Gilman Girl

The Life & Rhymes of Molly Y., English Major

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A Small Ode to MSE Library

It’s taken me three years to get to this place, but I’ve finally arrived: I enjoy going to the library at Hopkins. While I’ve sworn off of working in its cubicles and its studyrooms, there’s something truly wonderful about scouring its depths for research, and, every so often, for pleasure. I get that this is a ridiculous kind of thing to be discussing in summer, so let me reassure you, I’m also doing plenty of sweet Baltimore outdoors-ing. One example: JHU_Emily and I recently went to an Oriole’s game and got cheap (but enjoyable) seats; we lost, but we were surrounded by thoroughly entertaining O’s fans, and I ate two hotdogs in a row, so in other ways, we won big. The stadium was full, and the weather was perfect: what more could a gal want on a summer evening?

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But in all honesty, most of my days are spent around Charles Village, first for work at JHUP, and then back at campus for thesis research (hence my opening declaration). The library and I have become far better acquainted than we’ve ever been in all my time here, as my advisor sends me to its lowest level every week to excavate books on literary theory and the visual arts in the Victorian era. We have an amazingly gargantuan collection that no one really talks about when they talk about the library, because it’s easier to talk about the work that people do in the library. But let it be known that if you’ve ever wanted to do any kind of research project — especially a humanities-related one — MSE is an underground, fluorescently-lit goldmine.

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Most of it looks like this; no, it’s not stained-glass windows and wood panelling, like the university libraries of yore. But the breadth of the collection and the motion-activated lights are enough to keep me intrigued (plus some of the shelves on D-Level expand when you press a button, which I find unreasonably marvelous to watch). There’s something thrilling about descending a multitude of stairs and entering the quiet troves of MSE, on the hunt for a book you’ve never seen before with an unreasonably long call number that is stashed somewhere amidst about a million other scholarly texts of various sizes, shapes, and publication dates. Last week, I found a copy of Charlotte Brontë’s Villette that was published in the late 1890’s, casually hanging out next to some other more recent editions. Just this morning, I was walking toward the stairs when I saw a full shelf of books about Georgia O’Keefe out of the corner of my eye; I ended up flipping through a few for about 20 minutes and was almost late for work.

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Stumbling upon things in libraries is a pretty standard thing, but the amount of texts stowed away in MSE is almost beyond comprehension, which makes every new find infinitely more exciting; somehow, I’ve managed to find this small bit amongst a seemingly endless array of knowledge. Even when my professor sends me for something specific, I always end up discovering more, wandering down other aisles just to see what happens to be lurking there. In some random shelf on C-Level, we have every edition of a yearly periodical from the 1950’s published by a bunch of map connoisseurs, where they just print illustrated maps they find interesting or weird (from ancient to contemporary) and write about why exactly they’re drawn to them. An entire shelf, devoted to that. Not a waste of space at all; just the opposite, I think.

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FLUORESCENT LIGHTING: A UNIVERSALLY FLATTERING VIBE

But it’s important that I end with this: what makes the library so fun for me is that I spend no more than 30 minutes at a time in it; 5-10ish to complete a thesis errand, and 20 or less for miscellaneous meandering. And then, I’m out — I scamper up the stairs as quietly as possible, check out, and don’t really stop scampering until I get to Gilman to read through my research materials. The sense of mystery and depth and intrigue is maintained, until the next discreet fieldtrip.

My comopsition: Me, JHU_Emily, and JHU_Joseph at the rear, encountering the most friendly octopus in all of art history

(Another) B’More summer

Yet again, the legend who once was JHU_Ebo and I find ourselves back in Baltimore for another humid, windy summer of loosely structured work and even more loosely planned activities. I’m here working at JHU Press, learning about the publishing world and trying not to freeze to death in a cubicle that is never over 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and meeting with my thesis advisor to prepare for what will surely be my most difficult college enterprise to date: writing said thesis. It leaves just enough time for pleasure reading on various benches around Charles Village, and more than enough time on the weekends to bake a heinous amount of bread to be shared by Ebo, my roommate and myself (with leftovers):

