The Charles Dickens Museum


I have a confession to make: I almost did not leave England. I can’t tell you what I would have done should I have stayed, being utterly unprepared for a move to a different country. Still, I cried on the night before we were to fly out. It had been lovely to walk the streets, take buses, and admire old buildings. I knew I was going to miss them, and I already do.

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I can’t say that, during this trip, I found the London I read of in books. I didn’t expect to, either. A lot of time has passed between now and the England of Charles Dickens. Buildings have been torn down or made into shops; skyscrapers have been built that he would likely have thought hideous.

Yet beneath all this change, this modernisation, something felt familiar.

I might have been a tourist with only distant relations to England (ancestors from Derbyshire) and I might not have known where anything was. Still, there was something about the air as I walked. In my heart I couldn’t help but think, Ah, this is familiar. I am where I ought to be.

What is this magic that made me feel as if I had been there before? I can only think it is the power of story. The novels I read paint a different place than that which I saw, but those words captured the soul of that city like a sponge. When you tell a story about a person, you’re speaking of the person, whether they change or not. The same is true for cities.

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I almost did not leave London. The only thought that got me into the plane out was the knowledge that I hadn’t the money to start over. I also did not want to make a rash decision blinded by the charm of tourism. However, I have every intention of going back, and perhaps the second time I will stay.

I was in love with England from the moment I stepped onto her soil.

Ten days in England was not enough to see all I wanted to, but it was possible to cover the basics. Buckingham Palace, the National Gallery, the Tower of London–it was all lovely. Having said that, my favorite place was the Charles Dickens museum.

You might call my love for his work an obsession. He had a grip with the English language that I cannot find with other authors; if you know of someone else whose work I might enjoy that much, I am open to suggestions.

We visited the Charles Dickens museum on our last day, with four hours to go before a rush to the airport. We rose earlier that morning and my mother asked me, “Do you want to see the Charles Dickens house?”

I had resigned myself to putting off my visit for the next trip; it was a sweet, unexpected surprise when she woke me to such an invitation. I dressed in a heartbeat and we called a taxi.

I felt chills as we wandered the museum, which is actually his house. It is encouraging as a writer to know that one of the greatest authors of all time had a desk to work at, a piano to play; he needed a bed to sleep on, and he had a library. His talent was great, but he was  human like me. I can be a successful author while being myself.

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A family photo with Dickens’ silhouette next to me–how charming!

There came a moment when I was alone in his library, and I told him, “Thank you for the stories.” Maybe he heard me; if not, at least I tried.

I think some of his inspiration rubbed off on me, because now that I am home I feel like writing again. I feel like publishing another book. I want to go back to being a writer.

Until the day comes when I can return to England, I will read more about her. There is so much to know. I will learn her literature and poetry, I will explore my roots, I will improve as a writer.

This trip to Europe has done wonders for me. I doubt I will have my house made into a museum like Dickens’, but I will at least have a reader or two. I will at least write again.

Walking the Unpaved Road


I know few people can travel for the sake of creativity. It isn’t the only way to overcome Writer’s Block, but it does work. I am blessed to have been able to visit lovely places and have new experiences.

It’s true that adventure, exploring the world, will do your creativity a wealth of good. Here in England, I have been brave enough to start a new novel.

There are many firsts in this novel. To start with, it’s inspired by what I see: old buildings, rides in the train, rainy weather. The first scene takes place in a train, albeit an older version. Secondly, I am not planning to make it a series. I don’t care about the length of the piece; what I want is a good story from beginning to end.

Leave your comfort zone and drink in what you see. I promise that eventually you will feel a new story growing in you, a flower pushing through hard dirt. It might take years for the seedling to see light, but if you’re patient enough, it’ll be something you love—something you want to write.

My favorite quote has always been by Vincent Van Gogh—

Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.

I am fascinated by Van Gogh and his very sad story. I did not expect I’d be able to see some of his work in person.

Today we visited the National Gallery in London; I saw wonderful works, including his famous paintings of the chair and the sunflowers. I obtained a copy of his letters. I want to know how he saw the world, and connect with him a bit.

Museums give me chills. It’s a shame we went too late and were not able to see all the paintings, but I am happy with what I ran into. It’s possible we might return before we leave England, but if not, I have art books at home.

Reading about art isn’t the same; books are still magical.

I am not the same person I was when I left home. When a dream comes true, something in you feels brighter. You are like the flower pushing through the dirt, except the flower has bloomed. Eventually it’ll wilt and drop seeds for new flowers, new dreams. I have grown and I know it.

If you can travel, do.

A Dramatic Trip to London


This morning we were late to Charles de Gaulle airport. Not only that, but a couple of our carry-on bags were overweight, and we had to check them. Someone sent us to the wrong gate, on the other side of the terminal.

