Inverness, Scotland (March 21st-23rd, 2008)

March 21st

M: Nikki and I have been traveling all day. We are waiting for our hostel to appear at the whim of an Indian man. Our trains were free because we asked information when we arrived in Glasgow.

N: I can’t get over the free train what grand luck! And nice but scary Indian man is finding us a bed. We had a nice lunch at a pub, and Madi learned about English life. We had an intense bonding session on the train. We talked about boys, sex and I quote “so what are you going to do with your life?” Madi was amazed by the snow, she thought it was ash and she packed 5 tanktops but no jacket. Silly little girl.

M: Yes, it is cold… but it’s not snowing right now in Inverness. Tomorrow we plan to catch a bus to Lock Ness then catch the train back to Glasgow for the night. Because of Easter, the trains don’t run as often on Sunday so we’re heading back tomorrow. If we miss it we’re screwed…

On the train the scenery was more brown than Ireland or England but it reminds me of Boone.  N: When we were deeper into the Scottish Highlands it became more beautiful. The snowcap hills and mountains were gorgeous and there were rivers too. It was a snowy wonderland that seemed to come straight from Harry Potter.

March 22nd

M: Last night we stayed at Baron Guesthouse which we luckily got space in because the Indian man talked to the owner Robert. So after waiting an hour and a half we were taken to the top of a Chinese Restaurant where we were given a double bed, non-flushing toilet, and a lock that was ridiculous to open or close. Once we got our room and had a tour/lecture from Robert, we set our for a pub. The first one we came to was a Karaoke pub where a really drunk scottish man was singing “Sweet Caroline.”

N: We relocated to a bar down the street with (bad) live music. Madi and I had two well deserved bitch drinks! We woke up bright and early to head to Loch Ness. Madi – great idea – convinced me to buy a boat tour. Our driver was a nice/funny scottish man by the name of Jim. The weather was snowy at first but later I saw the sun for the first time in days. But it’s still extremely nippy.

M: As we got on the ferry Nikki was really excited. I watched the water carefully for any signs of a monster… but there were none. We stopped at the Urquhart Castle ruins which were very impressive.

N: Impressive doesn’t even begin to explain it. It was the best castle I have seen yet, and many a castle I have seen indeed. I loved the nook while Madi I think had the best time with the “intense” film and finding the Thompson plaid in the gift shop. Next we went to the Inverness museum. My two favorite parts were the scottish men. The first had an awesome accent and said “there is a wee little fish over there” and the second told me about the scottish sport that was the origins of ice hockey.

M: We then treated ourselves to a large chili chicken salad at the Filling Station and walked around city center until our train back to Glasgow at 4:56. We’re hoping to stay at a church or the airport tonight… somewhere for free. A great Easter morning.

N: We watched a northern spanish highland games and met the man in charge of the Inverness Highland games. Sadly one girl broke her foot or cut it badly from dancing on a glass cup. Now we are on the train. The views of the highlands are amazing. I will sleep but Madi will not – she says she might miss something.

March 23rd – Easter Morning

M: In Glasgow we bought a huge bottle of cheap wine and snacks. We ate while watching the little high school emo kids get in fights and women tryingto handle their drunk husbands. We ended up catching the 11:00pm train to the Prestwick Airport… but it wasn’t that simple. Once we got on the train with the drunk girls and travelers the lights started shutting off. I suggested that it was an awesome plot for a slasher movie.

After a few minutes we were told to get off the train because it was having problems. Luckily the next train we caught was a lot more entertaining. We met two older scottish women and had conversations about traveling. Then a drunk girl started yelling at one of the women’s husbands! Something about the bathroom, lots of F bombs and how her grandfather would react.

N: The scottish man stood his ground and with many more curse words basically told her to eff off. It was fun to watch because the accents are so much stronger when they are angry. Madi couldn’t stop laughing… I was scared. Then by the end of the journey we were sufficiently drunk and joking with the old women that they should come with us on our Euro trip. We got to the airport, laughed some more and passed out on the airport floor. I woke up freezing. Easter morning we hopped a train to Ayr.

