In Response to the Paris Attacks

I’ve been watching the emerging story of the attacks in Paris, watching as more information is released.  Watching as the death count rises.  While I don’t believe this kind of coordinated attack is unprecedented (history is full of horrible things), I don’t think I’ve ever seen something like it in my (albeit short) lifetime.  Every story is terrible, but the worst, for me at least, is the story coming out of the Bataclan concert hall, which was attacked by a series of shooters.  The death toll at that location alone is over a hundred.

Last week, I spent a while talking with several local students and another exchange student about a variety of topics, mostly history and politics.  We also discussed The Walking Dead, and someone mentioned that everyone in America seems to own a gun.  I told them that wasn’t really true, but that guns were much more common than they appeared to be in Britain.  Then I tried to explain to them about the culture of fear built up around mass shootings, how every school has a plan, how I’ve had casual discussions with fellow students about what we should do if we encounter an active shooter during a show we’re stage managing.  They were slightly confused.  Here, in England, that’s not really a concern.  And that’s a wonderful thing.

My knowledge of French culture is very limited, but I don’t think mass shootings, especially on this scale, would have been a concern for them either.  Until tonight.

Tonight, a series of coordinated attacks taught the people of Paris fear.  They should have been fine.  They should have been safe.  This sort of situation just doesn’t happen in peaceful countries, or at least it didn’t until tonight.  Tonight, Paris was rocked with bombs and heavily armed shooters.  The country closed its borders.  Every time I check the news the death toll has risen.  And there’s still a chance for further violence.

Fear is an exhausting emotion.  Maybe what I hate most about this whole situation is that these people, whoever they are, have taught an entire city, an entire country, fear.

I’m sure as the days continue we’ll hear more stories from the attacks.  We’ll watch as what happens and what has happened shapes France’s future, maybe even our futures.  The only hope I find is that almost as soon as I heard about the attacks I also heard that Parisians were opening up their spare rooms and couches to those left stranded by them.  There are still good people out there.  There always are.  And I’ll be praying for them, and the rest of Paris, as they mourn and try to find ways to recover.

A Brief Update

One weird thing about being in England is the amount of free time I have.  I’m used to going to class five days a week and rehearsal six.  Here, I only have class three days a week and rehearsal one or two.  So, I’m trying to find ways to fill all that extra time.  I’ve joined several clubs (two theatre related, one writing related, it’s fairly obvious my passions are specific), watched more movies than I think I’ve watched in the past year, and read lots of new books.

It’s lovely to have time to read.  I’m used to mostly reading just required texts over the school year, with maybe an occasional fun book thrown in, usually the next book in a series I love or the newest book by an author I admire.  Here, with all the extra time, I’ve been able to read more randomly, picking a book from someone’s recommended list or something mentioned by Amazon’s algorithm.  I also joined Goodreads, which people have been suggesting I do for a while.  My dad always told me I should keep a list of all the books I’ve read, and now I have an electronic version of one (or the start of the list anyway.)  And it works as another recommendation algorithm.  I’ve had to start reading on a Kindle, since books are not the most portable of objects, and while it’s nice to be able to immediately buy and start the next book in a series, I sometimes miss pages.

Funnily enough, this week is reading week, when we have no class so we can catch up on any schoolwork or required reading we haven’t done, or (in my case) work ahead.  I’ve spent the weekend reading a wonderful series I found (through Goodreads).  Tomorrow I’m going with a friend to Stratford.  Maybe after that, I’ll find some new books and read some more.  Really, what I should be doing with all my extra free time is laundry.

From Stratford, with Pictures

This weekend, I did something highly out of character:  I went on a spontaneous trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon.  There was no forward planning, no week to think about it, I just went.  Decided Friday afternoon I was going and left Saturday morning.  I went, of course, in order to see a play.  Yesterday I was looking up what shows would be on at the RSC (the theatre company in Stratford) while I was here and discovered that one of the current productions is Marina Carr’s adaptation of Hecuba.  Considering how much I love Carr’s play By the Bog of Cats (if you haven’t read it, you definitely should) I really wanted to see this show.  So I bought a cheap standing ticket, figured out how the trains worked, and went.

Hecuba didn’t disappoint.  I haven’t been that moved by a show in a long time.  It was performed on a deep, nearly bare thrust stage (oh how I love a good thrust stage), with a floor treatment that looked like black granite (I desperately want to know how, or even if, they painted it.  Sorry, sometimes the technician in me comes out.)  The actors prowled around each other, narrating their actions and subconscious thoughts to the audience, speaking their own and each others lines as if they were telling a story, rather than talking.  The show was glorious.  It was spare and beautiful and so very powerful.  I left the theatre reeling.

On a lighter note (and in another breech of character), I also took several pictures while in Stratford.  Look!

There were actual swans in the pond!
There were actual swans in the pond!
Statue of Shakespeare
Statue of Shakespeare
Lady Macbeth
Lady Macbeth

See?  I am trying.  Photography is just not my thing.

