All posts by mjvowles2014

The Storytelling of the Everyday

As I’ve said in previous blog posts, I like having a date in the future that I can both look forward to and work towards. I try to avoid having a blank calendar. I’m not a planner, but I find that having a proverbial jackrabbit to chase after gives me a sense of forward momentum in life. Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to attach narratives to life, to think of its events as forming a greater story. I don’t want to give you the impression I’m religious or anything like that- I don’t believe in things like destiny, or that life has any grandiose meaning for all of us. I’m a believer in individuals creating their own meanings. I’m aware that my tendency to perceive events as stories is an act of creation on my part, and I’m aware of why I do it. I’ll target one or two events on my calendar and think of the time between them as being a distinct “chapter of my life”. That’s why I like having something in the near future- whatever it may be, a trip, a wedding, anything– that signifies the end of one chapter and the start of a new one.

For example, last year I had three such events that ended up dividing my 2017 into quarters. I had my best friend’s wedding in March, my departure for Texas in May, and my return to the U.K in August. I compartmentalized the time before and after each one into four distinct chapters that formed the narrative of 2017, because I knew that each event was going to be an emotional experience. At the end of each chapter, I would have learned something. One way or another, I’d have something to look back on. I’d carry something with me from the previous chapter into the next.

I don’t think I’m alone in doing this. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking “Wow, these must be the ramblings of a serial killer” and if that’s the case I wholeheartedly apologize for not getting through to you. But I’m thinking that many of you have similar thoughts. You might look upon an internship, a gap year, a semester abroad, a maternity leave, as having its own story, as affecting you in some way so that when it ends, you are a different person. I’m sure a lot of people don’t necessarily think of a certain period of time as a distinct narrative until it has long since passed, until they find themselves reminiscing about it. I have difficulty just living in the present, so I’m not really such a person. But life throws all kinds of surprises at you, and if you’ve watched as many movies or read as many books as I have, you’ll find you can’t resist isolating emotional memories as the bookends to a particular segment of your life.

Maybe it’s something as small as you saying “Hey, remember when, for a week, the three of us sat together in math and every day we made power rankings of our celebrity crushes? We were like the Three Musketeers that week”. Or perhaps it’s something as big as losing a loved one, and you find yourself during the months after taking long walks in the evenings. It’s an event that bleeds into the rest of your life until the next thing happens. A new job, a new partner, the discovery of something new, or the recovery of something lost.

We can’t help but look for stories in our lives. But sometimes it’s not such a good thing. I’ve mentioned how I tend to do it because I have a romantic outlook on things, and sometimes it helps to motivate me to enrich the time I have, to work harder with the hope that I can attain something lasting and important from a particular phase of life. However, too much creation on my part can sometimes result in a nasty bout of anxiety. What we take with us isn’t necessarily good. We have bad experiences. We’re all troubled by the human condition like Holden Caulfield. We all suffer. And I have found that creating a narrative out of everything gets me in trouble sometimes. Perhaps you wake up with a headache, and as you’re getting ready you accidentally step on your 8-year old’s art project. Just as you’re rushing to glue it back together, you get a letter in the mail telling you that your bank account is overdrawn. A lot of people- myself included- would then say “It’s just not my day” and subconsciously create this narrative of a bad day. But really, it’s just a coincidence that these things all happened on the same morning. There’s no conspiracy against you, but you’re drawn into believing that everything’s just going wrong. It colors the rest of your day, and things like taking the little brats to school, going to work, making them supper, doing the laundry, seem all the more daunting. You’re crushed by the immensity of it and it all ends in tears and a cheap bottle of wine.

It can be hard to take yourself out of time, to remove yourself at that point from the narrative you have created and realize “Hey, this day can still be good if I want it to be”. As you know, I’m not at all an expert on being happy. Happiness is a tricky business. But if I am feeling swamped or anxious, I find that the best way of ending the “It’s all going to shit” narrative is to go on a walk (preferably at night or when it’s cool) and follow it up with some Yoga Nidra meditation.

