A Birthday Abroad

Dearest Readers,

This is the first year I’ve had the odd experience of having a birthday completely away from home. Sure, I’ve not been at home on my birthday before, but I was always going home soon or seeing family soon or with friends I truly love as family. This is the first year I was near nobody with whom I was that close, and not about to be with people with whom I’m that close.

And with this, I’ve learned a few things.

1-It’s possible to have a great time even if people you love completely won’t be there.

I decided, and my parents encouraged me, to plan something nice for my birthday. To have an active day and surround myself with new friends that will, if all goes well, one day be old friends.

So I did. My flatmate and I went shopping. Then I met six women for some tea at the Willow Tea Rooms which are, as I’ve always heard, absolutely lovely and beautiful. Then my flatmate and two others wandered shops some more, and me and two others went to see Guardians of the Galaxy II.

To finish the day, my flatmate and I went to one of the women’s residences to watch the last half of Eurovision, which was a lovely, hilarious experience.

I had a great day with great people, and I received cards and some gifts, which was unexpected.

And so, those women all made me happy and made my day.

But at the same time….

2-Birthdays are trigger points for homesickness.

It doesn’t have to be your birthday. It could be your best friend’s or your sister’s or your father’s. And you can be, until then, perfectly content. I’ve had my share of homesickness, but I’ve settled and don’t get hit with it very strongly very often anymore. And yet, last night I called home around 1am in tears because I was sad with no idea why. I’d reached the point of sad at which everything is a reason, and therefore nothing is a reason.

Truth is, though, I was expecting that. My mother’s birthday is less than two weeks before mine, US Mother’s Day is the day after my birthday this year, and I have a twin. It’s prime homesickness time. I just wasn’t prepared for how hard it hit me.

And, in a way, having a lovely day increased the feeling. But I don’t regret a thing.

3-Birthdays are opportunities for comparison and jealousy.

What did other people abroad get on their birthday? How many cards? How many well wishes? Did anybody visit them? Does anybody plan to? What about video chat?

As much as people hate it, jealousy and envy are very real feelings in many aspects of life. Expats celebrating birthdays are no different, at least for me. I can’t help but compare my friends and family to that of others I know that were abroad on their birthdays. Did they get more cards from home or a person visiting, more well wishers through our ever-growing technology, more…?

Which is not mentally or emotionally healthy, of course, but is somewhat unavoidable. Humans like to compare themselves to humans similar to them. It’s why representation matters.

But in this case, what matters is that you focus on your friends and your family and their personalities and normal customs and not those of other families and friend groups. It’s not easy. And if you get homesick it’s nearly impossible.

One good night’s sleep and recognizing what you’re doing helps accomplish it, though.

And finally, and somewhat most importantly for me….

4-Handmade, glitter-covered cards are always something to smile about.

I received two, one each from some identical twin lassies, and although opening the envelope left glitter all over my desk and chair and some work notebooks, I love them. They were the first onto my wall and will stay there for the foreseeable future, a reminder, along with a card from my parents, of the people who love me back home.

And the cards from my new friends beneath will remind me of the people who care for me here.

And together, these things remind me that I am one of the lucky ones.

Your Bonnie Celtophile,

Dani

Review: Finding Fraser by KC Dyer

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Dear Readers,

Before I get to the actual book, let me just tell you how excited I was when I found out there was a book called Finding Fraser (by KC Dyer) based on a woman traveling Scotland to find her own Jamie Fraser.

It sounded awesome.

However, you know what happens when you hype something up in your head. It needs to be perfect and exactly what you want in order to be great even though your own personal emotional state has nothing to do with the actual quality of the book.

That’s where I was when I started this, so to be honest, I was slightly more disappointed than I would have liked. It also meant I ended up walking away from the book for a while before going back to it instead of reading it all in one go. When I was done, I wrote a little snippet for Goodreads (add me!), but I knew I had to come back and write something longer for the blog. So here I am!

There were three things that bothered me about the book, and then I’m going to tell you why I loved it anyway.

So, the first thing I wasn’t super fond of was the portrayal of the Outlander fan. It was often a bit crazy, and definitely made it seem like fans of the show lose all sense of self when someone whispers “James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser.”

On the other hand, I haven’t exactly spent any time at Outlander fan groups to be able to say what’s accurate or not. I also perk up any time I hear someone talking about the books or show, use JAMMF as a method of motivation, listen to the Outlander podcast, and have been recorded talking about Outlander on a boat on a river in the rainforest for twenty minutes, and to top it all off, I straight-up entered a Masters program (and possibly will enter a PhD) because of these books, so who am I to judge?

Also, the idea of a stripper dressing up as Jamie Fraser makes me smile, so why the Outlander fan portrayal bothered me can’t be explained by anything more than my own quirks. I imagine there are others that were bothered, but I know just as well that there were people thinking ‘That’s totally true!’

So I guess that one only half counts.

