New York, I Love You (like everyone else). 

Before I came to New York, part of me wanted not to love it. So much of our culture revolves around this city- it’s the star of countless films, novels, songs and art- I wondered if the reality would live up to the hyper-romanticised version of it I’d come to expect. Part of me questioned how magic a block of concrete slabs and subway cars could be, and the answer remains the same: on it’s own, not very.

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But there’s an undeniable charm to the city that I only understand now having been here. New York is like an angsty misunderstood teen- you have to put in the work to get her walls down.  I don’t think I would have gotten to this point if I hadn’t spent so long here. I’m lucky to have friends gracious enough to put up with my sprawling suitcase and excessive tea drinking habits. (Thank you).

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New York, though slightly pretentious, has earned it’s right to be. It is a sprawling metropolis with an ever-tipping balance between ambition and creation; a world which carries a sense of tradition in it’s grounding in the arts. As a creative person coming from a country which recently made drastic funding cuts to education in the arts, it is a welcome change to be someplace that holds such sincere value in creativity. Everywhere you go, everyone is trying to be something else. There is a sense of community and respect for the things that make my heart happy (i.e. those “lifestyle choices” rooted in writing, filmmaking & performance) that I have yet to experience as richly anywhere else. It’s gratifying.

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And now, having left the US a little over a week ago, I am gifted the clarity of hindsight. New York was so necessary for me at this point in my life- creatively, personally, spiritually. It is a blessing to have gotten to know the city the way I did- which is why I recommended lengthy, well-settled stays as opposed to fleeting touristy ones. The city nourished my soul and inspired my writing in ways I wouldn’t have known without hours spent wandering the parks of Manhattan or the cafes of Brooklyn. To be alone and curious in a place with ample access to the arts is a spiritual experience in itself; but my encounters with the city as a whole lead me to say the thing I partly never wanted to say-

New York, I love you.

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How to Travel – 6 Unusual Tips

Probably getting a little generous with the title of this one, but “Emily’s Foolproof Guide To Finding Your Happy Place In Cities You’ve Never Been To And Tips On How To Survive There” just isn’t as clickable. But alas, if you haven’t learned something about how to travel by the end of this then I apologise for nothing because you clearly were not paying attention. Okay, backhanded apologies and cinnamon-spiced sass aside (It’s fall ya’ll), here is my mildly pretentious and slightly unwarranted advice. 

I’m going to assume you know the basics, like always carry some cash with your cards but leave some at home so if you get mugged you’re not broke, do online check-ins to save time at the airport, try the local cuisine etc. etc. So here’s what I’ve learned that I coudn’t find searching the travel tag on Pinterest. 

1. Google Maps + Yelp. 

Sure, part of the #wanderlust image is to get lost exploring the streets of an unknown city and inevitably stumble into a charming local watering hole where there are good vegan options and free, strong, wifi. But my experience has been that the watering hole is a run down kebab shop that took me twenty minutes out of the centre of town to find. #NotAllThoseWhoWanderAreLost? Besides, if you’re not wanting to spend your life savings on an uber, you’re going to be walking a lot- why waste precious energy relying on a tumblr-esque idea of travel when you could just look up exactly what you’re in the mood for, read some reviews to find out if it’s gross or slow or has outlets (v important to me) and then know how to find it? Seems obvious but I definitely tried to eat pray love my way through places without a plan at first. Which brings me to my second point-

2. Eat Pray Love.

After months of being around people and then a few weeks travelling with friends post-camp, I’d lost sight of why I wanted to travel solo in the first place. Suddenly I was vulnerable and alone- two things I haven’t felt since a bratty second-grader kicked open the bathroom door while seven year-old me was peeing during recess. I definitely know her name and definitely have her on Facebook, so if you’re reading this, yes, that invasion of privacy still haunts me to this day. Well done. I’m sorry that this listicle keeps turning into my memoir. In Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts* grapples with the idea that she is not being a productive or a contributing member of society. She says something about being in Italy for six weeks and having done nothing but eat. A wise, middle-aged man, who I’m incorrectly remembering to be an Italian Dumbledore, tells her that Americans know entertainment, but they do not know pleasure. Enter the concept of il dolce far niente- the sweetness of doing nothing. One of the biggest things for me when it came to solo travelling was dealing with the unexpected guilt of having zero responsibility to anyone or anything but myself. Everyone around me was rushing around, going to work, looking after their kids, meeting up with friends- the amount of business meetings that occur in a Starbucks would suggest Iced Americanos are the new Golfing.  Italian Dumbledore reminded me that now is the perfect time to be selfish. Now is the perfect time to spend each waking moment following an impulse, chasing an idea or staying in bed all day because you have a migraine and the city has waited this long for you, another day won’t hurt. 

