The Vesper’s Mark – Chapter 4 Excerpt

In just a few short days my debut novel will be available for purchase on Amazon Kindle devices (hopefully) on March 1st. Be sure to stop by my Amazon space and check it out!

Part (or all) of Chapter 1 will be up for preview on Amazon prior to purchasing, but I’ve decided to give all my blog readers a special sneak peek from Chapter 4.

Be sure to also check out my new Facebook Page: Heather Erwin or find me on twitter @MssHeather .

Book Description:

Welcome to Wyldor, where the military controls the city gates and no one gets in or out without their permission. When Jade Ember, a street thief, accidentally kills a soldier, she is forced into hiding. If she cannot find a way to escape the city, then she will pay for her crime with her life. Her only hope is to turn to the Brohavee, rebels depicted by the Wyldorian General as bloodthirsty savages. Jade soon discovers the Brohavee aim to stop the General and his notorious Coremaker from raising an army of mechanical giants fueled by human souls. The rebels are all that stand between the General and his domination of the Northern Territories.

***

The-Vesper's-Mark

Chapter 4

 

It’s all changing, Jade realized.

She watched her toes disappear beneath the sand again. It was so alien to her. She knew stone, she knew mud, but sand was something she had never truly experienced. Sure, she had seen it, stretching for miles just beyond the walls of Wyldor. The vast mantle of sand had surrounded her for her entire life but never had it touched her like this.

Nothing will ever be the same again, she thought. She had killed two men. What was worse than murder?

Apathy.

She had tried to feel regret or guilt. She had tried to convince herself that she was in shock over what she had done. But the truth remained: she felt nothing. She simply didn’t care. The only thing that had shocked her was how naturally it had come to her. Her body had moved as if carrying out the motions of a daily exercise rather than striking with a killer’s intent. It hadn’t repulsed her as she had always imagined it might. The warmth of the blood, the feel of the skin splitting, and the resistance offered by the muscle—these were inconsequential things to her now. She could do it all again, and that was what terrified her.

Jade dragged the back of her hand across her face, wiping the dust away. The dust was familiar. It was the closest she had ever been to the sand. She tried to focus on her new surroundings, but there was nothing to occupy her mind here. There were no plants, no buildings, and they had left the ruins far behind. So her thoughts remained within Wyldor, still trapped by those cursed walls even as her body trekked across the land beyond.

“We’ll stop here,” Lyssah said, her voice interrupting hours’ worth of uneasy silence.

In the past, Jade had dreamed of the day she and her friends might find a way to breach the walls of Wyldor and escape, free to roam the open plains to their hearts’ content. Now that she was faced with her dream, she found herself craving the embrace of the city, cramped though it was. She longed to see anything that might break the unchanging landscape before them. When Lyssah knelt in the middle of nowhere and began sifting through the sands, Jade had to stifle a wearied laugh.

She’s gone mad, she thought at first.

The rebel woman was on hands and knees, pawing at the ground as if searching desperately for water, and yet, though her actions were harried, Lyssah’s face remained calm and almost…

Pleased? Jade wondered.

And then Jade understood. Lyssah’s hands stilled beneath the sand. She grunted and pulled something round and metal out of the ground. As she continued to pull, the sand sank and began forming the outline of a square. Lyssah’s grunt became something of a growl and Remy rushed forward and buried his hands in the sand beside hers, grasping onto the metal ring. He pulled with all his strength, but because of his injuries, he soon had one hand clutching his abdomen as he groaned in pain. Still, he didn’t let go. Slowly the outline grew to reveal a dark tunnel that had been covered by a sheet of metal. The trapdoor was attached to the inside of the tunnel by two long chains and a hinge of sorts, all of which had been cleverly well-hidden beneath several feet of sand.

“Here we are,” Lyssah announced, brushing her hands together. Neither Jade nor Remy moved, unwilling to venture head first into a mysterious underground tunnel. However, Lyssah was growing impatient with their destination so close at hand.

Jade hesitated. As far as she was concerned, climbing down a dark hole into the earth below was tantamount to being buried alive. Remy laid a comforting hand on her shoulder and squeezed as he stepped past her. Jade wondered how much she was truly willing to trust this woman. She glanced at Lyssah, who gave a stiff nod, and then, Jade followed Remy down a steep staircase into the darkness.

The tunnel walls were made of stone and damp to the touch, but they lacked the layer of grime that all of the stone in Wyldor had. Jade’s fingers began to tingle as they made their way through the tunnel. The feeling was similar to that of a heating panel as it charged up: the vibrations were scarcely noticeable at first, but she was soon feeling the warmth in her palms. She snatched her hand away from the wall, disconcerted by the jolts shooting up her arms. Jade moved closer to Remy, slipping both hands around his arm and letting him guide her so she wouldn’t have to touch the wall anymore. The vibrations coming from the stone wouldn’t be easily explained, and Jade wasn’t quite ready to discuss her new power. For the time being, it was best not to mention it.

Their progress was slow and steady until the ground leveled out again. When it finally did, they stepped into a perfectly excavated stone chamber. Lanterns with blue-tinged glass hung from the smooth ceiling and cast a bluish-white glow across the circular room. Lyssah led them past ornate stone pillars carved with intricate runes the likes of which Jade had never seen. At the far end of the chamber they entered another passageway, this one much broader than the first, and instead of lanterns, tiny lights flickered from small globes recessed into the ceiling.

Jade stared up at the lights. This far down they were completely cut off from the surface and should these tiny lights stop working, they would be plunged into pure darkness. Her breathing quickened and she could almost feel the walls closing in around her, suffocating her. Remy patted her hand, able to feel the tension spreading through her body. She took comfort in this and tried to focus on the chamber to distract herself.

The stone around her spoke of age, worn smooth by the hands of time. This place had existed long before the Brohavee had found it. What they had discovered within these walls when they had first arrived? Had the place been empty? Deserted? And if so, what had happened to the people who had sacrificed the time and energy to create this underground shelter? Why create this remarkable place and then abandon it?

As they neared the end of the passage, a growing cacophony of booming voices, marching feet, and music gradually broke the silence. The tunnel deposited them in another chamber similar to the one before but three times as large. It was packed with people, all well-dressed with fine boots. They huddled in groups, laughed as they bet on their stone tossing games, or wandered amongst tables and admired goods set out for trade. There were small groups of elders singing and dancing with one another, while the younger people mostly rushed past with more important things to do.

Jade’s panic began to subside. She could still see no farther than the stone before her. She couldn’t glance down a side alley and see that it merged with a main street and continued onward. She couldn’t gaze up and see that the sky stretched on forever. Suddenly, she saw Wyldor in a whole new light. It was a vast city with ample space for its large population. What had once been a suffocating prison now seemed a wide open expanse.

She glanced at Remy and he let his eyebrows rise and fall as if saying, “Would you take a look at all this?

“Welcome to the Brohavee catacombs,” Lyssah announced suddenly.

 

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The Unclaimed: A Short Story

A name is sacred. It shapes who you are and what you will become, but it cannot be chosen for you. And yet, without a name, the soul remains unclaimed.

What will happen to a pair of unnamed children when they are trapped by a man who has come to collect the unclaimed?

As I finish editing the last half of my novel, I’ve decided to test out the self-publishing process by releasing a short story. If you’re interested, please check it out at Amazon.com by clicking HERE.

It’s up for the MEAGER price of just 99 cents! Support a young, struggling, wonderfully twisted writer!

Quick! Hurry now! Get a taste of my writing style before my novel is released! You might really love me!

Here’s something additional to go with the preview than Amazon gives out (the scene the cover image is taken from):

Three gripped Two’s arm and gestured for her to be silent and listen. Two heard the faint sound of paper rustling, accompanied by a scuffling that seemed at once both foreign and familiar. Two nudged Three forward and together they silently crept along the cases. As they reached the end of the aisle, the source of the light came into view. A fire had been struck up in the center of the room exactly where the counselor’s desk should have been. A very small man in a dress coat and slacks sat beside the fire, feeding it with pages ripped from books. He had a wide face with a broad nose and wiry hair that stood out oddly on his upper lip, imitating a mustache. He was bald, and his head reflected the firelight as though he had just waxed it. Overall, he looked like an average businessman, although very short and not very attractive.

It was his feet that were out of place. He wore no socks or shoes and in the firelight they were able to see pads on the bottom of his feet that resembled an animal’s paw. He had no toes; just one giant paddle of flesh, and his calf disappeared oddly into the top of his foot without a visible ankle. Three retreated behind the bookcase and sat on the floor with his hands over his mouth in shock. Two continued to stare at the man. When he lifted his head in her direction, she gasped. Three threw himself at her, slapping his hand to her face to silence her. They crashed into the floor and froze, afraid the noise had revealed their presence. Finally, after a few moments of silence Two pushed Three away. He scooted back hastily, whispering apologies.

“Did you see his eyes?” she mouthed.

Three shook his head. “W-what was it?”

Two put a hand on the back of his head and forced him to look again. She held Three there until the man raised his head again. Her other hand stifled his gasp this time, and then she jerked him back behind the bookcase.

“What is he?” Three asked.

Yay! Now check it out to read more and find out what is going on! Comments or reviews are highly encouraged. Thanks to anyone who gives the story a chance. You’re the best sort of people.

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The Living Doll

Do you remember what toys were like in the late 80s-early 90s? Back before every kid had their own iPhone or PSP?

Girls had My Little Pony toys, stuffed Care Bears, Rainbow Brite Dolls, and of course, Barbies. Boys had Transformers, Micro Machines, Ninja Turtles, and G.I. Joes. And everyone in the house played with the Lego sets.

Toys were pretty simple back then. And we loved it.

But then came the Teddy Ruxpin craze. You remember Teddy Ruxpin, don’t you? The talking bear whose mouth and eyes actually moved as he told his stories?

Everyone wanted a Teddy Ruxpin. But I guess 70 bucks for a stuffed bear was a bit extreme for some parents. Not to mention the additional 20 bucks you had to shell out for each new accessory. I didn’t get a Teddy Ruxpin and neither did any of my friends, so life went on.

Until one year at Christmas, that is…

We drove out to my grandparents’ farm for one of our annual family gatherings. I was maybe five or six years old, so I was most excited to get to see one of my favorite cousins, who is three years older than me and the only cousin I had anywhere near my age-range growing up.

My excitment died when I saw her.

She didn’t have a Teddy Ruxpin, but she had another talking doll. And this one was even better! (I don’t remember too much about the doll. But let’s use Julie: The Talking Doll by Worlds of Wonder as our reference.)

This doll was amazing! She was well over a foot tall! And her books came with metal sensors and when she touched the sensor she’d recite that exact part of the story. She asked you questions and you could actually answer her and she’d respond.

She was spectacular!

And I was instantly jealous. Life couldn’t go on any longer. Someone I knew had one of these amazing talking dolls.

I had to have my own.

