"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Momentum Creates Momentum

I've always been an aspire-er. A person who aspires more than she does. It's a quality that I've struggled with for pretty much my whole life, and I still have a long way to go. But this year, I've been making minuscule progress. For the past couple of weeks, doing homework hasn't felt like pulling teeth. My done journal is more than just piddly little organizational tasks, but actually things like "Finished art history assignment" and "Wrote 800 words." I still have my share of lazy days (yesterday, for example), but where before it was hard to get back up after I fell off the productivity wagon, now I find it relatively easy to start fresh.

If you know me, you know that I'm kind of a productivity junkie. As a kid I was obsessed with routines and would spend hours imagining what my life would be like if every day was the same. (I know, I was a weird kid. Also I no longer wish every day was the same). Now I just read about famous writers' morning routines (my favorite is Darwin's: even with constant illness and anxiety about how his work would be received, he still found time to write, take long, meandering walks, and reply to every single letter he received). So really, nothing much has changed. But as much as I admired other people's orderly schedules and productive days, I was never really able to recreate that for myself.

One piece of advice I've heard over and over again is that momentum creates momentum, or in other words: the more you do things, the easier doing things becomes. A young Amelia Earhart echoes this beautifully in a letter to her mother: "Despite my unusual activity I am very well organized to do more the more I do. You know what I mean... I am not overdoing it and all that is needed for bouncing health is plenty to eat and happiness. Consider me bursting, please." Let's hope this isn't my characteristic beginning-of-the-semester optimism (see my post from last September if you don't believe me). This feels a little different, more stable, more like something taking root. No doubt there are other posts on this blog that sound like this: full of optimism and brimming with plans for the future. I was hesitant to post this for fear of sounding false or repetitive, or worse, jinxing myself out of my newfound productivity. But, what the heck.

Consider me bursting.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

London Patchwork: Museums

London Patchwork is a series of posts dedicated to some of my favorite experiences in London (Spring 2016).

Let me get this out of the way first: I love museums. I love their vastness, their history, their quietude. Since going to London I've also become enamored with the concept of the Victorian-era museum, with its crowded, floor-to-ceiling picture galleries, its taxidermied animals, its crowding of diverse objects into the same glass case. One of my favorite things about London was its museums, and one of my favorite things about its museums was that stepping into them felt like going back in time.

One of the classes I took in London was a museums studies class, so I got to discover quite a few places that I might not have known about otherwise. In addition to learning about their history, we also talked a little bit about the role of museums today and how modern conventions such as gift shops and cafes change the museum-goers experience. Overall, it was a great experience, and the best part? Most of the major museums in London are free!

So, without further ado, here is my list of favorite museums in London:

1. The V&A
The Victoria and Albert Museum is the world's largest museum of decorative arts and design. In addition to painting and sculpture, it has rooms for furniture, tapestry, dress, iron works, glass, and metalworks from all over the world. It's a huge, stately complex built in the 1850s, and I could definitely have spent several days here.


2. The Petrie Museum
This little gem turned out to be one of my favorite museums we visited, and it also happens to be the smallest. Tucked away on the second floor of an unassuming brick building on the University College  London campus, this museum houses the archeological collection of Flinders Petrie, a British archeologist who excavated thousands of Egyptian artifacts during the 1880s. I've seen quite a few of Egyptian exhibits, but none have captivated me much as this. I've always been able to appreciate Egyptian art to a certain extent, but it's hard to make the leap from admiring the objects of ancient civilizations to actually imagining them as belonging to living, breathing human beings. The museum is only a couple of rooms, but it is packed with rows of glass cases that are full of everyday objects Egyptians would have used, from pottery to glass beads (I had no idea the Egyptians worked with glass!). The whole experience felt a little more like walking through a yard sale than a museum, and the result is a museum experience that feels profoundly intimate and personal.

3. The National Gallery
Who can visit London without seeing The National Gallery? It's basically a staple. This is a place you could get lost in. Think giant, gilded frames, walls hung with silk, and maze after maze of galleries. My favorite thing about it is that a lot of the paintings are hung on traditional colored walls instead of the modern white ones, so it feels both historic and decadent.