3 CINNA-RAISIN LOAVES, 3 GALS: DO THE MATH

3 CINNA-RAISIN LOAVES, 3 GALS: DO THE MATH

& a Turkish pide for good measure

& a Turkish pide for good measure

Baltimore in summer starts off slow — terrifyingly slow, as you come off the 60mph cadence of finals at Hopkins and move into some amorphous blob of “free time” and “sunshine”: what to do with it all? This is probably a testament to my lack of balance between creative indulgence and academic rigor during the schoolyear, but it always daunts me when those last days of May and first days of June roll around, lazily, like a pillbug in molasses. It takes a concerted effort to re-learn how to read for the heart-pleasure of it, to leave off annotating and just sink into narrative, to go into three months of a part-time job and research that no one but you and your advisor cares about — but I’ve found it to be one of the more rewarding summers off from college, even a little less than a month in. JHU_Emily and I went to a drawing night at New America Diner, shared a strangely delicious salad with kimchi in it, and drew no less than eight fairly elaborate drawings between the both of us until about 11pm on a Tuesday, no qualms:

Ebo in her Artistic Element

Ebo in her Artistic Element

My comopsition: Me, JHU_Emily, and JHU_Joseph at the rear, encountering the most friendly octopus in all of art history

My compsition: Me, JHU_Emily, and JHU_Joseph at the rear, encountering the most friendly octopus in all of art history

Evenings are not for homework, but rather, for meandering walks around a city with an ever-changing architectural landscape that is sometimes a heartbreaking kick in the shins to witness, like, for example, this sad, concave facade of what was once a beautiful old something-or-other:

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For all its weird (and momentarily purposeless) rhythms, summer in Baltimore has arrived with a delicate two-step rather than a bang; as per usual, I’m adapting slowly but surely to the freshness that awaits. In the meantime, I’ll be here, sitting in Charmington’s, reading this unhelpfully contradictory advice from 2 NYU Masters students on writing a thesis: read if you dare!

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The End (For Now)

When you go abroad for half the year, coming back for spring semester kind of feels like the third semester of sophomore year. This is exacerbated further by the fact that a. the semester is shorter and b. the idea of being a senior still feels very, very fall off. My good friend JHU_Emily is technically graduating in about a week, and yes, technically I’ll be doing the same in a year. But all of those facts are still a vague, ambient mist in the background of finals; for now, an affectionate list of small spots of joy at Hopkins that have provided meaningful solace as I truck through papers and projects.

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Seeing as I work a bit in Gilman everyday, my entrance to and from the building is a pivotal, vibe-determining moment. This lilac bush grows in the back, which is how I usually walk into Gilman these days. As it turns out, morning smells are VERY important to the cadence of the rest of your day; the lilacs are a small corner of campus that get me out of my head for just a moment, before I park myself indoors for most of the daylight hours.

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Because JHU_Emily is a ridiculous person with no qualms about said ridiculousness, she had a birthday celebration in which she a. made all of her friends waffles for dinner and b. made all of her friends wear party hats that had her face taped onto them. It was right at the end of the semester before the full push of finals had officially begun, and it reminded me to make sure I stayed balanced amidst the barrage of essays, to get out of the mindset of ‘academic overload’ for a minute and give myself time to have some good, old-fashioned, Ebo-style fun. She even had the party start at 7pm, so we could all be in bed by 10; this night was a good one.

pc: Wikipedia, the truest friend

pc: Wikipedia, the truest friend

And finally, there’s George — George Eliot, the woman I’ve been talking about incessantly for the last semester because of the seminar I took on her. As it turns out, ya girl really enjoys writing and thinking about her works, so much so that I’ll be writing a year-long senior thesis about her. I’ll be in Baltimore for the summer, and plan to get a good amount of research done; the thought of this, oddly enough, motivates me to get through the last bit of finals. The English department here doesn’t have a formal thesis program, like the History or Philosophy departments. Rather, I’m basically doing a full-year “Independent Study”, and, according to the interim Director of Undergraduate Studies, am a “trailblazer” for doing so — it’s not the most common path for senior English majors. Which is equal parts exciting and terrifying, but I’m going to let both of those emotions fuel my work ethic for the next week.

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Why Hop, V 3

Considering that we’re in the midst of SOHOP season, ye olde “Why Hopkins”-focused blog feels especially appropriate today. It also coincides with the generally grateful feeling I’ve had this semester — specifically, gratefulness for my English major and for the people in it.