M: So our wonderful plan was to go to Ayr and spend an hour or so there looking at the beach and town. Unfortunately it was the end-stop of the line we were on and to get out of the train station we had to have a ticket. So we told him we went too far and asked when the next train back to the airport was… 11:43. While we were waiting forever we walked outside (beside a train) and got called back… probably because we looked suspicious! Then we starter conversation with the men at the gate about our travels, and caught the train back with a ticket mark saying “Inadventantly overcarried valid Ayr – Prestwick Airport…Gateline.”

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World View

I walk down the busy street on my way to classes. The roads are much too narrow for two cars, even after the obvious reapportionment of the sidewalk into driving space. I watch for cars that need the extra space and hop the curb near my feet. Depending on the day I can watch the keg deliveries to the pubs on Barrack Street as a walk. I no longer need to look at store fronts to figure out which are pubs; I simply look for the semi-circle indentions on the pavement in front of them as I watch for the sneaky, uneven ground. These scars are from years of metal kegs being rolled off the delivery truck, and landing with a hard “clang!”

It is the little details that enthrall me here, things I know most Irish people do not even notice, because it is natural and taken for granted. I take an energetic pride in the fact that I can point something out to a native Corkonian, because the spirit of Cork is in the details.

It is much the same with people, the little eccentricities that make each person unique. The intertwined dependency of nature and nurture in shaping how someone reacts to a certain situation transforms from simple theory to reality. Studying abroad has helped me realize how focused I am, but it is the fuzziness that allows me to put aside my preconceptions and really see. Like a camera just barely out of focus going unnoticed, while one obviously unfocused is adjusted until there is relative perfection. My perspective at home can survive barely out of focus, but here I am forced to adapt.

My background in Psychology allows me to have some resources to search for explanations for the constructs I come into contact with, and in an unexpected way, learn more about myself in the process. Submersion within such a culture has tricked me into thinking that I am the one with the accent.

The international perspective of American students is notoriously narrow, and I’ve come to learn that I am a part of that category. Late night discussions with my Irish roommate, Anna, reveal the extent of America’s isolation from the rest of the world.

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I walked with my new roommate to the Visiting Students Orientation held in the Student Union building on campus. It took us a little over an hour to get there. We bought breakfast scones at the Java & Juice a block away if only to rush our footsteps toward our destination with the warmth of the fresh scone keeping a cold hand company in the pocket of my European-looking jacket. I would have bet 20 Euro that we were enrolled in a mysterious disappearing University by the time we stopped in the Pharmacy for our second round of directions from the locals.

A point I need to make very clear is that Irish people can not give good directions. Granted I have no sense of direction myself, so it may be hereditary. It is not entirely their fault though. There are very few street signs throughout Cork City, and as for the ones that are easily spotted, the name changes a few blocks down the road anyway.

We were almost late when the directions from the locals finally paid off and we saw UCC in all its glory. The proceedings of the next two days were too long, especially with the jet lag and lack of sustenance wearing us all down. That first day however, we were given the Irish lunch… a mayonnaise and something sandwich. They all looked about the same with their triangular packages and unusual innards. Cheese and mayonnaise, egg and mayonnaise, chicken and mayonnaise, or ham. I took two, one for lunch and the other I swiped and hid in my backpack for dinner. Traveling abroad is like a game of survivor for the first week. It’s a fight to get food where there are no grocery stores or maps readily available. Those skills passed down from our hunting and gathering ancestors awake, and we somehow survive.

Lauren and I met another girl from the States, and afterwards enjoyed our stolen sandwiches and a cheap bottle of wine. Her name is Ryan. She is a sarcastic and quirky girl. She makes comments about everything, but always seems to talk too low to hear. Then when you ask her to repeat it, she has the time to come up with something really clever to replace her slightly dull original comment. She admits to this, and says that most of the time she will comment just to talk and doesn’t expect anyone to actually care what she’s saying. So, when they do, she feels like she should give them their money’s worth and say something witty.

That second night, we found the closest pub and drank away any hunger or slight discomfort we felt with this intense new cultural experience. We ended up at a pleasant little red pub called The Gallows. The bar tender gave our first round for free because it was our first real drink in Ireland.