So I’m careful when I feel myself making a story out of everything. I have to remind myself to be aware I’m doing it. 2018 is still in its infancy. In April I’m heading off to Eastern Europe for a short solo adventure. I’m pretty excited for it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how I traveling alone affects me. But, as my wise roommate cautioned me, expectations often live in the extremes. There’s the best case scenario where I come back a champion of self-confidence and knowledge, stepping off the plane with a finished novel in one hand and a shapely Carpathian bride on the other. And there’s the worst case scenario where I get lost at night and in my desperation accept the directions of a Transylvanian serial killer intent on leading me back to his windowless rape dungeon. Most of the time, neither scenario comes true, and your experience lands somewhere in the middle.

I’ll provide more updates on my trip pretty soon, but for now I just wanted to share with you some of my thoughts about the way I perceive things. Let me know in the comments if you can relate!


My Ultimate American Bucket List

We’re living in the age of itchy feet and bucket lists. My dream has always been to travel to each of the 50 states that comprise the USA. I’m not sure if I’ll be fortunate enough to achieve it, but I’m going to spend my life trying. The thing is though, you can drive through all of the states and say you’ve ticked off that list without ever leaving your car. I want to have a unique, distinct memory to take with me from each one. So far I’ve been to 17 states, but not necessarily on my own terms. In Arkansas I didn’t leave the car. In Georgia, I never ate peaches- and that just doesn’t seem right. I’ve lived on-and-off in the USA since 2012 but only about 4 weeks of my time altogether was spent as a tourist.

Today, I’m excited to share with you my dream for every state. I’m a big fan of the phrase “When in Rome, yada yada” and so I’ve decided to pick experiences that capture the essence of each particular state, but which also tell you something about myself. Feel free to use this bucket list to inform your own travel plans! And, be sure to let me know in the comments what you think of my choices. If you could spend only one day in a particular US state, what would YOU do?



Heart of Dixie


This one’s tough. I’ve always wanted to see Mobile. I think it’d be an atmospheric, writerly kind of hangout where I could compose poems by the sea during the day and party it up with a cheeky bit of Mardi Gras at night. HOWEVER, if I only had one day to see Alabama, and I could never come back, I think I’d take in the Iron Bowl. I love the romance of college football, and the Crimson Tide-Tigers rivalry is something I just wouldn’t be able to pass up.



Land of the Midnight Sun


This one’s easy. I’d go on a cruise through the Alaska panhandle. I want to see glaciers, bowhead whales, totem poles, and miles upon miles of untouched, pristine pine forests.



Grand Canyon State


When I went to Arizona in 2014 I took in the Grand Canyon and it was beautiful. But there’s one part of it I didn’t get to see that I really, really want to. Havasupai Falls. I’ve been obsessed with this place for nearly 10 years now. It’s a remote area characterized by these distinctive blue-green waters and dramatic rock formations. I’m pretty sure that the original Planet of the Apes was filmed there. So it’s always looked like an alien planet to me, and I think that’s why I’m so crazy about going there. It would be the closest feeling I could get to traveling to another world. It’s a 10 mile hike through dusty, arid terrain to get there, but when I’m there, I plan to take some photos, do some painting, and frolic in the water.



Natural State


When I think of what makes Arkansas beautiful I think of snaking rivers at the foot of the Ozarks. I’d love to go canoeing in Arkansas.



Land of Milk & Honey


Well I’ve already traveled through Yosemite on horseback. Sometimes a bucket list item is something simple, brief and low-key. One thing I’ve always wanted to check off my list is to one day go through a redwood drive-thru (basically a hollowed out tree).



Switzerland of America


Garden of the Gods, hands down. For the same reason I want to see Havasupai. It’s beautiful and other-worldly.



Nutmeg State


Olde Mistick Village. It’s a quaint, rural town designed to look like an idyllic New England village of the 1720s. I’d stroll past cutesy mom n’ pop stores, take in the duck ponds, admire the watermills and breathe that clean, country air.



Land of Tax-Free Shopping


When I imagine my ideal afternoon in Delaware, I see myself antiquing; stopping off at quirky stores in the salty, beachgrass breeze.



Sunshine State


My dream day in Florida involves touring through the Everglades and seeing the crockergators!



Peach State


Georgia was my first state and it will always be special to me. Savannah was beautiful. When I go back, I want to eat peach cobbler at a roadside diner, surrounded by tall trees.



Aloha State


I want to see lava flowing into the ocean and sing “Burning Love”.



