it and still be accepted.) I'm finally back in the theater and in rehearsals for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown with the Disney STAGE Cast Club, where I'm playing Lucy. I've made some amazing friends and gotten involved in my church again (where, I think the leadership has finally learned my name). I've got a great roommate who keeps me company (and loves my cat. Truthfully, my cat loves her as much as she loves me, or maybe more. Half the nights she's whining at Rachel's door wanting to sleep with her, which I am not okay with, but also relieved by. I hate leaving Izzy alone, so I'm glad she has a friend.) 

I'm doing better. Truly, I am. 2018 was easily one of the hardest years of my life. I don't know if it's the hardest - the months before I went on Lexapro might challenge it - but it was pretty close. Even so, I've decided that I'm going to face anything that comes my way now with as much courage and optimism as I can muster. I guess working for Disney will do that for you. To borrow loosely from Ginny Weasley, when you're surrounded by Disney stories and music all the time, you start believing that "anything's possible if you've got enough nerve." I've learned that I have more nerve than I gave myself credit for. I've learned that it's never too late to take a risk on yourself. I've learned that I am far more capable than I thought I was. So, ultimately, when I look back on 2018, I'm grateful for everything I learned from it. I don't think I'd re-live it any time soon, but I am grateful for all that's come for me because I moved to this humid, alligator infested, cockroach ridden, magical place. My time in Florida is just getting started. I can't wait to see where the next steps lead me.

10 July 2018

Where I've Been, Where I'm Going

When I clicked the link to visit my blog and do a bit of writing, I couldn't believe how long it had been. 

A year?! Surely not. The last time I wrote I was in London. 

I'm guessing those of you who clicked the link to come here probably already know a good deal of what has happened since then. I came home from Europe and started in on life as normal. There were student government retreats and Shakespeare trips and rehearsals. There were lessons to plan and units to organize and a new classroom to put together. It was routine. 

And when it was good it was very very good. It was the thrill of delivering a joke that always got a laugh, or watching students come alive with a new idea. It was being surrounded with the wonderful, beautiful comfort of the familiar. It was long walks by the river or trips to the city to binge on chocolate shops. 

And when it was bad it was horrid. It was depressive fits that wouldn't leave. It was classes I couldn't conquer and students I couldn't crack. It was an awful feeling of being stuck. Of not knowing what to do, what would come next, how I would ever manage another day like the one before. I started to realize that something needed to change. I wasn't right for my students any more. I had been, once, but I wasn't any more. 

It felt horribly, miserably like failure. 

I'd moved to this new school only two years before feeling very firmly like this was what I was meant to do. So why had it gone so dreadfully? Why had it been so excruciatingly hard to make any inroads? Why was I so miserable?

In an act of sheer desperation I started looking online for grad schools. (But what about my house? My car? How could I leave where I was? What would I do with all my things? What about the shows I wanted to audition for? My church? My friends?) As with so many things in life, there was no good solution that would allow me to keep what I wanted and gain what I wanted while losing what I didn't want. I wouldn't be able to craft the perfect solution without some damage. 

The first, rather mad idea, was to go back to England. I've always wanted to live abroad. If not permanently, then at least for a little while. What's more, the program I'd like to study for my MFA is offered in Essex and York. Perhaps a wild year abroad would be just enough to jump start my emotional health again. It felt alright. Not the perfect solution, but possible. 

And then someone suggested I work for Disney and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't shake the thought from my head, which, to be honest with you, ticked me off at first. I knew that working for Disney would mean moving to Orlando and, frankly, my first experience in Orlando was less than awesome. I had a rather abusive phone call from my then vice principal just off Main Street in Magic Kingdom (this was months before we got the sexist/corrupt jerks fired) and I had a nasty experience with heat stroke that left me swearing that Orlando was a hellish swampland to which I never wanted to return. Why in heaven or earth it felt good to pursue a job in Orlando, the exact opposite corner of the US I'd like to live in and the exact opposite climate of England, I couldn't begin to explain. 

Which was probably why I knew it was what I was supposed to do. It's my litmus test. When I feel inexplicably right, at peace, and motivated by something that I wouldn't normally want to do: it's right, and denying it is futile. 

