Adventures Ahead: The Lake Moon

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I got my 6th USA work visa approved on Thursday in London and now I can allow my trip to feel real.

It’s been 3 years since I had the real freedom to leave the UK for a long-ish period of time. I’ve been pretty poorly in-general and then clinical placement or school work and money had been other reasons. But I’ve pined for this opportunity again.

When I left America in 2013, it was with a heavy heart – I didn’t know if or when I’d be coming back. And I certainly believed that I wouldn’t be coming back to work, maybe only for a small holiday – if I was lucky. In fact, every summer I get to see feels like a blessing.

Last year when we got to do our clinical elective in Canada and Boston last year, I felt what I had been missing.

For the past 3 years I’ve wandered the streets of Leeds on sunny days and closed my eyes and willed myself to think I’m back in New York. The sun, the heat, the buildings when you look up towards the sky, people pushing past you and back to back traffic in the city center is enough to trick yourself that you could be in NYC. I go to the movies and the smell of popcorn and coffee makes me feel like i could still be in NYC. Sometimes I hunt down all the food I love to drink and eat whilst in the USA to try and muster that same feeling; thai-tea, pangang curries, guc, chips, salsa and good tacos. But they’re all weak immitations.

I frequently have dreams of just walking around NYC and they’re freakishly real.

So I decided, last year, whether I could afford it or not – that I would work really hard to get to spend my last summer there. In the place where I was broken and found. A place where it made me believe in myself, showed me the kindness of strangers – people who I had only worked with whipped around & paid for my medical bills, and treated me like I was part of their families. The country with many people who have helped me believe that I can be and am an artist. Who completely inspire me with their unwavering work ethic.

Just like Barack, all my life, I have been stitching together a family, through stories or memories or friends or ideas. And these guys helped me put it all together and made my stitching stronger.

But now it’s all real, all pretty much official. I’m going back.

I’ve had many years thinking about how if you’re lucky enough to be doing work you love, it’s your responsibility to plan for the day when you can’t do it anymore. And it’s been hard.

I leave Leeds in 3 weeks. I arrive in NYC on the 17th June. We’re going to go to catch-up with amazing friends, go to art-openings, find the best bagel (still not managed it!), eat the best cheesecake on the beach, ride the Wonder Wheel, I’m going to draw, drink those favourite drinks of mine, sit in Williamsburg and complain how gentrified it’s getting, look over the city from roof-top bars and watch the sunset over the East River. I’ll wonder the streets at night, trying to take it all in – so I can continue to close my eyes and take myself back there when i need it the most.

Then we leave the crazy bustle of the city to  go a place that’s pretty cut off from the world. Basically no internet. No public transport once you get off the island by boat. We’ll arrive at Sandy Island – an island in the middle of a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and tress/forests in New Hampshire. This will be home til September.  The moon sets bigger than my head here. Deer and bear roam, and you can fish or chuck pebbles into the lake from the sandy beach.  And you can lay on the baseball field and watch the milky-way & countless shooting stars. It’s pretty magical. It’s a good place to try and figure things out, to learn how to reconnect with people without having technology blare out for attention at you. You can literally leave the ‘real world’ behind.

We’ll then leave New Hampshire for a quick stop in NYC and then to San Francisco, CA.  I’m excited to run up the hills and skate down them. We’ll make fires on the beach and eat pizza whilst the sunsets. From here we’re going to Napa-valley, CA – drink some wine whilst paddling in fresh water in fields of vineyards whilst the sun sets. And go hiking in Yosemite, CA.  We’ll go back to fly out to Maui, Hawaii (a state I’ve yet to tick off my ‘life-list’ – making it 43 states I’ve visited!). Here we’re renting an apartment on the beach with turtles. I’ll hunt down the best acai-bowls to eat, and we’re going to hike some volcanos, surf and relax on the beach after the relentless work this past 3 years has taken.

Then we’re flying back the Seattle, WA – I’ll be re-connecting with some of my friends who are artists working on really cool social projects. And We’re taking the training to Vancouver, Canada – then back home!

And I CAN NOT WAIT. 

I’ll be chipping away at my bucket list – now re-named ‘the life-list’, making art, helping people with their projects, writing, taking photos, and working on myself, helping others. I’ve a million ideas for new projects, but I’m trying my best not to start anything. For a little while, at least.