I begged my parents. I’m sure I cried. I probably threw a fantastic hissy fit – I was good at those. And I knew I couldn’t give up until I had my own talking doll.

And finally, all my hard work paid off.

Months later, I received my very own talking doll by Worlds of Wonder: Pamela, the Living Doll.

She was everything I had hoped for: she was beautiful, sweet, and loved to be carried around everywhere.

I had two of the accessory/tape sets: sleeptime and camping. So she had pajamas and a pillow with her name embroidered on it, and she had overalls for camping.

I was overjoyed with Pamela. I loved her! I tucked her in beside me at night with her little pillow. We “read” her books and talked endlessly about the campfire and how much we liked to play with the ball…

Then everything went terribly wrong.

One day I mistakenly came across the TV as “Chucky” (Child’s Play) was playing. It was horrible!
This disfigured doll was strangling people with phone cords (you know, back when phones weren’t wireless?), he was stalking adults through the shadows and stabbing them to death!

It was hideous, and I couldn’t bear to watch it! Of course, my dad never would have allowed me to see as much as I did if he had known it was on. But it was too late. I had seen it and it was the scariest thing ever.

And what was worse was that my older brother knew I had seen it. At roughly like 11-years-old, he was a rotten little shit. The first chance he got, he asked me if I knew the truth about Chucky.

“What?” I asked.

“Pamela is Chucky’s little sister, and he sent her here to get you.”

Well, great.

Thanks, bro.

But don’t think that it ended there. Because, oh, no! Not with my brother. He had only just begun.

As I was getting ready for bed that night, my brother had left me a surprise. I crawled under my blankets, my parents kissed me good night, and then shut off the light, leaving me alone.

I snuggled into my bed and glanced up at the ceiling. Now, lining my walls was a series of shelves that held all the stuffed animals and baby dolls that I wasn’t “supposed” to play with. And there she was…dangling from this shelf…

Pamela, the Living Doll.

Her beady little eyes staring down at me.

A rubber toy knife taped in her hand.

Chucky had sent her after me…

And I was done, it was all over. That was the end. Pamela, my sweet, precious, fascinating doll…Pamela, who I had begged and pleaded for…who I had screamed and cried for…who I had been so proud of: She was out to murder me.

For months following this incident, my brother capitalized on my new fear of Pamela. She turned up randomly all over the house. I would open my wardrobe and she would be sitting on the shelf, glaring at me with her devil eyes.

I would be brushing my teeth in the bathroom and reach into the cabinet for a towel, she would be lying on top of the towels, mocking me with her smirk of death.

Under my bed. In my dresser. On the back of the toilet. Under the sink.

Pamela was everywhere. I would burst into tears at the sight of her and my parents would take her away. I wouldn’t be satisfied until I knew she was stowed away in the bottom drawer of their dresser, in their bedroom, faaaar on the other side of the house.

And still she would escape.

I would be in my room playing contentedly on my bed and I would suddenly hear, “I love you.” And I would freeze. Surely, SURELY, I had just imagined it. I had become overly paranoid, after all. I would continue playing and then…

“Will you play with me?”

Oh, God. She’s here.

I would panic. That terrifying giggle… How was she talking to me!? You have to push her to make her talk. She didn’t just talk on her own…!

And then it would hit me. She had to be close. I would shift my weight and from beneath my comforter I would hear it:

“Do you want to give me a kiss?”

And then that giggle…always that creepy giggle!

Over six years later, when I was about thirteen years old, I was cleaning up my closet, and I found Pamela.

I hadn’t seen her for years.

But she was not how I remembered her. Pamela’s hair had been cut down to the scalp. She looked like the baby head with the spider body from Toy Story.

And upon closer inspection, I found a four-to-five inch gash on her head, exposing the wires inside that controlled her facial movements.

The best part of all? I don’t recall how this happened. I have this image in my head of me heroically swinging Pamela by the ankles, bashing her head against the doorjamb – repeatedly – until the giggling stopped. And then to descecrate her further, I take my art scissors and I hack away all of her hair, flinging her into the dark corners of my closet to be forgotten.

It’s just a nice thought, though. I don’t know how she ended up in such a poor state. If I still had her today, perhaps I’d take her out from time to time to remind myself that what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

I mean, sure, I still can’t watch a Chucky movie to this day. And for years I couldn’t sleep with those dolls on my shelves staring at me through the dark with their demon eyes. But in the end, I survived Pamela.

Pamela, however, did not survive the May 3rd Tornado.

I like to think she got what she deserved.

 

BONUS – The Commercial for Pamela from the 1980s:

[Even the commercial was creepy...]

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Writing Prompt #6: Natural Disaster

I’ve decided to make this into a writing prompt. I haven’t done one in a very long time. I wasn’t as consistent with it as I’d hoped to be.

However, while this might just be another writing prompt to those of you who randomly come along, for me it’s a bit more than that. If you’ve visited my blog in the past or nosed around any, you may have seen my post about May 3rd, 1999. If you haven’t, here’s a brief recap:

On that date, my home and many others in my area were completely destroyed by an F5 tornado. I was left homeless, confused, and angry about everything. I celebrated my 14th birthday away from my immediate family, travelling half way across the state to live with my cousin because the alternative was to live in a high school math room and wake up every morning to go dig through the rubble and debris that had once been my home.

With May 3rd rapidly approaching, I’ve taken the time to write this post in advance, and I shall be publishing it on the 13th Anniversary of what my brothers and I (half) jokingly refer to as “We’re Still Alive Day.” So this is the prompt:

Take a natural disaster that has been in the news (recently or maybe not so recently) and write as though you have been directly affected by this disaster. Try to really bring out the intensity of the situation. Be sure to use all of your senses and immerse yourself in your imagination. Write about what you see and feel (both emotionally and physically), but remember that scent is strongly tied to memory, and taste is tied to scent, and the hip bone is connected to the–oh, right. Ahem.

Clearly, my prompt will be a true story, so I won’t have to reach very far beyond my own memory for these things. Some of you will have to use other experiences and try to find something of a common ground – something that allows you to imagine what it might really be like.

 

I remember the lights in town had gone out. How odd to see dark neon signs and unlit marquees. The small rural city no longer stood out from the shadowed fields surrounding it. I’d been down this highway countless times. There wasn’t much in the little town back then: a small Wal-Mart–back before everything was super-sized–a burger joint, a pizza place, a small grocery store, a bank or two, and a gas station. If you lived in the area, you knew every nook and cranny of the place. Still, that night it was like seeing it for the first time. As we drove through the flashing traffic lights, it was suddenly transformed into some strange, unfamiliar place.

This is one of the few images that never left me about that day. There are others, of course. The little boy coming down the road covered from head to toe in mud, crying that his mother’s hand had been in his only moments before. The elderly couple who lived up on the corner somewhere, blood trickling from a wound on the old man’s head. Cement foundations stained red by the Oklahoma dirt and stripped bare by the winds, the last remaining proof that a house had once stood there. The muddy banks of the pond across the road, banks that had once been covered in grass and trees.

I remember the darkness from within our little hole as the tornado destroyed the surface above us. Pitch black. The roaring of the winds so loud in my ears that only the vice-like grip of my mother’s hand on mine and the weight of my brother’s body huddled beside me told me they were still there.

Minutes.

And it was all over. Suddenly, it was all in the past: the hail smashing against the van on the drive home from Aikido class while my mom tried not to panic; my dad carefully monitoring Gary England on Channel 9; my older brother’s concerned voice that something didn’t look right outside; and then the shouts, “Get your shoes on and get your asses out of the house!”

Panic can be overwhelming and confusing. Part of your brain is telling you to remain calm and think clearly and you can almost see what you should do. You just don’t do it. A tornado is coming and you know there’s a plan. You’ve been told for years that if it ever came to this, you’d leave the house, cross the road, and crawl into the tin horn – you’d be safe there, beneath the ground.

Panic takes over and you know that plan is still there. But you don’t know how to put it into motion. Your brain works sluggishly. It tells you, “Bad weather? You’ll need a jacket for that.” So you run down the long hallway, to the opposite side of the house from the front door, and grab your coat. Then you calmly put it on and zip it up, while holding a squirming rat-terrier mix in your arms, the dog as panicked as you are.

I don’t remember getting out of the house. Frankly, there are a few dark spots in my memory. I don’t remember going through the door or down the front steps. I remember being at the edge of the yard just about to cross the road when just ahead of me I see my little brother, only ten years old at the time, start heading down the road instead of across it. The wind was so strong that it was blowing him down the road. I remember my older brother grabbing him, pulling him back towards safety.

I don’t remember crawling into the tin horn. I don’t remember which brother was next to me. I remember a moment of awe, realizing that this was what it felt like to face death. “Am I going to die?” Then the darkness. The roar. And then sudden silence. How quickly it was all over.

When we crawled back onto the surface, the place was unrecognizable. The trees were gone and if not ripped completely out of the ground, they were splintered down nearly to the base of their trunks. They stuck out of the ground like pikes on a battlefield. A battlefield – which is exactly how it looked. Grass stripped from the land, trees blown apart, houses completely removed from hills, creeks full of rubble and debris.

While I stared around me and cried, my dad and my older brother, seventeen at the time, launched into action. There might be survivors to find.

Survivors.

We were survivors. I was a survivor. With sudden shock, I realized that it was possible that not everyone had lived through this disaster. There might be people dead or dying buried beneath that rubble. I remember starting to follow my dad and brother so I could help search. And then I froze, staring into the creek at the wreckage that had once been a home. What if I found a dead body? What if that thing sticking out of the mangled beams in the distance was an arm. What if there were body parts…

I was too afraid to look, too afraid of what I might find. I wanted to help search for people, to be useful, but I was terrified. All I could do was cry.

But then came the little boy, probably five or six years old. He said something like, “My mom was sucked out of my hand.”

He complained that his shoulder hurt, so we took a look. I think it was dislocated, I can’t recall fully. I was told to watch him while the adults did other things. By this point, I had stopped crying. I suddenly had an important task. So we tried to get some of the mud off his face. We talked about anything, and I was probably trying to distract  myself as much as him.

Eventually, trucks arrived. People from other neighborhoods coming to help. Impromptu search teams went out. My dad and some of the other men found horses and other pets that had to be put down, so they did it with whatever tools they had to stop the animals from suffering any longer. Miraculously, my own horse was uninjured, simply buried in the creek up to her shoulders or so. My dad had to help her dig her way out.

I don’t remember much else. I remember getting in a car, driving to a nearby neighborhood. Power was out everywhere. I stared through the window, shocked by the extent of the damage. It was like a bomb had gone off.

There was a house with a lot of people in it. Candles were lit. A few inches of clean water in a bathtub somewhere for us to try to get some of the mud off. I could still taste dirt in my mouth.