When I was a freshman, I thought I wanted a huge community in my major, and I thought I wanted obvious prestige. The Writing Seminars at Hopkins were just that for an indecisive 17-year-old human who walked out of high school saying, “I loved AP English! But who knows!” It’s one of the larger humanities majors on campus, and moreover, to the general population, it’s instantly recognizable. IFP I & II are the go-to intro level humanities class for many a sciences student, while the idea of writing 8 page analytical essays on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales tends to fall to the wayside. The Writing Seminars at Hopkins is an amazing program, don’t get me wrong; but I’d like to write about how crucial the smaller humanities departments are to the strength of Hopkins as a liberal arts institution. It took me three semesters to realize how much I was craving the personalized attention and classmate familiarity of a smaller major, especially at a school where science is stereotyped to be king.

In a typical English seminar class at Hopkins, there are usually about 10 people. It can last between one to two and a half hours, and you get to know each other’s brains freakishly well. This will sound cheesy, but bear with me: it ends up being a sacred, even vulnerable sort of space where conversations about plot points turn into longform idea experiments. You’re expected to do more than simply notetake and nod your head: rather, you’re to actively listen and construct arguments in tandem with your classmates — teamwork, if you will. Yes, it’s exhausting, and yes, you’ll be contradicted and pressed about your points (it’s sacred, not utopian). But you finish the semester having learned to think differently than you had before. You’ve crafted so many verbal assertions and written so many papers and been edited on both your speech and your writing that inevitably, something in you shifts: you are a more thoughtful speaker, writer, and overall human person than you were before, because you were in a village of ten people vigorously analyzing works of literary art for three months straight. Your professor knows you by name, and inevitably, class-specific inside jokes will be rampant. If the class is good (which it probably will be), it’ll feel like an entire era of your life.

This is how I feel about my three upper-level English classes this semester, it’s how I felt exactly a year ago when I first switched majors, and I expect it’s how I’ll feel as I roll through my final semester a year from now. The major is small, the classes are smaller, and so purely on a numbers level, we’re beat. But in terms of true impact, in terms of the equally passionate fellow majors you collaborate with in class and the professors who are down to spend an hour after class talking about that one freakishly good essay Virginia Woolf wrote on George Eliot, who will call you out on lazily misusing the word ‘inherently’ because they care about language just as much as you do — in all of these terms, the small humanities at Hopkins are what make it truly great. I only wish I’d realized it sooner, but for now, I’ll make the most of the time I have left.

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The Newness

After being abroad for a semester, I knew coming back to Baltimore and Hopkins would feel different. While the readjustment has had its emotional weirdness here and there, I’m noticing three new constants that have made the semester outside of class feel fresh: new job, new house, & new(ish) Baltimore. Their idiosyncrasies seep into my weekly routine in ways that offset the academic side of things with a distinct sort of balance. And I’m very, very into it.

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Right before the semester started, I got a part-time job at JHU Press — truly a boon! — helping out in their logistics department, Hopkins Fulfillment Services. I usually spend my shifts filling out orders for professors ordering textbooks to peruse before buying a bunch for a class, but sometimes, I get randomly assigned to help out in other areas of the press, like Project Muse. During today’s shift, I went over to help them shred about 1 million old documents from 1996 onwards, which might sound about as fun as watching grass grow. However! Sometimes, in the midst of a thankless — but essential — clerical task, you find something funky and fun that you want to catalogue for all the world to see. The first picture at the top is from Muse’s first marketing campaign, ALL THE WAY BACK IN ’97. I thought the image was weird but also cool, and kind of humorous for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on. I found a few more things that struck me as semi-entertaining, like these post-it notes from the conference room wall, where they’d clearly had a strategizing meeting about how to one-up their competition at Burger King. It’s small stuff, but my supervisor for the day was really sweet and couldn’t thank me enough for being down to shred paper for 4 hours on a Monday morning: I’m a huge cheesewhiz of a person, but all of these things reminded me how grateful I am to have this gig in the first place. It gives a new layer of non-homeworky structure / productivity to my days. Plus, a laptop from ’97 cradled in the arms of an ancient muse. C’MON.