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Written in the Spring of 2008

I am a Junior at North Carolina State University studying Psychology and Sociology, but secretly wanting to be a writer. I’m still not sure why that part is such a secret, it might have something to do with my dad wanting me to find a job that will support me comfortably for the rest of my life. If he doesn’t think I can support myself with Psychology, even with a Masters, then why would I even ask for that new lecture about being an artist? A Writer. Why is there such a stigma for each profession, can’t we just accept each other for doing what one can to balance happiness and livelihood? But that’s another discussion.

I grew up in a blur, with an older brother by two years to get into trouble with. London and I would go on adventures in the creek behind the Hutchins Street house, past the vicious sounding dog we always sprinted past even though it was on a chain in the neighbor’s yard. We would fight a lot as well, always ending in someone crying out of pain or anger. These deep emotions served a purpose. We are both much more emotionally mature than most people our age.

I have vague memories of anger and sadness that was not my own as I was growing up. I realize later that this is probably around the time when my Grandfather died. I never really knew him, but I’ve watched a video of him playing with me as a baby.

Dancing was second nature to me. I could not just stand still, it was the only means of expression I had with me at all times. Sometimes I’m sure my parents were very entertained by this, but I wasn’t dancing for them. My soul was moving, and my body followed. I was enrolled at the dance studio when I was two and a half, where I studied for almost 11 years dreaming to be a gymnast.

“You’re too tall Madi,” my mom said, as she sweetly broke my heart.

My next approach was to embrace the growth spurt these genes had graced me with. So I started basketball on a co-ed team in a local WCCC league. They broke the team up into the A and B teams. All the boys were on the A team, and all the girls were on the B team. This made me furious. I knew I was better than at least half of the guys on our team, and from hearing about the way London’s team was set up, the A team was supposed to have all the best players. I took my frustration out on the court and tried to prove to my coach that I deserved to be on the starting team, but he insisted that he did it this way to avoid hurting kid’s feelings. I thought, what about the girls’ feelings? I didn’t join the team the next season.

It was seventh grade before I tried the sport again. And I excelled, it was yet another successful outlet for me. I continued with it (as a starter, I might add) until my Junior year of High School. I felt like I had too much on my plate with my first young love boyfriend, the pressures placed upon the importance of Junior year grades, and corrective toe surgery because of the tight ballet shoes I had worn for so many years.

That spring in 2004, my grandfather (maternal) retired from his position with the City of Winston-Salem, and they both planned to move to South Africa for two years. This was a much bigger change than I can express on paper. They were surrogate parents to London and I, picking us up from school when my parents were still at work, and taking us across the country for an annual convention trip. But I was supportive, and selfishly looked forward to getting the chance to go see them in their new home. It was a source of fascination for me. I could not imagine how they could just move away from everything they know and start fresh. I admired the detachment, the sense of self it took for them to do that. I wanted to do something outrageous as well. I wanted to have fun and exciting adventures in places no one I know would be able to relate to. This small seed of desire was planted here, but did not manifest itself for many years.

The beginning of my Senior year coincided with the first visit from my grandparents. They had exciting stories to tell, and I was ecstatic that they were going to be home for my 17th birthday. Two weeks before that important day I got a horrible headache and couldn’t go to school. I went to the doctor, and they sent me to the hospital. I was debilitated, I couldn’t move without throwing up but I couldn’t eat either. After a series of hospital visits, we wouldn’t go home again. There was something wrong and the doctors better stop telling us that it is just a bad migraine. After a spinal tap, the diagnosis changed to meningitis. I had no idea what that was, but I was glad that they found something and I wasn’t just a wimp with a low pain tolerance. They found me a room where I spent the next several days, including my 17th birthday, in a fog of morphine with limited visitors and no light or sound.

I noticed a change in my vision as I took my first stroll around Brenner’s Children’s Hospital a few days before I was released. Everything was blurry. A few days after my release my left eye crossed, and the neurologist explained that the nerve was damaged. After a month of trying to laugh it off with my friends, and getting cheered up by hearing that my eye looked straighter; it was slowly repaired by oral steroids. I have never quite been the same.