And later in the evening my grandparents picked us up and drove us into the city to stay with them. That’s when we passed our little rural city that sticks in my memory. It has changed so much over the years. It’s grown, expanded, there are a few less fields now, more neon signs. But I still remember sitting on someone’s lap in the car as we passed through the darkened town, seven of us crammed into a standard sedan. I remember the cool glass against my forehead as I leaned against the window, watching everything zip past. It looked like a ghost town to me.

How fitting, I thought.

 

So, there’s my short prompt written to commemorate the 13th Anniversary of the May 3rd Tornado. It’s not the best bit of writing I’ve ever done but when I think back on that day, my memory skips around a lot.

If you’ve got a prompt you’d like to share, post a comment or share a link to your own blog, and I’ll stop by with a comment!

 

 

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Behind The Scenes – Writing VS Acting

So I’ve been watching a lot of behind the scenes clips lately for a few shows and movies. I saw one in particular from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (I know, I’m obsessed…what can I say?)

In the clip, the Executive Producer comments jokingly that a camera should’ve been put on the director, Chris Columbus, because he was working with three completely inexperienced child actors and so everything the kids put up on screen was a reflection of what Columbus was doing off-camera through his direction.

This struck me as enviable. Why? Well, look at it from a writer’s point of view. Actors stand in front of a camera–they’ve memorized their lines, they’ve done their best to get into character and to be able to draw that emotion out for the camera. But really, if they fail, the director is there to call, “CUT!” and then explain how they should do it the next time.

“You’re not showing enough alarm on your face. This is the worst thing that could possibly happen to you. Try it again with that in mind. And here we go again! ACTION!”

Right? You’ve all seen it happen that way. Actors get cut after cut after cut…they end up with countless outtakes until they’ve hit their mark perfectly and it all falls into place. THIS is what goes into the film or show. You don’t see their failures or their pathetic attempts (not until the blooper reel, anyway, yeah!).

As a writer, I sometimes wish there was someone like a director to stand over my shoulder and point out when I’ve gone wrong.

“Ah! No, no, no, cut! CUT! CUT THAT! What are you doing? How could you ruin your protagonist so easily? Don’t you understand that if you leave in that paragraph then you’ve destroyed everything you’ve built up to til this point? You’ve tried so hard to make the reader believe in this character and you’re just going to undo it all? No! Rewrite it! Immediately.”

“I…I did that?”

Of course, writers are often blinded by bad writing while they’re in their zone. Or…at least I am. I see it instantly the next day when I re-read what I wrote the night before. I cringe and grit my teeth and it’s almost embarrassing to look at. And immediately I  know that half of that whole scene is going to be cut and rewritten. The hours I spent putting down hundreds of words – it’s all become time that I can never get back.

It’s true I can sense it myself, sometimes, as I’m writing it. My fingers slow and the pace changes, the words still come but not quite as easily. There’s a marked hesitation there and it’s trying to stop me but I barrel through it because I’m so used to the saying, “Bad writing is better than no writing.” Sometimes when this happens I can stop myself. I read a few sentences back and realize I should just stop and take a break before I waste any more time.

We don’t have anyone but ourselves. I hope that this detection power is something that we hone through experience…that all professional writers out there started out where I am, just writing for the sake of getting the words down, but eventually, I really hope they learned when they’re writing utter crap. I hate to think that even after I’ve been doing this for a long time, I’ll still find myself counting all my wasted time.

“That was two hours Friday night and another hour Saturday night and–”

Let me believe in my delusions. It’s the hope that gets us through it, after all.

But seriously, actors kind of have it easy in that if they actually have talent they can fix a bad delivery the next time round or they can redo a weak scene in that very moment. They get immediate feedback. Whereas I could work on a chapter for three days and then read the whole thing only to find out that I should have gone a completely different direction and none of it works.

If I’d known I was heading down the wrong path in the first place, I could have adjusted my course.

It’s this kind of unfortunate reality that sort of reminds me why some people consider writers to be so masochistic. It’s torture to cut that much writing after you agonized over it, pounding out every last word…

SIGH.

So what’s the only solution we have as writers? Maybe to write with breaks. Don’t burn yourself out by trying to force the words.

It reminds me of this quote by Raymond Chandler:

The faster I write the better my output. If I’m going slow, I’m in trouble. It means I’m pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.

If you start pushing, it’s time for a break. Maybe we should give up on the ‘bad writing is better than no writing’ mindset and just go for some coffee or ice cream instead. You can always pick up where you left off after clearing your mind a little.

Because really? “Don’t force it” is just about the only direction we’re gonna get.

 

 

 

 

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The Hunger Games – A Novel Poorly Written

I can’t take it anymore. If one more person tells me how amazing The Hunger Games is I’m liable to blow my lid and attack them. What is it about poor writing that amazes you people?

I’m going to pick on an article I read: Why The Hunger Games Is The Future of Writing - and I’ll apologize to the author of this article in advance:

I’m sorry I’m using you as my example, but I desperately disagree with what you wrote. I disagree, and I pray to every supernatural deity out there that this does not come to be reality.

I’ll say this up-front because it may turn many of you away from the rest of this post: I did not finish the first book. I was completely unable to read it. But I did try. If that’s not enough, maybe one day I’ll force my way through the rest of the book – torture that it may be, because I know, with many of you, not finishing it strips me of my credibility or right to an opinion.

To those of you who think this: Bugger off.

To the rest of you: Let’s get started.

In the opening lines of the article, our friendly writer says this of the book:

It’s expected to surpass Twilight.

Okay, well, yeah. In terms of writing, that wouldn’t be hard to do. But then:

Maybe even be the next Harry Potter.

What? No. No way. In terms of fandom strength and popularity, I suppose so. But this series cannot stand against the Harry Potter series based on the merit of its writing alone. It’s just not possible.

Harry Potter is very well written. It boasts an elaborately complex plot that weaves elements together from the first book all the way through to the seventh book. The characters have so much depth and personality that they might as well just take a breath and step off the pages, they’re practically alive as it is.

But a comparison between The Hunger Games and Harry Potter is not what I’ve come here to make.

Why is The Hunger Games so popular? So fascinating? So damn special?

Because apparently society is getting dumber. We’re all idiots. Adults in their 50′s are apparently stampeding through malls wearing tube tops and letting their jeans sag down around their calves while their children cry in embarrassment and hide behind the Dippin’ Dots booth, praying they don’t run into anyone they know.

Because apparently even adults are at a 6th grade reading level. Really? I was reading at college-level in 6th grade, or so the tests and teachers told me. And I don’t point this out to be arrogant, but I’m genuinely amazed if the majority of our population (the ones that actually take the time to read books in the first place) are not at least reading at a high school level.

So why is Suzanne Collins so successful with The Hunger Games?

She writes short novels, in large fonts, with quick chapters. If you’re going to get people to read your content (whether it’s fiction or nonfiction), you should consider doing the same.

No, please. Please don’t do that. She writes “short novels, in large fonts, with quick chapters” because she’s writing Young Adult fiction – please don’t recommend this to people as a general tactic to become the next best seller UNLESS they’re writing YA fiction.

I don’t want to read nonfiction that uses short, stilted sentences with jumbo fonts when I’m trying to learn something. I want information, I want lots of details and specifics, I want all of this and that’s why I came to you, Mr. Nonfiction. For that matter, I don’t want to read fiction that has such trimmed, empty prose either. There’s a difference between creating tension and suspense with cutting words because you can’t find words to convey imagery or emotion.

Collins writes short sentences that pack a punch. They are disturbingly terse, like a Hemingway novel. Yet, they build suspense and momentum and work perfectly for a culture with an attention deficit.

To give you an idea of how she does this, here’s an excerpt from The Hunger Games(via Slate Magazine):

We’re on a flat, open stretch of ground. A plain of hard-packed dirt. Behind the tributes across from me, I can see nothing, indicating either a steep downward slope or even a cliff. To my right lies a lake. To my left and back, sparse piney woods. This is where Haymitch would want me to go. Immediately.

Thanks to the constant noise of TV and the Internet, this is the future of writing. Yes, there may still be a place for long-form, but the burden of proof has shifted. Now, shorter is better, because it means the reader will actually stay engaged.

Ugh. Where to start…

First of all, does no one else see all the fragments in that excerpt? “A plain of hard-packed dirt.” Yeah, so? What about it? There’s no freaking verb there!

Again: “To my left and back, sparse piney woods.” What?? What are you trying to say? To my left and back, there ARE sparse piney woods? To my left and back, sparse piney woods were painted on a backdrop to give the illusion of setting? To my left and back, BAM! sparse piney woods sprang up out of nowhere and slapped me in the face before I could finish that sentence?!

That’s not a SENTENCE. Both of those are only half of a sentence. That’s like going to the ice-cream stand and asking for a banana split and only getting a cup with bananas and chocolate fudge but no frickin’ ice cream. It’s incomplete and it leaves you frustrated and angry, wanting to know why the hell you paid for a full split and only got the bananas!

Sure, if you’re lactose intolerant then this doesn’t upset you. And there’s a hefty part of the population that has…literature…lactose…intol—Fine! I’m losing the analogy, but you get my point!

There are people who love this partial writing. Just look at the success Cormac McCarthy had with The Road – He dropped half his ice cream in the dirt on the way to the publisher. He handed them the cone and they grinned like idiots and said, “This is the best ice cream ever!”

Okay.

Seriously.

I gotta stop with the ice cream references.

Second? I’ve grown up my entire life with the TV in the background, a gadget in my hand, a game console in every room, the internet, cell phones – SHINY THINGS!

But I still have an attention span that will allow me to sit for HOURS upon HOURS while I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from start to finish without eating dinner or going to sleep or really doing anything aside from the necessary break to pee.

He says: “Now, shorter is better, because it means the reader will actually stay engaged.”

The whole reason I didn’t finish The Hunger Games was because I never felt engaged so it wasn’t a matter of losing me. There was nothing there to make me care from the start. As writing becomes shorter, more terse, more bare…I care even less.

Then there’s this:

The Hunger Games is not a children’s book (or movie). It’s full of bloodshed and adult themes. Like teenage kids battling it to the death as a form of entertainment for a futuristic dystopia, in which the government controls the population through forced sacrifice. Yep. Intense.

And I’m sorry, but The Hunger Games is a book for kids. Unless my sources are entirely inaccurate, The Hunger Games is classified as a YA novel. “YA” meaning Young Adult, specifically for children between the ages of 12 and 18. This book  may have darker themes and be a bit on the graphic side but it is still a book for teenagers, also known as “Not Yet Adults” and thus: “Kids.”This is the main reason it’s written in such a short, snappy fashion. And yet, I am so against urging writers to perpetuate this style of writing.

Collins has essentially “dumbed down” her story to a point where it is barren of character depth and provides no emotional investment. You get the bones of the story, but you’re missing out on so much more that could have been there.