Anyway, bothersome thing number two was how convenient the plot was. Like, of course he’s there, of course she’s able to stay, of course they caught her…. That’s not to say there aren’t any obstacles and she doesn’t have problems (she does), but I wasn’t surprised when anything happened. Also, her ways around Scotland were certainly for convenience sake, considering it’s a bit clear that adherence to Scottish topography was not a top priority.

Third bothersome thing: Emma, the main character, is so clueless and fixated. It reminded me of Harry Potter, where Harry is so clueless but all the characters around him are lovely. I did like Emma most of the time, but some of the moments of cluelessness and holding on were dragged out and thoughts repeated to the point I had to walk away from the book. This was probably amplified by the amount of medieval Irish literature and modern Gaelic folklore I’ve been reading, which gets right to the point and moves on, but I’m also pretty sure some of it could have been removed and the story would have lost nothing.

So, that’s what bothered me. Now let’s talk about the reasons I loved it anyway, because that’s really important.

  1. It’s a book about going to Scotland to find a modern Jamie Fraser. I mean come on. What’s not to love?
  2. The successful romantic interest (who I was pulling for) is definitely within my realm of dream guy and I found him endlessly entertaining. By the end of the book, I smiled whenever he arrived. Modern Jamie Fraser? Maybe not, but certainly a lovely man.
  3. It’s sweet. I can feel the love in the words.
  4. The addition of the blog posts was delightful. They added humor, gave chances for reflection, and helped the pacing of the book.
  5. The fictional adventures through Scotland were fun to witness, especially with ideas of Highland ghosts floating around.
  6. The characters around Emma were, as a whole, charming.

All this said, I would recommend this to anyone that likes Outlander. I don’t think I would have liked it as much, or maybe even at all, without the starting connection to Outlander, but I also don’t think I would have wanted to read it in the first place without that connection. It’s not the sort of literature I would want to form a uni class to discuss, but it is the type of literature that passes the time and gives a few laughs.

And that, my friends, is just as good.

Your Bonnie Celtophile,

Dani

Remaining Myself in the Face of Professionalism

Dearest Readers,

I hate being professional. I don’t mean in the sense of being on time for things, keeping my word, doing good work, and all the other things that one does while being professional. Those things are important. They’ve gotten me through undergrad and into a postgraduate program. They make people like me, and they keep me sane.

Aesthetic professionalism, however, is a completely different thing, and that’s what I hate. The things people wear and the items they use in order to be professional are at odds with many things I prefer as a person.

But I’ve realized, in the course of this masters program while trying to present myself as a professional, is that I need to keep the parts of myself that are anti-professional, too. Being professional and wearing clothes all the time that fit the trends is an assault on my senses, my energy, and and my individuality.

My bad sense of fashion keeps me happy, and it makes me willing to put on the well-fitting, clean-cut outfits I’m expected to wear as a serious adult in an academic setting.

Simple colours and limited patterns? No thanks. As my parents were loathe to discover when I was a child, I’m not just a fan of many colors and patterns in the things I wear. I’m a fan of mixing those colors and patterns. During the season or so when putting two bold patterns together was in, the way I’ve liked dressing my entire life was suddenly the cool thing, and it was amazing.

Too bad it’s over.

Ombre dress with striped leggings; plaid dress with leggings covered in skulls; red plaid leggings with a rainbow cheetah-patterned sweatshirt; purple dress, black tights, brown leather jacket, and some hiking boots…all of these outfits exist in my wardrobe, because who doesn’t want the double fun of having two different patterns in their outfit or overtly breaking an unspoken rule?

And pairing any outfit with patterned socks? Yes, please.

However, I’m realistic. I shouldn’t arrive at a serious event looking like a child learning to pick out her own outfits or an athlete that put on comfy pants after a workout. I understand that there are unspoken rules to follow in order to be taken seriously, as much as I wish there wasn’t, just as I know those rules apply to simply stepping out into public and not just to actual professional environments.

My prefered outfits would fly just as badly in a pub as at a conference, although with different possible social consequences.

(Really, guys, the fashion gene/interest/awareness that develops in most people, male or female, through their teenage years just didn’t do much in me. I can recognize things and am able to pass as fashionably aware, but it takes a lot of effort, and even so, I wore a peacock-feather patterned dress to prom in a year when it was the only patterned dress in the store, and the best compliment I’ve ever gotten about my fashion sense was ‘unconventional.’)

Anyway, I’m learning to do what I can in order to stay my pattern-loving self while also trying to pay attention to what successful professional people wear in order to pass for their intelligent selves.

So I might stick to jeans and a simple shirt with a plain cardigan to be casual-professional, but you can be damn sure I’m wearing wierd socks.

And I might look nice all day in tights and a professional dress, but at night, I’m putting on my unicorn and rainbow covered nightshirt and my cheetah-patterned pajama bottoms and relishing in the beauty of the clash.

And if one day I’m successful enough that ditching some unspoken fashion rules wouldn’t harm me, my career, or my chances to be taken seriously, I’m certainly going to throw some bad fashion fun into my work days.

Why?

Because everyone needs to stay 100% somehow.

Your Bonnie Celtophile,

Dani