The Journey’s End – A Tolkien Pilgrimage

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” – Tolkien, p.1

It has been one year and four months since I left the cobbled streets and medieval architecture of Oxfordshire (and a variety of hideous modern buildings). Looking back now, I feel an unmistakable sense of wonder. No matter where my life may lead, no matter what new adventure I take on, the four months I spent in Oxford will forever remain imprinted on my heart and in my dreams. And so, like all good journey’s, here is how I began my homecoming in Oxford. The only way I could; to end where it all began for me.

A Tolkien Pilgrimage

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White Horse is one of the many pubs that Tolkien and the Inklings would frequent to hold their meetings while also enjoying a pint. And so, we also enjoyed quite a few pints.

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One of my favorite pubs, which “coincidentally” happened to be a favorite of Tolkien’s. More beverages were enjoyed here.

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Along the walk to find Tolkien’s memorial bench

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Tolkien’s memorial bench

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The bench and I staring off into the distance

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One of Tolkien’s homes while living in Oxford

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This is an excerpt from a collection of Tolkien’s Christmas letters to his children

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The grave of the respectable Tolkien

keep on keeping on,

j.

Eyes Around Oxford (Crowns and Christmas Crackers) #5

In fourteen days I will be back in Hershey, Pennsylvania. In seventeen days it will be Christmas Eve, and in sixteen days it will be Christmas Day.

And so, I present British Christmas! (Mom, this is for you).

Merry Christmas!

Keep on keeping on,

j.s.u.

Eyes Around Oxford (and England) #4

What it is to miss.

The Spanish phrase “to miss someone” is “extrañar a alguien.” I remember learning this phrase in my high school Spanish class. It is a sad word – extrañar. Feelings of estrangement permeate throughout the word. And that is a sad feeling. When I think about everything I miss back home, a fear creeps into the back of my mind. “Things will be different,” it says. “They will be older,” it whispers. “Friends will have left,” it laughs. In these moments of self-consultation, I fear estrangement.

My entire life I have experienced something along the lines of “never-fitting-in-though-all-I-wanted-was-to-fit-in.” Fit into what, I couldn’t tell you. It changed with every new social group I encountered or new place I visited. It comes from a deep discontent with the status-quo. I want to experience everything. That is a steep slippery-slope for people with the gumption to actually carry through. Fortunately, I was blessed with a silver chain locked around my ankle.

This *internal policing of thumos has fostered a rather pessimistic view of life. Instead of recognizing the fortitude of human relationships, it harps on the nature of change in the world. It becomes worse because I struggle with long-distance. I don’t “miss” people, and **it reveals itself in how little I contact people when I am not around them.

The reality of being separated from family or friends does not tend to faze me as much as being separated from home. More so, I know that I will see my family and friends again. This fills the part of my heart that should be actively “missing” a family member or a friend. Yes, something horrible could happen. But if that fuels your “I miss so-and-so,” then how could you survive ever being away from that person? No, I don’t miss my family and friends. I do long for home. In those moments of longing, I can smell the farmlands of PA, and see the overwhelmingly tall buildings of NYC, and hear the Christmas music that fills my house during this time of year, and taste the burritos from Chipotle. In fact, I sometimes “miss” these things a lot. Home for me constitutes so much more than just a place or object, though. It’s been said time and again, but home is more than just a shingled roof and brown siding in a little development in PA. Home, connotatively, means people. I love my house in little ol’PA, but I love being with my family more than anything. And being reunited with old friends is quite possibly one of the most rewarding human experiences. When I am no longer around those I love, I don’t miss them; I look forward to seeing them again.

I suppose I miss my family and friends, but it rarely succeeds in making me emotional. The idea of missing, though, still seems strange to me. Things go missing, and usually proceed to become lost. Relationships, those with true ties, do not go missing. They are always there, no matter the distance or time. It’s something like a remote “lost” in a couch. You might not be able to find it right away, but one day you will sit down and feel a prodding in the side. The remote has returned, and you couldn’t be happier. No more getting up to turn the TV on!

So, you might ask what brought about this rather sentimental post? Christmas season is here in the U.K. There are lights and decorations hanging across the streets, stores have snowmen and fat little Santas in their windows, jumpers have taken precedent over long-sleeved shirts, and Starbucks started serving their holiday drinks on November 1st. To make it worse, I love Christmas. It is that one time a year that fills me up with nostalgia. A missing of how things used to be, but a joy in those old memories takes root in my heart. It is a time full of goodwill as well. People genuinely seem happier. Work slows, families are coming together, and the coldness insists on snuggling by a fire with a cup of hot chocolate (a thing I am usually strongly opposed to). And so, I started listening to Christmas music about two weeks ago. There is something about listening to Christmas music that really brings out the child in a grumpy, tired “adult.” These are the reasons for this post, and the reasons for why I am excited for the ending of my Oxford term. It is wonderful here (and I will be coming back), but there is no place like home.