This article suggests that society has devolved in terms of a collective intelligence and that we’re too easily distracted by anything that flashes bright colors or a little boob or spurts fake blood. So then this is my question:

Why are we constantly changing everything to accommodate society rather than working to improve it?

“Oh, there are more obese people in America than ever before? Change the sizing scales so a size 8 is now a size 4 and a 4 is a size 1. Yay! Problem solved.”

NO. Larger women don’t end up feeling better about themselves because they’re suddenly wearing a size 4 – they just feel worse because now they’re simply competing with the size 1 and starving themselves until they can graduate from the 4 into the 1. The solution isn’t to change things to accommodate society, the solution is to FIX society.

Teach women to be healthy and then teach them that being healthy means loving their bodies as they are: sizes notwithstanding. Educate children on food choices and nutrition. Put physical Ed back into the schools.

If our attention spans are so freaking bad that we can’t make it through a kids’ book without it being stripped of everything that gives the story its depth, then let’s work on educating children and teaching them to focus. Take your kids outside to play, for crying out loud. Get them off the computer. GET YOURSELVES OFF THE COMPUTER AND GO WITH THEM.

Read to your children while they’re young so they learn what it is to invest themselves in a story, to get caught up in the plot, to not be so impatient that they want to skip “the boring parts” so they can get to the blood and guts and explosions.

The Hunger Games cannot be the future of writing. If all books take on this style of producing empty prose with nothing but mindless action and terse descriptions…then, well…let’s just end this sentence visually:

 

 

 

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Visiting the UK – Part 15 – Conclusion.

So, it’s now been a year since my trip. I didn’t imagine it taking me this long to get all these posts written. Guess that just makes me even more of a slacker than I thought.

But let’s not dally! Let’s begin that arduous trip home! The photo to the right was one of the few photos I took on my flight home (before completely passing out for the duration of the flight.)

On my last night in Dundee, I slept horribly. I’d already spent three nights sleeping on my brother’s floor, curled up in the fetal position because I was sharing floor-space with his friend so I was unable to straighten out any little bit whatsoever. After three nights in the exact same position, my hip bones were bruised and I couldn’t find even a moderately comfortable position to sleep. I was all hip-bone and bruises at that point.

So, I only slept a couple of fitful hours. I was awake at 9AM, which for anyone who knows me, they’ll understand how remarkable it is that I woke that early on my own. They’ll perhaps fully understand how lousy my sleep was.

I remember eating toast and then I don’t really remember what followed. I know I made sure I was packed, double checked I had all of my things. I don’t recall if we went out or not. I might’ve dozed off later in the afternoon earning a bit of extra rest. I just can’t recall. My brother walked me to the train station, we said our good-byes, hugged, and he watched me pass through to the ticket barrier and out onto the platform.

So then, where am I now? Well, after getting almost no sleep, I hopped on a train from Dundee to London at 4:00PM.

There was a father and his two little boys (maybe 5-7 years) waiting nearby for their train and I spent a good half-hour watching the boys fight with each other, running up and down the platform recklessly. They came so close to falling off the platform and onto the tracks so many times that I couldn’t help but glare at the father. Not to mention the little brats were screaming and crying and annoying everyone else waiting on a train.

Since I’d eaten nothing but toast all day, I had a coke and some crisps while waiting. [I remember one woman sitting on a bench next to me who kept glaring at me as if my eating the crisps was annoying her more than the screaming kids. It made me so uncomfortable, I wrapped up the bag and put them away to finish later on the train.]

Once on the train, I slept bits and pieces, mostly just dozing on and off. It was a very long ride – heading from Dundee all the way back to London would take me almost seven hours.

I remember being a bit nervous on the train ride because I was alone. Everyone else had someone with them or someone to talk to. I had myself and my luggage – blatantly announcing that I was a solo traveler. It might be some of my dad coming out in me, but I was convinced that marked me as a target of some sort. You know how parents like to put the fear of God into you over trivial things sometimes? I think it was a lot like that. I had a strange sense of paranoia going on.

The great thing was that after a few hours, some more passengers got on at another stop. There was an Asian guy who sat on the opposite side of the train only a few seats up from me, diagonally, with his laptop on the table. At this point, my PSP was dead, my Nintendo DS was dead, and I had only my journal and my iPod to entertain me.

This guy was Thai, I think. I say that because I watched him pull up a Korean drama on his laptop. The sub-titles flashing across the bottom looked very much like Thai subs to me. Though I suppose they could’ve been Vietnamese…I don’t remember. I just know they weren’t any of the eastern languages I know how to recognize or can read.  I recognized some of the actors in the show though and I knew it was a show from the KBS broadcast station. So, without understanding what was happening in the show, I got to [like a creeper] watch two or three episodes with him.

When he finally reached his stop, I decided to sleep some. I was reluctant to sleep because I was terrified something would happen and I’d miss my stop. However, I couldn’t sleep well enough for that to happen anyway.

By 10:50PM, I had made it to King’s Cross Station. Sadly, my train had been delayed by 20 minutes, so I didn’t get to stop and take any pictures. The Harry Potter fan in me died a little.

I rushed through the underground station to make my connection to the Heathrow Airport on the Picadilly Line.

I was in a bit of a panic here because I only had a small window during which to make my connection in the first place, but after the train had been delayed 20 minutes, my window had shrunk considerably. I didn’t know if that would affect the other trains, like…would they wait a few extra minutes for those of us who were running behind? Or would we just get screwed and left behind?

You have to keep in mind, I didn’t grow up with a train culture. Oklahoma has “drive-yourself-everywhere-or-don’t-go” culture. That’s what we grew up with. So I was just ignorant of how the whole system would work. All I knew was if I missed that connection, I’d be spending the night panicking – trying to figure out how I’d afford a cab ride (because in my panicked state I was thinking it’d cost an exorbitant amount for some ridiculous reason) or find a bed for the night or etc., etc., etc.

When I got to the right platform, I had to ask a stranger which train I wanted. I tried to read the tube map but failed miserably. The schedule seemed so convoluted to me. I was quickly pointed in the right direction and according to the arrival sign, I had only 1 minute left. So one wrong turn and I’d have missed the train. And yes, it came promptly in 1 minute. And if I’d read it all correctly, that was the last tube into Heathrow for the night.

By midnight, I was getting off the tube at Heathrow. There were only two of us left on the tube as it pulled in: myself and a middle-aged man who looked like a businessman. We stepped off the train and into a fire alarm ringing throughout the tube station. The announcement kept telling us to immediately get to a safe location.

Of course, the station is deserted. So the man and I are looking around in a very concerned sort of way. I’m sure you can imagine. We finally found a worker and he told us it was just a drill they do every Saturday. He sent us on our way, telling us there was no fire and we were fine, so we continued up to the terminals amidst cries of “The Fire Alarm Has Been Activated, Please Proceed to the Nearest Safe Location. Staff Will Assist You.”

At the next floor up, I found myself back in International Arrivals right where I’d begun this journey. Both the tube-man and I were searching the floor cluelessly. The signs had pointed this way for Terminals/Departures but here we were standing in Arrivals. We turned around and saw that the signs from the one direction (coming from the tube station) pointed towards Arrivals as “Departures” but if you were coming from Arrivals, it pointed back behind us to a row of elevators, listing those as “Departures.”

Seriously, it was confusing. We came up the stairs to find ourselves in Arrivals, which was completely closed with all the shops locked up and all the lights off. We had no idea where to go. The sign had a clearly marked arrow pointing this direction for Departures. Until you turned around, then that same arrow was pointing the opposite direction.

You know, in all honesty – the arrow as simply pointing at the ceiling. It was just a straight up arrow. You have to use that human cognitive power to infer that they mean for it to point ahead. But in this case when it’s pointing straight up, it can mean straight ahead no matter which direction you’re coming from. In that case, let’s try putting the arrow on only one side of the sign? Maybe on the other side, you could put small print (Turn Around) or (Wrong Way).

Just a thought.

So tube-man and I went back up the elevators and then separated, each going to our respective departure check-in areas. I headed straight for the nearest toilet. I’d just sat through a six-seven hour train ride and then another one-two hour tube ride to the airport.

Once the toilet was conquered, I aimed my path straight to the nearest vending machine. There was no where else to get food and I hadn’t had anything but 2 slices of toast and then that bag of crisps at the train station. So, I got me some cheese crackers and another bottle of coke.

After I’d bought my snacks but before I got to sit down and eat them, I was stopped by an American girl probably a few years younger than myself. She asked if I knew where check-in was for American Airlines. If possible, she looked more confused and lost than I was. So I felt obligated (as the older one) to try to help this kid out.

I told her I had no idea but that I’d seen a sign somewhere between getting off the tube and where we were now that had all the airlines and their departure terminals listed. I told her that was how I’d found my own.

She was excited and said she’d been trying to figure it out for over an hour and no one could help her. (I assume that means most everyone was being snotty or she didn’t want to wake anyone because like 90% of the people waiting in the airport were conked out.)

So I led her on a crazy search for a sign – the location of which I had already conveniently forgotten. I knew I had seen it, but I couldn’t remember precisely where. When we couldn’t find it on the floor we were on, we went back down the elevators to the Arrivals, then we back-tracked all the way down to the train platforms until I saw the one I’d used. Of course, it had to be IMMEDIATELY upon getting off the tube. So we had gone quite a ways.

Turns out she was at the wrong terminal. We were on 1 and she needed 3. She thanked me profusely because if she had just spent the night there and found out she was in the wrong place in the morning, she said she’d have missed her flight. So we parted ways: me back up to 1 and her off to find her way to 3.

She was a very, very polite kid. She was ridiculously grateful to me for helping her. I felt pretty good about myself. But I’ll admit that going back through the train station and up all those empty, closed floors was super creepy. I don’t know what it was like for her or how she was even going to get to terminal 3.

I was pretty sure the last tube had run and there wouldn’t be anymore that night. But I guess just because there were tube stops at the terminals didn’t mean that was the only way to get there. I assume there’s a perfectly normal walking route.

Heathrow Departures at 1AM

So here I sit now. I devoured my snack crackers, but I fear I’ll end up tossing half a bottle of coke. [I never could drink pop by itself. Have to have food. It just sloshes around in my stomach and makes me feel queasy otherwise.]

It’s like 2AM and I’m trying to stay awake cause back home it’s only 8- no, 9PM? – they already had Daylight Saving back home. At 7AM, I should be able to check-in and get a…well, not a ticket, but a stand-by notice, I guess.

I’ll just be letting them know I’m here and ready. God willing I get on the 9AM flight with no hassles – otherwise I guess I’ll shoot again for the 11AM and then again for the 2PM if I have to. I’d love to have business class again going home, but I’ll take anything so long as I get on a flight.

Heathrow is deserted. It’s funny because I remember being told that this airport never sleeps and it’s always packed, etc. Guess whoever told me that didn’t really know as much as they thought. There’s a few people sleeping around…there’s a janitor running a floor machine. [You can just barely see him in the photo there...]

