In 2003, internet cafes were a thing. So were calling cards and phone booths – sorry, phone boxes.
As a nineteen year-old American living in Edinburgh, reaching home to Colorado involved purchasing a phone card from the newsagents and finding an open telephone box. You know, the red ones everyone gets excited about.
Only once you were in one and the door closed, you’d wish to be anywhere else. They smelled of urine, and that’s if you were lucky. After dialing about 100 different numerals by way of categories, pin numbers, etc, you’d sigh with relief (but inhale reluctantly)as you waited over a static-filled line for the endless ringing and ultimate, ‘Hello’ (from the other side).
This is how I told my parents I was engaged to Alex. I stood in a disgusting phone box in the Grassmarket hoping my credit didn’t run out as I plunged into the rather shocking news I was getting married to my Scottish boyfriend of five months, the one they’d never met. And then it was, “Oh, no, it just told me I had one minute!” And then a beep, and then “Hello? Hello? Oh, I ran out of credit.”
And in a week, repeat.
Internet cafes were better for speaking to my friends in Colorado. Brevity was the key, however, as time ticked away. Here is an actual email I sent (all names omitted):
09/29/03 at 11:23 AM
Hi ——-! I miss you too! But I hate —- and I hope leads a long and miserable life! Shoot, im almost out of time on my internet cafe, so i should go, but I will write to you soon! i have an address now, I got a flat with 3 flatmates, and I am still looking for a job!
Send me a letter, and I ll send you a man in a kilt (not really,lol…I could try)
My life in four lines: Gossip, I moved, quick quip, ttfn!
Internet cafes, calling cards, soup in a cup, drink specials and being out until 4 am just about summed up the first part of my life in Scotland.
Something else was a thing for me back in 2003, as well: establishing who I was outside of my parents’ home. My best friend and I were on our own for the first time. Baptism by fire, you could say. Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Just, fire in general. It was hot, alluring and potentially dangerous.
But I LOVED it.
So much so, that when I settled in Edinburgh in 2004 on a fiance and then marriage visa, Scotland slowly grew into the land where I learned how to be an adult. How to pay bills, rent flats, look for jobs, navigate relationships, and make my own decisions for the first time ever.
It is home to me because I lived there, but also because of who I became there.
The castles, the scenery and the history were amazing, but secondary to things such as going with my best friend to Pound Stretchers to buy linens for the first time in my life. Or having Alex carry me over the threshold of our hundred year-old tenement apartment.
We’ve moved between Scotland and the USA numerous times: I’ve lived in the United Kingdom under five different types of visas ( BUNAC, fiance, limited leave to remain: marriage, and two separate student visas. )
Maybe it sounds strange; I don’t care at all.
You can’t choose where your heart calls you (though you can supress it). And my heart led me to Scotland, which led me to Alex, which led our son, Alistair.
With Alistair’s dual citizenship, I feel even more tied to the place which I love.
When Alistair turned two, surrounded by his Scottish grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousins and friends, I made a wish it wouldn’t be his only birthday spent in Scotland. I can look back on videos and see where Alistair first learned to talk in Edinburgh…with a Scottish accent. His first friends were in Scotland -Winston and Alex – his little soft-play mates, fellow pebble tossers, play-group goers, and hand-holding buggy buddies as we walked up the street. He won’t remember those tender moments, but I’ll never forget them.
From simple streets, less than glamorous flats, days in and out of menial jobs to stressful universities and suburbia…and countless bedtime routines with Iggle Piggle and ‘cleaning your teeth,’ the years have passed and adulthood has blossomed.
I’ve known Edinburgh single and partying.
I’ve known Edinburgh as the place where I fell in love and got married.
I’ve known Scotland as my first train ride, my first time abroad..most of my travel firsts.
I’ve known Edinburgh as a mom going to playgroup.
I’ve known Edinburgh as a graduate student spending all day in the library.
I’ve known Edinburgh as my home, where half of my family and friends reside.
I think the place where you ‘learn to adult’ will always be a home. I think the place where you have your first child will always be a home.
I think the place you find love will also always be home, and if you love the place as well….then you are doubly lucky.