Follow along if you like!
Life can seem so challenging sometimes. It’s a scramble up a rocky cliff that feels like it’s two grabs away from a landslide. But we’re not meant to do it alone. And we don’t have to do it all at once. Take time to take care of yourself and look back to see just how far you’ve come

“Time is space. You are moving through that galaxy. Wait for the stars.” – Matt Haig

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I don’t want to waste any more of my time. That’s all: A look back upon my 2015

 

I remain steadfast

I remain steadfast with my focus on the present and the future.

Currently I’m having like some sort of crazy- probable cause: neck meets over-worked – 37 constant day headache that has degrees of severity from “totally ignorable to- i’m rolling on the floor” painful. It hasn’t gone away, not even once on its own. I go to sleep with it. I wake up with it. I wake up in the middle of the night with it. It reminds me that I’m broken. But despite this, the intensity that fills me in general is overwhelmingly positive.

I am humbled. Truly. I am alive. You are alive. And that’s all that really matters. I think about this, ALOT.  

Sometimes I get so frustrated and pissed off at myself because somedays/weeks my body is nothing but limitations. But really, compared to others suffering. I have it relatively easy. And I have to continuously remind myself about this. Because it’s not even about feeling run-down and shitty. It’s about how amazing people are with me concerning this. From my clinical lead tutor, fellow peers & friends, family,  to colleagues who I worked with on clinical placement (even writing a note in my report book on how my own health is more important), to the kindness and compassion showed to me from doctors and other HCP – i mean I understand me complaining about a headache sounds like the most time-wasting banal medical complaint ever (I assure you all, this feels like no normal headache). So I do appreciate the time and the compassion that I have received all round.

 I constantly feel lucky. And I have no idea how to return your kindness back. I have no idea how to show how thankful I am. The most amazing thing is, you probably don’t want or need anything back in return. That it’s just your general nature, to be so generous and kind. And that makes me even more grateful and humbled. 

I go back to New York City on Monday, and I am so freakin’ excited! I feel like I’m going back for the first time again! Nothing like a crazy 8 months dominated with study and science to make you crave the unpredictable creative chaos of NYC. The fragments of my old life. But I’m even more excited for something else. I always said one of the things I was the most scared of was my mom not finding the true-love that she deserves, I feared that she might not find happiness – This fear gave me a sadness and a powerlessness i can’t explain; that the 1 person who you love unconditionally, isn’t really happy and you can’t help them.  But luckily that fear is in the distance as my mom is getting married – to a guy who seems good (this is super rare for my mom!) And I get to see it! And she’s doing it in Las Vegas, so guys! We’re going to Vegas too! Who needs bucketlists, when the ones you love are happy?  (It’s worth noting here, that I don’t think happiness is finding a man, but rather happiness only exists when shared).

My plan this time for this trip is simple. I’m just going to take it easy and go at my own pace. (Mainly because I have to). And take pleasure in the simple things. No crazy rush. I’m going to smile and laugh with my family, see friends who I was worried I might not see again, or for a really long time, eat the freshest fruits – (Acai bowls come at me!), drink on rooftops, go to art openings, take lots of photos, draw, eat the bestest foods, drink crazy drinks, I’ll do revision work along the way, re-visit the things I love and I’ll instagram the shit outta of it all.  I’m just going to find new things and places as they find me. Like seeing New York again for the first time. 

I’d like to think that I have stopped wasting time.  It’s true in some respects, and failing in others. As David Bowie once said: Time may change me. But I can’t trace time.  The one thing that is for sure is that I still can’t help but feel the weight of times value each day.  And that awareness itself totally feels like a gift.

To New York City, & Las Vegas y’all!

 I will use my time fully, all of it.

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Today I go to the Big Sur: A place I never thought I’d ever get to.

Today I go to the Big Sur: A place I never thought I’d ever get to. Mainly because I can’t drive – and how else would I get there. The hotels are expensive and there’s no public transport that goes close.  But I’ve ALWAYS wanted to go here, even for a few hours. Just to see it. I want to see the purple sand, I want to climb across the cliff tops. Feel real. Go to that place that Jack Kerouac writes about, that the kid in Into The Wild runs aways to.

I hope it’s as beautiful as i think it will be. And even if it’s not. I don’t care. I got there.