I’m struggling to stay awake so I’ll be exhausted enough to sleep on the plane. But I’ve got 5 long hours of sitting ahead of me. I’ve got no internet, iPod is dead now, no Nintendo DS, no PSP – only this and my Kindle now.

Luckily I’ve already killed one and a half hours writing all this out and getting the journal caught up. Hopefully around 5 or 6 the little news stands or the bar will start to open so I can try for a bit of food or something. I guess I’ll switch over to reading for now. My hand is starting to cramp… :(

I had a really hard time staying awake that five hours. There were several times I packed up my Kindle and journal and I just started walking laps around the main part of that room, pulling or pushing my suitcase around. I saw a man in the bar upstairs watching me and I was so irritated because I wanted to be up in that bar eating something. It was closed but there was someone up there. My assumption was that he had to work there. But the part that irritated me was how he just sat there and stared. I was tired and hungry, thus making me cranky enough to be bothered by that.

Well, it’s about 4AM now. Apparently this place kind of starts to wake up around 4AM. The United check-in counter is either open now or just finishing their set-up. I figured 4:30 AM is a bit early to check in for a 9AM flight. I might try at 5:30 or 6 though.

I haven’t been in enough airports to realize that once you check-in, you get to pass through the magical gates to duty-free world where there are shops and restaurants and food aplenty. I would have  planned to check-in immediately had I not been so ignorant. Instead, I found out mostly due to impatience.

I checked in right as they opened. Came into the gate area and DUTY FREE – I ate breakfast at a place that might’ve been called ‘Giraffe’ – had a B.L.T with 2 fried eggs and potato wedges. I only got the eggs because my blood sugar level was dropping and I could feel a sugar attack coming. My doctor had told me to eat protein when I feel like that, so I got the eggs for protein. It seemed to help.

Boarding is supposed to start at 8:20 – it’s only 7:50 right now. I still have a bit of a wait left. Sheesh.

POOF!

Aha! I have successfully traveled back in time! It’s 15 til 3 and I’m sitting in a truly overcrowded Chicago airport. I haven’t seen an airport like this year, it’s really super packed. Boarding to Witchita should start at around 3:40 though I almost expect for it to be delayed a bit, just judging from how this waiting lounge looks.

I slept practically the entire flight. I think I was awake long enough for the breakfast fruit tray and again for the pre-arrival meal of braised beef short rib. It had some nasty mashed potatoes so I didn’t eat those. I ate the carrots, the beef, and a white roll before I had to stop because I wasn’t feeling well.

I got business class again coming over from London. It was immediate. Normally, you wait for paying passengers to board then they call up the stand-by passengers. That didn’t happen in London. They called me up before everyone else and shuffled me onto the plane. I got a window seat up by the front of the plane. These seats were amazing. Far better than on the flight over – these actually reclined ALL THE WAY into perfectly flat beds. It was so nice.

The woman in the aisle seat next to me could’ve been a twin to my boyfriend’s step-mom. Same hair, same style, same voice… it was eerie. I kind of like to think that this was a gift from the universe. On both of my international flights, I was seated next to someone who resembled someone I knew in real life and when I say resembled, I don’t mean resembled. I mean – they were like alternate dimension copies. But it really did make it feel less scary to find that kind of familiarity there with me.

When I got to Chicago, I almost had to go through a TSA scanner. But the thing malfunctioned and quit working all together, so I just got to walk through a metal detector instead. The Chicago airport was ridiculously overcrowded. It was the end of Spring Break and it was storming throughout the Midwest. Planes were being delayed left and right.

My flight was overbooked, so I didn’t make it. [My boyfriend] was supposed to meet me in Kansas to pick me up from the airport but turns out, I might not make the roll-over flight either. As a stand-by, my name should roll over to the next available flight automatically, but mine didn’t. I went to a desk to ask why and they told me I had to be entered back in manually but they weren’t sure why. I got bumped from like the 4th on the list to like the 14th person on the list as a result.

I missed the 3:40 flight, then the next one at 7, then the one after that also had a ridiculously long stand-by list, in addition to all the paying customers trying to re-book flights that they had missed due to delays.

At this point my boyfriend was pretty angry with me for having not bought a real ticket and probably mostly for him having to waste a trip to the Kansas airport. My mom was trying to get me to find a place I could purchase a ticket, but it turns out that Tulsa was hosting the NCAA tournament so all flights into OKC, Dallas, or Kansas were all totally booked – PLUS it being Spring Break.

Charlie (who had gotten me the buddy pass) was using all his available pilot connections to try to find me another flight home so I wouldn’t be stranded at O’Hare overnight. All in all, I was fine with the situation. It was everyone else in my life that was freaking out. My boyfriend was furious at the thought of me being stranded, my dad was baffled as to how it even happened, my mom kept asking me if I could find somewhere else to buy a ticket and she’d help with money if need be.

I really spent a ridiculous amount of time on the phone, plugged into the only available outlet (which was behind a trash can next to an escalator) trying to keep my phone charged. And everyone was stressing me out on the phone, making me panicky where I wasn’t panicky before. In addition to panic, there was a bit of guilt, frustration, and even some tears involved. I won’t lie: a few times I came close to turning off my phone entirely. But Charlie was still trying to find me another flight, so that wasn’t really an option.

At some point after I missed the first flight, I ran into my brother’s friend who had just arrived and also been bumped from her next flight because of all the delays. She was trying to get a new booking herself. We didn’t have much to say to one another, both trying to find new ways home – so we promptly went our separate ways. It might’ve been nice to have someone to panic with and share the experience with, but as far as we were concerned, the two of us were basically little more than strangers to one another.

Sometime after 7 or 8 PM, I went to the airport McDonald’s and got some nuggets that I could barely stomach, due to all the stress. It was while I was trying to eat that Charlie hastily instructed me to rush over to what was practically the complete opposite end of the airport and try to get on stand-by for another United flight straight into OKC that, as of yet, had no stand-by passengers listed at all.

I got to the counter and I asked if there were any open seats. The lady said no in such a vehement way that I backed down without another word and went off to whimper. I’m far too timid. I called Charlie back and whined, asking what to do now.

Meanwhile the lady rushed off, as if sensing I wasn’t going to be giving up just yet. Charlie told me basically how to  handle her but she had disappeared, along with my optimism. BUT! As luck would have it, she had only gone for a bathroom break and so when she came back, I explained my situation calmly, stating that I had a guest pass from a United employee, and asked if I could be switched to stand-by for this flight.

She did it immediately without asking questions and then said “Sit down. If someone doesn’t show up, their seat is yours.”

I was so nervous while I waited. If I got on that flight that night, no one back home would be worrying, yelling, and making me feel lousy for the rest of the night. Time passed and I got my hopes up, but then suddenly my name on the stand-by list dropped to #2. I swore the new initials of #1 looked familiar. And yeah, in the end my brother’s friend showed up and I knew those initials belonged to her. She had stolen my spot!

We chatted, laughed about how coincidental it was that we both ended up stand-by on the same flight after all that. And yet, I felt my hope slipping away. She was a paying customer, so she’d get the seat before I would. She’d make it home and I’d be stranded for the night. At that moment, I didn’t really feel like chatting or being all that friendly. I was tired, stressed, had been argued with, chewed out, and was just generally crabby.

When it came time for boarding, they called the passenger’s names. Several didn’t show up. I suddenly felt hope rising. And yet, she called name after name after name…Finally, she called my brother’s friend and she waved and wished me luck. She had just boarded the plane that we had worked so hard to get me on. I slumped back into my seat just knowing I was stuck for the night.

After few more minutes passed, I was sure the plane had filled up. All those stragglers that had showed up had filled the last available seats. And my brother’s friend had taken the only extra one. But then just as I’d given up, the gate attendant called me over and thrust a ticket at me and said, “Hurry up and take it before he shows up.” referring to the absent passenger whose ticket I’d just won. I hastily boarded the plane, texting everyone I could that I was on board a plane and would be home soon. Funnily enough, I had the exact same seat on this plane as I did on my plane from OKC to DC – it was the very first row on the right, window seat.

This time my seat-mate was an off-duty pilot still in uniform who slept practically the entire flight. I remember being exhausted but relatively unable to sleep. The most amazing thing, though, was getting to see my home from the sky at night. I don’t think I’ve ever realized just how large and spread out this little city is.

Seeing all of those lights though, was like looking at a vast network of lives, and I couldn’t fathom how many people lived below me – how many cars were zooming down roads, each on their way home or to work or to see friends – each with their own busy life to lead.

It made it both easy and hard to understand why individuals live in such a self-centric way. You either struggle with the reality that you are very small and inconsequential to the bigger picture but you keep on trucking and trying, or you live believing you can change the world and you fall into the disillusion that everything revolves around you.

Regardless of how you see it philosophically, it was visually beautiful – grids of lights and street lamps that painted a glittering picture of humanity.

And just like that my trip was over. And now a year has passed. I still have this restless urge to travel and to see more of the world…I just haven’t been able to yet.

But Soon…

Yes.

Soon…

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Visiting the U.K. – Part 14

Dundee was a pretty interesting place. I can’t speak for how the locals feel. It’s been my experience that if you live in a place, you tend to be less impressed by it and more bored with what it has (or doesn’t have) to offer.

But I mean…I can’t very well go for a walk in OKC and see a ship like the one pictured here. Best thing I’ll find is a wildly painted buffalo statue or a bronze replica of some famous baseball player at the ballpark.

Not only did Dundee have a ship, it had those penguin statues everywhere, and I remember seeing a dragon statue, and there’s even a statue of a famous comic book character.

These are probably some of those things that become regular fixtures to the locals and so they don’t even notice them now. Maybe.

I think our tale continues on March 18th, but I have no way of being sure. I stopped writing dates in my journal because I failed at consistency. It was remarkable that I even found time to make entries.

On Sunday, I spent a lot of time sleeping. [I think Kyle had a class or something he had to do at the school..or maybe work? So I just stayed in the flat and slept til 1 or 2 or so.] Later that day, I met Kyle’s girlfriend who, it turns out, is a really nice girl. I think she’s a pretty good match for him. She came across as very independent and seems to have a no-nonsense kind of attitude, meaning that it looks like she takes zero crap from my brother (or anyone else, probably.)

We ate together at a Chinese buffet place, where I dared my brother to eat his ice cream with his chopsticks. For some reason I thought it would be a rather humorous fail. But as it turns out…

 We then stopped off at the sports bar for a few rounds of pool before heading back for the evening. (I don’t really remember what else we did that night, if anything else.)