As the spinal fluid around my brain swelled, I lost many memories and the ability to use parts of my short-term memory. Since then my ability to remember has greatly increased, but I have become a list person out of habit. It was not only the physicality of my side effects that played a part in this change, but mortality. I felt tragically stolen from a life of safety, and bombarded with a pain so excruciating that I developed ticks to deal with it. One was my right hand rubbing up and down the middle of my forehead with my thumb straight up and my fingers curled around it. I continued this until my dad pointed it out and I consciously trained myself to stop.

I was so ready to go to college.

I was filling out applications with my crossed eye because it was not healed by the time I started the process of getting out of High School. My Senior year was full of drama with other girls, because they had nothing better to do. I remember hearing rumors that I was going to beat up a girl a year below me, and I laughed out loud that they thought they were that important to me. I was still shell-shocked by dealing with the possibility of my own death. I started caring less about what others thought about me, and more about the important things like getting to know myself. Introspection became a part of my daily routine, and the AP psychology course I took that year got me hooked.

I was accepted to NC State as a Psychology major, and celebrated by visiting London at his dorm that weekend. By this time, my parents probably let me do anything I wanted just to make up for the horrible start to the year. It’s a good thing that I didn’t realize that at the time.

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Counting Cork

Studying abroad. It sounds like such a good idea until it actually happens. I was alright at home, with the packing and saying goodbye. I was alright on the plane, just trying to sleep to pass the time of anticipation before my arrival at the Shannon Airport in Ireland. Like a pro I made it through customs, and got my baggage. I met some other students heading to University College Cork as well, so we bought our tickets and sat down to wait for the sunrise and our bus to arrive. I noticed the green of the countryside, you can’t miss it. The little farm houses with stone walls clearly marking the boundaries of their flocks, and the skinny roads that seem unnatural for busses to travel upon. I said goodbye to my new friends, and got my luggage right as the “oh shit” moment hit me. I got off the bus in Cork; from there I was on my own with no map and no idea what part of the city I was in.

Stubbornness took hold, after I heard from a stranger that my new apartment was just over the bridge, near City Hall and I refused to get a taxi. But what I forgot was which side of City Hall I had to pass to find my apartment. So there I was, rolling my huge suitcase while carrying a duffle bag and book bag around the never ending block that contains City Hall. My sleepy arms were aching, cursing the stubbornness innately a part of me.  Fortunately, I passed the Garda station and there they stood on the steps of the station pointing to my apartment complex. So I thanked the Officer and collected my possessions to meet my new roommates, and settle into my new home.

Margaret introduced herself in the most polite way, but I’m sure she would have done so even if I weren’t so flustered. She showed me my room, apartment 12 room 3. I don’t have a roommate yet but there are two other girls, one from France, and the other from Ireland. I think to myself that having an Irish girl will be the key to the city.

“So there we have it.” And Margaret was out the door. My second “oh shit” moment hit me upside the head. I took one look around, the kitchen, the bathroom, and my single bed. Okay Madison, first thing’s first. Computer. I searched for everything I needed, Ethernet chord, laptop and power chord. I have to tell everyone that I’m here safely.

As my computer turned on, I checked out the view outside my window at the foot of my bed. The sun was shining, but from walking outside I knew you couldn’t feel it. It was like the wind took all the sun’s power away, making day feel as dark as the night. I opened the curtains to let the useless sun into my new room. It fell, illuminating the purples, reds and yellows on the foot of my bed due the bedspread I rented from the apartment complex.

Finally my whining computer was ready for its vitally important job. I sat down, and opened Skype to call my fiancé Shannon.

I bought webcams for us as a going away present. I thought it would make the whole process easier for us both. Connecting, Ringing, then Shannon! It was so nice to see a face I recognized. I melted toward the computer gazing at his projection with a goofy grin, happy to be home.

We talked as I unpacked all my belongings, and found special places for everything. After a refreshing talk I went to find some shampoo and soap so I could get washed up for dinner. I got a grocery bag, and went to The Market I spotted around the corner from my building. I walked in, “Oh, this isn’t an actual market… is it?”

The man behind the pub’s bar laughed, but told me where the closest one was.