In less than a weeks time, my dream trip will be over. I will be on a plane going home to confirm whether I really do have Lymphoma, or hopefully something less dramatic.

And yet, here I am, I’ve never felt so alive (despite, you know, feeling yucky still). I got to spend the summer on an island in the middle of a beautiful lake in New Hampshire doing arty stuff,  spent lots of time in Boston with friends, reconnecting with old friends on the road, and make new friends along the way. I don’t think I’ve laughed as constantly as much as I have done in years. I just saw the sun set and rise above the clouds, on the beach, on the road, over the Grand Canyon, in the dessert, on the Mississippi, over skylines and rooftops and the clearest night skies in the world. I visited Napa, Santa Cruz, Monterey and soon the Big Sur for the first time, and ticked things off the bucketlist which I had no idea were on there. Ate the freshest fruits, the greatest foods. I’ve just seen 18 states in one roadtrip. I take a flight back to the East Coast tomorrow, where my friend is going to pick me up at 1am in the morning at JFK to take me back to New England to spend time with more of my friends – for just 2 nights -and see the real beginning of the foliage and drive me back to NYC to spend my last days in USA with my new-york-adopted family.

It took me a potential life-threatening “unifying diagnosis” for me to see just how loved I am. And how grateful I am just to be loved. Dear friends, I am humbled and grateful for your support and your love. I’m not a lovey-dovey type – My street-cool-edge-britishness doesn’t allow such a thing. But I know i don’t say it enough. But i love you all.

Whatever the outcome: Here’s to living life, how it should be lived – minute by minute.Happiness only exists when shared.

Time is Uncertain, yo.

Time is uncertain. I’ve always known this. I have so many other blog posts dedicated to my mind-boogle with time. Time is a personal construct: an ever shifting, ever evolving phenomena. Where in some parts of the world it’s linear and in others it’s more circular and whole (which it should be viewed as).

We should never live by the clock, or feel forced to do something, or indeed put something off because of the amount of time limited.

Most people don’t know this. But 4 weeks ago I was told by a Haematologist Oncologist at Boston Medical Center to go back home to the UK for a Bone Marrow Biopsy to see if I a type of Lymphoma or not (as my USA Medical Insurance policy doesn’t cover to have it done here).  I ignored this advise ( not without cause: mostly because I have already had a pretty decent work up including CT Scans earlier in the UK – which were clear – and what’s a few more weeks?). I will of course, in 3 weeks time be coming home – earlier than planned – to indeed get the test.  But in the limbo between my in denial of ‘my doctor in the UK said it was just a virus’ and ‘what if I really do have cancer?’ I’m left re-evaluting things.

I’m using this time to really use it as an excuse to do everything I want to do. No other excuses, like money, time, fear, failure, ect. And when I find out that I don’t have any serious potentially impending doom senario  (here’s to hoping, yo!) – I will learn from this moment and never again (or try to, anyways) waste my time. Because, I do waste a lot of my time.

I’ve been working with a lot of female mothering artists, who work full time and still manage to bang out loads of works of art. So I should learn from this.  There’s so much I want to do, so watch this space here.

Here’s to a more together, focused, fun, better, kinder Smizz.

Things to look out for that I’m organizing or taking part in:

– I just done some drawings for a workshop at MADE Festival, very exciting.

Sponsored Bike ride in November from The Donx to Sheffield for Lymphoma & Leukaemia Research Charity – Please sponsor us! 

Bloc Projects – Assembly 13, Sheffield.

Researching into Co-working & art —> Something like Jelly.

– CAKE Salon

CAKE RE-LAUNCH – First with newsletters.

SLAM-JAM (realistically probably in Feb 2013)

– Finishing my L3 BTEC in Science

– Continue, developing Re-Advertise with Abi Goodman

But more on all of this soon. Realistically, in October when I’m back in the UK. Being drilled into.

 

The Perfect Summer

This image pretty much encapsulates the awesomeness of the summer. I’m sad to say my American 2011 adventure is coming towards the end – but maybe I’ll do the whole thing all over again next year. Try and get another show in NYC. The more I do the job for the Y, the more I wanna come back each year. One day I’ll get a real job where I’ll have to work all the time and it won’t be in a shop, or a call center, or a bank, or in a fast food restaurant, or ect. Not justifying anything here, but, I probably have to come back to start my book anyways. Yeah!