Gem State

Idaho State v Boise State

I consider myself quite the fan of the Boise State Broncos! Their trick play to win the 2007 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl got me into college football. I’d love to see them play on the blue surface of the Albertsons Stadium one day.



Land of Lincoln


Starved Rock State Park looks quite lovely, full of clandestine waterfalls and steep sandstone canyons.



Crossroads of America


I’d love to one day see a high school basketball game, and where better to take it in than the Hoosier State?



Hawkeye State


I’d pack my dSLR and some pastels and start trying to capture the lonesome beauty of the state’s barns, grain elevators, and gas stations.



Sunflower State


As much as I’d love to see greyhounds running at full speed, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it unless the animals were treated humanely. The ethics are iffy, so instead I’d choose to spend my day in Kansas at the Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita. Yeeh-haw!



Bluegrass State


I’d go to the batting cages at the Louisville Slugger factory. Duh.



Pelican State


I’ve always been fascinated with New Orleans. I’d love to live there, in a swanky apartment in the French Quarter, with a balcony in which I could sit in the warm breeze, listening to the sound of saxophones and women singing about crawfish. I’d get a beignet at the Café du Monde and love it.





There are so many gorgeous places in Maine that it’s almost impossible to pick just one. I’d go to Bar Harbor and photograph/paint the fog. Fans of Fallout 4 will recognize it as the basis for Far Harbor, and Bethesda did a great job of rendering the island with a haunted, post-apocalyptic aesthetic and populating it with giant, horrifically-mutated mantis shrimp here and there.



Old Line State


I wanna find the best darn crab cakes on the Chesapeake!



Old Colony


I’d love to spend the day in Nantucket, stopping at the whaling museum and the island’s various lighthouses.



Winter Water Wonderland


My perfect Michigan experience involves me eating fudge while riding in a buggy on Mackinac Island.



Land of 10,000 Lakes


I’ve been lucky enough to witness some of Minnesota’s beautiful wilderness on a couple of occasions. But that doesn’t mean I’m done yet. I would love to make a spiritual journey to Lake Itasca- a small, glacial lake in northern Minnesota that serves as the headwaters for the Mississippi River.



Magnolia State


My pilgrimage to Elvis Presley’s birthplace has been long overdue. Elvis was born in a shotgun house in a little town called Tupelo, that now acts as a shrine for traveling fans.



Gateway State


Missouri is an interesting land, and one that I’ve been fortunate enough to visit on several occasions. But I’ve got unfinished business in this pretty place. One thing I have really wanted to see for a while is the river-town of Hannibal; the boyhood home of Mark Twain and the basis for the setting of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn.



Big Sky Country


On every visit I’ve made to the USA I’ve professed a desire to see an authentic rodeo. My wish could never be fulfilled however, because I was never quite in the right place. Well, Montana is the right place. Going to Montana and not taking in a rodeo would be like going to Rome and not seeing the Colosseum.



Cornhusker State


The panhandle is supposed to be beautiful; full of epic landscapes characterized by green valleys and rocky bluffs. I’d go there.



Silver State


My next visit to Nevada will most definitely see me kayaking in Lake Tahoe, whose wondrous vistas you might recognize from The Godfather Part II.



Mother of Rivers


When I think of New Hampshire I think of the White Mountains, one of the quietest and most serene regions of the USA, and one of the most densely forested. My choice way of experiencing it would be to take the Cog Railway up Mount Washington.



Garden State


Atlantic City is kinda like the Vegas of the East Coast. I’m not much of a gambler, but I’d love to take a stroll along the city’s famous boardwalk and imagine myself walking in the footsteps of many a pinstriped gangster.



The Land of Enchantment


To my mind, there’s no better cultural experience waiting for me in New Mexico than going to Taos Pueblo and observing a traditional corn dance.



Empire State


Believe it or not, if I could pick one thing to do in the state of New York, it would be to stay at the Mohonk Mountain House. It’s a historic lakeside hotel where you can go hiking and get a nice spa treatment.



Tar Heel State


Without a shadow of a doubt, my next visit to North Carolina will be based around going to see a Duke-UNC basketball game. Do sporting rivalries get any better?



Flickertail State


I’d love to attend a cowboy poetry festival!



Buckeye State


For some reason I’ve always had a longing to see Cincinnati. Something about its riverfront atmosphere gives it a Southern charm. I’d like to see it for myself one day, taking in the bridges and the parks and the historic areas.