By the time we crossed the terminal, everyone else had boarded the plane to Heathrow airport. They were calling our names on the speaker, waiting for us to show up and board. We stumbled into the plane red-faced, trembling and thirsty.

a cup of coffee in the English sunlight

As we chugged cup after cup of cold water, the plane took off. What I had been told was an hour long flight from France to England felt like fifteen minutes. Perhaps it was exhaustion distorting my sense of time. It didn’t feel like very long at all.

I woke up when the plane began to descend. Once I realized where I was going, I teared up. As a child, I had dreamed of visiting England. My idea of it is probably different from the reality; this is fine, it means I will learn how it is.

I’ve been around the city today on buses, grocery shopping with a friend. I have enjoyed what I’ve seen. I recognized some street names from books I have read, which plunged me into disbelief.

Have the pages swallowed me up? Will I encounter characters I love up the street? Have I gone back in time?

Of course, I haven’t gone back in time. I see the traffic, hear the trains, see people on their cell phones and the flashing lights–no, I haven’t gone back in time. But I’m as close as I will be, and I will cherish the week spent here.

Perhaps I should have taken a nap instead of going to the supermarket; I’m nodding off. It’s just that I want to experience it all. I want to write a novel, and for that, I need to see.

But I’m nodding off, and I suppose a nap is in order. Later, we might visit a pub.

Thoughts on the Louvre


I mourn that I was unable to see all the works in the Louvre and appreciate them. It would require a lifetime studying each piece from every possible angle. I would have to make my home in the halls of the museum: each piece of art offers hours of contemplation.

I cannot live in the museum; this is the reason that art books exist, so that we can take the pieces home with us, in a sense.

However, books do not give us chills in the same way as the real works. Gazing at an original painting, we imagine the artist before his canvas, working to shade an eyelid or smile, or chiseling the look of agony on a statue’s face.

Books will not give us the same connection with the creator. Museums have this power: walking from frame to frame, statue to statue, goosebumps rise on our skin.

We feel mixed emotions. First comes hope—because such beauty is possible and can come from the human imagination, can be created by human hands.

Then follows a sense of despair, because to create such glorious pieces, we must dedicate our lives to practice. Most of us give up too easily.

But there is another despair: many of these artists had no way of predicting their work would be loved centuries later. They died in obscurity.

Does this not also give us hope? Art is not about fame, but fulfillment.

I choose to hold onto the positive feelings that gave me chills at the Louvre. My writing might seem scarce at this moment. I sense I am not doing enough to create something immortal. Fame is not the point. Perhaps my words will become famous after I have left this world.

What to do in the meanwhile? I will continue to create—because it heals me and fulfills me. I will not worry about fame.

In peace and in love, I will live a life of creating and learning.

The Lady of Paris


Yesterday, the Eiffel Tower stood before me.

All my life, I had wanted to meet her in person, wanted it desperately; I pined for it, as if anxious she would one day walk away. I feared she would vanish to a different spot if I kept her waiting, for no lady likes to wait.

But there she was watching, steady with wisdom from years she had seen go by, years of revolution, heroes and tragedy. Only the stars could compete with her light. No diamond can outshine her.

She stood in the same spot she’d been all the time I had wanted to see her. I like to believe she waited for me patiently. Perhaps she knew I would one day arrive and bask in her great shadow.

She stood as if I were the reason she had kept to that spot.

As the taxi made its way up the street, her light beamed over the city, settling on me. In that moment, I nearly cried.

Her light settled on me and she seemed to say, “Welcome. I’ve been waiting for you.”

My Own Account of London


When I first started reading books, I discovered their ability to transport the reader to different places. Between covers I have been to many locations, a good percentage of which are not real…but many that do exist somewhere on this planet. Of these I have enjoyed glimpsing between the lines.

How strange to think I am visiting these places. France? England? These were lands I knew because I read of them. For years I devoured written accounts from authors, fiction and nonfiction.

I’ve seen different versions of England, from Dickens to Rowling. Many French authors—classic and contemporary—have taken me to Paris. What a blessing to be going. I will have a chance to see these countries from my own angle; I will be able to tell readers of my own version.

I will have accounts of my own. My feet will tread cities ancient, sidewalks that have seen revolution and change. I’ll encounter buildings immortalized in beloved novels. I will have a chance to visit the graves of great authors, pray in old cathedrals, see castles.

a glimpse of a Peruvian street

As I packed, I listened to The Four Seasons and La Vie en Rose, letting the beauty of song mingle with my excitement. I have chosen Pride and Prejudice to read on the plane from San Francisco to Paris. I have daydreamed.

Oh! the stories I will write. My craft will be changed permanently. I will gather magic wandering these places so old but new to me. The stories growing in me! They might be novels or short stories, but whatever they are, they’ll be the most poignant tales of my life.

