In early December, 2010, I found myself sipping expensive champagne and eating pâté in an upscale art gallery in Glasgow, Scotland, while discussing the nuances of modernist literature with post-graduate and career intellectuals. This was an unlikely situation for me at the time, to say the least. For starters, I was broke, in fact, I was in a lot of debt and getting dangerously close to the point where I’d have to start paying on that debt. Also, final exams were in full swing. I was preparing for for an early graduation at the end of the December with my undergraduate degree, all while planning my wedding, which would take place a month after graduation. And finally, well, I’m just not very sophisticated.
As I mentioned before (in this post), I tend to get this insatiable appetite for adventure right before I make big commitments. Graduation, the holidays, my wedding… these were all very good things, but everything was happening very quickly and I had a desperate itch to be alone with my thoughts for just a few moments, and to go out into the world somewhere. It was during this time that I received a campus-wide email from our Academic Department, asking for students to submit an essay for a scholarship that had recently become available. This email went out during midterm season, the deadline was short, and I had a feeling not many students would apply. People hate writing essays, and who has time during midterms? Well, I am one of those weirdos that loves a good essay assignment, so I was all over this.
The scholarship was very open-ended. It offered to pay all expenses, up to a certain amount, for a student to do something related to social studies. I thought, I could find something I want to do related to social studies. I knew I wanted to travel again, so I started looking up educational events around the world. I came across a conference on Modernist Literature taking place in Glasgow, Scotland just a couple of months away. I began to write my essay. I have to give more credit here to my opportunism than my writing skills, as I’m pretty sure I was one of two students to apply. And since multiple awards were given, I received a scholarship and was given flexibility with my finals, which would be taking place during my trip. The other student was a close friend of mine, but unfortunately for her, she had asked to to a sociological study on campus… the money would go towards paying the participants. I, on the other hand, was packing for Scotland!
The beauty of my Scotland adventure was the complete liberation of its solitude. I would be going alone with my thoughts and with very few concrete expectations. I was in that space between two lives, taking off from the shores of academia, knowing that on my return I would be making a beautiful commitment to my long-time companion, and looking towards life after graduation. I was between states of consciousness, lucidly dreaming my adventures into the space before me.
I desired always to stretch the night and fill it fuller and fuller with dreams.
– Virginia Woolf, The Waves
I was the youngest person at the conference, the one with the least education, and ironically, the one who had traveled the farthest to be there. My American accent and my age made me a bit of a curiosity among “the intellectuals.”
When I realized that I was, what one might call, a bit “in over my head,” I knew that I had a choice to make: I could go on as usual, learn what I came to learn, and be the young nasally American that doesn’t know very much, or I could make an experiment of my week in Scotland, an experiment within which I would redefine my horizons, go beyond them, and trust that life would carry me safely home when it was time. I would ask the ridiculous questions. I would make things up, but say them with such utter confidence as to make the phD student question her own extensive research on Joycean theory. I would play the part of modernism in its truest sense, experiment with my environment, play with words, pretend to have views that were not my own just to see how they would land. And I would pull it all off with a smile. This was exactly what I did. I stepped outside of myself, I shaped the world around me for little awhile and watched it spin, I took a few breaths in the silence of my mind, and then returned to my life across the ocean, filled with the recent memory of my dreams, like a child beaming with untold secrets.
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Remember to take life a little slower this week, and be sure to maintain a nutritious diet of stories and tea. See you next time!