You know the end. I applied for about twenty jobs, got rejected from nineteen of them and hired by one. Within months I had packed up my life and driven across the country back to this place where it's 100 degrees and 200% humidity half the year. I left all those things I was terrified to lose: my friends, my family, my beautiful mountain home and the river trail. I took my final bow and decided to take a chance on something totally, thoroughly wild. 

People have asked me why I did it. Why I chose to leave a decade long career in teaching to chase some dream? I never quite know how to respond to that question. So many times the questioner assumes I left teaching because I hated it or got worn down by it. In some ways, that's true. I don't like admitting that. I don't like admitting that a group of students managed to get to me so much that I just couldn't take it. That's why rookies leave. Not seasoned, experienced teachers with more backbone. I'm not a quitter. But I didn't leave teaching only for that. Students graduate. Classes change. And I love teaching. I still do. So why did I leave? The next part of that first question assumes it's to chase some life long dream of working for Disney. That's not entirely true either. Because my life long dream was to teach. To change the world through education. My dreams were never that wild, never that risky. But I needed a change, and Disney just felt right

So how am I?

Most of the time I'm ridiculously happy. I like Florida way more than I thought I would. Even with the humidity and the roaches and the insane weather, I like Florida. I like what I do. It pays horribly, but there's lots of chance to grow and change and learn new things, and I like all of that. I like having a job I can leave at the office. I like a job that I know I do well. I like a job where I can address people who are upset and then send them on their way and not have to do more with them. Water off a duck's back. I like my co-workers and my leaders and I believe in what Disney stands for and strives to create. I love being a part of something that wonderful. 

I love the feeling I have of, for the first time in my life, really, truly taking a risk on myself. I've never been good at that. Oh, I dream big. But ultimately my Anne Shirley imagination has always given way to Elinor Dashwood practicalities, and doing something that has required so much continual and open courage is a new feeling for me. 

Other times I look at my life and wonder what on earth I did to myself. My path, once so clear and steady all the way to the horizon, now seems so much less obvious. The straight path is now crooked, forking out in so many possible directions I hardly know which one to follow, which is both thrilling and wholly overwhelming.  

When I was getting ready to move, I described once to a friend that I felt like I was being put through faith pushups. That as soon as I was sure I was done (and, let's be clear, I hate working out in most senses, so it usually wasn't very long), my coach would demand another. Then another. Then ten more. I think the whirlwind of first arriving here and the distraction of setting up a house and learning a new job allowed me a brief cool down. Now the coach is asking for more. 

So for those of you who have been on my side, who have cheered me on and supported me, I wanted to say thank you. I've been listening to Anne of the Island again and was reminded of how disparaging her town was of her pursuing college education after teaching. I've had the exact opposite experience from my "town", and for that I am so grateful. Come visit. Please. I would love to show you around.

02 July 2017

London Days Two-Three

I’ve never attempted to “do” London in such a short time before - I’m glad that this isn’t my first (and certainty won’t be my last) trip to this amazing city.  It makes it so much easier to be content with all that we’re missing out on and all I wish I could see.  I haven’t been back to the Tate Britain since the first time I visited ten years ago.  I’ve never toured Kensington Palace and we didn’t make the Churchill War Rooms this time (there’s no time to wait in a line to get in if you have so little time to see anything).  Even so, I don’t feel panicked or bothered.  There’s always another trip.  My first time to Europe I thought I would never go back, or at least not for a long time.  I’ve since learned that when you are single and gainfully employed and love to travel, then there’s always another trip.  

That in mind, I decided long ago that this leg of the trip wasn’t about me - it was about trying to find a way to give my dad and my brother the best trip to this city as I could.  I think we’ve been successful. 

Yesterday we started off on Portobello Road.  Truthfully, I wasn’t sure this was a good idea.  It’s a great place to get good and inexpensive gifts and certainly an experience that’s part of being a London tourist, but I am traveling with two men.  I was surprised at how much they seemed to like it, given that dad doesn’t like shopping.  We didn’t stay long, which suited all of us since the crowds are always so thick that tolerance wears thin, but it was a successful trip and both dad and Jared said it was one of their favorite parts of London, so it wasn’t a terrible idea after all.  Phew. 