I had always thought that, if I were to see these places, I would be old and gray. No, I am blessed to see them with the energy of youth. Thanks to my mother for helping my dream come true so much earlier than I imagined. She is without a doubt the greatest and I love her.

Oh, the poems I will write. I am ready to meet the muses who helped build these great cities. I won’t have enough time to see all I want to, but there will be pictures, and the memories will stay. I won’t forget a moment of this visit—not a smell, taste, sound, flavor—I cannot forget.

How’s the Weather?


Cold air stings my face. I think about conversations we have with taxi drivers about the most cliche of subjects, the weather. Is it not the topic that makes us all scoff? But when you’re from a different hemisphere, the weather becomes interesting.

We hear people in Peru talk of how cold it is outside, and it makes us smile. I think of our winters at home where the streets are coated with layers of snow and it’s difficult to crawl out of bed.

I find the Peruvian winter, at least in Lima, like the colder months of autumn—minus pumpkin spice fever. It’s a pleasant time when you can walk around with a scarf and think of carving pumpkins…but you don’t see any.

It’s disconcerting to feel this temperature and not see a pumpkin patch. You don’t think about such details at home, things so mundane as a pile of fat pumpkins in front of the grocery store.

Friends, you learn unexpected when you travel; apparently, pumpkins are a bigger part of my life than I thought.

When we describe winter at home, people smile and seem to give thanks they do not live somewhere so frosty. It’s as if, all of a sudden, the weather isn’t so cold.

They then ask where we live. Idaho, we respond, to confusion. Where is that? Did you say Ohio? Iowa? Where is Idaho? It’s up northwest. Is it near Arizona? Is it near Canada? Yes, it’s near Canada.

Sometimes, after these vague directions, the person gets an idea of where we are. Sometimes they remember having heard of Idaho at some point. Most of the time we leave the taxi feeling like tourists from Wonderland or Oz.

The taxi driver zooms away picturing us as living in a place like Monet’s Snow at Argenteuil. Sometimes Boise does look like that.

Claude Monet, Snow at Argenteuil

Traveling, you learn that the weather isn’t simple after all. What Peru lacks in snow is made up for with humidity. The hostel where we’ve been staying for three weeks is next to the ocean; if you open the window and lean outside, you smell it.

We breathe in seawater, and though it does not feel terribly cold on the outside, the body becomes cold. I had bronchitis the first week here. At home, I have never had such a bad cold, even in years when the snow has been terrifying. Perhaps it’s not impossible, but it’s never happened to me.

Travel helps you learn about the place where you live; you unearth gems of your tradition, habits you didn’t know had gotten under your skin, like choosing pumpkins when the weather is cool. Life is a painting, and you have to look for the contrasts.

Colors of Travel


What have I learned visiting a different hemisphere for two weeks? I could go on about the cliches. In a different country we discover new cultures, cities, customs. We encounter things of the past, ruins and cathedrals built centuries ago, structures with such detail few today can mimic them.

To be honest, I haven’t seen this trip with the eyes of a tourist. Cultures, cities, customs–these are things anyone can learn when they visit a different country. They can be learned online, as well, through a quick Google search.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” -Gustave Flaubert

What do we learn about ourselves? Every human spirit is a castle with undiscovered rooms. Doors must be opened, and when they are, the traveler will find in themselves a stranger. If travel is done correctly, we should not be able to recognize ourselves.

We are all made of divine colors visible to ourselves and God. He is all-knowing, so the heavenly shades cannot surprise Him; the same cannot be said for ourselves. We become frightened running into a contrast we consider too bold, or a shade too soft for our comfort. It’s like asking a stranger what they are doing inside of our skin.

Edgar Degas, The Rehearsal

When forced to relearn things such as how to cross the street, you face the patterns of your soul. There is nothing so foreign to us as the gradients that make us. See how they merge so mysteriously! Ask yourself, What is going on here? Why does the person in the looking-glass resemble me but not feel like me? It is thrilling and terrifying.

After two weeks in Peru (and another because of the hurricane), I looked in the mirror. What I saw resembled the person who had gone to the airport, but she was not the same. She could smile and mean it. She liked the light in her eyes, and could converse with strangers in a different language.

Her soul was foreign, but it was her.

Other things came as a surprise, such as how I like pastels. In the past I was faithful to forest colors or shades of blue, but now I am drawn to lavender, yellow, shades that remind me of the ballerinas in an Edgar Degas painting. I do not like loud shades of pink, but soft ones, those that could almost be called white. You see it if you know how to look.

Is it color I like in myself, or what the color reminds me of? In Degas paintings I see color in motion, coming alive. That flash of yellow is doing a pirouette, the pink is securing a bow; they are alive and breathing. I believe that travel done correctly makes you see your own colors.

How sweet to feel colors in me that promise I am alive, a painting like every other soul. Travel done right uncovers them so that life is never the same.