Sunday, October 31, 2010

Cross-Cultural Eavesdropping

“America is more than just a country. It’s an idea – an idea that’s supposed to be contagious.” (Bono, lead singer of Irish rock band U2)

One of my favourite parts of travelling abroad is listening to people talk about the USA when they don’t know there’s an American in the room. This afternoon, while studying in the Aberdeen Art Gallery’s cafĂ©, I overheard an English woman and a Scottish man discussing the upcoming mid-term elections. They seem to think that the Tea Party is bad publicity for the Republicans and were debating whether the Democrats would lose their congressional majority. They also talked at length about the excitement they felt as they followed our 2008 presidential election. It is rather humbling to hear outsiders discuss US politics with a grasp of current events and policy that eludes many Americans. This inspires me to learn more about the politics of the country in which I reside.

Last week I attended a Sociology department seminar where two staff members from my University complained at length about the failure of American sociologists to account for cultures outside their own. I quite enjoyed listening to this little rant but my classmates seemed to think it harsh. They whispered, “are you going to say anything?” but I explained that I hoped to hear more before my cover was blown.

In my conversations with Scottish people I often find them to be very fond of the US. They are not fans of Bush-era foreign policy, but so many tell me “America is a great country.” Even though some of them, while vacationing in the Sates, have encountered ridiculous people asking questions like “Is life in Scotland still like in the movie Braveheart?” they still quite like American culture. In fact, I have to work rather hard to find local culture in this city where the two most popular entertainment districts are full of American restaurants like TGI Fridays. I think Bono was right – American culture is contagious.

Song of the Day: "To America We Go" by Ashley MacIsaac and Scots-Gaelic singer Mary Jane Lamond

PS - I apologize for the Queen's English spelling when I'm writing to an American audience. My mac knows where I am and spell-corrects accordingly. Handy for school essays, but makes me look snooty on this blog :)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fit like? I'm studying Reiki.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

(Joseph Campbell)

I spent an exhausting, enlightening and exhilarating weekend at a reiki workshop in Aberdeen. Reiki is a Japanese healing technique often practiced by massage therapists. It’s something I’ve been wanting to learn for years. For the first time since arriving, I was in a room with only Scottish people. I got to hear local phrases like “fit like?” thrown around and the good people in the class frequently had to ask me to repeat myself. (In case you’re wondering, “fit like?” means “how are you?” Makes total sense, I know). As is usually the case, the knowledge I gleaned was not what I was expecting. Here is a brief list of those lessons.

Risk ain’t just a board game. Taking risks is the only way we can ever grow. Nelson Mandela said “Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the decision that something else is more important.” Growth and healing is more important to me than the familiar trappings of old, comfortable fears. Come the flood! I am ready to embrace risk and change into a more authentic and courageous version of myself.

Be very quiet. Can you hear that? It’s your inner voice going hoarse trying to get your attention. Listen to that still small voice - to every shout and every whisper. That is the most perfect form of wisdom you will ever receive. Earth-shattering events and sky messages carried by planes may be more glamorous, but attending to that little voice you like to ignore often takes tremendous courage and brings far greater reward.

Gratitude is the key to abundance. This sounds like a Hallmark card, but it’s a bit of ancient, worn, slightly unattractive truth that is shared by the faiths of the world. This does not mean “smile when you really need to cry” but rather to be grateful for the tears and the release. Be grateful for the pain, for the joy, and for everything in between. This is an enlightened way of being that I will be working on for the rest of my life. It is possibly the most difficult but also the most freeing.

As if this post weren’t hippie enough, I’m making “Oh Very Young” by Cat Stevens the song of the day. (Hey, he’s from the UK. This is a blog about living in the UK. It fits, right?) I’ll try to bring the sarcasm back next time. :)

Oh very young, what will you leave us this time? There’ll never be a better chance to change your mind. And if you want this world to see a better day, will you carry the words of love with you?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Discovering Aberdeen: Beaches, Bookies and Bands

In Scotland, there is no such thing as bad weather - only the wrong clothes.

-Billy Connolly

This week I dedicated to getting to know my new city. Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city with a population of over 200,000. And in case I haven’t clarified this point - it’s freakin’ cold! Young women run around town in short skirts when it’s colder than an ice cream truck. Speaking of ice cream, it's very popular to stroll along eating it in this weather. If I tell a local I’m cold, he or she will respond “Nah, it’s a bonny day!” Bonny days are those in which there is no rain, thus enabling one to wear shorts and slurp ice cream while everyone’s breath turns to fog.

The oil industry has made the city rich and everyone seems to be obsessed with shopping. And I do mean everyone. Even men – straight ones – will tell you their favorite places to shop and how much they enjoy it. I suppose that when a population has money to burn and is in need of indoor entertainment, shopping is the thing. There are many shopping centers, the newest of which is Union Square. It encompasses the train and bus stations as well as a Jurys Inn, movie theatre, 15+ restaurants and a mall. I tried to spend the evening there tonight as it’s the thing to do, but found it a bit overwhelming and vacated to a quiet pub. On the way home I discovered a bookie joint operating on the high street. Appeartantly, betting is legal here and young lads spend their Friday evenings at Ladbrokes making bets and going broke (hence the name).

