Whoo! Apologies for the radio silence, everyone. This past month has been nothing short of insane. Between farewell parties and sorting through everything I own into Store, Sell, and Pack piles, my life has felt like a deck of cards flung into the air.
And soon, everything will change. I arrive in London exactly one week from today!
It’s finally real. It’s finally happening.
“But why London?” people ask.
I can’t tell you how many articles exist describing exactly why London is a horrendous place to live.
Yes. Horrendous. Not even, “I guess this is fine,” but rather, “What possibly possessed you to do this to yourself? You’ll never be able to afford anything again.”
In “Emma,” Jane Austen despairs of the city, claiming:
“The truth is, that in London it is always a sickly season. Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be.”
Good old Sondheim had to chime in, of course.
“There’s a hole in the world / Like a great black pit / And the vermin of the world / Inhabit it / And it goes by the name of London.”
Harsh much? Not too promising.
And yet people live there anyways. Because they’re addicted. Because I’m addicted. Because London’s energy is tangible. (And I a have mild obsession with historical fiction novels that take place in London. So then there’s that).
But when we know, we know.
With relationships, new jobs, or where we truly want to live, the answer is usually bouncing around in the back of your mind somewhere, if you’d only pause for a moment to find it. At least, that’s how I feel about London and my long-awaited decision to study there. We can plan and plan and plan, but in the end, I think we usually know what’s right for us all along, even if we take a while to admit it.
So just last January, months after deciding to pursue a different path, I made the spur of the moment decision to attend grad school in London.
Living in London has always been a “Someday” event – the pinnacle of some imagined achievement.
The London daydream version of Alex is smiling and skipping, like she’s living in Mary Poppins’ head.
A little secret though? I’m afraid I’ll hate London.
Anyone who’s made a major change in life knows how terrifying that feels. I’m paying to attend school and live in London for two whole years. I could always change my plan, but I’ve agonized over this stage of “What Next” for so long, I couldn’t bear it if I opened my eyes and realized everything was up in the air once more. That I hated London so much I needed to change my life on a dime again.
What if London can never live up to the perception I’ve built up in my head?
(Although I suppose that’s why the Chunnel exists. So I can escape to France every so often. When in doubt, do as the ancient royals did…right?)
I do believe I’ll love this next chapter, but you simply never know.
So for anyone considering moving to this city, and for my own jumbled, jumping nerves, this is why thousands of people have fallen irrevocably in love with London.
And why I’m not making a terrible decision, thank you very much Mr. Sondheim.
Does it make sense to fall in love with a place because of its history?
Just a few weeks ago, a World War II bomb was found in East London. People were reportedly not overly panicked, but I can imagine they were rather flummoxed as the police evacuated the area to dig it out of some building renovations.
More than anything, I find that the bomb serves as a stark reminder of how prevalent the past can be. Even in the intervening years, beyond the Blitz, beyond the rationing and refugee shelters, the past continues to exist in the heart of London. Despite the city’s modernity, its eagerness to embrace contemporary life, London is deeply affected by the past lives and cultures that have wandered through its walls. That have sailed along the Thames. Cities allow the past to continue living, breathing, existing just beyond the bustling streets, or the packed red buses.
And for whatever reason – be it the American education system’s proclivity to romanticize England, or my mom’s long-held love of English literature, or a passion I’ve developed all on my own, London and its history have enthralled me for many years.
(Warning: I’ll be writing very nerdy posts in the near future).
I recently ran into an old theater friend of mine who had just finished a study program in London. We hadn’t seen each other in years, but we immediately started gushing over London, and how, next to New York, you couldn’t ask for a better city to study acting. Although I’ve left my dramatic days behind me, I’m still in love with the stage, and many companies in London offer unbelievably low prices for high quality performances.
I don’t even care if I go alone. Party of one, please. And yes, I would like a glass of champagne with that.
The day trips
Once upon a time, I traveled to “the most beautiful village in England,” and found a cow stuck in a tree. Anything can happen on day trips through the English countryside.
All of the trips
In fact, living in London will allow for trips all over Europe. Of course, one of the many misconceptions I hear over and over again is, “It’s so easy and cheap to travel around Europe once you’re there!” Yes and no. It’s easier and cheaper than it is while living in the U.S., but not exactly “cheap.” Regardless, Heathrow has flights to nearly every country, so I will be blessed (and so, so cursed) with limitless options.
I’m an emotional person who loves people too quickly, too easily, and for far too long. One of the most difficult parts of traveling is maintaining relationships. We meet people, and then almost always, they disappear from our lives. Of course, this happens throughout the course of anyone’s life. People come and go.
But for a traveler, someone with itchy feet and an endless list of places to explore, the comings and goings happen so frequently, you can almost lose track of the people whose lives blurred into your peripheral vision. And worse, the lives of those who shattered through your direct line of sight, and stayed with you for days, months, even years, before disappearing to a new country.
It happens. It’s normal. I get it. But I’m really terrible at handling it. I like letters and Skype dates and keeping in touch, and it’s taken me a long time to realize that most people don’t, and it doesn’t necessarily make them lesser people, or even lesser friends. It just is.
Whether or not it’s fair, whether or not I will ever be okay with the way people can vanish, it will continue to happen. And it’s one reason I’m thrilled to move to London for two years.
Every time I’ve gone to London, I’ve felt overwhelmed by this sense of belonging. It may sound strange, but I honestly can’t wait to build a community around me again. I’ll have the opportunity to have roommates and classmates.
So many mates!
And the chance to create a real life around myself again. People will continue to come and go. But for the first time in a long time, I feel as if the future doesn’t look quite so murky, and long-lasting relationships may not be quite so unattainable.
London’s Quirky culture
At some point, I will most likely drink tea and eat scones in a high-back leather chair, flipping through the pages of Jane Austen. Because why not?
But there’s so much more to London!
I love the quirky street art. The fact that nobody blinks an eye at a bizarre pirate costume on the Tube Tuesday at 2 pm. London is a city with a thousand sub-cultures, reflected in odd pubs and eclectic markets – and I can’t wait to delve into them. I can’t fathom becoming bored of my new home.
Sorry but it’s just not the same in Milwaukee.
(Apologies to my bank account in advance).
But you don’t move to a city because of its theatre, interesting pubs, historical streets, or trendy markets.
Moving to London is something I’ve been planning for years. The fact that I’m making this change feels like an accomplishment in it of itself. Even if I fail, I’ll know that I’ve worked towards something, and have been passionate enough to create a reality out of my little dream.
I suppose this long-winded answer may not apply to everybody; we all feel at home in different cities throughout the world. But London is one of mine. And it’s that sense – and all it promises – that has pushed me through this uncertain summer.
And at least for right now, at this point in my life, London is precisely where I need to be.
“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” – Thanks, Samuel Johnson