*Just let me live, okay? 

3. Bloating will subside in 12-15 weeks.

When you leave the water supply your body has thrived on your entire life and then attempt to drink a glass of Massachusetts/Vermont/Montreal/Toronto/New York water, you can expect some adjustments. I was consistently bloated for the first 12-15 weeks of my trip. Glamorous af. Peppermint tea and More Important Things are pretty good treatment methods, but just embrace the elastic-waist life while nobody around you knows you well enough to click their tongue at your lack of proper pants. 

4. Make a Home.

When you’re travelling somewhere unfamiliar, it’s nice to have somewhere to come home to. I’m not talking about the place you sleep. I’m talking about the Union Square Barnes & Noble, the Williamsburg Whole Foods, the industrial-chic cafe with house brewed cold-drip on Bedford Ave- do your exploring, but find your favourites. It’s important to have a place you can run to when it all becomes a bit much. Or a place you can pick up your local, organic produce. Whichever you need. 

5. Have a focus.

I decided to learn French. I’ve maintained a month-long streak on duolingo, cool brag Emily, and committed to writing at least 500 words of story + finishing a short story, poem or dialogue every day. My other goals, like watch and critique more foreign cinema, are coming along a little more slowly. I guess because the app for that is Netflix and season 4 of The Fosters just came out. Point is, it’s good to have a focus. Especially if you’re a creative person wanting to milk the experience for everything it’s worth… and the all-encompassing spiritually-fulfilling stuff as well, obviously.  

6. Let some memories be just your own. 

While it’s fun to document your travels via social media (I am no stranger to this concept, #emjayusa) I have found that it is equally, if not more, important to have some memories that just belong to you. I have journals teeming with experiences that you won’t find on my Instagram- and that makes them all the more special to me. Wherever you are, whether it’s a big historical landmark or a local cafe or a particularly magical moonlit sky- remember to put your phone/camera/ego aside. Don’t get so caught up in trying to preserve the memory that you forget to make one.  

Other general advice you might be interested in: moisturise, stay hydrated, go vegan. But more on that another time. 

Peace out homies* 

– Emily 

*idk man just go with it

I can never go home.

Hi Family- I realise the title of this post probably has you folded in a fear so crippling you may never walk again, but allow me to explain.

After spending the past four months in various countries (okay, two, but I’m preemptively including the UK since I’m going there in about 2 weeks. Surprise!) and environments with various cultures and people, it has occurred to me that I can never go home. I can never return to things the way there were, because I am no longer the way I was. This is exactly what I wanted. Home means something else to me now. It means a log cabin in the woods, a halloween-themed town, the New England coast, a studio in Montreal, a theatre in Toronto, a crowded subway car and the Williamsburg Whole Foods market, among others. I have learned to bloom without roots. It is the best I could have hoped for.

I have always been the kind of person to settle. I like to nest. I like having my coffee place and knowing the train schedule and coming home to a bed with the same duvet cover since 2010. Or at least, I did. It’s been interesting to discover how easily I can adapt to temporary. I suppose it is because I understand life to be so- that moments, people and experiences are fleeting. That’s not to say I haven’t settled wherever I am, but no place feels permanent, and that, perhaps, is part of the allure of travel. At the same time, I no longer desire security. At another point in life, I’d have not left the house without at least two pairs of a headphones, band-aids, painkillers, three lip balms and an inflatable life vest. About a month ago I went to Canada without so much as a bottle of shampoo. I also left the painkillers behind. Travel has challenged the things I thought necessary. It has taught me to survive on less. It has relieved me of the desire for material objects and bestowed upon me an appetite for something much more substantial- of which I am yet to find a name astute.