DRAWING THE WORLD 1 BUILDING AT A TIME

I’ve found a better way to keep all my crazy street drawings all together. On what the cool kids are using. TUMBLR (i have 4 now!)

keep it locked HERE and FOLLOW ME for some crazy drawings of NYC, London, Sheffield, Boston, your street! Where ever i go! Holla!  (http://streetarchitect.tumblr.com/)

(above, no i haven’t lost my mind, it’s a drawing my mom asked me to do so she could pretend that she’s done it at work for an attempt to win a bottle of wine… some things never fail to amaze me..)

London on a budget (travel)

I recently read the new post on the NYT’s frugal Traveller blog in London. Seth seemed to have gotten a bit of a raw deal. As a Northern UK person, we all know how expensive London is in comparison to the rest of England, never mind if you had to change your currency to half of it’s worth! (meaning you need double $$ to get just £). Plus our recent bump up in VAT  from 17.5% to 20% (although as an NON-EU citizen you can claim this back)

When I visit London (on a somewhat often basis for Art reasons)  I meet others from the North and the majority of conversations don’t sound like this, ” hey, did you see that amazing exhibition? or where have you been? any advise on places to go to?”

it’s more like this: “how’s it going? gosh, it’s expensive innit? i just paid £1.50 for a CAN OF COKE. It’s 60p in Sheffield?!  did you know how much it cost to eat out? how expensive it was to go to the movies?!”

I leave feeling wallet lighter and a nagging feeling that I could have got a Ryanair flight to Barcelona and stayed in a hostel for  2 days cheaper than spending a day and a night in London. But my love of art keeps me going down, despite having not bonded with the city. (Main reason why I have resisted moving down there to ‘make it’ in the commercial art world).

So this is for you all who will be attending London in 2012 for the Olympics, perhaps visiting for the Royal Wedding (lol), Gap year, summer holidays, business, ect. I’m going to save a few ££ and avoid you falling for Wetherspoon pub chains (which are ok – but you don’t go to America to keep eating at McDonalds or TGI Fridays)

First things first, when in london TAKE OR BUY A MAP.

straight up. FREE STUFF

There’s a bunch of free stuff to do in the Capital behind it’s face of expense and extortion.

MUSEUMS. In NYC you have free nights or pay-what-you wish hours, or suggested donation that makes you feel like your cheaping out the museum of $ when you only pay up $1. In London, the majority – not all – museums are free with a donation box. National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britian and TATE Modern’s collections are all free to view.  This will radicalize the way you treat viewing art. Special exhibitions, however, are NOT free.  Tate Modern for a special exhibition will cost you £10.00 a go (without concessions). So if you’re on a budget – my suggestion is to check out the gift/ bookstore and have a look at the exhibitions catalogue/book. Does the work interest you? Yes- then go ahead. No, then don’t bother.

Commercial art galleries are free too, like they are in NYC, Paris, Berlin ect. But are located all over the place. Every 1st Thursday of every month, the galleries on VYNER STREET [the main commercial area for galleries] (east London, tube stop Bethnal Green) are all open for business at 6pm with many free drinks and food. Get you art-clothes and networking hat on. This is where all the artists come out to play from all over London and the UK. Here you will probably get invited to drinks to a well known bar and find out where all the hip-cool places are at and possibly make some new friends. And not to mention you might get trashed on free cheap wine!

TOURS. if you’re stopping at a hostel, then tours are often free with the option of tipping at the end. if you’re not – Don’t fear. DON’T pay big companies to get a bus and look at stuff. no-way-oh-zay. instead just  get a free, funny and personal tour here: http://www.newlondon-tours.com.  I’m not a tour person myself, but for those of you that are: try and get a different sort of tour. Get one of the cool street art scene around london or the architecture.

BBC PROMS. In the summer the BBC puts on classical music (trust me on this) and theater on for FREE in the parks around London, bringing you the most talented people from around the world. It’s a vibe and experience you can not pass on.  You need to check out the BBC website for more details. But it is flat-out amazing. Bring a picnic and drinks, bask in the  luke warm, probably a bit over-caste weather (great british summer!) and feel your IQ level rise.