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 You’re like, “What in heck is that?” It’s a crusty, rustic loaf that I made with my hands, in my oven, in my kitchen, in my beautiful subletted house in Remington. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but living in a real, clean, well-furnished house in a neighborhood with people other than college students that’s on the other side of campus has changed the way I exist as a human at Hopkins this semester. My roommates and I have cheap rent, lots of space to sprawl (in both academically focused and relaxing ways), and plenty of counter / kitchen space to do things like bake three loaves of bread in 2 days (which is something I did this week) or make an Italian dinner and have people over (like my roommate Kira has done approximately 5 times already) OR just grab a snack and chat with the back door open on a freakishly warm February day. Little pieces of the house add character that I’ve missed, especially after living in bland (but clean! but still bland) underclassmen dorms for two years. Case in point: we have a stained glass window in our bathroom. It’s a game-changer & a day-maker. We also have a front & back porch, a midcentury modern couch that looks uncomfortable but is the exact opposite, house plants, and a large wooden dinner table for eating and/or homeworking. It’s probably the most zen place I’ve ever lived, & I’m a happier campus-orbiting student for it. All this from a picture of a bread loaf!

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And finally, Baltimore has shifted & grown & updated some things since I’ve been away, and every time I come across something new, it puts more of a spring in my step than there naturally is (I’m a very fast walker). Over the weekend, my friend Hana and I went to the New America diner, about a 10 minute walk from Peabody campus. It opened during the fall, and judging by how packed it quickly became on the Saturday morning we went, it’s clearly become a Baltimore favorite. Their menu is a treat: they have everything from fried plantains with salt (one of my mom’s favorite dishes) to fresh biscuit breakfast sandwiches to pesto potatoes, which is a smattering of things that don’t sound like they go together — but they do! The diner has a lovely interior with an open kitchen where you can creepily watch people cook (in a good way, if you’re a creep like me) and a big bookshelf with beautiful ceramics and other artisinal knick knacks. Plus their window displays are prime for a casual photo-op. It’s just a slice of Baltimore, but in all its breakfast goodness and sunlit newness, it got me excited to be back all over again.

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My Life as a Cheesegrater Artist

As JHU_Ebo mentioned in her blog today, we’re in a class together called “Visual Rhetoric”. It’s a graphic design class for beginners that’s specifically oriented around creating visuals for marketing purposes: logos, flyers, et cetera. There’s just one problem: you’ve gotta keep a sketchbook, make copies of your sketches, and print them out for the entire class to observe and critique. THIS IS A BIG NO-NO FOR A HUMAN PERSON WHO GOT A ‘B’ IN MIDDLE SCHOOL ART. And yet, here I am!

I’ve been wanting to take a graphic design class for quite a while, but I could never gather the courage to sign up for some basic Photoshop class at MICA or pop into the Digital Media Center for a tutorial or two. Why? Because, as I’m sure you can guess from my middle school ‘B’, I have just enough drawing talent to sketch basic shapes in a fairly recognizable manner: squares, triangles, rectangles, even ovalish circles. Beyond this, however, I’d consider myself wholly devoid of the artistic gene that seems to have been bestowed on all of my siblings AND on JHU_Ebo. Still, when some schedule reshuffling left my Tuesday afternoon open AND a spot opened up in VR, it was clearly fate: I was destined to put all my petty pride aside and finally learn about this thing called “graphic design”.

Our first assignment was to make 50 thumbnail-sized sketches of potential logo material related to a catering company, a library, and/or a cell phone company. Despite my initial trepidation at such an undertaking, I did my sketches, brought copies to class, and hung them on the board. Lo and behold, THIS CHEESE GRATER caught my professor’s eye:

IMG_3118She said, and I quote, “I find this cheesegrater sketch charming — it’s a funky kitchen instrument, and the roughness of the lines adds personality to it.” I almost wept with joy.

It’s only the third week, but VR is unlike any other class I’ve ever taken, at Hopkins or even in high school. The pressure is less on the perfection of your form and more on your ability to creatively problem solve in a visual way, which requires me to poke and nudge at a side of my brain I’m not used to using. Given my generally abhorrent drawing style, I don’t exactly casually doodle as I daydream. But somehow, VR enabled me to sketch a “”””‘charming””””” cheesegrater that stood out from the wash of forks, knives, and mini chefs on the class board.

Alas, most of my drawings are NOT cheesegrater grade. They mostly just look something like this:

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Yup! That’s a star with a chef’s hat, a spatula, a knife, a cleaver, tongs, and a pan with “heat lines” coming out of it. Clearly a winner!

Admist the crappy drawings and self conscious sketching, I find myself having a weird amount of fun, considering that this is essentially an art class — I still retain some traces of my middle school traumas as I start each assignment, but by the fifth or sixth sketch, I really do get into a groove. THIS WAS MY BOOK GROOVE.