And that is why I can never go home- simply, it ceases to exist. I would rather be floating in a sea of unknown depth than to wade in the shallow end of the pool. Of course given the whole visa situation, I will inevitably “come home” in January; but I will be arriving with a sense of departure as I leave the many homes I’ve made here behind. For now.

 

 

Hey Mum, I finally wrote something.

I’ve been operating under the notion that some experiences are my own- that I don’t owe it to anyone to recount or relay anything that I’ve learned here. It seems too insurmountable an object, and yet, it is exactly what I said that I would do. So, despite the fact that my brain is at this point too melty to remember what day it is , and my heart is glowing and worn with adventure, I will attempt to recount and relay some of what I have learned here.

I guess I should start at the beginning. Fifteen weeks ago, I embarked on a solo adventure to the United States. It is nothing like I expected. My perspectives have been pushed and challenged and stretched to lengths I never thought possible. A big part, like nine parts of the fifteen, actually, was my living and working full time at a summer camp. The last post I made was written on the three hour bus journey from Boston to rural Vermont. The next twenty-four hours would be the strangest, toughest I had to yet to experience (spoiler alert: I have since experienced more, oh the joy!). I stepped off the bus, wide-eyed and restless from the journey. I met people who would later become some of my greatest friends, but we were all the same- nervous and completely unprepared for what laid ahead. After the directors picked us up and everyone tried to memorise which Ellie or Emily anybody was (there were a lot), I stepped off the bus into a truly rural environment. I grew to know it so well that it’s almost difficult to recount how foreign it felt to me at that time. There was a chipmunk in my cabin within the first few hours. They pulled the international staff linens from a musty, cobwebbed closet that hadn’t been opened all year and I made my first bunk with a lump in my throat. There was dust and pollen and cobwebs everywhere. Suddenly I had no familiar comforts I’d settled into in Boston- no tv, no wifi, no shiny hardwood floors or pristine granite countertops. I came to accept the fact that for the next nine weeks I would never know what clean felt like. For a self-professed germaphobe, this was huge. Of course my stress came out in the form of over-sanitising (totally necessary, obviously) and only opening doors/turning on light switches etc. etc. with my elbows or a hand covered by my sleeve. I’d like to say that by the end of the summer this had gone away completely, but old habits die hard. If I couldn’t have the comfort of Tuesday night Pretty Little Liars and making a hot cup of tea whenever I felt like it, I would at least get to choose which door handle germs would come in contact with my skin, and which would not. I wish that sounded less crazy.

It’s important to note though, that I did this to myself. Way back in August 2015 when I went to that Camp America info session, I knew ‘rural’ and ‘communal’ living were two things both foreign and frightening to me- and that is why I chose to go. I definitely adapted, although it took a while. For e.g. On more than one occasion I forgot to wear my rubber flip flops to the shower and only had my precious pair of Birkenstocks. On only one occasion did I forgo shower shoes and spare my birkies the torture of a soapy, wet mess. But the point is that before Camp, I’d have never considered the thought of stepping into a slimy, shared shower without shoes, let alone do it. Even if it was just that once. Even if I gagged and threw up a little in my mouth the entire time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The concept of control is something I’ve wrestled with my entire life. The most valuable thing I learned from camp was to abandon the pursuit of perfection. Every day I was thrown into situations that required immediate action- a child is homesick, the toilet is clogged, popfest (a kind of staff talent show thing where everyone is expected to perform) is tomorrow and we haven’t started rehearsing yet! Letting go of the idea that the response needs to be perfectly refined and researched with eight to ten academically sourced references, to any of these situations, was self-growth of tremendous proportion.

So although this short exposé doesn’t cover nearly enough of my camp experience, it feels like something I will never be able to accurately describe. It is like one of those you had to be there moments except it lasted nine long, treacherous, incredible weeks.

To Charm And Enchantment. 

I didn’t choose Boston for any particular reason other than it is the closest city to camp. I always thought my first destination would be something as obvious and recognisable as LA or New York- you know, the only two cities that seem to matter when you’re from an island continent miles from anywhere. And while technically the first place I stepped on US soil was Dallas, it was but a mere vehicle for transition to the place I would ultimately end up. And end up adoring.