I rarely walked down Balcarres Street in the daylight. The number 23 bus took me directly to my Edinburgh flat.
The night buses dropped me off on Morningside Road, a main thoroughfare, though still shuttered and empty after nightfall (save a few pubs).
The 10 minute walk from Morningside Road was dark and residential. Pavement wound past a graveyard and adjacent to a mental hospital. Just up the hill sat the old asylum turned college, now an abandoned, wooded campus frequented during the day by hikers. But at night, blackness.
As my family’s year abroad neared an end and I prepared to finish my degree, I’d walk down this road with earbuds in and music loud. It took away much of the creepiness. John Mayer’s Paradise Valley is one of the albums of my Year of Writing Creatively (the other being, in all seriousness, Katy Perry’s Prism).
Mayer’s song “On the Way Home” resonated with me, especially with our Scottish adventure coming to an end. A sample lyric reads:
“The summer’s over, this town is closing. They’re waving people out of the ocean. We had the feeling like we were floating. We never noticed where time was going. Do you remember when we first got here? The days were longer; the nights were hot here. Now, it’s September; the engine’s started. You’re empty-handed and heavy-hearted. But just remember on the way home…. That you were never meant to feel alone. It takes a little while, but you’ll be fine: Another good time coming down the line.”
I’d climb up to our fourth floor flat and turn off the music…eventually.
I cried when I said goodbye to every place which made our/my time there…home. They were never big things- the university campus, the church building, the friends I’d made – which brought out the tears. My tears were in the details of home.
The Morningside Parish playgroup. ( I’d never park Alistair’s buggy in the foyer again.Sob.)
I chased my one-year old through the sand as he toppled over, laughed, and stood back up again, rubbing sand in his palms and licking it off his lips, taking in each new sensation. We stood near the rough surf, but far enough so Alistair didn’t fear the crash accompanying each wave. Instead we looked on in awe, together. Just us on this secluded strip of beach behind our cheap motel, far enough off Highway 1 to be deserted at 10 am. Certain logistics of our mother and son road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles on the Pacific Coast Highway were fraught with difficulty. The cheap motel didn’t provide cribs, so I had to buy a pack-and-play. Caring for a toddler alone on such a long drive involved frequent stops, diaper changes, outfit switch-outs and forays into grocery stores for fruit pouches.
But something happened to me on that drive. We wound through coastal towns and over historic bridges, beside beach-side campgrounds and through high, twisting cliff tops. Alistair didn’t say much at his age, but I never felt alone. I sang music at the top of my lungs, stopped to take photos and take in fellow travelers. I listened to the birds and the seals and the wind.
We got back into L.A. after dark and with a crashing reality I sat in a gas station parking lot booking a hotel on Priceline. I GPS-ed my way through Los Angeles traffic to the hotel, adjacent to a shopping center with a parking lot the size of small town. Alistair, as usual with hotels, was beyond excited. I felt elated but wasn’t sure why. My exhausted body wrestled an over-tired toddler and worked out a major calf cramp from being in the car so long. But I got Alistair to sleep right away and I sat alone in the darkness of the hotel room in bliss.
The road trip had been magical. I felt renewed, more in touch with myself than in a long time. Infinite possibilities stood before me. I could do anything. Life was amazing. It didn’t matter how a messy life existed back in Moorhead, waiting for me. In that moment, all was clear.
I’ve since learned what I experienced on that day in April of 2013 : a peak experience.
Abraham Maslow, of the hierarchy of needs fame, described peak experiences as occurring when a person “feels himself, more than other times, to be the responsible, active, creating center of his activities and of his perceptions. He feels more like a prime-mover, more self-determined (rather than caused, determined, helpless, dependent, passive, weak, bossed). He feels himself to be his own boss, fully responsible, fully volitional, with more ‘free-will’ than at other times, master of his fate, an agent.”
Maslow also said, “Think of the most wonderful experience of your life: the happiest moments, ecstatic moments, moments of rapture, perhaps from being in love, or from listening to music or suddenly ‘being hit’ by a book or painting, or from some creative moment.”
I’ve been considering my own dedication to the experience and pursual of peak experiences recently.