What I do remember is the rugby! The sports bar had a rugby game playing and I’ve never seen real rugby before. You know, you see a half-second of a rugby match in the movies: you’ve got some posh bloke who turns out to be a total douche and they think that showing him playing in his ivy league rugby game will get that image across to the viewer. He’s rich but he’s a jerk. Blah blah…

Anyway, I was pretty fascinated with the rugby game. More so when I realized that the trolls on the field were women! Seriously, it looked like they’d let loose a team of inmates. These women were the burly-est, bulky-est, ugly-est – ESTS that you could find! I mean, there are a lot of -ests that fit these women. I’ve never seen such a violent game either. Sure, you’ve got American Football where the guys are tackling each other, but these women made that look tame. And let’s not forget: they weren’t wearing protective pads either.

Taken from Google Images

Do not piss these women off!

But really, we had a nice time at the sports bar. We had a few friendly games of pool – which consisted mostly of Kyle winning – a few drinks. I discovered that Scotland had the most bizarre thing ever in the women’s restroom, though. Apparently, there are hair straighteners in these restrooms, just bolted to the wall for anyone to use between drinks, I guess. How BIZARRE is that?

Anyway, another odd thing was I remember seeing a small vehicle outside on the street below. It turned out to be some sort of meal van? I thought maybe it was something run by a local soup kitchen or something to that effect. But there were just random people, students and what not, walking up and getting free food. I saw NO MONEY exchanged. Really… and these didn’t look like the type of people to be needing food assistance. Someone has got to tell me what this thing was? Surely, people don’t just wander around Dundee giving free food to hungry students at night?

Who knows? That’s about all I can recall for that evening. (Though I’ll be honest, the bit about the hair straightener might not’ve been discovered until our second trip to the Sports Bar. But who cares? Huh? It’s BIZARRE!) Let’s just move on…

On Monday morning, we woke up and the three of us hopped the train back to Edinburgh to meet up with my brother’s girlfriend’s twin sister and their aunt, who had gotten us tickets to see “Blood Brothers” at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Surprisingly, it was a musical. I had never heard of it and so wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Okay, so I admit it. After looking at this photo and seeing the dates that the show was playing…I’ve realized my journal dates are so messed up. I flew home on the 20th or so, and so there’s no way I was in Edinburgh on the 17th with Charlie. Because we did that before Kyle’s friend ever came to Scotland, and she was there with us for like a week. In fact, she flew in on Tuesday, the day after we saw this play.

So forget the dates. Who knows when any of this happened. For all I  know, we had tickets to the show for Monday the 14th. I don’t even know…my chronology is so off.

Before the play we met at a Spanish restaurant and had dinner. The style was a bit different than I’m used to. Basically, you order dozens of tiny dishes and once the table is full, you all just kind of pick bits and pieces out of all the tiny dishes. Everyone shares and you get to try a little of everything. It’s a great idea, really. Especially for a picky eater like me.

His girlfriend’s family was really nice, as well.

As awkward and unusual as I tend to be and since I have no concept of how small talk should work and because I’m so painfully shy…this meal could’ve been hell for me. I tend to kind of close off around new people. If they’re much, much older or much, much younger – I tend to do better. Because I don’t feel as though I’m being judged quite so much.

Her family were those kind of super welcoming people. They were just overall warm people. They were quick to joke and smiled often, and I didn’t really feel pressured to “perform” as is normally expected in that kind of social setting. It always helps that if I do something or say something stupid, my brother is there to kind of smooth it over or conceal the fact that I’m socially a mess. So while I recall paying a strange amount of attention to whether or not I was fidgeting, whether or not I was sitting up straight, and whether or not I was avoiding eye contact or else staring too long – it still went rather smoothly.

Now, as for the show… I have to inform you that my mother and I are season subscribers to the Civic Center here in the city. We go to a musical about once every other month or so. Or whenever they’re scheduled for the season. I’ve been doing this since I was about 13 years old or so. So almost 15 years? That means when I go see a show, I kind of expect a certain quality and I expect certain environments and certain behaviors.

And…well, let’s just get to what I had to say:

We finished up our meal and headed over to the theatre to watch the show. It was the oddest thing there…I found out that during intermission, it’s perfectly normal for everyone to get up and go buy a small, single-serving cup of ice-cream and bring it back into the theatre to eat while the intermission wraps up or the second half begins. I found that to be so crazy. [That would just simply not be allowed at the Civic Center. They sell candy bars in the hallway during intermission here, but you are NOT allowed to eat it inside the theatre. I got yelled at once and had to put mine in my purse.]

The Playhouse was smaller than the Civic Center but our seats were on the floor level, directly in front of the stage so it was pretty good. There was almost no room for your legs though (which was fine for me because I’m small, but the lady next to me had to sit angled towards me with her knees against the back of the seat in front of her.)

OH! They also had rentable binoculars every few seats – like little vending items – you dropped in a pound coin and they unlocked so you could use them. (We were close enough I didn’t bother, but still… that’s a brilliant idea! I should’ve taken a picture. Ah well…)

 This is the closest thing I could find with Google image search.

Course these look like they’re for a 50 pence coin, but still, you get the idea.

The premise for the show was that twins are born, both boys, but the mother can’t take care of them both. One is adopted out to rich parents and one stays with his mother and her other children. Now, it’s been almost a year now since I saw it, but if I remember right, the mother worked as a cleaning lady for the rich woman. Well, time passes, and the boys  meet and become best friends and the story unfolds.

When the play first started, I had a hard time following it because of the thickness of the Scottish accents. [It was a lot like when I met Kyle's flatmate for the first time. Scottish can just sound so damn fast.] But once your ear adjusts to it, it’s fine. The lady who played the mother had a KILLER, strong voice. It was just beautiful. Everyone else was good too, but she really stood out. It turned out to be a great show and a good story, as well.

After the play ended, we thanked the aunt for the tickets and said goodbye. The plan from then on was to crash at my brother’s girlfriend’s twin’s flat for the night. (Which meant another LONG walk across Edinburgh.) At 6 AM the next morning, we’d get up and go meet Kyle’s friend at the airport.

Kyle decided to be such a nice brother and boyfriend, that he left us girls sleeping til 8 or 9, at which point he came back with the friend in tow. She dropped off her huge suitcase and the four of us headed out to see Edinburgh Castle. The entire day it rained fairly steadily and it was cold. It was a rather gloomy day since the rain was more substantial than the drizzle that Charlie and I had had to contend with on Saturday.

The castle cost like 12-14 pound to get into, so Kyle and his girlfriend decided to go to a nearby pub and wait while his friend and I went in for a look around. The two of them had already seen it and didn’t see any sense in spending that much money to just look around again.

I’d never met my brother’s friend before that day, so it was a little awkward for me to go in by ourselves, without my brother who was our mutual tie/ice-breaker.

Here I’d like to just say that I’m a very touristy person. My dad has somehow passed along this habit of reading historical facts about the place you’re visiting and taking photos of things that you may not care about but you know someone back home will. So I did a lot of photo-taking for him. My brother’s friend wasn’t really interested in being very touristy and I often felt like I was holding her back, as well.

I wanted to stop and read every plaque throughout the various museum sections and read all the little facts and details about the different displays. I tried to skim a lot and read fast, but it seemed like such a shame to just rush past it all when I was so interested. So, I felt bad for her – I hope she wasn’t as bored as I felt. We seemed to get along okay and we saw pretty much all there was to see in the castle.

I’ll admit, I was slightly let down and disappointed with the castle. I had expected them to have sort’ve remade the interior to look like it did in the olden days. Instead, you’d have never really known you were in a castle, as it was all set up like modern museums with historical displays and exhibits. It was just a bit less authentic than I had expected it to be.

As we were leaving the castle, I offered to take a picture of my brother’s friend standing at the entrance, but she refused. Instead, I asked her if she’d take a photo of me before we set off to find my brother. I wanted to get at least one photo of myself there…

I took quite a few pictures inside the castle, which I’ll include at the bottom of this post in another gallery. But I have to be honest, once we left the castle, we didn’t really do a whole lot else in Edinburgh that day.

We basically traipsed around in the rain to get to the castle, then we met my brother and his girlfriend at the pub, hit up a few souvenir shops, then traipsed back through the rain to pick up the friend’s suitcase and get back to the Waverly train station. Once we were back in Dundee, I think we went back out for a night at the sports bar and some more pool — though that might’ve been Wednesday night instead. I don’t really remember these two days all that well.

Thursday, however, was St. Patrick’s Day and Kyle’s friend’s birthday. We went out to eat in the afternoon with the girlfriend and one of the flatmates [McDonald's again, I believe. Or might've been KFC...] then we split up. The girlfriend and flatmate had places to be, so myself, my brother, and the friend went to a bar called the “Nether Inn.”

Here we met up with a group of people Kyle knew but probably aren’t like his closest friends. They were all like eighteen years old or so (because the drinking age is way lower there.)

I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t really enjoy my St. Patrick’s Day in Scotland all that much. We’ve taken note of my general discomfort in social situations with lots of people. I’ve mentioned my inability to make small talk or keep pointless, “polite” conversations going. I’ve also mentioned my distaste for meeting new people.

The next several hours involved me sitting silently in a bar full of total strangers and quietly singing along to the Spice Girls because I didn’t know how to (nor even remotely want to) initiate small talk with these kids. They were only 7 years younger at the most and still, it was like looking at a completely different generation. Their topics, their jokes, their drinking…none of it was remotely appealing.

Let’s keep in mind here that I’m a bookish, goodie-two-shoes – for lack of a better description. I didn’t get in trouble growing up, I didn’t drink  before I was 21, I didn’t go party with kids my own age. I stayed home and read books, I played video games, watched movies, and studied. So this environment just wasn’t for me.

Suffice it to say that I got rather irritated that night and eventually opted to return to the flat alone and browse the internet til the others got back.

Though that evening was less than exciting for me, I can’t say that it really bothered me much. I’d been there for over two weeks and was getting a bit homesick by that time. I was actually happy to stay in the flat and get caught up on some conversations with people back home.

I had a fun time on my trip. I really enjoyed meeting with all the people I met, in spite of my weird social fails. These people were some of the most friendly, most hospitable people I’ve ever met. It kind of puts your mind at ease to know that these are the kind of people surrounding the little brother who just had to up and move half a world away from any family or friends.

Did I have complaints and things I’d rant about on this trip? Absolutely. And they’re in my journal. But those pages will never make it to this very public blog. Those are for face-to-face discussions with the right people. You have to leave a little mystery, right?

My next post will begin the coverage of my journey home. And it was definitely…an experience.

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Castle Gate
Castle Defense 1
Castle Defense 2
Castle Defense 3
Castle View 1
Castle View 2
Castle View 3
Castle View 4
Castle View 5
Castle View 6
Castle View 7
Castle View 8
Doc Cemetery View 2
Dog Cemetery View 1
Dog Cemetery 1
Dog Cemetery 2
Door Decoration 1
Door Decoration 2
Edinburgh Castle Chapel
Edinburgh Cemetery

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Visiting the U.K. – Part 13

WARNING: This is going to be a LONG post. I think this series has been dragging on a bit too long and I want to try to wrap things up.