Historic brownstones, red-brick and black-lantern clad corners, streets teeming with the lush greens of summer- it’s fair to say that Boston, and it’s many inner-city neighbourhoods, charmed me to the core. I’d like to recount the days in detail, but I’m leaving for Vermont soon and wouldn’t want to rush it. Boston deserves more attention than this fleeting moment can provide. I filmed a lot of it too, photos and videos are easy enough to look back on. What I want to remember most though, apart from the multi-level bookstores and basil lemonade, is how the city made me feel: enchanted, curious and small (in a good way). Small in the sense that when I look up at the Harvard Widener Memorial Library, my body stands below it but my being soars above.

Wandering through different parts of town, each have their own personality but three things exist in abundance no matter where you go- history, academia and the arts. A combination that sparks fire in my bones. I’m still marinating in the experience. Regardless of how present and in the moment I feel, I am in constant awe of the simple fact that I’m here. Yesterday I was sitting by the second story window in Boston University’s Barnes & Noble and something hit me physically deep. I chalk it up to my body finally catching up to my soul. Like somehow in that old wooden chair looking out onto Kenmore Square, I was where I’m meant to be. Or like, parallel universe Emily sits at that chair to study all the time. I know it seems far fetched but I’m not ruling it out. Humans exist because of an explosion in space, how can anything seem less plausible than that? 

Finally, over the course of four short days, I’ve learned a lot. About people, culture, the Massachusetts uber system and myself. I learned that solitude expands beyond the idea of being alone, that there is a delicate balance to trusting and not trusting strangers and that keeping left on the sidewalk is the quickest way to not make friends. (Am currently learning that blogging while on a bus tends to make me queasy, and as such must cut this short). 

I am about to be in the woods for nine weeks so the frequency of these posts will in turn reflect that. Right now I’m feeling a lot of things, but mostly relieved, because the guy who keeps breathing on me and chewing his hands just moved seats. The universe is good. 

The Post I Almost Didn’t Publish.

It’s the middle of my second day here in Boston and while I could quite easily skip over the exhaustion-fueled babblings of my first night in America, I don’t want to. In doing so, I would erase a huge part of this experience and manufacture an image of idealism that I’m so deeply not about. I think it’s important to talk about even the sombre and lonely moments of travel, as opposed to just giving you the highlights. So without further ado, here is the scattered collection of thoughts I wrote after twenty-seven hours of flying, waiting, riding and arriving.

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I’ve just spent an insane amount of hours in the pursuit of arriving. First, to the airport. Then to Dallas. Then Boston airport, and finally the place I’m staying in Back Bay. It’s two in the morning and I’m simultaneously shattered and alive. There has been so much new in the past twenty seven hours. Pat on the back to myself for making it one piece. The thing that gets me the most is the smells. America smells weird you guys. When I got off the plane in Dallas I thought I was on another planet. It was eerily quiet for an international airport, and all the stores looked like cardboard pop-outs. Of course I went to the one place my soul recognised- Starbucks. It is here that I made my first purchase in US cash, and in true southern style I ordered the Sweet Tea. (Sadly, it was not great. Don’t meet your heroes, kids.)

Delayed in Dallas was okay once I figured out the internet. Fellow Millennials, I’m sure you can imagine how terrifying it is to be in a foreign place without a working phone or Wifi. I spent a lot of time people-watching. There are a lot of Hispanics in Texas. The airport had TVs covering exclusive footage from the nightclub shooting like it was Beyonce’s new music video. I’m pretty sure two dudebros with low-hanging pants asked me if I was by myself but I merged so fast into the nearest family that I can’t be sure.

Arriving in Boston was different. They have the same short-walled metal toilet stalls with water brimming the bowl as in Dallas. I was hoping it was a one-off encounter there but alas, they are plentiful. What made Boston particularly different was seeing all the families reuniting with loved ones. There was a boy about my age whose (I’m assuming) parents ran up to him and tackled him in a big hug. For a lot of people stepping off of that plane, it was a homecoming. For me, it was just the opposite.