Keep on keeping on,

j.s.u.

*Some synonyms of wishy-washy (my first word choice): “banal,” “characterless,” “cowardly,” “mediocre,” “weak-kneed,” and “namby-pamby.” I don’t think that was quite the word I wanted…

**Obviously, this is an issue. Sorry.

Rocks that Glitter

It was near the end of September that my friends and I made our way to continental Europe. We spent our travel week split between  Denmark and Germany, visiting cities like Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, and Luxembourg (which is both a city and an independent country). During this time, I had the pleasure of traveling on some of the most questionable airplanes, talking to strangers that spoke a language I did not understand, and using a shower-toilet. I could write paragraphs about the uncomfortable nature of the trip. Instead, I want to convey a simple sentiment that sometimes finds itself overlooked by negativity.

A few months ago, I was convinced I was bound to the East Coast for the rest of my life. I developed a bad case of melodrama; otherwise described as a high school girl whose date to prom dumps her right before the dance. Obviously, this is now a ridiculous conjecture, but I tried to convince myself of this “impending reality.” Pragmatism turned reality – “sometimes we don’t get what we want” – into downright pessimism – “dreams are silly.” I was not exaggerating when I told you I had pick up some melodramatic tendencies.

And yet, here I sit writing this blog entry while studying at one of the top universities in the world. Here I am living out one of my oldest and most distant dreams.  It is as if I woke up from a dream about flying through the sky on a broomstick, to find myself sprawled out on a couch in the Gryffindor Common Room. Just thinking about being here in Oxford makes my stomach clench up and heart race.

Most dreams are like when we find a really cool rock that glitters in the sunlight. We say, “Oh, that’s cool!” and put it in our pocket where it stays for a few days. After awhile though, we pull it out, look at it one last time, and place it in some shoe box where we keep all of our other “interesting finds.” A majority of our dreams become “interesting finds,” trivial keepsakes that we store away because the glittery wonder ceases to amaze us.

Sometimes, though, you should keep that rock in your pocket, and spend time every day looking at that rock. Let it inspire you to start a rock collection or something just as equally “silly.” Surrender a bit of your pragmatism to the trivial or the impossible. Do not let your sense of wonder slip away. It is a sad life that is void of dreams.

Not all dreams come true. I think it is naive to think otherwise. However, dreams do inspire. And sometimes you find yourself ten years later living that dream.

Keep on keeping on,

j.s.u.

It All Begins With A Map.

A response to a friend’s blog post:

I am no good at words.

A few years ago, I would have said differently. It was on the page that my tripping tongue found its footing. Pretentious and arrogant, I said, “I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child.” After two years of college, the only statement that still holds true from Vladimir Nabokov’s quote is “I speak like a child.” It was a depressing realization, but a necessary one.

What once seemed like good writing became silly and juvenile. The essays and stories I wrote felt unfinished. By calling myself a writer, I had foolishly rushed into a world dominated by men and women far more talented. Bogged down by the feeling I was inadequate as a writer, I would write to prove myself wrong. The result would be disappointing, and I would validate my feeling of inadequacy. I circled the realm of words from the outside with head lowered, desperately wanting to get in.

During this time, I had lost focus on why I write. All that mattered was the feeling that I was never going to be good enough. I trapped myself in my own miserableness.

I did not start writing to become a writer. The writing was a product of the stories I wanted to tell. When I was younger, around nine or ten years old, I use to draw maps of fantastical lands. Each map would contain upside-down V mountain ranges, winding rivers, vast woods, oceans, and the occasional whirlpool. In this newly fashioned geography, I would place cities and towns. The next step was to go through the new map and name cities and mountains and rivers and oceans. It was hardly the final step, though. The map needed a story. And so I wrote.

Writing is a means to create. From idea to thought to pen and paper, the story takes shape. The rambling thoughts become solid, and a world comes to be. And so I write.

Occasionally, I stop writing. If one calls himself a writer, this is the second greatest sin he can commit.

If I stop writing, then I fail to tell the stories waiting for pen and paper. That is why I write even though words come sluggishly to my mind. Writing is the way I understand life. Before I write, the jumbled words form half-thoughts and feelings about the world around me. After I write, I sometimes stumble across a truth that I needed to remember. One day, I hope to share some of those treasured truths with others. And so I will continue to write.

Thanks for reading.

Keep on keeping on,

J.

Eyes Around Oxford #2