The shower was a piece of heaven, and I set out to get lost in my new city. I wandered around the City Center just trying to take everything in. There were countless pubs supporting different beers, and stores that I didn’t recognize. My next task was to find the school, to meet some people from the bus ride for dinner.

As my journey for the school wears on, I find out that Irish people can not give directions. It’s not completely their fault though, there are no road signs to speak of and the roads change names frequently. The average direction would be, “Ye go doun this road about five minuts, takea right then yer goin to see a split and takea left… then it’s there… near the Londis.”

I was starving and cold by the time I actually found University College Cork in the dark that first night, and I was early to meet the group. I couldn’t leave, so I just walked around to keep warm. I saw JP who evidently came too early too. So not knowing where the others were, we set off in search of a meal. Pub after pub told us that they didn’t have a kitchen, and we were exhausted and ready to give up as we came to an expensive little nook where we both got appetizers.

I passed the other members of the group as I was walking home; they still hadn’t found suitable food for the night. I got to my room and almost collapsed with jet lag as I was trying to meet my roommate. Lauren told me she was from Pennsylvania, and that’s about all I remember as my head hit my new pillow. I was grateful for the expensive soup in my stomach.

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“I’m healthy, look at me!”

Ignorance is so innate,

Like the want of peaceful sleep.

How easy is it to ignore the day,

That contains all we wish to keep.

We all complain in sickness,

Wanting other’s sympathy.

But on the days we feel well,

It’s never, “ I’m healthy, look at me!”

We discuss the flaws of rain and cold,

As steady as an ocean tide.

Yet with weather fair today,

Discussing tomorrow, still inside.

Worst yet are those who cannot see,

The person they love the best,

Until one day they cease to be,

Leaving behind an unrest.

Take each day for good and bad,

Make the change you wish to see,

Hold on to every second hand,

The innate can cease to be.

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The blind leading herself

My eyes burn with wanted recognition,

The walls come closer and I change my mind.

Being fine with my selfish ambition,

My eyes are very slowly going blind.

I don’t really need to see for wandering,

It’s hard to get lost with no direction.

Not really looking and much less finding,

Leaves little room for any correction.

There’s safety in this new philosophy,

From heartbreak, hurt, or a new prison cell.

Even though these eyes will no longer see,

This newfound happiness makes bail.

Throbbing, itching and stinging I can bear,

For pain makes us self-aware.

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I should not fan this twice failed flame,

I feed again tonight.

When indecision mocks my name,

I hold my ears so tight.

Embers flow teasing the darkness,

Seeing your face across,

Searching with your oceans. Confess

To me your wretched loss.

Do tell me of the life we had,

Raking over ashes.

We laugh about a time of glad,

Thoughts- an ember hatches.

The water, I feel it rising,

A welling in my heart.

Dripping from my lips and crying –

Falls on our coals so dark.

But, I can still hear you breathing,

A ghost in the darkness.

Sometime we will both be leaving,

Searching for the likeness.

Your lungs fill up with let down hope,

I can hear in release.

Unmoved we don’t know how to cope,

With the still of this peace.

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I dream of a day when we will be done,

That distant shore achieved where time and space

Undistorted. Our battle finally won.

A peaceful dream I dream without your face.

Unrested, I rise to drudge on alone.

Today is the only thought I can bear.

My life has finally changed its somber tone,

And through this world I plan to chase and tear.

No longer wanting what you had in mind,

Makes easier my search for my own way.

No longer grasping for a hold while blind,

Lifted curtain, once shrouded me from day.

Soon the day will come when I can forget.

Still waiting, for it hasn’t happened yet.

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Have my feet ever really touched the ground?

I cannot recall that distant feeling.

Did you witness it?- Hear stepping sounds?

Cold, solid from which I will be stealing.

Grounded – such a negative term to think,

The ever punished child on a short string.

A balloon, I want higher. Still I sink.

Untie your hold and let me do this thing.

Wandering until the mind sends me home,

Witness to the beauty passing below.

Remembering the tales of this lone roam,

Flavoring who I will be tomorrow.

Do not blame the wind for calling my name,

Because you calling it sounds just the same.

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