Sooner State


The Red Earth Festival would be an unforgettable and unmissable experience.



Beaver State


When I think of Oregon I think of white water rapids meandering through enormous, dense forests of redwoods and sequoias. The way I want to experience this state is rafting down one of these rivers!



Keystone State


Pennsylvania is one of the most beautiful and interesting states I have yet to visit. It looks to me like a painter’s dream. But if I had to pick one thing, I think I’d go spend the day in Pittsburgh and ascend the funicular on the Duquesne Incline.



Ocean State


I’d take a ferry from Providence and spend the day on Block Island. I love harbors and lighthouses. I think it would be a great place to have a quiet weekend of writing and painting.



Palmetto State


South Carolina remains a favorite of my family when we look back at the states we have been to, and it’s a contender for number one in our power rankings. It’s an amazing place. If I were to go back, I’d make it my mission to see the fireflies at Congaree National Park.



Coyote State

Aerial view of Badlands National Park, South Dakota

As awesome as Mount Rushmore would be, I’m gonna have to pick Badlands National Park. Even the greatest man-made monuments fall short of the bizarre splendor of nature.



Butternut state


When I stayed in Memphis in 2012, I saw Graceland, but I never got to tour Sun Studio! But that’s okay, because it gives me another reason to comb back my pompadour and return.



Lone Star State


Texas has been my home for the past two summers, and at this point it’s probably about as familiar to me as anywhere else in the USA. There is a lot to choose from, but my biggest unfulfilled wish is to photograph or paint a field of bluebonnets.



Beehive State


Bryce Canyon National Park. I’ve never seen anything so epic as the photographs of those rock formations.



Green Mountain State


I’d die a happy man if I got the chance to photograph or paint the covered bridges of Vermont in the fall.



Old Dominion

Mabry Mill

There’s so much history and so much beauty packed into this great state. It’s a place I desperately want to see for myself. In many ways I think of it as the birthplace of the USA. I’d spend my time here hunting down historic watermills reminiscent of the colonial days, and I’d photograph the heck out of them.



Evergreen State


In general, the Pacific Northwest contains some of the most breathtaking scenery in the USA. But since I’m a Twin Peaks fan, I’d choose Snoqualmie Falls as the place I’d visit for a day.



Mountain State


I’ve long been intrigued by Harpers Ferry. I think if I was going to go anywhere in West Virginia, it would be the place where the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers meet.



America’s Dairyland

MJS 100_0292.jpg

Wisconsin will always be my home state. It’s the place I’ve traveled the most extensively. I’ve seen Lambeau Field, Madison, the Dells, Door County. I’ve made s’mores in the Northwoods, I’ve gone deer hunting, I’ve toured wineries and logging museums, and I’ve seen Aaron Rodgers at the Packers pre-season practice field. There are a couple items still left on my to-do list such as The House on the Rock and Washington Island, but one thing that has remained at the top of my bucket list for a long, long time is to visit the Apostle Islands. That would be a real treat.



Cowboy State

Yellowstone Falls: River, Grand Canyon, National Park, Montana MT


“Just Another Mental Health Post”

I never planned to blog about my mental health issues as much as I have. It was only when I started writing my series of memoir-posts about my 2012 student exchange that I realized there was no way around it. To leave out my struggles with anxiety and depression would have been to tell a hollow narrative. It would have been a sequence of pointless events not really worth writing about. It wasn’t until that first post that I realized that to tell the story of my study abroad would mean telling the story of my mental health. I realized through writing about the events of that semester that every moment seemed to be tied in some way to the imbalance in my brain chemistry. Every social situation, from intramural soccer to my first day at class had to be told through the lens of my anxiety, because that’s how I experienced it. Sometimes I felt a little nervous about discussing these issues, because I’ve always been emotionally fragile and hyper-sensitive about what others think of me, but I decided to write them anyway. Part of me felt guilty about blogging about it, and worried at the kind of reaction I’d get. Ultimately I knew I would, because I knew the writing demanded it, and the quality of my writing is more important to me than pretty much anything else- certainly more than fear of embarrassment. But up until now I’ve only ever blogged about mental health insofar as it relates to my experiences and memories. I haven’t done a piece specifically addressing my issues, because I feared that doing so would be stepping into a realm beyond my expertise. I might suffer from these issues, but I’m no medical professional, and that’s my reason for not wanting to discuss mental health in a general sense. I’m uncomfortable offering advice or discussing the experiences of others. I’m nervous about trying to contribute something useful to an issue so destructive for so many people.