It’s comforting to know that while it was a super long journey to get here, it kind of existed in it’s own suspended amount of time. Like if I absolutely couldn’t stand to be here and wanted to go home, I could. America has been far more distant in my mind than it is physically from my home. I keep reminding myself, as my Mother so lovingly did, that I can come home any time. I try not to think about it too much though, because I’m here for a reason. It is now, in the quiet of night (or early, early morning if you want to be precise) that I think about things like the smell of my own bed, or the pile of tea bags next to the kitchen sink. It is my prediction at this point, that no matter how much I wind up loving America, I will always love the comforts of home more.

I feel overwhelming like I want someone here. It is nice to know Amanda isn’t all that far away (the first time in two years I’ve been able to say that!). And that if I really needed to, I could get on a bus to New York in the morning and see her in a few hours. If I really needed to, I could stay there all week and forget about camp and just go home. I’m taking it one day at a time, because airports and taxi rides do not a city experience make. Tomorrow I will see Boston, and America, for the first time. Then I will decide if I love it*.

*Spoiler alert: I did.

 

 

 

 

Departures.

Forty-eight hours from departure and all I could think was:

What have I done?
What have I done?
What have I done?

When you’re getting ready to leave, you think you’re only going to have to say goodbye once. You think you’ll hug your family and cry at the airport, but it’s all over in one big messy go. You don’t think about all the little goodbyes along the way. All of the people and places that you visit for what feels like the last time ever. You start to realise mid-way through your sandwich that you probably won’t be in this cafe again for a while. You start to look at your room and the walls knowing they’ll only hold you a little bit longer. You hug your friend and realise in fleeting moments of goodbyes that they’re one of your best ones. You start crying into your tea because you forgot to get a watch and can’t fit all seven books into your suitcase, dammit! It’s overwhelming and messy and how come none of my friends now living overseas talked about this?

In my heart of hearts I know I haven’t, but the knots in my stomach and the shakes in my hands pointedly pose the question- Have I made a mistake? I realise that most, if not all, of my worries could be cured by the reality of another person coming with me, and it is for that reason I must go.

I keep wanting to go back to yesterday, or last week, or five weeks ago. While my heart aches for the calm and love of days past, I’m also filled with a tremendous gratitude for having experienced them. It is a constant battle of mine between presence and time. As I replay the memories and long to go back there, I remind myself of this:

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

So with this post I remind myself of the work and the wait it took to get here. I remind myself not to overindulge nostalgia and spend too long looking back. A life spent looking over the shoulder leaves room for opportunities to pass through unnoticed, unseen. So be scared. Be uncomfortable. Be vulnerable. But be open and loving and courageous at the same time.

It’s important to remember the feeling passes. The terror, the dread, the paralyzing fear. It’s all temporary. It washes through like choppy waves and settles again after the storm.

I’m having strong feelings of yuck. My body won’t let me eat or give my shoulders a break from tensing up to my ears. It all feels so final, which is ridiculous because it’s not. And it is. It is the last time I will be this version of myself- with these values and perspectives and feelings and material comforts of home. When I return, my room will still be there. My books will be dusty, but present. Not much of what I left physically will have changed, but I will have. I suppose in a way I’m grieving the loss of a person I never meant to be- I had never intended on studying in Sydney, working as a swimming teacher, staying up all night restless and passionate over a story that wasn’t even off the page yet. Yet somehow, while I wasn’t paying attention and noone was looking, I became the person I am now. I never planned on becoming her, but I’m glad that I did.

I don’t usually subscribe to the notion that everything happens for a reason, because frankly anyone with fifth grade comprehension skills could find a way to link meaning to any situation or event- but there’s something to be said for divine timing. I know now- largely due to the fact that I am barely ready at this point- that I would not have been ready for this experience two years ago. It’s cool to think the universe had my back, even if I hated it for not giving me what I wanted at the time. Ultimately I’m grateful for the relationships and experiences I’ve built upon here, and I’m grateful for the push I’m getting now.

I’m going to go ahead and wrap this post up with a quote from arguably one of the greatest cinematic pieces of all time, Fired Up.

You gotta risk it to get the biscuit.

Next Stop: Boston!