Everyone who knows me would probably agree I’m a sensation lover, a novelty seeker, and an experience-minded person, sometimes to the detriment of stability or comfort. But comfort, to me, is stifling. (In one sense of the word, that is; comfort can have different meanings.)
There is a song by American Authors which I don’t particularly love, but these lines always stands out to me:
“I guess I’m going home,
’cause all my cash is gone,
I spent it all trying to feel alive.
Go big or go home…”
The rest of the song eludes to the singer being adventurous, sleeping when he’s dead etc. So he’s….going big, yay! Oh wait…he can’t anymore. He’s going home.
And that, I feel, is the struggle. I don’t want to give in to the status quo. Life IS too short for that. I’ve been lucky enough to live with few regrets (but some I’m still trying to work through, such as moving my entire family to North Dakota after college).
Maslow speaks of being hit by a book as an example of a peak experience. This can happen for free at your house. It’s certainly happened to me (Harry Potter, seven times over). I’ve felt this even more through my life over movies.
I remember leaving the movie theater -Tinseltown- at age thirteen after watching Good Will Hunting. I cried in bed that night, feeling so ALIVE. I was never going to be a math genius – but when Matt Damon drove down the road to get Minnie Driver, I realized I could come from my own version of Southie and be anything I wanted to be and go anywhere I wanted to go. Life stretched before me.
(I could list movie examples all day. For example, I still can’t listen to Secret Garden by Bruce Springsteen without feeling the same deep emotions evoked from the Jerry Maguire movie soundtrack…..)
Another ‘free’ peak experience I’ve been consistently hung up on is love. Maslow would concur love invokes incredible peak experience potential. Some of the times I’ve felt most brave, most myself, and the most clarity is regarding matters of romantic love and maternal love for my son. When I started dating my now-husband Alex, I felt I practically floated through life. I was riding a cloud of elation from his flat to my flat, and the town we lived in took on a character of its own. Edinburgh, Scotland will forever equal LOVE to me because of this connotation. The city doesn’t provide clarity to me the way Maslow’s peak experience theory would suggest, but it does evoke the emotion of the true peak experience which occurred there, when I fell head-over-heels for Alex. I just get off the plane there and feel like a better version of myself.
I’m not a drinker, a smoker or a drug taker. When people say they get ‘high on life’ , though, I understand what they mean. Because life is where the genuine ecstasy comes from. It can be hard, and sometimes life feels like lurching from one doldrum to another with some tragedy and unfairness thrown in. But peak experiences can be sought and lived, and they make life out of day-to-day living.
I want to live a life full of peak experiences. I urge others to do the same.
( And what’s healthy for the soul is healthy for the mind and body, too.)
P.S. Here’s a better video than the American Authors’ one about the same kind of thing (if you like EDM) :
That’s me. The nostalgic hoarder. With all of my talk of simplifying, and my blogged endeavors at letting go, there remains one area where I am/was woefully cluttered.
‘My Memories’ I’ve called them, as my husband and I moved them from Colorado Springs to Boulder to Fargo to Moorhead and back to Fargo.
‘Make sure we don’t throw away any of my memories!’ I insist with every move and spring cleaning.
In this new, smaller apartment (thanks harassing neighbors who forced us to move), my ‘memories’ have nowhere to live but the garage. So I’ve been going through each box, one by one, over the past months and trying oh-so-hard to downsize.
My 10th grade Science folder? I finally put it in the bin, 15 years later. My NSYNC seat cushion from Mile High Stadium? Oh, that will be kept forever. A collector’s item, for sure.
Here are some of my weekend finds:
My favorite Sketchers, 2002-2004.
I don’t usually save old shoes, although these were a firm favorite mine. But I harbored them because they are The Shoes I wore when I met my now husband, Alex. I’ve saved the frayed jeans and blue velour hoodie I wore to the pub that fateful night, as well.
I’m a bit spacy, and excitable by nature. Back then, in late 2003 when I meet Alex, I was also still jet-lagged. So I don’t have a ton of memories of the event itself. My best friend Susan and I walked into the Edinburgh pub The Brass Monkey expecting to watch a movie, but ended up ordering Coca Colas and being teased by the barman in the black tshirt.
