Two skies, two storms, and a new set of stars

There is a storm coming. Thunderstorms arrive here after days of build up, coming in only after the air has grown so thick with moisture and the promise of rain that you wade through it. It sits heavy on your skin and you look at the sky and exchange the same words with every stranger you see.

“Is it going to rain?”

This means not just is it going to rain, but when is it going to rain and how long will it rain for and where is the storm we’ve been promised and how did we get so lucky. 

Southern storms are chaos and catharsis. They rage above your head, lighting the sky in flashes and the lingering brightness behind your eyelids that traces lightning bolts after they’re gone. They are a sudden release from the tension you didn’t realise you were carrying while you waited for the heat to break.

I never saw these storms in Scotland. I never felt the build up: rain was a constant, damp was forever. Rather than lay on top of you, it was in you, a deep chill that took days to disappear. It lingers in me even now, I can feel it when I see pictures of Edinburgh’s bright grey sky.

In fact, I don’t know that I’d ever say I felt a storm in Scotland. Rain, yes. But a storm that takes days to build and crashes through the sky, announcing itself for all to hear? No, I can’t say I ever felt one of our brash American storms out there.

Soon I’ll be buying a ticket to sleep under another set of stars, to grow familiar with another kind of weather. I will be by the water again, I will see the change from winter into spring. What do they call the haar there? What sound does the air make before the rain begins to fall?

And how many stars are there that I haven’t seen?

I’ve slept under southern skies before, I can find the cross, but I have never called them home. I have slept under northern stars for almost 29 years and though I couldn’t count them all, they are familiar. But I will be facing a different side of the universe, seeing the other half of the vastness of creation that I still cannot fathom. And yet two of the happiest nights of my life, two of the nights where I stopped and just let myself sit with the wonder and beauty and thrill of the world, two nights where magic felt real – they happened under southern stars. They happened in the blackest black of the night when I looked up at the enormous sky and thought that the whole world was designed for that moment.

I have missed the southern storms and I miss the Scottish skies, but even knowing that this adventure has meant letting go of other dreams, I am ready to sleep under strange stars again.

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Airports

There is something melancholy about airports.

Maybe it’s the constant sense of ending and beginning, of adventure and homecoming overlapping. There is a constant layering of hellos and goodbyes, often physical as well as emotional. Arrivals above, departures below. Arrivals below, departures above. Our lives crisscross, we get off of a plane and see a waiting area full of people ready to board the same plane to the city we’ve just left. Over and over, back and forth, planes circle and land and others take off.

I always want to cry in airports. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I hide in a stall and let myself cry silently until there is no more mascara left on my hands when I wipe my cheeks. Sometimes I choke it back, spending anxious seconds willing my eyes not to overflow, willing the tears to go back where they came from. Yesterday I stubbornly kept staring at my book, waiting for the words to clear up so I could keep reading.

I don’t like to show much emotion in public. I don’t like to show much emotion past, “This is really fun!” period. But airports don’t feel public to me. They’re intimate spaces where we’re all under the same constraints, and they’re the only thing I understand completely. I am the person who can glide through security, who has her plastic bag out and ready to go, who jokes with security and makes conversation with the gate agents. I slip into airports as easily as some of my friends slip into languages, immediately becoming a part of a system alien to most people I know.

We have intimate moments in airports, too. Hellos and goodbyes and fears and hopes and nerves and excitement become a pulsing jumble that moves through the building, growing and growing, until little bits of it fly away, drive away, and the last plane disembarks leaving it quiet, silent, dark. It’s just for a few hours, it’s just until morning, but it’s the only time it gets to be alone. And, come to think of it, that’s a little sad, too.

“I’m 27 years old, I’ve no money and no prospects.”

So, as is usually the case when I have writer’s block or otherwise feel like procrastinating, I’m watching the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. It’s funny, this movie is one of my favourites – it’s beautiful, it’s fun, it’s sweet (even if Mr. Darcy should be voted the Romantic Lead Most Likely To Make Me Want To Strangle Him with his creepy staring and inability to actually interact like a normal human being).