After Portobello we went on a walk through Kensington Gardens, my favorite of all the London parks.  Because it is so vast with so much green space, it always feels less crowded than the other parks to me.  Plus, there’s that Peter Pan connection I can’t seem to get away from.  (Not like I’m trying that hard.) In addition to the pilgrimage to see Peter, we also went by the entrance to Kensington itself (lined with flowers in honor of Diana’s birthday yesterday, which was nice to see), and went by the memorial fountain to Diana.  I love that fountain - I love that it was designed and is used for kids to run around and play in.  The whole area was full of families stripping their children down to their underwear for an impromptu water party.  Everyone was laughing and running around.  Kids were turning cartwheels and parents were in the water with their kids.  It was delightful and, I think, honored her spirit quite well.  

We also went to another London first for me - The Wallace Collection.  This museum was a residence that became an art museum because of the vast collection of the owner.  Unlike some of those museums I’ve been in before in Europe that feel like a bizarre attic of random junk, this one was pretty stunning.  The collection of armor was jaw-dropping.  I’ve never seen such beautiful weaponry.  Truly.  It was beautiful.  Usually when I see armor in a museum I kind of nod and walk on, but this was gorgeous.  There were also some other well known paintings, including a portrait of a young Victoria and The Swing, what inspired us to come in the first place (Jared studied it in school and wanted to come see it.). Actually, Jared’s been dead useful on this trip when it comes to art.  He took an art history in school and has been a fountain of little tidbits on paintings I hadn’t known about before.  We wouldn’t have discovered that little gem of a museum without him and I’m glad we did.  It’s small but wonderful.  I enjoyed our visit there very much. 

After that we went for a walk along the Thames and found dinner (well, dinner for me - the boys wanted to save room to go visit Jamie Oliver’s burger joint.  These burgers are what they described as “orgasmic”.  I have never in my life had a burger that tasted differently than any other burger to me and certainly none that turned me on so. . .you’ll have to take their word for it.)

Our second show was The Lion King, which was just as good as the last time I saw it.  There is certainly a benefit to seeing it in a theater where it isn’t touring - the set was particularly impressive in ways that the touring casts I’ve seen before can’t have.  I was especially taken this time by the powerful way the lionesses are portrayed.  I’d never really considered The Lion King as a particularly feminist story, but the way that the musical enhances the role of the women really touched me this time.  My favorite moment in the show was Nala’s Shadowlands.  Seeing the lionesses stand together in tragedy was beautiful. 

Today we began with a visit to the parks surrounding Buckingham Palace, where we arrived in time to see the Trooping of the Colours.  I’ve never seen this before because crowds, but it was fun to see the guards going by.  I wouldn’t make a special trip to see it, but I’m glad it happened while we were there.  After that we walked back to the National Gallery, always a safe bet.  Dad has a lower interest in museums than either Jared or I (I could probably museum hop my way around London and not get too sick of it), but he was a trooper and our visit was short.  I was particularly taken by a temporary installation of a piece called The Caged Bird Sings by Chris Ofili.  Ofili is a British watercolor painter who worked with some weavers in Edinburgh to create an enormous tapestry inspired by Maya Angelou’s book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  The piece is enormous and looks like a painting from a distance.  Up close you can see the woven elements.  The color is so sharp and breathtaking - I was utterly stunned by the whole thing and thought the visit was worth it just to see it.  

The highlight of the day for me was Evensong at Westminster Abbey.  I love Evensong service in general, and have never heard it in Westminster.  The sermon today was inspired by the upcoming 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis.  The speaker discussed that the contents of the thesis were not nearly as important as the act of even daring to speak out in the first place, and transitioned into speaking about the power of music in converting hearts.  This is an appropriate topic in an Evensong service (which is mostly music), but there was a wonderful reminder of the ability of congregational singing to effect the spirit in others.  I am grateful for music and for the love of singing that I have.  (I should also probably take this time to apologize to my neighbors who frequently hear me belting showtunes at all hours of the night when I’m performing.  Sorry ‘bout that.)

Our final stop for the day was The Play That Goes Wrong, which was so awesome last year I had to bring my brother and dad back.  We all had a great time and it made me anxious to get back and get started on rehearsals of my own.  Nothing like seeing good theater to inspire you to put on a good show yourself. 