I can picture the way he grinned at me, and how he flirted. But somehow, looking at these shoes makes it seem more tangible, and brings back those feeling I had in the pub. I can remember how it felt to walk in those shoes.
So, I wondered yesterday. Should they stay or should they go?
This was, indeed, a tough one. In the end, they’ve stayed, and I tell myself maybe one day they’ll be…..vintage. For anyone who wants to know what a backpacking teenager wore in 2003.
Next, I tried to tackle my memory shoeboxes. Each shoebox equals one school year’s worth of ticket stubs, passed notes, concert confetti, and birthday cards. As I went through these (and I still have some to organize, admittedly), I found cards from people who I honestly can’t place. Into the garbage they went. I found old glowsticks, presumably from a concert. Binned. But I kept the concert confetti, and I kept every one of my notes, including those above: a small sample of one year in the life of Susan and Alana at Coronado High School.
The content of the notes is priceless. One of the notes contains apologies for tear stains. Most contain codewords and initials in an attempt to avoid interception by nosy parties. All include declarations of love for Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez and for each other, as BFFS and NFFs.
I’ll never toss these notes, and I’m so glad to have them. I wonder how today’s communication will be saved for the future? Snapchat is gone in a flash. The handwritten note ran the risk of falling into the wrong hands, but that was all part of the fun.
Next, I found a bittersweet look into my psyche, 2003…..
When I found this, I could have literally cried. Here I sit in Fargo, 12 years older and none the wiser, and I feel the choice has been made for me. It makes me feel foolish to think I sat, as a 19 year old with the world at my fingertips, and contemplated choosing NORTH DAKOTA over California for college.
No offense, North Dakota. But really.
In the end, my best friend Susan and I ended up going on a student work exchange to Scotland instead, and the rest is history.
But I don’t remember writing this list. I remember applying to both MSUM and Santa Monica College and getting into both. I remember thinking MSUM would be a safe adventure. Ultimately we choose the least safe option of all, moving to Scotland.
This list went into the trash pile, out of pure annoyance.
And what of my box full of college papers and exams? I’ve been lugging around the answer to Hume’s Fork for 13 years.
This too went straight into the garbage pile, mainly out of embarrassment I couldn’t possibly get an ‘A’ on the same exam today. Thanks, short-term memory. No, seriously. Thanks for getting me through college.
My more recent habit is keeping boarding passes, hotel maps, and other ‘memories’ in my carry on backpack. This means I’ve been hauling maps of London to Cancun, and have the correct walk-in massage information for Covent Garden on my person as I drive up to Winnipeg.
It’s not laziness; I think I just don’t want to let go of my most recent travels. They seem so immediate right there in my bag.
But I took the step and moved them to a memory box – but only the mementos which held meaning.
And then, finally. Photos.
Without this gem of a picture, I would never remember taking a swipe at a Britney Spears piñata (her crime: dating Justin Timberlake), nor would I remember the look of absolute glee on Susan’s face. I certainly wouldn’t have remembered wearing jeans up to my rib cage, and I doubt I would have been able to recall the on point way we all managed to look appropriately disdainful.
How could you, Britney? Justin was OURS. OURS, I tell you.
I don’t throw away old photographs. But I haven’t been amazing at organizing them and digitalizing them, either.
If there were a fire, I’d probably grab Alistair, Weasley and my bag of pictures.
(Alex would be fine to get out on his own, but of course he’s top of the list, as well)
I find great value in Scrapbooking, for those who have the attention span. I’ve started loads, and I love the first few pages I have.
I think the best course of action is organization and photo albums, out in the open where people can enjoy them. Making digital copies is also important in case of things such as fires.
But I wholeheartedly believe photos are worth keeping.
So, by the end of the weekend I managed a few bags of trash amongst my boxes of memories.
Just some of the boxes:
As fun as it was to ponder my past via memory boxes, it also felt good to through some of it away. Moderation was my guide, and I think it served me well.