PARKS. are all free and beautiful. enough said.

SIGHT SEEING. Like everywhere. seeing sights is free to do. (so long as you don’t want to go inside!)  London has LOADS. How about instead of spending lots of £££ on your Oyster Card or Travel Day pass – rent a bike. The government has a new scheme unfortunately for long periods of time, it doesn’t work out that cheap. But for less than 30 mins, it’s free to rent a bike off the street at located stalls.   I would suggest a real hire bike place : with a bit of research to what would suit you: http://www.lcc.org.uk/index.asp?PageID=171  free official maps avilable here: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/roadusers/cycling/11682.aspx.  Then enjoy the architecture, the sights, the small food places you can eat on the road and meet new people without the bustle and squeeze of the underground.

NOT SO FREE but cool.

FOOD:

A pizza place near goodge street tube stop (northern line) – you leave the tube stop, turn right, take your first right again. You continue up the street, past a Tescos and a cool Cupcake store called Candy Cakes ( recommended for those with sweet tooths, will run you £3 a cake) until the corner of Charlotte Street and Goodge.  Best italtian Pizza in the place for the best price!  A whole pizza (£3+) proper italian style- thin base, and a beer will run you only run you £5-6.   In the summer 100’s of people sprawl out onto the streets from the pub between the cupcake place and tube stop called The Fitzrovia.

If in the UK, you need to eat good indian food. Those new to this food won’t know the difference between Pakistani food and Indian. Indian is more sauce/curry – Pakistani food is more rice and spice. Brick Lane is where you’ll find most cheap-ish Indian food. But beware, most of them claim to have ‘chef of the year!’ Time Out website/magazine and online reviews will help you search out the best on the area.   Brick Lane at first looks a bit dingy, but this is its charm like a Brit vision of Williamsburg. Not too gentrified it holds many secrets.  Whilst in the area, great bakeries that do the best bagels and chinese treats will run you a nice £1-3 depending on what you buy, open until late.     Sunday Up Market as you guessed happens on a sunday and it’s a cool hip-happening place of art, funky foods and cool crafts to try.   Close to here is the ‘Vibe-Bar’ which is a bar with an amazing beautiful courtyard (pictured below)  in the summer months free live music happens. a beer will bust you about £3 – but at night you can probably sneak your own booze to the courtyard.

If you start at Whitechapel side of brick lane, head to the newly furnished Whitechapel Gallery (free and great) and end your long walk up BL at LCB surf store that combines surf and skate with great organic coffee. What a mix?

Like every Chinatown, London’s SoHo chinatown has many treats.  Chinese Bakeries with goodies to fill your pockets up for train journeys and picnics.  Avoid buffets, and go for a sit down menu meal. Depending where you go, a meal here will usually run you about £10 including drink if you don’t order starters.

Hidden greasy-spoon cafes hide behind back streets of the main streets.  The further out zone 1 you go, the cheaper and more authentic food gets.  Near Vyner Street you can grab a proper english breakfast for £3, so big and lovely you won’t need to eat for lunch.

You can’t go to London without having Afternoon teas and cakes – the stereotype of Britain.  TEA, is for all you urban folk – this place is the place for every fair-trade tea goings on. Another cool place is bob bob ricard all polished brass, buttoned green leather and booth seating – it’s just the place to hide away for a discreet nibble and chat, and it serves tea and cakes all day. The only problem is that an afternoon tea here could run you £10.

Like Seth mentioned, great markets are dotted around the city will provide you with amazing, fresh food from around the world at modest prices below £6.  Including and certainly NOT limited to Covent Garden markets.

By now you’ll probably know that alot of UK culture is on binge drinking. We love our pubs, clubs and boozey drinking offers (if near student campus’s you can find a cheap vodka and coke for £1).  One of my favourite pubs/bar is called “Venn Street Records” in clapham. Venn ST Records wants to be a cool hip rock n roll bar.  whilst it might lack the dirt n grime of a real dive bar, it makes up for  it in drinks and coolness with bonding in with the Clapham crowd. Cocktails cover twists on some classics and tongue-in-cheek kitsch with options including the AC/Daiquiri, thePina Colada.  On Tuedays its 2-4-1 cocktails, so bring a friend and on sundays they sometimes have live music (but i have no idea if it’s good live music – check it and find out!)