Incidentally, here are some statistics of the trip: 

  1. Miles walked: approximately 150. 
  2. Alpine Slide trips: 4
  3. Books in my suitcase (not including my journal/script): 10 (HOW?! - I came with 0.)
  4. Chocolate bars purchased: 21 (Oy.)
  5. Countries visited: 9

I am ready to go home.  As is often the case at the end of a trip, there comes a point where living out of a suitcase and spending so much money gets tiring and you long for your own bed.  I miss my cat.  I miss regular and reliable cell service.  I miss my friends and I’m excited to get my show underway and to get prepared for the school year.  All the same, this has been a truly unique and special trip for me.  It has been different than many of the other trips I’ve taken, especially since I’ve been visiting places that I’ve been before with people who haven’t been, and it’s given me new insight in how to get joy in the joy of others.  Traveling and being single can be inherently selfish experiences, but that slight shift in focus has been good for me.  I am grateful to be going home, and grateful to have come.  What a gift.

30 June 2017

London Day One

Yesterday was another travel day with not too much to report.  We visited Bern on the way back into Germany (where we had to drop our rental car).  I had to admit ignorance and that I had no idea that Bern was the capitol of Switzerland.  In my head it was Geneva, but that’s probably because of all the conventions/the Olympics?  I don’t know.  I have a pretty great depth of knowledge when it comes to the arts and history, but those blasted geography Jeopardy categories just kill me. 

We had a short time in Bern but I feel like we used the time well, and it was long enough to give me yet another city in Switzerland I need to go back to.  Bern (which sounds more like the American “bear” than “burn”) is home to a pretty awesome bear pit - the Bern bears are active and adorable and made Jared talk weird, so it was an all around win.  I knew going in that bears were the symbol of Bern, what I didn’t know was that St. Bernards came from the area as well - the whole town was full of large painted dog statues and we sort of put two and two together with one of those “oh. . . Duh,” kind of light bulbs. The whole town is a UNESCO World Heritage site because it’s so old - a good portion of the town dates into the Medieval period, including a particularly famous clock I saw on a Rick Steves episode once that was built in the early 13th Century.  We happened upon it a few minutes before it chimed.  Truthfully it was a little “meh”, I felt, but it was awesome to see something so old work so well for as long as it has?

After Bern we went across the border into Germany to our hotel in a town called Weil am Rhine where we dropped our luggage, then went to return our rental car and to head into Basel back in Switzerland. 

The fun thing about improvising as you travel is that you often end up doing something totally wonderful and unexpected and quirky.  That happened several times last year when we found some random hikes, new National Trust sites, and the ever memorable (if bizarre) Mystery Play in York.  It also means that sometimes you come across some true wastes of time.  That was Basel for us, unfortunately.  We went in the direction of what was assumed to be the old part of town (always a good bet for tourist options), but ended up walking through what must be the armpit of Switzerland down a seriously sketchy street where I saw at least one drug deal actually go down.  Eventually we found what we’d been hoping to see - the Three Countries Bridge where you can view France, Switzerland, and Germany all at the same time.  This also ended up being a bit of a joke because it was in the middle of a little peninsula in the harbor that we had to walk about a mile to get to and away from, only to find that it wasn’t actually a place where you could stand in all three countries as we’d thought.  Ah well.  Best laid plans?  The night ended well, at least.  We blew all our change in a grocery store on as many Haribo gummy bears as we could afford.  (In truth, I also bought some cough drops, not because I’m sick, but because they have different flavors to try! I’m a sucker for things like that. . . )

Today we started the final leg of our trip by heading into London.  They say that when you’re tired of London you’re tired of life, and I can tell you right now that I will never tire of London.  I adore this city.  I love the cacophony of languages and sounds and smells around every corner.  I love the culture, the history, the people.  So help me, one of these days I’m going to move here and never come back.

I got to embrace the life of a solo Londoner for a bit tonight when the boys went off to Les Miserables and I went off to see An American in Paris.  It’s tradition for me to see a show every night I’m here, but coming with two men who are interested in theatre but aren’t exactly theatre junkies meant playing it a little safer in the selection of shows than I normally would in such a short stay, and the other two shows we’re seeing are shows I’ve seen before.  I went rogue tonight and I’m so glad I did, partly because I enjoy time by myself and partly because Gershwin music is so dreamy.  The musical was more poignant than I anticipated, had an absolutely perfect cast, and was enough to turn this cold-hearted “romance will never find me!” cat woman into a puddle of “LOVE PLEASE COME FIND ME AND PLEASE SING LIKE THAT.”  Oh, London.  You always make me feel as though I were born in the wrong place in the wrong time.

