In four days I will have been three years since I took a plane back to the US from London. I was happy to, absolutely thrilled to get back to the life I knew, my friends, my room, my bed, American food, all that jazz. I'd had a mixed experience when I studied abroad. I lived with people who actively made my life a living hell and I didn't have anyone to talk to about it except my mom. I had one friend but her experience had been much different from mine and she had a friend from back home who was in the UK, so she didn't need to rely on me the way I needed her (even if I never said as much and still wouldn't if put in the same position.) There was a part of me that would miss certain aspects of London, but I was more than happy to go home. Perhaps the biggest thing that happened to me emotionally when I studied abroad was that I realized that my three and a half year dream, the thing that had gotten me through so much, was a dream I could never realize. I was never going to be a BBC radio DJ and I had no idea what other options I had. As the plane took off three years ago my future was a bit of question mark, even has I pushed myself to accept the possibility of being a lawyer. I was happy to get away from the place to that had so drastically changed my life back to the comfort I knew.
I never really thought I would go back for more than a visit. As the law became more of a reality my ever going back to live in London became less and less realistic. I wasn't even sure if I wanted to live in London. I continue to have mixed emotions about London, about my time in London. And if you had told me two years ago that I would be back in London, planning on staying in London for up to four more years, I would have laughed. Or, more likely, I would have told you that's a crack pipe dream, completely unrealistic. A year ago I would have had my fingers tightly crossed, mentally telling myself to expect two more years of legal torture and not to say anything too positive.
I'm sitting in a rather spacious student housing room (bathroom included!) thinking about how long I've been living in this room, in this city. If you don't include the three weeks I was home for the holidays I've been living in London for 7 and a half months. If you include those three weeks it's been 8 months which is a much tidier number. I had a professor once say that you can't really know if you like a place until you've lived there for a year. I would hasten to add that you can't really say whether you like a place until you've lived there for a year in non-student housing. Student housing warps one's perspective of the place you're living in for better or worse. Living in student housing as made me ambivalent about London because I can't really say I know what living in this is truly like. Living with other students is like living in a cocoon of booze and stress protected by security guards and protected from utility bills, rent, and council tax. I live in what can only be called a sketchy area, an area that if I had the choice I wouldn't have picked and that has altered my view of London. If I lived somewhere I had chosen, I might be less ambivalent. I can't say for sure, but I suspect I'd be more comfortable in my choice of city.
London is an unforgiving city. It's cold, it's mostly overcast, bus drivers can be rude, the people won't smile at you and actively avoid making eye contact with anyone outside of their social circle, and even in late May everyone seems to be wearing mourning clothing (unless they're tourists or African/Caribbean immigrants on Sunday.) There is some amazing and beautiful architecture and sometimes if the light hits the horizon just so London is even a little pretty. But mostly it's unforgiving and forces you to fend for yourself. I took a sociology class in my sophomore year and we discussed the idea that city dwellers are more estranged; more isolated from others than people who live in, for instance, the suburbs or a small town. I don't necessarily think that's true, but a sociologist wanted to provide a perfect example of that theory it would be London. Outside the people you know, you fight for yourself and no one else. It can be lonely, but as I repeatedly tell people, there is so much that London offers it can be a bit overwhelming. There is always something to do. So even if the people are always terribly hospitable and the city a bit unrelenting, you'll never be bored if you put your mind to it (that old Samuel Johnson comes to mind.)
I sometimes feel a bit isolated in this bustling city, a fact that perhaps adds to my feeling of ambivalence. But my reason for being here, my course of study, I'm not ambivalent about that. I get a geeky happiness from the research I'm doing, something I never felt in four years of undergraduate and one hellish year of law school. I keep telling people that the things I'm reading for my dissertation are things that I would read for fun and that's absolutely true. The only time that has happened previously was in my British history class senior year of undergrad. I have no particular theory that I'm trying to support, merely the idea that it's a good thing to write down popular music's history. It's important to remember a civilization's culture because in a 1000 years that's what the archeologists will be digging up. I get pleasure from what I do and above everything else that's what I think is really important. It's not often that one gets to follow one's bliss and I'm just so happy that I get to. I've also learned quite a bit. Ideas that I've been holding onto since high school have been altered, though not completely changed. Ideas that I had held as absolutes have become less absolute. I feel that for many people their world views get changed in undergraduate and mine didn't. My world views have been altered that much in my master's program, but they've been changed just enough to alter my perception of certain things I had taken for granted, at least when it comes to popular culture. Some things have stayed the same though. And that's not a bad thing. I’ve grown as a writer, as a thinker, as an academic and that to me seems the main point in any course of study (besides learning whatever it is you're supposed to learn.) My master's program hasn't been a structured as I am use to with academic programs and I have had to rely more on myself to learn things, for better or worse. My first semester was rocky because I didn't know what was expected of me, but now I know and I've become a better student for it. I've never really relied on professors to hold my hand (because I've never really relied on anyone to hold my hand but that's whole different kettle of fish) but having higher expectations placed on me and no hand-holding was difficult at first. I've since gotten used to it and while I sometimes worry my simple ideas (history is good, we should write it down before idiotic critics do) aren't 'worthy' of academic consideration, I remind myself that that's not the point and carry on reading about 1950s rock and pop music. I'm really happy with what I'm doing and hope that I get to spend three to four years diving further into this line of inquisition. And then maybe I'll get to teach young idiots about this stuff, students who think they know better and then turn around five years later and realize they really should have listened to that one professor who said they should give the Who a chance.
At the very least I'm here for another three months. I really, truly hope I'll be here for another three years. And since I'm really shit and ending things I'll leave it at that. (I'm also really crap at coming up with titles.)