If you fancy wondering out to Battersby then a place called LOST SOCIETY (no joke) is said to be happening. I avoid this place on a weekend cuz it will run you £5 but it’s worth it for the cool DJ’s spinning great tunes. On a budget though, i am sure you can find the same music somewhere else for free. At the Lost Society they have created their own society full of imaginative cocktails ( a list of 60 on the menu) and this is where you can try many different liquors from around the world.  In the summer, yuppies and hipsters come out and talk pretension in the fancy courtyard.

Mason and Taylor on Bethnal Green (yep i love the East side of LDN) is a place for anyone really wanting to get to grips with the many cool beers that London (and the UK) have to offer. It’s industrial looking within but I find this intriguing. Local London beers include Kernel IPA and Meantime Raspberry while a blossoming British artisan brewing community is rightfully well-represented in the shape of beers from Marble in Manchester, and many more from Wales, Sussex and the world including American.

 

In terms of film – a movie theater within zone 1 will cost you a limb. tickets start at £10 for multiplex’s with Leister Square being the most expensive of them all (for obvious reasons). Unless you want to go to the movie theaters where the premieres happen, I would advise to avoid seeing films here.  Cineworld is a great Multiplex cinema in the UK and has a few within London starting from Zone 2 outwards. 1 ticket here will still run you about £8+ onwards (don’t see a 3D movie) but lots of leg room, and many screens to choose from including the latest releases and Hollywood’s blockbusters with the odd arthouse or limited release movie showing. If hollywood or multiplex cinema isn’t your scene,  then the  Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) is a great place to go. They usually have fantastic contemporary art exhibitions on – and since early 2010 it’s now free to see them – a fantastic bookstore, and cafe/bar which doubles up as a gig/live music place at night. This place is happening and won’t even brush you a penny. The ICA has great choices of films from foreign films you won’t see anywhere else, artist films, documentaries, classics to BAFTA choices. The tickets are also priced here slightly less at £7.

If you’re a true film buff, when in London the British Film Institute is your guide to what’s happening and showing. They do various film festivals all year around with October BFI film festival being the most significant. For those of you wanting to see a 3D movie, then the IMAX complex is the place to go, pay out an extra £2 for the real deal instead of a normal cinema that doesn’t have the technology to get the full effects across to you.

GETTING AWAY FROM LONDON

If you’re in London for longer than 4 days then perhaps leaving London is a good use of your time. Actually see a bit more of the UK than what’s simply portrayed in the movies. Brighton is next to the sea and is seen as a London suburb and only an hour train ride away. Many Londoners like to get away to here on a weekend. The clubbing scene is cheaper and more openly lively. Drink in cafes that will only cost you £1 for a cuppa, or eat an ice cream on the pier. perhaps go on a ride or chill on the beach. Brighton has one of the biggest gay and lesbian populations in the UK, so come and feel the pride and enjoy the loud brash culture here!  A return ticket will cost you about £10.00

If the gay sea-side isn’t your thing, then how about Oxford. Heading further up North – a return ticket on the train will bust you between £2.50 – £10.00 depending if bought in advance or not.  The train ride is 45 mins long. Oxford is the home to one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Here lies even more history than you would have ever expected! Spend the day watching people train on the rivers, or seeing more bikes on the road than cars.  See a scene you can only imagine would be on Harry Potter, or go to the library that has billions of books underground!  Take in the rich green fields and the limestone architecture.

If countryside is more your thing, and you’re in the UK for more than a week. Then perhaps a MEGABUS or an advanced bought train ticket will get you up to places like Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester in less than 3 hours. The further out of London you go, the further your ££ will go too.

In short, after accommodation – London is your Oyster. (literally if that’s your main use of transport) Spending your day divided by museums, food, bars, music, and sights it’s easy to be cheap with a bit of perseverance and research. you can wander the streets and live off baked goods and fresh fruit from market stalls. You could spend your money on cocktails you’ve never heard of and see artists studios.

Oh and I forgot, you must all see if my good friend Myra DuBois has a show, critically acclaimed by Time Out London, and go. Seriously.