However, I’m in an angry mood this afternoon. And it’s this anger that’s prompted this blog post. It’s not a post I have scheduled and it’s not one I’ve planned. I was actually scheduled to release an entirely different post today, but that can wait. I need to get this off my chest while I’m still fired up about it. So think of this as a kind of spontaneous rant. I’m not sure where it’s going, or whether it will amount to anything worthwhile, but here goes.

A little while ago I saw a post on Facebook that caught my eye. For the past two years I’ve been taking an antidepressant called Citalopram. I was in a phase in 2015 where I didn’t want to get out of bed in the mornings. I didn’t want to try anything. I loathed myself and I consciously wished that I would fall asleep and never wake up. The pills have helped eschew those dark thoughts and now I’m in a phase where I find myself very unwilling to part with the medication. Anyway, the post on Facebook that I saw contained a picture of these pills, and I was naturally drawn to it. It was a long Facebook post in which the user was discussing the side effects of the medication on her health. It was very interesting to read about someone else’s experience with the same drug I was using. However, the first paragraph of the post was filled with defensive and self-conscious statements such as “I don’t want this to be just another mental health post but…” and that got me thinking. At first I was annoyed because she seemed to be disparaging other mental health related posts even though she herself was clearly trying to write the same thing. But then, I started wondering why she was so self-conscious about writing about mental health. She was obviously worried about the kind of reaction her post would get. She seemed to be echoing a fear that social media is oversaturated with mental health posts, that because more and more people are sharing their stories, the supposed “real issues” were becoming clouded. It hinted at widespread suspicions of anxiety not being a real medical problem, or the sentiment that “everyone’s diagnosed with something now”, a sentiment which (to me) suggests that because so many people are opening up about their suffering, that the issue’s seriousness is therefore diminished.


I’m not an expert, so I don’t know, nor do I pretend to know, how widespread the issue of anxiety is. But even if it is so common, that doesn’t make it any less toxic. I’m angry today because it’s apparent that we’ve got a long way to go toward making our society more sensitive to these issues. What really set me off today was reading through the comment section of an article on Bleacher Report about Johnny Manziel’s Bipolar diagnosis. I loved watching Johnny Football when he was in college. I wouldn’t say he’s a hero of mine or anything, but he was an exciting athlete doing some pretty flashy things. Reading through the comments beneath the article, I was appalled at the idea that because this guy has made some mistakes in his life, that he is somehow not entitled to our sympathy. In a recent interview with Good Morning America, Manziel was forthcoming about his Bipolar diagnosis, depression, and his commitment to sobriety and therapy. If there’s one thing I admire it’s an individual that tries to better him or herself. We don’t have to like Johnny Manziel, and that’s not my point here. My point is that the reaction I observed to the news of his mental health issues was symptomatic of a wider societal problem regarding the perception of depression and anxiety. Sympathy is never a finite resource; we don’t have to choose between feeling concerned about Syrian refugees and a college football star’s search for a healthy state of mind. Every form of suffering is worth our attention, and in order to create a more sympathetic world, we have to stop categorizing suffering.

I know that sounds preachy, but fuck it. My blood’s up now. I have to express my rage and do what rage demands, what it’s good for; to turn it into a written statement. I was chatting with a friend recently who was describing a “rut” he’s been in. During our chat, he said something that really stuck with me. “I don’t want to use the word depression” he said. It made me think he felt guilty about adopting that word, that his issues weren’t as important as mine. The fact that I take pills doesn’t make my anxiety any more real, or any more important than his or anyone else’s. We should be encouraging people to share, and getting to the root of our problems, so I told my pal to use whatever word he felt best described his experience. It comes back to the idea that because mental health issues are suddenly more widespread, that not every claim is as valid as the next. Are people tired of anxiety related posts? Are they annoyed by them? I’m not. Nothing pleases me more than seeing people share their experiences, be it orally or in a written piece. I love reading the blogs of some of my fellow Creative Writing graduates that touch on issues such as depression or social anxiety. Nothing makes a person so interesting to me as their openness, their self-awareness and self-reflection. I don’t enjoy hearing that other people suffer, but it is comforting to know that my issues are shared by so many, and I seek out these brave accounts of suffering. But you don’t need a degree in Creative Writing or a Citalopram prescription to share your story. Don’t ever be afraid to express your own experiences, and don’t be made to feel that what you are going through does not warrant our attention, because to share is to contribute the continuum of human experience and our understanding of these issues.

