London Vacation, Day 1

Detail in the gates to the British Library, in case you couldn't guess where this photo was taken.
Detail in the gates to the British Library, in case you couldn’t guess where this photo was taken.

Okay, so I haven’t exactly been on the ball with writing my travel journal. I’m not sure what’s up with that but I guess I just have too many other projects going to be able to sit down and just relax with the writing. We arrived in London on Thursday morning, August 28 and got to our hotel a bit before check-in, so we dropped off our bags and walked up to the British Library. Our hotel was a serviced apartment at Cartwright Gardens, which turned out to be a really good location because it was close to Euston Road and the train stations.

Neither of us slept very long on the plane and by the time we arrived at the British Library it was probably around 1:00 p.m. local time, which would be 6:00 p.m. in Washington. Essentially we’d be up since seven-ish the previous morning with a few half-hour naps and I would say we were running on adrenaline. A half hour into the library tour it hit us just how tired we were, but we managed to look at some exhibits anyway. The Magna Carta was not on display but we did see the Gutenberg Bible, some Leonardo da Vinci drawings, and a piece of fabric from a Zeppelin, among other items. I would love to go back and get a reader’s card and disappear into the stacks for a few weeks!

We got a few souvenirs from the library museum store (I’ve got a neat London skyline ruler and some books – yes – imagine that!) and headed back to the hotel to check in, then I showered, got dressed in fresh clothes, and we both promptly sprawled on the bed and slept for about three hours. I didn’t want to “waste” the time sleeping since I was in tourist mode, but I have to say the nap was really necessary. Once we’d recharged we felt pretty good and went out to dinner at a pub and did a bit of walking before turning in for the night. I think the nap fended off jet lag because the next day I felt pretty normal.

Thursday Writing Prompt No. 105

My latest crochet project.
My latest crochet project.

We’re well into fall and the leaves are already turning colors. I’ve been on a crochet kick lately and I’ve been making leaves from 100 Lace Flowers to Crochet by Caitlin Sainio. I have so many long-term projects on my desk right now that making a leaf or flower each day or a couple of times a week gives me a feeling that I’ve completed something. I also think I’m using the crochet as a way to focus my mind — a sort of creative meditation that helps me settle my thoughts and get down to work.

Since I’m inspired by the leaves, this week’s Thursday Writing Prompt will be, too. Wikipedia’s List of trees entry includes varieties of trees from around the world. Some of the trees have stories associated with them, such as the Guilty Chinese Scholartree in Jingshan Park, China, and the Queen Elizabeth Oak in Hertfordshire, England. Your task is to pick one of these trees with an ancient history and rewrite its story as a modern-day urban legend. The point-of-view and word count is up to you.

We’re Off to London

Vacation finally arrived! We set out on August 27 for London for just over two weeks of sightseeing and arrived home late on Thursday, September 11. That left three days to unpack and get ready to go back to work.

Usually vacation eve is an angst-ridden time, but somehow I managed to keep involved with my to-do list up until the last minute. I think it helped that we had an evening flight scheduled so there was no need to crawl out of bed at the crack of dawn and rush around trying to remember to pack all our stuff. On Tuesday I made sure all our paperwork and tickets were sorted and ready to go.

The seatback video system included a flight-path monitor that allowed us to see where we were. Take a look at the temperature!
The seatback video system included a flight-path monitor that allowed us to see where we were. Take a look at that temperature and pass me the hot chocolate!

I had pre-packed some clothes and cosmetics, so Wednesday we had a relaxed breakfast and then spent the morning packing our new, bright-orange suitcases. We left the house around noon and headed for Dulles airport. The Washington metro area can be ridiculous for traffic, so we headed out extra early and stopped for coffee en route. The problem is that you either end up having too much time to spend waiting, or else you risk getting stuck in traffic and worrying about getting to the airport on time. As it was, we arrived in plenty of time.  I’d booked offsite parking and it the shuttle bus got us to Dulles quickly. Security took less time than we thought and so we had a long wait for our flight.

I have a fear of heights and I was worried that I might have a panic attack on the plane, but once we boarded I was able to relax and watch movies. It was an overnight flight and our plane landed at Heathrow just before nine Thursday morning. The customs line was long but it moved quickly, and by 10:30 we were sipping huge coffees and just glad to figuratively be on our feet again.

Paddington Station, London.
Paddington Station, London.

The first day in England was mostly spent in transit. After our coffee we boarded the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station and from there took the Underground to Euston Station. We trundled our pumpkin-colored luggage out of the station and rolled it down the sidewalk, clack, clack, clack. Fortunately the hotel was a only few minutes away. We arrived before check-in, so we dropped off the luggage and headed to the British Library.

Freeing the Inner Writer

I’m finding it very difficult to get back into writing mode now that vacation is over. It’s really much like getting back into running or anything else, though. I just need to do it a little bit at a time and focus on the process and not on how good or bad the writing is.

I’m working on an article for an academic journal, but I’m really not happy with what I’m doing. The draft I’m writing is mostly crap notes right now, but I know that’s part of the process. Writing never gets easier, and even if it did, I just keep setting the bar a bit higher each time so it’s always an effort. But at the start of every project there’s always a kind of mental squirming and fear that the writing is not good enough.

The key is to just keep on writing and push through these difficult patches. The problem is making up excuses not to write (not to exercise, not to eat right). You know what it really is? Perfectionism. Fear of not being perfect.

It reminds me of a kid in elementary school who would write his name on his paper and if it looked sloppy he’d ball up the entire sheet and throw it away. I guess he went through about six or seven sheets of paper before he even did any homework. He let perfectionism stall out his efforts instead of continuing to work.

Counteracting perfectionism is essential to moving forward. In college I took an art studio class and the first thing the instructor had us do was draw a big, ugly line across our drawing tablets. It instantly eliminated the blank-page syndrome (hey, this sheet of paper is already messed up!) and freed us to create art. Throwing words on the page, whether they’re good or not, frees writers from the awful whiteness of a clean sheet of paper or a word processor screen. That, and a healthy word-count goal, are the methods behind National Novel Writing Month.

This year I’m going to be collaborating on a historical novel that’s already in progress. Our idea is to use NaNo to power through finishing the draft. I’d also like to finish editing my 2011 NaNo novel, which is about 2/3 done. It is getting better; it just keeps getting put aside for other projects, such as my master’s thesis. Time to pick up the pen, saddle up at the keyboard, and get writing.