In other news, I have made it through two whole weeks of classes (though I may not survive my Shakespeare class in the end – I’m being bored to death.  Everything we go over I already know), and I managed to kill a spider all by myself! (It was fairly large and, yes, there was some shrieking, but I did it.)  If you know me, you know that was a major victory.  If you don’t, trust me when I say it was.  I’m also stage managing a show called No Such Cold Thing for 3BUGs, one of the theatre societies on campus. It’ll be nice to get back to stage managing, though it’s a little less formal than I’m used to.  First read through is Sunday.  It’s a fairly short play, with a cast of only three, and I really like it.  It’ll be fun.  Now, I’m going to go finish reading all my required books for next week.


Blaming Jet Lag

I have officially made it to Birmingham, England!  I have at this point been here a little under 26 hours and am officially exhausted.  It’s been both an adventure and all a little surreal.  I’m not sure if the surreal-ness is due to the fact that I’m in a different country or if it’s just the jet lag.  At least today is better than yesterday as far as the jet lag goes.  Yesterday was jet lag plus functioning on an hour of sleep.  I got to Birmingham at 7 AM and was moving into my flat (as they call it here) by 8.  My room’s tiny, but the view is gorgeous.

Look, I took a picture!
The view from my window. (Look, I took a picture!)

I met two of my flatmates (Guy and Ellen), and then walked over to campus and took a campus tour.  While it did keep me awake (part of my goal in going) I still have no idea where anything is.  I’m planning on getting horribly lost at least twice, if not more. I was pretty sure I was lost on the way back to my flat, since I came back a completely different way, but I made it.  As I was trying not to nod off over a book, my new flatmates knocked on the door and we chatted for a while.  I’m not sure I was intelligible, but hey.  I at least made enough of a good impression that they invited me to go with them to a friend’s flat later to watch the Doctor Who premiere.  I managed to stay awake long enough to go and enjoy, and then slept for fourteen hours.  Today, I went into the city and found a grocery store and book shop (the two things I need most in my life.)  And now I’m writing this.

But that’s just the short version.  It skips over all the small stories along the way.  Like the pigeon I saw in the Newark Airport.

2015-09-18 17.09.20
Yes, it was in the terminal.

Or the way I couldn’t stop grinning the entire cab ride from the airport, or the fact that hearing all these British accents is so strange.  Stories that will come out a year or so from now when I’m back home catching up with friends and family.  It’s just that there is so much to tell.  Everything here is a new experience, from figuring out how the bus system works to discovering (what I think is) a shortcut to campus.  And yet it’s also so familiar.  Grocery shopping, walking around a campus, unpacking in a new room.  Just a few degrees separated from my normal.  Today I went and bought peanut butter and granola bars.  But the granola bars are a different brand than usual, and the jar of peanut butter is tiny (I was worried briefly yesterday that they don’t sell peanut butter at all when I couldn’t find it in the campus convenience store, but thankfully they do).  Everything new and everything the same. Like I said earlier, surreal.  For now, I’m going to blame it on the jet lag.

Problems With Packing

I’m writing a blog to procrastinate packing.  I hate packing.  I leave for Birmingham, England in four days and I’ve done almost no packing.  I did, however, make a list of what I need to pack, which should count for something.  Right?  I’m going to pretend it does.  It’s just that there’s so much to figure out.  What exactly am I taking?  Can I make it all fit into two suitcases and a backpack?  How am I even supposed to know what I’m going to need in England?

Which brings us to the real reason I started this blog. I’m going overseas for ten months to study at the University of Birmingham, and what you do when you study abroad is start a blog.  At least, that’s my understanding.  Also, lots of people want pictures and I’m not good at taking them, but I’m hopeful that having to update this blog will force me to take pictures.  Maybe.

A brief note on the title: It’s been a running joke for a while that if I ever wrote a memoir it would be called Hold, Please since as a stage manager I say that a lot.  So it makes as good a title as any.

I’m afraid I can’t promise you particularly witty content, by the way.  I love writing, but most of what I write is fiction, or poetry, and isn’t particularly funny.  If I’m being honest, most of what you’ll get on here is me rambling.  I hope to at least ramble interestingly.

Well, here we go:

I leave in four days for England, to go to a school where I know no one, in a country that at least speaks my native language, which makes things a lot easier.  I don’t know yet what my class schedule will be, (though I do know what I’m taking) or even how classes work in England.  I’d like to assume it’s similar to the U.S., but I don’t know.  I’ve been saying that a lot, “I don’t know”.  For a person who usually plans their life several months in advance, it’s a little disconcerting.  You can’t make plans when you don’t know what to plan for.  Still, it’ll be nice to get moving again.  Everyone else has already started school, with all the trials and triumphs that entails.  I’ve been watching Netflix and reading, which is lovely, but I’m ready to get back to work.  Even if I don’t know exactly what kind of work I’ll be doing.  I think this not knowing may be particularly strange to me because this is the first time in over three years that I don’t have a show on my schedule.  Nothing to prepare for, no scripts to copy, no auditions to run.  I know I’ll be doing some kind of theatre over in England, but I don’t know what yet.  Or when.  I guess, like so many other things, I’ll find out when I get there.