So, continuing from where I left off:

March 12th,

It’s currently half after seven in the morning and I’m on a train to Edinburgh, Waverly Station, in order to meet up with *Charlie and see the sites.

[This photo of me says: "Hi! I'm on a train. It's so early to me that I'd almost consider this a late bedtime on most weekends, plus it's ridiculously cold, so I'm still kind of grumpy and trying to wake up."

I'm soooo not a morning person. At all. So the fact that I cracked a semi-smile is kind of really an amazing thing.]

 

*Charlie is a wonderful online friend of mine who happened to be in Edinburgh on business at the same time I was there. This marked the second time we’d ever met – though we’ve been friends since we were both 12 years old.

Unfortunately, it looks as if it will be rainy and drizzly for the rest of the day. It’s only March, and still very cold here, and yet the fields are remarkably green! I feel I should be listening to something Celtic on my iPod as I travel across the Scottish countryside, but here I’m happily listening to So Nyeo Shi Dae. I’m an American in Scotland listening to Korean music. Am I a conundrum?

For those of you who don’t know me well, I love languages. I took 3 years of Spanish in High School (most of which I’ve forgotten by now, sadly.) I then minored in Japanese in college (I still remember quite a lot of this!) And I’m studying Korean now for fun. As a result, I have a very diverse set of music I like to listen to: Celtic songs in traditional Gaelic, Korean and Japanese Pop, American Music, Broadway Musicals, Instrumentals/Classical, and even a wide array of video game music: Nobuo Uematsu and the Final Fantasy Music FOR THE WIN!

Oh, the conundrum just got worse. Now I’m an American in Scotland listening to Koreans singing a Irish song in English. It’s so amusing to me.

So, back on track… (And I’m on a train – HA!)

This will be the second time ever for me to meet Charlie in person, after knowing each other now for something like 13 years. He’s one of the oldest friends I have that I still talk to. Here we’re both American but we have to come all the way to Scotland to meet again – also amusing to me.

I just looked out the window at the Springfield stop and I can’t tell if that is just fat rain or snow falling. It looks suspiciously like snow though…lucky me. [ :( ]

And it was snow, clearly. It was a cold, wet, slushy day. And despite the lousy weather, we still managed to have fun! You have to really set your mind to it on a day like that, but you can’t let something as trivial as weather ruin your day when it’s the second time EVER to see one of your best friends. (The internet generation is such an odd thing to think about sometimes…)

Okay so, back to the journal:

Yesterday I found out that an 8.9 Earthquake had hit Japan followed by a devastating tsunami and that an incredible number of people were expected to mark the death toll. It was terribly sad news – news I wouldn’t have gotten without chatting with people back home on my brother’s laptop.

[Well, not entirely true - I later saw a lot of news coverage on TVs at pubs and such.]

On top of that, back home in OK, wild fires were raging so bad that our new governor had to declare a state of emergency.

Some days, what with all the natural disasters and such, it really kinda feels like the world could truly come to an end in 2012 like everyone jokes about.

Yeah, it was a somber train of thought… (Train…Ha!)

But I still think you’re a kook if you really believe 12/20/2012 or whatever the newest doomsday is; I dunno, I don’t follow crazy.

 Well, it was definitely snow and it’s coming down rather well now. The closer I get to Edinburgh, the whiter everything is getting. I still don’t have gloves, a hat, or a scarf, although this time I at least stole my brother’s hoodie, so I can keep my ears warm.

At least the snow makes for pretty landscape. I think I still have like half an hour left on this train ride.

Hopefully the weather doesn’t affect our planned activities too much. We are supposed to roam around the city for the whole day basically.

Haha! “…our planned activities…” “…roam around the city…” Wow! Went all out on that plan, huh?

We literally had no plan.

The plan was to have no plan and so our plans remained unaffected. We literally just kind of wandered from here to there and back again.

Next stop? Kirkcaldy! Then onward to Edinburgh!

So, I got to Waverly Station – I can’t recall the time exactly. And I must remind you, I was going to Edinburgh to see Charlie alone. My brother was staying at his flat in Dundee this day. He walked me to the Dundee train station, made sure I was getting the right tickets, and then I was on my own.

Yes, I’m the elder sibling, so it seems silly to say I couldn’t manage on my own. But I’ve also done very little on my own – sad, but true. In Oklahoma, there simply isn’t much TO DO. So, of course, I don’t really have to have my hand held here. But I was somewhat nervous about going to Edinburgh alone. This was different than getting on the plane in OKC and flying to London because, for the most part, I was on a plane the whole time and there was a relatively low chance they were going to lose me. Plus, I knew my brother would be at the end to greet me.

On this day, however, I kept wondering what would happen if I got to Edinburgh and I couldn’t find Charlie, he couldn’t find me…we just ended up unfindable! On the train ride, I – in true nerd fashion – planned out an alternative course of action. (And I think by now you know what I mean when I say I “planned”.)

The idea was that I’d wait at the train station for Charlie, as planned. If he didn’t show, I’d call my brother on his borrowed (extra) cell phone and tell him. Then I’d decide not to waste my day in Edinburgh since I’m an adult and could take care of myself and see the sites alone, like a responsible grown-up. I’d carefully stop at the first shop with a map of the city and buy one, so as to make damn sure I didn’t get lost and then later be unable to find the train station again. (Though logic told me I shouldn’t worry too much because I couldn’t imagine the Edinburgh locals being total asses and like…ignoring me or pushing me into the snow-slush if I should have to ask for directions.)

But plans aside from that? Why…to wander, of course! I’d just have to amble up and down the city streets alone and take photos of as much cool stuff as possible til I got really bored and lonely and miserable – at which point, I’d just make my way back to Waverly, accept defeat, and sadly return to Dundee feeling vaguely empty inside.

True, it’s not a very appealing plan, but I had little else to go on in thought-mode. Truth is, I’m not really sure what I’d have done. You don’t really know your true character until you’re put under stress. I might’ve panicked or I might’ve been just fine and found out I could rather enjoy myself alone. Who really knows?

Initially, I was afraid that this plan would come to fruition. The reason for this being: I got off the train, went through the gate and found the first ice-bench to freeze my ass off on. And I waited.

And waited.

And watched the people waiting.

Who, in turn, watched me watching them as we both…? You got it! Waited.

Turns out I didn’t wait for as long as it felt like I waited. Charlie was a victim of ice-tripping on his way to meet me, you see. This means that he…um… was viciously and cruelly uh, well, really he just kind of slipped on the ice and fell on this ass. But it was a fall of manly, epic proportions! It was LEGEN-waitforit-DARY!

But so we met up and went on our way. And I didn’t write another thing in my journal for the rest of the day. (Oooh! Look at clever Heather, she made a rhyme! HAIKU TIME? *Ahem* No. Just…No.)

Therefore:

March 19th,

MARCH 19th! Two whole days later! WHAT A SLACKER!

*Ahem* Anyway…

March 19th,

So, I failed miserably [again] in keeping up to date with my little journal idea.

As per my last entry, the snow did not impede our day of activities. [Hah! Notice I didn't say planned this time? Maybe I realized after the fact just how stupid it was to say we had planned anything. Anything at all...] In fact, it didn’t remain snow for all that long. It very quickly degraded into mere freezing cold drizzle rain slush – perhaps more sprinkling.

How do you like that for literary art? I threw the “mere” in to give it some authority. Truly, I’m an amazing writer in the making, can’t you tell? O.o

We popped into a small shop for a breakfast consisting of a bacon roll and hot chocolate for me and a simple cappuccino for Charlie. A bacon roll really is just that: several large slaps of bacon inside a large roll. A BLT without the LT.

And yes, that’s really what I called them at the time: slaps of bacon. Why? I  have no idea. They were too small to be full blown slabs of meat but they put American bacon to shame. I don’t know if you’re aware of the differences between American bacon and the bacon in the UK – but there are differences.

For starters, this is American Bacon:

American Bacon is thin, shriveled-up, crispy, but still delicious in its own right.

And for comparison, this is UK Bacon:

UK Bacon is huge and tastes FANTASTIC, it takes up half the whole damn plate, for crying out loud!

UK BACON means serious business, people. American Bacon…they’re just shrinky dinks in comparison!

Okay, now that you know the difference, I’ll illustrate the funny little story that goes with my breakfast in Edinburgh that morning.

Waitress: What can I get for you?

Me: *looking at breakfast menu* What exactly is a bacon roll?

Waitress: *confused expression* Excuse me?

Me: *being a stupid American (this was after the discussion with the flatmates about how different words mean different stuff in the UK)* Is a roll like a biscuit? Or like a dinner roll?

Waitress: *giving the “are you stupid?” but “awww, how cute” expression now* A roll isn’t a biscuit, dear. It’s a large round piece of bread…a roll.

Me: *feeling dumber* Oh. That makes sense. And…so a bacon roll…? *feeling dumber and dumber* That’s like…a roll with…bacon on it? *peeks at waitress, who is probably thinking I’m slow in the head* And nothing else? Just the bacon?

Waitress: Well…

Me: You know what, just bring me the bacon roll. I’ll eat whatever it is.

But you know – in all truth and fairness, it really was JUST a super dry roll with a hunk of bacon. I definitely needed the water that came with it or I might have suffocated on thick, dry bread. Even WITH the hot chocolate I had ordered. I mean, it’s not like you can gulp down hot chocolate to wash down dry bread – I mean, for starters it’s frickin’ HOT. And for seconds…it’s just kind of… weird.

But anyway! It was still delicious.

The next story from that day goes like this:

After breakfast, we stopped at an H&M so Charlie could buy a coat.

H&M is a clothing store for my fellow Americans who don’t know and instead immediately thought of a risque magazine… O.o … Or was that just me? I have two brothers…I mean, C’mon! I had to be reminded that the magazine was actually called “FHM” and not H&M, but it didn’t matter – I’d already thought of FHM Magazine even if I had the name wrong. So now, naturally, I have permanently somehow associated this innocent family clothing store with a suggestive men’s magazine. Eh *insert carefree shrug here* Not like it’s hurting anyone, and I get a chuckle out of it.

Being from one of the sunnier states in our great nation, Charlie didn’t own anything that remotely resembled a winter coat or anything you might wear during snowy weather. Once we purchased the warm, woolen pea coat, we then searched for a shop still selling winter gear: a scarf and gloves, specifically, for me.

Apparently by March Edinburgh no longer carries winter clothes – they were already preparing fort warmer climes despite the frigid temps and the snow.

Now, I’m not one to really keep up on the weather trends in the United Kingdom. Maybe it was unusually cold for March last year. Maybe March is typically a much warmer month for them but alas, El Niño! Or you know…something like that. Point is…there were no gloves to be found ANYWHERE.