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Visual Rhetoric has made the start of my spring semester funky and frightening but ALSO fresh, PLUS it’s the first (and only) class JHU_Ebo and I will ever take together at Hopkins. Something about that feels appropriate. In the meantime, I’ll just be over here, staring at this other book sketch I made that may or may not be the greatest work of art I’ve ever produced. This is what creative problem solving looks like, people!

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All I need in this life of sin are rental textbooks with obscure 19th century paintings on them

An Afternoon (or 12) with George Eliot

Sometimes, you’re lucky enough to take a class that reminds you how much you love your major. Don’t get me wrong: on a general baseline level, I’ve liked — and sometimes loved — my English courses at Hopkins thus far. Still, to have my first class back on campus be one that re-engaged me with so many of the reasons why I do what I do here felt like such a lucky thing, especially after having been away for so long. I’ve felt more trepidation than excitement in the days leading up to this week, mostly spurred by overthinking my capability (or potential lack thereof) to adapt to the Hopkins workflow again. How could I possibly just stroll back into an upper-level English class and analytically riff for several hours each week while also plowing away at a 777 page book with a fine-tooth comb? In a stress spiral that is very on-brand for me, I woke up this morning with quietly mediocre expectations of myself and, in turn, of my class. Which is ridiculous to think about after today’s lecture.  Each Monday for the next 12 weeks, from 1:30-3:50, I’ll be sitting in Gilman 186 deconstructing the many facets of George Eliot’s final two works, Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda, with about 11 other students in a classically small Hopkins humanities course. It’s only syllabus week, but our introductory lecture was enough to show me exactly how much I’ve missed the quality of professor & class content here, & how happy I am to be back.

All I need in this life of sin are rental textbooks with obscure 19th century paintings on them

All I need in this life of sin are rental textbooks with obscure 19th century paintings on them

I know that this basically looks like Just Another English Class, one in which you read novels set in the Victorian era about unrequited love and the class system. But, as my professor so eloquently explained today, the work of George Eliot is in a class of its own. She was a massively intelligent young woman who was largely self-taught, outside of a provincial education through secondary school. Her passion for being well read in everything from Darwinism to sociology and psychology had a profound influence on the format of her fictional works. Middlemarch in itself makes an argument for the novel as “the technology best-suited to capture our lives,” as my professor put it, in a manner that manages to supersede other ways of thinking about the world (like anthropology, sociology, etc). She used her version of a novel to create a natural history of provincial life that has stood the test of time through the many challenges it poses to readers, not only intellectually but also morally, and even memory-wise: in her work, significance is cumulative, so something she writes on page 774 could refer all the way back (and only) to something a character joked about on page 129.

George Eliot managed to perfect the art of the novel by the end of Middlemarch, but then chose to disrupt much of what she had used in her previous works to write Daniel Deronda. It is not a perfect book like Middlemarch, but it is still a great book in how challenging it was to craft & how markedly different it was from the structures she became comfortable with and known for. We’ll be reading Deronda second, which feels apt.

Despite my professor’s quick disclaimer that he is an especially tough essay grader and the spectres of “suggested” secondary reading looming in the near future on my syllabus, “George Eliot” was an unexpectedly invigorating 2 hours of my 3rd-to-last first day. It put me back in touch with what I love so much about my major and, more specifically, being that major at Hopkins. I’m in a small class with plenty of space to test out my ideas about this body of work in all its multifaceted glory, under the guidance of an engaging professor whose passion for the content balances out its intellectual heftiness. It’s about the power of the novel as an art form and a way to reconcile myriad human problems into something palpable and ageless. It’s about the importance of studying English lit as a discipline, and the gift of being able to do so at all. And somehow, it’s only day one.

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Back to the Good Stuff

I go back to Hopkins in five days, which means several things. First, it means a full day spent driving and unpacking a semester’s worth of odds & ends into a lovely spring sublet by Papermoon Diner, a classic Baltimore rowhouse with a full kitchen and just enough distance from main campus to give my brain some breathing space. after a long day of class. Second, it means a courseload worthy of any tried and true English major: three literature classes taught by three well-reviewed professors, plus a course for my minor that examines the intersection of museums and social responsibility (*WITH fieldtrips*). I’m excited about my entire schedule, especially considering this is only my second actual semester at Hopkins as an English/Museums & Society gal. Still, there’s a general sense of community back at Homewood — one with many different, often overlapping orbits — that makes coming back to school after such a long time away truly gratifying.