Tuesday night I went to hear the Scottish folk band “The Shee” play in concert just 5 minutes from my flat. Six kick-ass women cranking out the folk tunes were just what I needed to feel like I’m really in Scotland, although the pint of cider helped as well! I have also visited Aberdeen beach twice. Apart from a lovely view and nice place to stroll, the beach is home to an indoor amusement complex (again with the indoor fun), which houses a bowling alley, mini golf, movie theater, restaurants and bars. If you’re brave enough to venture to the permanent outdoor fair, you can ride the ferris wheel enclosed in a glass case to keep you out of the wind.

My favorite attraction so far is the Provost Skene house museum in the city center. The medieval manor house is one of the only surviving buildings from that era and houses a collection of Edwardian clothing and furniture as well as renaissance murals. I love buildings like this one with their heavy oak doors, thick walls, treacherous stairs, and plenty of Jacobite legends. (The Jacobite rebellion occurred in the 17th century when catholic Scots attempted to return exiled Prince Charles Stewart to the throne. The English wiped them out and began a genocidal campaign of forced emigration, which is how so many of us with Scottish ancestry came to be born in the USA).

Today I enjoyed some local haddock at the opera house’s restaurant. Set inside a landmark of modern architecture, the restaurant boasts excellent views of the city. I enjoyed the opportunity to people-watch whenever I looked up from my reading of sociological theory. I’d work to get my head around quotes like “Truth, in reality, is a fiction” and then gaze out onto a statue of Prince Albert and several 400 year-old churches. It was certainly better viewing than the wall of my flat. Even though shopping isn’t my favorite pastime, Aberdeen is an exciting city with plenty to offer. I look forward to living here as a semi-tourist. For now, it’s back to the books.

Song of the Day: “Tom Paine’s Bones” by The Shee

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Housewarming and Church . . . Yes, Church!

“If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting and set out on a truth-seeking journey, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself….then truth will not be withheld from you.” -Elizabeth Gilbert, "Eat, Pray, Love"

In the last week I have found myself flying high and falling low. This is perhaps the nature of courageous novelty in life. Strip away all the comforts of home, physical proximity of loved ones and a community where one knows one's place and step into another world - this causes simultaneous fear and enlightenment. This week I have gotten lost several times, struggled with my schoolwork and had two disappointing dates. Just as I start sinking into "what the hell am I doing here?" mode, a bright spot appears to raise me up. Over the last 2 weeks I have received your generous housewarming gifts and felt your love across the Atlantic. I've included a photo of the abundant gifts bestowed upon me and thank you with my whole heart for making me feel that I'm not forgotten, though I am far off.

Today I got myself up and went to church. Church, you ask? Yes, church. It's been over 5 years since I've even visited a church apart from concerts, etc. Those of you who have met me during that time know that I'm anything but churchy. Those of you who knew me when I was younger knew a very churchy Kimberly. I have struggled for years over how to manifest my spirituality in an incarnation neither as frightening as my fundamentalist upbringing nor bleak as it could be if I chose bitterness over the acceptance of uncertainty. So today, in desperate need of socialization, I visited the local Unitarian Universalist congregation.

The congregation is made of up of about 20-30 regulars plus visiting clergy. My status as a newcomer could not be hidden as I was the youngest person present by at least 20 years, unknown to all and in possession of a foreign accent. I was instantly welcomed by several cute grandpas, one of whom sat down beside me and announced that he is not religious whatsoever. That's when I knew I'd come to the right place. Unitarianism provides a venue for the churched and unchurched alike to come together for spiritual support, inspiration, and tea with biscuits without holding to any absolutes. They made an announcement welcoming me, introduced themselves and talked my ears off. It was just what a lonely foreigner needed this morning. One of the inspirational readings was about respecting each person one meets along the way, whether you have a relationship or just meet once, as another being worthy of peace and compassion. We took a moment to send those people love and reflect on how we could each show greater compassion in all things. And those dates became two people whom I wish peace and joy, two teachers encountered on my path to bring me wisdom rather than pain.

I was given a ride home by a gentleman who works for the university and gave me his contact information in case I should need anything. He has no idea how much I appreciate the offer. So today I thank each teacher I have met since my arrival in Aberdeen. I seek to interact with people out of a place of joy rather than a place of sadness. And now I can finish my homework in peace.

Blessings to you in all you do. I send you my love from across the water.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Learning to Fly

"When you come to the edge of the light you have known and take the first step into the darkness of uncertainty, you have to believe that one of two things will happen. You will find something solid there to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly." (Paul Overton)

It’s Saturday morning and the sun is shining through my balcony door. Yesterday’s rain still drips down the ivy-covered wall and the city is quiet. I have now been living in Scotland for a little over one week. It feels like a day and it feels like a month. I have experienced excitement, fear, confidence, loneliness and profound happiness in this short space of time. No wonder I am so exhausted.

This morning I read the quote above and those words spoke to my spirit. I believe I will find both a rock on which to stand and the new wings to soar over my own doubts. Right now those muscles are still new and sore but the desire to fly has been born, and I cannot go back to the person I was before I heard the call of the wind.

Song of the day: Learning to Fly by Tom Petty