If you are a nostalgic hoarder like me, here are some general tips I’d pass on:
1. If you can’t remember the person who sent you the note or the card, ponder it in amusement before throwing it away. Same goes for random objects and useless glowsticks.
2. Don’t be afraid to box up things you wish to keep, and then put them away. They’re safer in your garage than in your carryon backpack as you go from trip to trip.
3. If you can work it out, minimize the space ‘memories’ take up by condensing into smaller boxes which fit into bigger boxes, arranged by year or, in some cases by person (such as the ‘Alistair’ box).
4. Be wary of larger items of substandard collector value (such as my Nsync seat cushion, which I just couldn’t let go of). But I did throw away all of my NSYNC calendars, for example.
5. If something truly brings you joy, why let it fester in a box? See if you can find a new use for it.
6. If in doubt, throw it out.
7. But don’t be ashamed of nostalgia. We’re all human, after all, and our memories make up our lives. Little reminders of good times and good things can bring joy when you really need a boost. They can give others a boost as well.
And last of all, but most importantly…..don’t stop making new memories.
Yeah, so my dramatic teenage years are gone, and I can’t meet my husband again for the first time. But we’re making new memories as a family, and one day Alistair will be able to look back on things he doesn’t remember, such as the year he lived in Scotland, and we will be able to tell him about it.
We wouldn’t be able to tell him about it if we hadn’t gone.
Creating memories is much more important than saving them
Specs of glaciers in a sea of blue gave way to expanses of patterned prairie and I forgot who I was again.
We flew into the sun after our ascent from the dreary Norwegian November morning, and I pulled my window shade up and squinted into the brightness, searching.
The plane hurled us over the Atlantic and I kept my forehead resting on the window pane, taking in glaciers when they periodically broke the swathe of muted color. Alone and drifting in the endless, endless sea. They looked so tiny and insignificant. My perspective from the sky, skewed.
We floated, it seemed, defying gravity and somehow reality. How does time exist on a plane? Where was I at any given moment?
There’s no touch screen map in existence precise enough for that.
I longed for the footing I felt on damp Norwegian soil. The pull towards the earth.
I walked confidently there without knowing where I was, like my boots somehow slotted into the cobbled pavement and my lungs recognized the thick sea air and breathed it in greedily. In Norway the wind whipped my hair into a frenzy of frizz and tangles. I didn’t care. Instead we let the wind pull our family along as we wandered the streets until our heads hit soft pillows and I fell asleep in a cocoon of belonging.
Because that is what my soul craves to do: Wander, and belong. Wander, and belong. Repeat.
I’ve never been sure the two are compatible, but it felt so, in Norway.
My family is only American as far back as the 20th century. Nearly all of my roots prior lead to Norway. My grandmother Martha used to teach me Norwegian nursery rhymes and how to count in Norwegian. Her Norwegian artifacts and cultural references were quaint to me as a child; exotic but old-fashioned. I knew Norway only as my grandma’s trinkets, dusty and handmade. The country was an intangible thing which created my grandma and my dad, and me, too, somehow.
But from the moment I climbed down the plane in Norway, the whir of the engines and the howl of the storm barraged my ears. The mist tickled my face, cool moisture on tired skin. I smelled trees. Lots of trees. I tasted fog and saw nothing but planes. But it was tangible, all of it. Suddenly, Norway was real.
I’ve had many conversations with my good friend in Scotland about roots. I’m fascinated by the notion of them but terrified at the same time of . I don’t feel I have many at the moment. That my family and I are tied to each other, but not things or places.
The wonder of Norway fed my soul. Something I so desperately craved but didn’t know on a conscious level until I was there.
I know no matter where life takes me, my blood is Norwegian. My genes gave me fair skin and big feet. Ever present reminders of a rootI do have, wherever I plant my feet: my body.
Going forward, I strive to honor my body for its creation, its lineage, and its most important purpose, other than birthing my son…. holding my soul.
My soul doesn’t know where it belongs and maybe it doesn’t belong anywhere but the uncharted space between two lands. My heart and soul is split between so many people and places. My love is scattered all around the world.
But my soul and my body have each other for this time on earth, and each should be loved the same.
Both need to be nourished, and this is my journey.