Scotland, for I [Part I]

I don’t know much about alcohol, but I know enough to recognize that the air found where Wycliffe Hall’s courtyard spills into Norham Gardens smells like a gin and tonic. Sometimes I just stand there to drink it in.

I don’t know much about alcohol, but I know that I didn’t like the fruity slider I got at the Oxford Union’s club, the Purple Turtle. They have sliders named after every college and hall in Oxford, in addition to the houses of Hogwarts. Whoever came up with the blue-green bubblegum tasting shot for Wycliffe Hall—the Oxford centre for typically conservative Evangelicals—must have particularly savoured the irony of their concoction. Myself and a couple friends each downed one to commemorate the end of our first month at Oxford and the start of our first night out dancing. The decision to go out that night, for me at least, was both a horrible one and a wonderful one. Earlier in the day I had a hell of a time getting my new phone plan to work at the local branch of a UK mobile company, courtesy of their completely incompetent staff and shady business practices. It still doesn’t work. The next morning I needed to wake up at 6:30 to catch a train to Edinburgh, thus beginning the ten days of vacation between my pre-term classes and Michaelmas. I lied to myself saying that I would be able to get sleep on the train (I can’t sleep in moving vehicles), and danced until two in the morning, followed by a happy trip to a kebab stand—the staple English remedy for late night less-than-culinary cravings.

From my journal on the train to Edinburgh, via Birmingham:

I know where you are
but I can’t go there, so I’m
looking for you here

[the names and phone numbers of my contacts in Edinburgh]

I’d like to write something about the women in my life. Something about resilience and loud voices.

When I arrived in Edinburgh, after two hours spent in vain at the local branch of the UK mobile company, I took a taxi to the flat of the couple I was to sleep at for two nights. One perk of having a father who works in the world of academia is the network of kind academics that comes with him. The couple I stayed with are both professors at the University of Edinburgh, in theology and art history. After dropping off my bags, I went to find another couple that my dad arranged for me to hang out with (also professors, both theology). They showed me around the university. I have a disorder that kicks in when I visit most universities: I stop enjoying the place for its own sake and instead start enjoying the life I could potentially be living there—the people I’d know, the buildings I’d live and work in, the air I’d breathe. After a fairly thorough tour of Old Town and New Town, my guides took me to the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society, of which they are members. I had a beautiful plate of (well raised) haggis and what will probably be the best whiskey I’ll ever have, which is depressing given that I’m twenty years old. Continue reading

der Sommer und der See

I wrote the following essay the summer of last year.

I spent the year in Seattle. It was beautiful, so I’m going back again in September. It would take thirty-six hours to take the two thousand one hundred forty-two mile car route that Google Maps recommends, ferrying over Lake Michigan and then driving through Wisconsin and the five states that make up our Northern border with Canada. But my plane is already booked for September, and I plan to spend junior year in England. That leaves senior year for the long road trip.  It can wait until then.

My college is on the quarter system, so we start and end the year late. Early June was when I breached the overcast sky and soared dutifully home to Grand Rapids. The air has been thick in Grand Rapids this summer. Just about as thick with humidity as Seattle is with clouds and mist—which they call rain. I have been interning with a refugee resettlement agency, and when I leave the chilled office in the afternoon I have to wade through the air to get to my car. By the time I sit down and close the door, the air has covered my clothes so generously that I stick to the driver’s seat. It makes me feel like a fish, covered with raw egg and breadcrumbs, being simultaneously pan-fried and baked in my car. Shocking after months living in the Pacific Northwest, which mainly hovers in the happy range of fifty to seventy-five degrees.

Swimming has become surreal. The sun makes pool water almost as hot as the air outside it, and the air outside it is almost as dense as the pool water. You get the feeling that you could just keep swimming up past the water’s surface and into the sky. But there wouldn’t be any great motivation to do that. You wouldn’t find any mountains to look at, just the water tower. I suppose if you swam high enough, as high as my homebound plane flying over the mountains and rivers of the western states, you might see patterns emerge in the miles of crops. That would be worth it. Or maybe you would get sucked into a jet engine and go home in a different sense of the term. Continue reading