I’mma get me some ice cream. Nothing cools me off like a bowl of Neapolitan. Vowles out.

We Need To Talk About That BIG Star Wars News

We need to talk about Star Wars. I don’t want to say that “This is the best time to be a Star Wars fan” because the sequel trilogy has been nothing if not divisive. But in terms of the sheer amount of Star Wars we are getting, and the staggering financial investment being pumped into the franchise, this is undoubtedly the Golden Age of the franchise. Disney have already made back the $4 billion they spent to acquire the Star Wars license from George Lucas, and have decided that the popular science fantasy name will replace Marvel as the dominant blockbuster property for the foreseeable future. I think that Disney are starting to recognize the potential the Star Wars universe has for fresh stories that will bring in the megabucks. The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi have all been a resounding success at the box office and maybe, just maybe, we are going to see a little more experimentation on their part.

The more I look at the sequel trilogy, the more I think it’s a hot mess. However I adored Rogue One. It felt different and edgy and interesting, and that’s why I’m cautiously optimistic about Solo: A Star Wars Story. The first anthology film was styled as a “war movie” set in the Star Wars universe, and in May we’re essentially getting a heist movie. I think the creative freedom afforded these new movies taking place outside the Skywalker saga could result in some really intriguing narratives- as was the case with Rogue One. There are supposedly two more anthology movies in the works, and by the looks of things they are going to be an Obi-Wan movie and a Boba Fett origin story. But even though these anthology movies represent a break from the Skywalker saga, they still feel close to the main films.

Over the last few months there have been several exciting announcements. Disney is now interested in telling stories completely separate from the characters, places and events we are used to. It’s like they’ve answered my prayers and finally realized the potential in the Star Wars universe. For the sake of coherence, I’m gonna break down the announcements in bullet points. These are the confirmed projects in the works:

  • At least one more anthology movie to follow Rogue One and Solo.
  • A new Star Wars trilogy directed by Rian Johnson, completely separate from the Skywalker saga.
  • A live-action Star Wars TV series, developed for Disney’s upcoming streaming service.
  • A new series of Star Wars movies written and produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, separate from the Skywalker saga and the Johnson trilogy.

Goodness Globb. That’s a lot of Star Wars. The news came in yesterday that the creators of the Game of Thrones TV show would be working on this new series of Star Wars films, and it’s encouraging to me that Disney would choose them for their experience with complex characters and darker, more nuanced narratives. The language used in the press release deserves close attention. The fact that they are producing a “series” suggests to me at least 3 films, but the fact that it’s a series and not a “trilogy” indicates that it may not be a singular narrative. It could mean that we’re about to get a new anthology series of standalone films, only this time more removed from the familiar Skywalker saga. I’d say we’re looking at about 7-8 Star Wars movies guaranteed to be coming our way all in all, which is a lot of Star Wars. And in addition to these films we’ve got a TV show in the works as well, which we probably won’t see until 2020. I’m interested to see what Benioff and Weiss come up with. They said in their statement that they will get to work on it as soon as Game of Thrones is finished, so I’d say the absolute earliest we could see the first film would be late 2020, and I think even that’s pushing it. With all the Star Wars we’re getting, Disney are going to think carefully about the timing of each release, and at the moment we don’t know what we’ll see first- the first of the Johnson films, the Obi-Wan film, or the first of the Benioff & Weiss films. Whatever one comes out first, the next surely won’t see theaters for at least 6 months after. I think we’re probably looking at 1-2 Star Wars movies a year, and the box office performance of the upcoming Solo film will probably be a good indicator of how Disney will want to space these movies out.