4. The Wellcome Collection
This one totally came out of nowhere as one my favorite places in London. We visited this museum during our "medical museums" unit, which meant we'd just spend a week looking at specimens in jars and pondering 18th century surgery.*shudder* This museum, however, was different. It's basically a cross between a modern art museum and a medical museum. Different artists are commissioned to do work on a certain theme related to health or the human body. While we were there there was an amazing exhibit on consciousness that had a room that used audio and video to explore the sensation of sleep paralysis, and a group of drawings meant to showcase how autistic children see the world differently.

5. The V&A Museum of Childhood
Okay, so this is a branch of the the V&A but it's worth mentioning on its own. This is not to be confused with your typical children's museum. Instead, this museum looks at the experience of childhood throughout history, as well as showcasing toys from around the world. While we were there they had an exhibit about Britain's children migrants, who were sent to Canada and Australia under the pretense that they would have a better life, and often never saw their families again. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely worth learning about.

"The Sarcophagus of Set I in Sir John Soane's Museum", Illustrated London News, 1864

7. Sir John Soane's Museum
This is an interesting one. Sir John Soane was a neoclassical architect whose life work consisted of collecting and displaying classical sculpture and architectural elements. He asked that his house be preserved as a museum from the time of his death, so stepping inside is like stepping into the past. After you walk through the parlor and breakfast room you come to an amazing three story atrium covered in Greek and Roman busts, architectural fragments, and even an Egyptian sarcophagus.

8. The Natural History Museum
This museum feels most closely related to the museums we have in the US. There are modern aspects to it, like a high tech dinosaur exhibit targeted at kids, and some more traditional exhibits on animals and biology. The real reason you should go though is to stand for a moment in the huge atrium at its center, which feels like it could be right out of Hogwarts.

Pitt Rivers Museum

9. Bonus! Oxford University Museum of Natural History + The Pitt Rivers Museum
If you want to make a day trip to Oxford, don't leave without visiting the Natural History Museum. This is classic natural history at its best, complete with skeletons and taxidermy (I have a weird fascination with taxidermy, okay?), plus it's super informative. Be absolutely sure you don't miss the Pitt Rivers Museum, which is in the same building. The Pitt Rivers museum is an archeological/anthropological museum which groups objects by type rather than culture or geographic region. The result is an insane grouping of objects from all over the world, where you can make comparisons between how different cultures solved the same problems.

Playing cards through the ages (Pitt Rivers)
Keys through the ages (Pit Rivers)


10. Extra Bonus! Kew Gardens
But this is a garden, not a museum, you say! Well, not exactly. Built in the mid 1800s, the two oldest greenhouses in Kew Gardens functioned as a kind of botanical museum, showcasing plants from all over the world (mainly colonies of the British empire). Even the tulips that were blooming in front of the greenhouses were imports from the Netherlands. There is also a fantastic exhibit of botanical paintings that made me want to break out the watercolors.

ps. I'm hoping to do another post like this all about London gardens, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Track Changes

I've met people who can look at their life and trace the trajectory of their personality. They chop up their life into categories and say things like, "Oh, that was my punk phase." While I recognize that we all go through phases, I've always found mine a little harder to pick out. For the most part I tend to like the same things, talk to the same people, and wear the same kinds of clothes. That's not to say I never change, just that it takes me longer to notice the divide between past me and present me. For the most part, I feel utterly, unequivocally, me. 

I look at what I wrote at the beginning of last semester, though, and I feel different. I had so many bright ideas. I wanted to blog more, write more. Now, everything I write here feels a little self indulgent. Who am I really writing to? What do I really have to say?

I don't know the answer to that. And for once, I'm not going to pretend that I do. What I've written here in the past doesn't seem untrue, just not true to my current self. For the first time in a long time, I feel the pull of my past selves -- the ones who were bright-eyed and who thought they could do everything on their own -- and I find myself tugging in the opposite direction.

I don't think I'll ever be the kind of person who sheds personalities like old skin. I'll always be the idealistic one who sets too many goals, who loves beautiful sentences, who wears stripes and tie-dye and sundresses. But there's also room for things to shift, and for them to settle in a slightly different place.

For now, I'm fine with picking them up where they fall.

Things I liked at the beginning of 2017:
-Fluffy blankets
-Huge books with epic stories
-Thinking about geological time
-Medieval illuminated manuscripts
-Cuddling with dogs
-Skype calls with the one I love
-My new tea maker
-The OA (Netflix show)
-Miyazaki films
-Russian literature
-Microsoft Word jokes (see the title of this post)

Until next time.