28 June 2017

Harder Kulm

I wasn’t planning on writing today - I still am not entirely sure of what to say, given that today was very much like yesterday in all the essential pieces.  I even had the same meals (bread, cheese, fruit - pretty standard cheap European lunch/dinner option.)  As it is, I’m in the middle of watching the end of the last Harry Potter movie and feeling quite sentimental and sad over silly things like the death of fictional characters (Lupin! Tonks! FRED.) and over celebrities I never met (Alan Rickman! John Hurt!) and mostly I feel like writing something.  I have no idea how trip related it will even be and most of this will probably come out like a stream of thought mess, but that’s more or less where my mind is right now, so . . . Either grab the oxygen mask as it descends from the metaphorical ceiling before reading or find the nearest exit?

It will start trip related, at least. Today we took a ride up to the Harderkulm (or Harder Kulm - I’ve seen it both ways).  This point - about 4,000 feet above sea level, offers an amazing view of Interlaken, the turquoise glacier water filled lakes and rivers, the towns below - it’s breathtakingly beautiful (like everything else in the alps, lets be serious.)

Looking down over the valley I thought, as I often do when I travel, about the people to whom Interlaken is not a vacation destination but home.  Where the mountains and lakes we take thousands of pictures of are part of a back garden, a commute to work, a normal every-day expectancy.  I thought about the writers I love who have been inspired by the alps or other scenes of nature.  I thought about William Wordsworth who wrote of daffodils and Emerson who went to the woods to live deliberately, and Moses who climbed mountains to commune with God and Mary Shelly who found mountains filled with monsters.  Frodo who climbed a mountain to destroy a ring, Heidi who climbed a mountain to lead a simpler life.

I thought again about England.  Everything reminds me of England.  And when I say this, I don’t mean England the country so much as England the study abroad.  Before I left for this trip I went back and read my journals from that one.  It was ten years ago.  It was on that trip that I realized how introverted I become in large groups.  How much I love solitude in nature.  That trip taught me the power of throwing yourself into something. 

When I look back on who I was then, I feel a whole range of emotion.  Where I am now and where I thought I would be then are widely different.  In many ways, I have become exactly what I feared I would: a cat obsessed Mormon spinster with as many prospects of love now as I had then: a delightful zero.  I’ve had roughly the same number of dates in the last year as I had that year (again, nearly zero).  I hate dating now about as much as I did then, though for slightly different reasons.  I want to take the somewhat boy obsessed girl who watched all her friends get married that summer and tell her to buckle up, settle in, and get over it. 

I also want to sit that girl down and tell her that in more critical ways, she was going to become and experience exactly what she hoped she would and more.  On that trip I watched friends who were far more adventurous and deep thinking than I and wished I could keep up.  I was one of the youngest in that group - if not the youngest, and I saw so many I wished to be like.  Now I find myself thinking and analyzing not just literature but so many other things in ways that bring my life satisfaction and excitement.  I watched as friends went off on adventures and thought that I would never be so brave - I was too afraid to go on roller coasters at that point, how would I ever manage to do anything that required even the smallest amount of legitimate courage?  But now I see myself and think that I am a brave person.  Not “walk into the woods and let Voldemort kill me” level of brave, perhaps, but I have traveled the world, bought a house, taken several jobs that were too big for me - and I’ve somehow managed to buck up and make things work.  I’ve even forced myself onto enough roller coasters to admit that A) I don’t get motion sickness (the real reason I never rode them) and B) that I don’t die on them, so I may as well just go and have fun.  

I want to give that girl a glimpse (not the whole picture, but a glimpse) of the joy teaching brings.  Of the shows she will perform in.  I want to tell her that she can love, and that she can survive being broken by it.  I want to shove a bottle of Lexapro toward her and tell her to save herself some serious grief and just start medication already.  I want to tell her to get into the mountains a bit more and to take a few more deep breaths of air before focusing so much on checklists of things to do.  

Mostly I just want to tell her that she’s pretty much the luckiest girl in the world, with the greatest family and the cutest cat (that has yet to be born) and the best friends and the greatest opportunities a person could ask for.  

(I also want to tell her she’s damn lucky to live in a world where there is still another Harry Potter book to read for the first time, because that is a pretty awesome world to live in.)