We ended up hopping from souvenir shop to souvenir shop as we discovered they were the only ones that might possibly be selling gloves and such. When we stopped for Charlie to buy a winter hat [a blue one that screamed "tourist" with the Scottish flag on the front] – the Indian (maybe?) man in a turban (I kid you not) with a genuine Scottish accent told us not to go trying to climb Arthur’s Seat.

Pause! Pause!

Yes, by this time during our pointless meandering, Charlie had decided we had to climb a mountain (and yes, Arthur’s Seat is a mountain for those of you who do not know. Maybe not a very tall or very big mountain from the looks of it, but it still counts.)

View of Arthur's Seat from Calton's Hill

Now, looking back on this…I realize with my crystal-clear hindsight that perhaps climbing a mountain without any winter gear, with only a thin coat and a hoodie, a pair of plain Nike sneakers, during rainy, snowy, ice-slushy weather is probably not the most brilliant idea.

But Hell! Who cares about brilliant ideas when you’re flying by the seat of your pants?

The man told us not to go. He said trying to climb Arthur’s Seat was a bad idea because we would “absolutely, most definitely slip and fall and have to go to hospital and ruin your holiday.”

Of course, once we made it to Arthur’s Seat and could see all the people going up, we decided to totally disregard Mr. Scottish Apu and go up as well.

It was a very cold, slick, white trip to the top.

I’d also like to add that it was not easy going either. The steps kept getting steeper and slicker. And while it didn’t look so very tall from the ground, it is still a mountain. It started looking much higher as we went up. In addition, my lazy ass was so out of shape that I got exhausted pretty quickly and of course, we hadn’t the foresight to bring water either.

The above photo was a picture I took of the path we had to walk up at the beginning. You can just see a bit of Edinburgh over the edge there.

Below is a photo of the stairway we eventually came to, and this was what we had to climb to the top. It just kept getting steeper and steeper.

By the time we had made it to the top, there was nothing to see but white mist all around us.

I didn’t fall once the whole way up. It wasn’t til we were at the top that I fell and nearly twisted my knee off between two large [slick as hell] boulders.

This was what it looked like up at the top – that’s Charlie climbing up in front of me. You could literally see nothing. On a clear day, I imagine you’d be able to see a spectacular view of the city below, but we just didn’t have that kind of luck. I’d try to visit during the spring or summer if I was you.

We asked some men at the top for the easiest path back down and some man pointed out the best route. Turns out that route was one of the steepest ways down apparently. We slid more than walked and both of us fell several more times before we’d reached the bottom.

I’m not even  kidding when I say this, but that man sent us on the Arthur’s Seat Slip’N’Slide. The first time I fell I landed hard on my nice, expensive DSL camera bag (er…the nice, expensive camera, I mean…not the bag. The bag was actually really cheap…). I was for sure something had broken. But luckily, the bag mostly sank into the snow and soft ground below me and it was perfectly fine. It was a freaking feat of epic proportions that I made it to the bottom without destroying that camera.

The best part of this is that after we left the man and started on our way back down, we noticed that the man was just sitting up there watching us as we fell and got up and fell again, over and over. He watched us for a ridiculous amount of time. I have my suspicions that he told us that was the best way down just for the entertainment value he’d get out of it. He had to be enjoying the show: two idiots tripping, sliding, flailing…and falling? Who wouldn’t laugh at that?

I have to admit though, we probably laughed more than anyone watching us as we basically bounced our way down to the road at the bottom. The trip was exhausting but fun and we managed to get a lot of good pictures (and some fun ones) too.

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Of course, the laughter died fairly quick after we reached the bottom and realized we were on the back side of the mountain and to get to back to the city, we’d have to walk the loooong road around. And at that point, we were now basically drenched from falling into the snow so much, so I was freezing twice as much as I thought possible.

Following our long walk back into town, we found a pub and stopped for something to eat. We were seated at a table right next to the radiator, which was heavenly. I set my hoodie close to it and brushed my leg as close as possible to dry my pant leg off. Then we ordered. The pub food here didn’t seem as appealing as the last pub I’d eaten in, but they had salmon, and I figured I could manage that. It was some kind of salmon salad.

When it came out, the salmon was like…raw? It might’ve been somewhat cooked. I just kept thinking of that scene in the movie “Heartbreakers” when Sigourney Weaver ends up having to eat the plate full of raw beef. I ate most of it, if not all – can’t really remember. I just know I was super hungry.

After a nice rest at the pub, we decided to go see Edinburgh Castle. But alas, twas not to be our day. When we did arrive, they had already closed. Instead, we traipsed around the city and saw some of the other sights. We wandered, we took photos, and we had a lot of fun. And we stopped at a place called “Chocolate Soup” at some point in the middle of all that.

Now, I, personally, don’t like chocolate – I hate it. It’s nasty, it stinks, etc. But for some reason this applies only to dark chocolate. White chocolate – I love. So I got a cup of hot white chocolate. It was TO DIE FOR. Oh my God. And soooo warm. It was the perfect treat. Until I got to the last quarter of the cup and then I thought I’d had so much sweet I might vomit. Toward the bottom it just got to be too much for me.

If you’re ever in Edinburgh – find and stop at Chocolate Soup and try the hot white chocolate. It’s so good.

And I guess I can’t wrap things up that quickly – there’s still too much to write about. But future posts may be a bit longer just to include as much as possible in the last few posts rather than writing another ten or fifteen.

So, to close out this one, I’ll throw in yet another set of photos from the rest of our wandering around Edinburgh. This will include our visit to Calton Hill where we also saw the Edinburgh Shame (a never-completed Greek-like structure that tourists take pictures with now!), a random cemetery where I found ANOTHER Lincoln monument, and just some nice shots of the city in general.

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Visiting the U.K. – Part 12

Welcome to Dundee!! Home of the Penguin!

 

Okay, so not really. But there were a  lot of penguins there. What’s up with that?

March 12,
So, I slacked off on my journal keeping. I never was a good journal/diary writer.

There’s a five day gap here. I jumped from March 7th to March 12th. What occurred during these missing days are kind of a chronological mess in my mind. I don’t really remember which events occurred first. But let’s see what I can remember… I got to meet the last two of my brother’s flatmates.

He has a total of three roommates: a German, a Scot, and an Englishman. As the one that met us in Germany had stayed home, there were only the latter two there to greet us.

My very first recollection of them is this: a strong accent and an awesome beard, respectively.

We quickly fell into discussion about how Americans call breakfast rolls “biscuits” but a biscuit in the U.K. is actually a cookie. They explained that potato chips are “crisps,” french fries are “chips”, and candy refers only to “hard candy” everything else falls under the “sweets” or “confectionery ” labels, I believe. I was once again warned not to go around talking about my “pants” – as that refers to underwear in the U.K. whereas outerwear are called “trousers.”

And since my brother is there to pursue his education, we talked about the differences in American Universities versus those in the U.K., as well as the education system from elementary up through high school.

It’s really pretty fascinating how you can speak the same language and yet have so many differences.

Speaking of differences…or like, in related news…O.o Ahem! I learned that Dundee is similar to Oklahoma on Sundays – “What the…how?” You might ask? Basically, everything seemed to close at 6 or 7PM. Seriously, it’s like that town shut down after 5PM. Now, I’m an American…I’m pretty spoiled with all the 24-Hour McDonald’s, Wal-Marts, 7-11′s, etc. I mean, you can pretty much find something open at just about any time. So seeing everything closed down so early was kind of amusing.

“Where are we going to get dinner!?” Because come on…broke international student? You think he had food on his shelf in the fridge?

Turns out there’s one 24-Hour grocery store within walking distance, but the real gem is what they called a “take-away” place. Which…I found ridiculously amusing, and perhaps overly so, because here we call it “take out.” I still don’t understand why such a small, insignificant difference makes me giggle.

The take-away place was called…… O.o   Something to do with a horse. Wow! I cannot remember.

(Brief pause in writing while I try to find the name of this place…)

Check it out, Google Maps is “da bomb”:

Pegasus! It was a quick walk from my brother’s flat, and I gotta say…I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the woman working when we went in but she was super nice. This was a pretty cool pace and we went a few times while I was visiting.

Pegasus gave me my first helping of real “fish and chips” style chips (just the chips, no fish that night). This was  including the malt vinegar! I thought it would be soooo nasty cause vinegar is gross, but you add a little salt and it is to die for. Seriously. I want some right now.

And what did I get to go with my delicious chips?  A delicious Scottish beverage:

That’s right: IRN BRU! When they asked me if I wanted to try it, I asked, “What’s it taste like?” And they were completely unable to tell me because there is very little it can be compared to. But, for those of you who have tried it or want to know, it totally, TOTALLY, tastes like that pink-bubblegum-flavored medicine you got as a kid when you had like…strep or ear infections or whatever.

Now hold on! Yeah, that sounds really gross… “WTF? It tastes like MEDICINE?” But let me clear this up: That bubblegum medicine was like CRACK. Okay? You wanted that shit even when you weren’t sick. Why can I remember it so well now? Almost 20 years after taking it?  Because that shit was the best. I’ve never tasted anything else that was as bubblegum-ilicious as that pepto-colored serum.

So hold ya judgement on me til you try this IRN BRU! Cause it is some tasty, tasty stuff. And I’ll be honest…it’s not like a complete, full-on bubblegum flavor. That’s just what it reminded ME of. I’m sure other people have other opinions.

Yeah…so anyway, we went to Pegasus and got some noms. Then we went back and I don’t really recall what we did after we ate. Might’ve watched a film. I honestly can’t remember.

In the last couple of days, I’ve had a traditional fish and chips meal with malt vinegar and salt, which does indeed, sound disgusting but tastes surprisingly good. (See? I couldn’t get enough of it!) Likewise, I tasted some of Kyle’s Haggis, which was also surprisingly tasty. We ate this dinner in the dining area of a pub, which the name of has been forgotten.

I believe this one was called Wetherspoons? I also had an English Tea with the meal, and I just have to be honest – tea has never been, nor will it ever be, my thing. I just do not care for tea. Blech. And here’s a lousy photo taken with my phone:

(Here’s a little secret…I didn’t eat the peas. GROSS!)

Okay, so here’s the part where you all laugh at my ignorance and pride yourselves on being oh so much smarter than I am.

I had no idea that pubs served dinner. I’m sure at some point I’ve seen it in a movie or on tv, something. But when my brother suggested we go to a pub for a meal? I was like, “Wha…? They do that?”  And it was damn good food, too. So I’ll write that down in my little book of life experiences and things to remember: “Pubs serve food too.”

So, take a break from the interwebs, run to the local pub and see if they’ve got anything good to serve you. Remember to report back!

On one of these last few days, Kyle also took me up to “Law” which is apparently the highest point in Dundee. From there you can see where the river Tay meets up with the North Sea.

So, I didn’t write a whole lot about Law – but I did take a lot of pictures! So I’ll just close this post out with a few of the photos taken from Law:

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