Well, I actually had to pause the movie after watching the scene where Charlotte announces her engagement. Lizzie protests (“But he’s ridiculous!”) and Charlotte shuts her down with the line above.

Well, can we all just pause and say a brief prayer of thanks that this isn’t a concern anymore? I mean, I’m 27. I have no job, no money, no boyfriend…pretty much nothing but cats and student loan debt. But there is nothing in the world that could pressure me into marrying somebody as atrocious as some of the men in this movie. (Bingley is silly but sweet, Darcy…well, if he’d stop being such a creep, he’d be okay. The rest of them? Pah!)

I was talking to a friend about this last night. I feel a little too old for some of the stuff I had patience for the last time I was single. Internet dating? No thanks. Putting up with weird conversation just to give somebody a chance? Nope, not for me. Letting myself fall for somebody who doesn’t actually want a similar life to the one I want? Sorry, thanks for playing. Next! 

I’m not old. I turn 28 this month, and it feels good. Like turning 27, turning 28 feels like it’s exactly right. My late 20s fit me in a way the rest of my 20s didn’t, and I’m so so thankful for that. I’m thankful for a family that was supportive when I quit my job to go back to school. I’m thankful for friends – single, dating, and married – who give me great examples of how great life can be at any stage. I’m thankful for everybody in my life who taught me the world is a large, exciting place and I can explore it if I want to. Because the thing is, I want to. I want to explore every corner of the Earth and I want to experience everything it has to offer, and I want that excitement now.

I have incredible friends that have chosen to settle down young, to get married and have kids and get a mortgage and do the things that adults do. This is the exciting part of life for them, this is what they want, and I’m thrilled for them. And when I disappear to yet another country, when I make yet another decision purely on the basis that it felt right and I’m responsible for nobody but myself and my cats, so why not? They’re excited for me.

And so I’m eternally grateful that I don’t live in a time where this is a weird thing, or a looked-down-upon thing. Because I’m in love with the life I am building, and it’s the kind of life that could only happen now.

The travel bug is biting again

Instead of writing my essay – the last academic essay I ever plan on writing – I am mentally flitting off to various countries on tiny little holidays meant just for me. I’m dreaming of Spanish beaches and Parisian flats and wandering the streets of Belfast. (Okay, those are the holidays I’m actually planning, and possibly none of them would be on my own.) I’m dreaming of Kilimanjaro and Angkor Wat and the Himalayas.

But at the same time, I’m dreaming of a flat in Edinburgh with a flatmate or two and my pictures on the walls and Sunday breakfast.

I’m torn. My heart needs to wander, my heart needs to nest. I need to get on a plane, I need to watch the clouds below me, I need the sense of coming back down to earth. I need a clean flat, a good dinner on the stove, a bookcase overflowing with books. I need a home to come back to before I can leave.

TS Eliot once said, “Home is where one starts from.” Where did I start? Am I starting now? If I leave and come back, does that make this home? Is it that simple, can I claim it so easily?

The truth is, I’m as torn as I ever am. Travel is healing, but the familiar is comfortable. I’m taking a day and going out to Glasgow soon and, for the first time, I’m slightly intimidated about going somewhere by myself. It’s worrying me. I don’t stress about flying off to a country where I don’t speak a word of the language and wandering around, but taking the train out to a new city is scaring me now. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because I thought I would have somebody to explore with.

When I moved over here, there was a very clear plan. But, for a variety of reasons, that plan no longer exists. Can never exist again. I’m operating with no more than a vague sense of where I want to go, and that terrifies me. It’s not that I can’t find a new plan – I will. I always have. It’s more that, for the first time in a really, really long time, I’m letting myself hang in the nothingness. I’m embracing the fear and the nervousness and I’m just living.

My world is small right now, and the idea of opening it up is scary. Edinburgh is the best adventure I’ve ever had, Scotland owns my heart in a way I didn’t think any country ever could. But I’m starting to think I’m a little bit lonely.