For me, it starts in Gilman, where I can almost always find a familiar face at any and all hours of a typical school day to do engage in the kinds of social activities only this building can entail: sitting at a packed table in the Hut getting work done between classes, eating an unabashedly indulgent goat cheese sandwich from Alkimia in the Atrium, or chatting in the hallway before a class on the fourth floor. It’s a microcosm filled with the people and subjects I care about the most, full to capacity in the daytime and peacefully sparse in the night, but always a trusty place to land if I ever need some friendly human anchors to inspire a fresh period of productivity. After a whole semester of entering the UCL Main Library and feeling like a foreign number amidst a wash of full-time students distributed across 30 different reading rooms, my imminent return to Gilman feels like the homiest place to land.

Still, the sense of community in all its forms extends beyond the brick walls of Gilman, infiltrating each walk across campus or stroll across North Charles Street. I’ve missed passing people I know on almost every walk between classes, pulling over to the side of the brick path and sharing a quick conversation before the next lecture. Campus walks are where all worlds collide at Hopkins, where unfamiliar and familiar acquaintances abound in equal measure to the timing of the Gilman clock tower and overall rush of a normal weekday. It’s a reassuring feeling to walk amidst this Hopkins crowd, one that I rarely matched whilst abroad. Being one of many at a large school like UCL in an equally large city like London can be exciting and eye-opening, just as it can be isolating and a bit disorienting. At Hopkins, I get both the freshness of unknown faces and the consistent strength of community with the most casual of daily jaunts.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the small but important sites of community that have been one of the greatest contributors to how supported I feel at Hopkins: the ones that begin in the classroom. My humanities classes here are almost always small and, on many occasions, have led to the fostering of great friendships within the overall camaraderie that developed between the entire class. In Ghostfood with The Contemporary, we were all able to work together in such a way that an acquaintanceship beyond the level of awkward classmates was inevitable — and gratifying. In a 9 person Humanities Center lit class, we all sat around a wooden table and discussed postcolonial novels dealing with everything from Apartheid to the Revolution in India for two hours straight each week: community — and what’s more, community at the heart of the humanities at Hopkins — was inevitable.

Following a strained month-ish of trepidation about returning to Hopkins (re: academics, social anxiety, the bitter cold of a Baltimore winter), I’ve come to realize that I have a fortunate combination of communities to re-enter in just a few days. It’s a unique kind of safety net that I’m lucky to call home.

Looking Ahead

After being in America for just four days and seeing that another year of ED Admissions has come and gone (WELCOME, Y’ALL), I’ve decided to take a moment to reflect on what it means to return to Hopkins in January — the first time in five months. A good 45% of my internal and external being still feels like it’s across the pond, but in spite of my withdrawal symptoms, I’m starting to remind myself just how much I have to look forward to and how much I’ve missed. Let’s start with the obvious:

This might be masochistic of me considering how positively frigid and semi-treacherous it can be, but Hopkins in wintertime is as visually delightful as it is potentially dangerous. Especially when seen from the “porch” of Gilman. The snow falls just so, and the trees and old brick buildings come together to make a wintry campus walk feel like something out of a movie. Before you slip and fall in the middle of the walkway, that is.

And then, of course, there is the ever-exciting spring course schedule. For some reason, my classes during second semester tend to be more interesting/enjoyable/rewardingly challenging than they do in the fall, but it could also just be that spring on campus is generally a happier time for one and all. I’m still back and forth on one or two choices, but after a semester away from the Hopkins English department, I see now more than ever how lucky I am to have the slew of quality course options (and equally distinguished professors) it consistently offers. Thus, my classes next semester are likely no different. In “Old World/New World Women”, for example, I’ll be reading transatlantic literature written by Anne Bradstreet, Aphra Behn, and Phillis Wheatley, whilst examining themes such as (ahem): “identity, spatiality, religion, commerce, enforced labor, sexuality, race, and gender, along with literary tradition, formal analysis and poetics.” To top it all off, it’s taught by my favorite English prof, Sharon Achinstein, whose Intro to Lit course last year basically re-taught me how to be a critical thinker. Next semester’s brain expansion should be one for the record books.