Happiness Only Exists when Shared (travel)

One thing that I have learnt is that if your traveling alone, its the people that you meet on your adventures that make it something.  Sometimes you WANT to be alone. And this is completely cool. However, your own company sometimes wears thin.  Especially during the evenings when most evening activities seem to designed for 2+ people. Clubs, Gigs, restaurant seating….You could have the best meal in the world, but what does it mean if you can’t recommend that to someone in a bar, or your hostel? or share the meal with a light conversation with a group of people who you just met.

Before I leave for anywhere new (especially) I usually send out an email to friends. These days I’ll twitter it – although i often get cultural advise but not accommodation & meet up offers, and probably get a spambot telling me I can get cheap flights for the mentioned place, or  I put it on Facebook. What usually happens is that i get advise and hook-ups from  friends of friends (of friends) and it’s awesome.

Here’s some proof of how my trips have been enlightened by the generosity and company of a human soul.

In summer 2008 – I was interning at a shit-hot gallery in Chelsea NYC.  I was living THE DREAM. I rented an apartment in Williamburg for $500 a month. It was THE SHIT. I had a balcony that overlooked the magnificent skyline of Manhattan, we had access to the roof for summer BBQ’s and we had all the luxuries a student should need: cable, wi-fi and a cleaner. Pretty sweet deal right?  the apartment was beautifully furnished. Real big, 2 floors within, with a spiral metal staircase to the bedrooms. It was too good to be true, and it was because I was sharing my room with 5 others on bunk beds.

But it didn’t faze me. I was worried about getting lonely. This definitely solved that problem for me.  It was hollywood magic, we had bedsheets from IKEA, towels from Bed, Bath and Beyond and I was in NYC. I had roommates from all around the USA and world – all doing amazing things with their life.  One girl I instantly bonded with. She was called Erin. An aspiring actress, recent collage graduate, all the way from Alabama. She was in NYC trying make her dream a reality on very little money. She was only renting the apartment for a month whilst she found her own place. We went Poetry Slams, Museum free nights, we got bites to eat.

3 years on, if I ever need a place to crash, Erin has got my back! (she now lives in Brooklyn)

The same summer, Independence Day was looming. As a Brit, I don’t really care for it. Naturally. But it seemed like I was the only kid without any plans. Having already celebrated 4th July the previous year when I was working at camp, i thought – this is nothing special. Plus i kept getting stupid kids saying, ” I bet the UK wishes it was independent” – but i’m not going to get into that right now.

Having already learnt the trick of emailing around people, my Professor at the time used to be from NYC. He had given me a bunch of cool things to do and people I should get in touch with.  I was prepared to spend the whole 4th of July on my own in Central Park or in a bar that served food (I was 19 at the time). 2 weeks before 4th of July I emailed a guy my Professor had told me to get in touch with – about seeing New York’s coolest, historic fire boat, John J. Harvey.

This turned out to be AMAZING timing. The generosity of people in America always astounds me.  I found myself with an invite onto the Fireboat on 4th July to eat burgers and watch the expensive Macy’s 4th July Fireworks from THE HUDSON. That’s right. If only I had a twitter account then!  And  the crazy thing was, I had no idea who this person was who invited me until about 1 hour and half on the boat.  I asked around, until I met a woman in her late 20’s and her mother. They were from California. We talked and they told me all about the differences between California and NY and how much they loved their trip to London. When  food was being served, they had found the guy i was looking for!

So after being really shy, I bucked up the courage to say hey and thank him for this out of the world invite! The guy and his family were perfect & as you guessed, extremely generous with their time and offerings. I just couldn’t believe my luck. After the sun set, we watched the fireworks and i felt like this just couldn’t be real.  Then before we docked, the late-20’s woman & her mom were like, ‘SARAH! WE HAVE A SURPRISE FOR YOU!”  They had bought me a John J. Harvey fireboat T-shirt to remember the whole experience by. Something told me I would never forget my fireboat experience.

I still think about it now. If I never emailed about seeing the boat, or even asked my professor, or if my professor didn’t reply. What would I have done that day?  It taught me more about the American culture and helped me appreciate that independence day isn’t JUST about beating the UK but more an excuse to share pride and spread the love . It also taught me the power of companionship/company on a what could have been a very lonely NYC quest. Nearly 3 years on I still wear my Fireboat T-shirt regularly  and think of how lucky I am to have had such a unique experience and had the chance to share it.

Next up, Couch Surfing!