Finally, there’s Baltimore, a city and a home like no other, one that I’ve greatly missed venturing out into on the weekends for a soul dance party at The Crown or a refreshing walk around Mt. Vernon, where somehow just staring at the beautiful old brownstone walk-ups is a rejuvenating activity. I’m hoping that my time away will make the city feel new in different ways, alongside all of its comforting familiarity and friendly folk who are always down for a random adventure. However strongly my current jetlag pulls me in the other direction, I’m a lucky gal with an imminent return to a school/city/homie-filled-place that truly can’t be beat.

This woman powerwalks around the duck pond in front of Kensington Palace in Hyde Park, feeding the birds, dressed in ballet pink head to toe. I will miss her.

When in London (for 10 more days)

Saying “I have 10 days left in London,” and believing it are two very different things. Thus is the dilemma my friends and I face in the coming week between now and our inevitable departure from the U.K., from each other, and from the sense of familiarity and comfort we’ve worked so hard to create for ourselves over the last three months. It probably won’t feel ‘over’ or even ‘approaching over’ until I get off the plane in Pittsburgh at 9:10 pm EST (2am U.K. time! I’ll be so fresh!) and see my dad for the first time in three months, after which I’ll either faint or go into a catatonic state. I’ll let you know which one transpires.

When I first got here, it took about two weeks for it to actually feel real. The earliest signs that I was in (or even approaching) a U.K. life were as follows: the constant rotation of 5 energetic British flight attendants on Virgin Airlines, when a cashier at the campus bookstore went “That’ll be eight pounds forty pence please,” in what I’ve come to know now as a posh accent, and standing on the Waterloo Bridge in the rain with my dad, eating a sausage roll and watching double-decker buses drive past Parliament over and over. Even then, these all felt like isolated events; Pittsburgh still seemed like a four hour Greyhound bus away, and my return to Hopkins was surely right around the corner.

NO JOKE THIS WAS MY FIRST PIC IN THE U.K.: ME, @ BAGGAGE CLAIM @ HEATHROW, AT 10AM. (I was gonna post it to JHU_Emily's Facebook, but then I came to my senses and realized it'd probably be obnoxious. You live and you learn.

NO JOKE THIS WAS MY FIRST PIC IN THE U.K.: ME, @ BAGGAGE CLAIM @ HEATHROW, AT 10AM. C/o Photobooth. (I was gonna post it to JHU_Emily’s Facebook, but then I came to my senses and realized it’d probably be obnoxious. You live and you learn.)

Half the battle in my adjustment process was getting a simple lay of the land. Where was the nearest grocery store to my apartment? How cheap or expensive was it in comparison with the other grocery stores nearby? Which bus line do I take to school? Do I even need to take the bus, or is the walk manageable with my course schedule? Is there a London version of Alloverstreet, or is it all just bougie galleries filled with designer-clad people named things like “Theodore” and “Cordelia”? Do I take the Victoria line southbound or northbound, or the Piccadilly line, or the Bakerloo or Jubilee?

This was an everyday string of questions for about two or three weeks, after which we finally started classes, and my brain switched on after a five month hiatus to the tune of a different education system and an equally important expectation that I balance school with exploring London as much as possible. Luckily for me, managing both aspects of my experience here was greatly enhanced by the — I’ll say it again — lucky group of friends I made from schools all over the U.S., whose study abroad vibes were similar to mine. You need people who are down to make the most of an entire day with: class, homeworking, exploring, more homeworking, eating, and exploring again, without petering out or second-guessing or being opposed to simply wandering around. By the grace of Queen Elizabeth II herself, I found my people early on, and again in the middle.

Linnea, Duranya & Steph, respectively, in Bath. My first friends here & my good ones!

Linnea, Duranya & Steph, respectively, in Bath. My first friends here & my good ones!

April & Haley, who I met halfway through the semester during a trip to the Lake District (and Duranya troll in the corner). They go to Connecticut College but if they transferred to Hopkins, that'd be cool also. #subliminalmessaging

April & Haley, who I met halfway through the semester during a trip to the Lake District (and Duranya troll in the corner). They go to Connecticut College but if they transferred to Hopkins, that’d be cool also. #subliminalmessaging

In conjunction with the interesting docket of classes I’ve been taking at UCL and the blessed assortment of good pals I’ve made, there’s just London in itself: London doin’ London. It’s funny to reflect on the things that once felt so alien to me — people scowling down at their phones or feet or upwards at the line maps on the tube, the word ‘queue’ in lieu of ‘line’, the general lack of filter coffee (let alone good filter coffee), hearing at least 3 different languages being spoken when I walk down the street (or sit/stand/eat/breathe pretty much anywhere in the city), and, of course, the extreme hustle & bustle of pedestrian traffic that I used to suck at navigating each day on my walk to school. The other day, a group of musicians started playing jazzed up Christmas songs on a very packed Victoria line train to Warren Street Station. While in America, the entire car might clap or sing along, my fellow Londoners seemed to bore holes into the tube floor or their newspapers and phones, desperate for the spectacle to end. Maybe three people clapped; a few of us (myself included) awkwardly smiled at each other to at least acknowledge what was happening. When the music stopped and the performers moved onto the next car, you could literally feel the tension lift — everyone might as well have collectively sighed in relief. It might technically be what’s stereotyped as ‘standoffish’ British culture, but at this point, it feels like home.

The ease with which my friends and I move through the city now only feels like an accomplishment when I really stop to think about it. To us, we’re just living — we’ve gotten much better at it through consistent exploration and willingness to see what’s out there, even if in the end, the neighborhood we stumble upon isn’t the most interesting, or the cheapest. I didn’t realize how deeply a map of London has been ingrained on my brain until my best friend (who is studying in Berlin right now) came to visit me, and I took her around town like some off-brand tour guide. We didn’t do the London Eye, but we did do scones with jam & clotted cream at the V&A, a pub night with the aforementioned UCL pals, a Portobello Market/Notting Hill walk through, and a bunch of other little things that feel more local to me now than my old high school does in Pittsburgh or Hampden in Baltimore. Which is DRAMATIC, I know. But my brain and heart are rooted here in a way I definitely didn’t expect, especially considering that my friends and I all thought we’d be exhausted and ready to come home by finals week. In fact, it’s just the opposite: we’re all loath to leave.

But that’s a good thing, right? If we weren’t loath to leave, then maybe that says something about how much we got out of the experience. Or maybe it doesn’t, and I’m just trying to rationalize my borderline menopausal emotions about getting on the plane next Saturday. All I can say is, London has left its mark on me and helped me grow in ways I didn’t expect. (Double cliche infraction!!!) But really. I never thought I’d want to come back here for an internship (which I do — Summer 2017 prospects are in development), let alone to live after graduating from Hopkins (which I might — graduation is so close, but so far away! But still so close!). With the daily busyness and stress and weirdness and newness and funkiness and backpack-filled-with-everything-I-own-at-all-times-ness of being here, I rarely get a moment to stop and look back, so I guess this blog turned into a very cheesy blob of retrospection. I’ll stop here & post some small nice moments that I’ve recently had, chocked full of cliche & London goodness. But make no mistake: I will be back *said hopefully, not ominously*.

SHAMELESS solo pic taken by Best Friend Erin (Trademark) in the Enlightenment Room of the British Museum, which is my favorite room in the whole darn thing. She caught me unawares, looking at old specimens of somethingorother.

SHAMELESS solo pic taken by Best Friend Erin (Trademark) in the Enlightenment Room of the British Museum, which is my favorite room in the whole darn thing. She caught me unawares, looking at old specimens of somethingorother.

This woman powerwalks around the duck pond in front of Kensington Palace in Hyde Park, feeding the birds, dressed in ballet pink head to toe. I will miss her.

This woman powerwalks around the duck pond in front of Kensington Palace in Hyde Park, feeding the birds, dressed in ballet pink head to toe. I will miss her. On days when life feels gray, I want to be her. It’s all good.

Lorna Simpson at Tate Modern, with 'Five Day Forecast'. Yes.

Lorna Simpson at Tate Modern, with ‘Five Day Forecast’. Yes.

SIMPLE EVENING VIEWS THAT MAKE ME WEEPY NOW

SIMPLE EVENING VIEWS THAT MAKE ME WEEPY NOW

& finally: Good New(ish) Pals who feel like Old Pals, running down the stairs @ Tate Modern in pursuit of dinner & a pint. Haley is an extreme blur in the background & April's hand is menacing, but all is well.

& finally: Good New(ish) Pals who feel like Old Pals, running down the stairs @ Tate Modern in pursuit of dinner & a pint. Haley is an extreme blur in the background, April’s hand is menacing & I look deranged, but all is well.

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