I think it’s good to be excited. However I’m not under any illusions that all of these projects will be just wonderful. One thing we know for absolute certain is that not a single one of these upcoming Star Wars projects will please all the fans. The Star Wars fanbase can be charitably described volatile, and each generation of fans will never be able to replicate the joy they experienced in their childhood. As I said earlier, I’m not overly thrilled with the sequel trilogy- though there are plenty of good moments I enjoyed in the films, such as the praetorian scene in The Last Jedi. And a lot of people like the films. It’s important to remember that Disney will be making these new movies for a new generation of fans, and they will be different to what we’re used to. This ain’t your nan’s Star Wars.

At this point it is pure speculation what these stories will be. I would love to see a Star Wars narrative that focuses on a padawan’s training- a sort of Harry Potter style, coming-of-age Jedi story. I’d also love to see more of the criminal underworld of the Star Wars galaxy. But what do you want? Let me know in the comments all your wishes for the new Star Wars narratives we are getting!

The Taste of My Study Abroad

Peanut butter is one of those things I’ll always associate with a particular time and place. We have peanut butter in the U.K but it’s not overly popular. In the US however, it’s everywhere. To me, it’s a distinctly American taste. On the lower campus of the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire there’s a big cafeteria that I would go to in-between classes. I remember looking around and seeing a PB & J for the first time. There seemed to be something nostalgic and quintessentially American about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. For some reason, it was strange and funny that these were actually real, that they were right there in front of me instead of in the movies. They seemed more American than hot dogs even- because hot dogs and hamburgers have been transplanted into foreign menus so thoroughly. The PB & J seemed like the sandwich an American boy might have in his lunchbox at a summer camp; I can see him, sandy-haired and sitting on a log taking large, American-sized bites in the sun. I got myself the sandwich and found a booth. The first thing I realized was just how rich it was. The taste was fine, and I loved the jelly, but I found it so filling that I only ever got it in the future for the novelty value.

Sometime later, I was hanging out with my friends Jimmy and Zeke. They delighted in my thirst for American experiences, and out of the goodness of their hearts, took me down to the dorm’s vending machine and treated me to a care package of what they called essential American candy. It was interesting to me what Americans considered to be the most American and the most important. The care package included a Hershey bar, a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup, and a Pop Tart. These were the things I had to try. If you’re an American reading this, what do you think of their choices? Let me know in the comments what candy you would choose for someone’s induction to American life.

Dedicated readers of TumbleweedWrites will remember my Lamb Boobs post a few weeks ago, in which I mentioned that my friends George and Elizabeth gave me a typewriter as a thank you gift for serving as their wedding photographer. Last weekend I finally got around to learning how to use it, and I decided to make a menu of all the food items that made a strong impression on me during my study abroad. These aren’t American meals so much as they are American tastes. These are the things that, whenever I take a bite out of them, I am instantly taken back to my time in Wisconsin in the fall of 2012. In some way, they all made me feel American when I ate them!

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Dressing the Part

When I entered the USA for the first time, I was very much intent on absorbing as much as I could from the local culture. In some ways I arrived a tabula rasa– a blank slate. A land that could only exist in movies was suddenly real and tangible. I was so curious about how these Americans lived and how they thought, and I wanted to get as close to that experience as I could. I wasn’t really sure how I would ingratiate myself in this land of s’mores and denim, but before I even set foot on its mythical shores, I had a deliberate commitment to “When in Rome…something something…”

I say I was a blank slate because at the time I had none of the elements in my life that now seem so important. I was lacking in life experience and social exposure. I was naïve, and I even told the student exchange coordinators in Winchester that my reason for going was, quite frankly, to become more worldly. I was also wayward and uncertain in my own homeland, living as the campus recluse and wondering if I was missing out on things key to a person’s social development. Honestly, I was like Quasimodo, only venturing out my room when I was sure I had no chance of seeing anyone. In that respect, I felt different to the other exchange students who traveled with me from Winchester to Eau Claire. They seemed like complete persons, people with distinct identities. I imagined that they would bring the U.K with them to Eau Claire, teaching their new American friends interesting nuggets about their life across the ocean. I imagined them challenging Americans on “Proper English” and introducing them to British drinking culture. They were, in my mind, exciting prospects for waiting Americans, bringing the exotic British experience to their lives. Their interactions with the locals looked like a two-part exchange.

By contrast, I had very little to share. I was looking to make myself anew. Kind of like a phoenix, except not as graceful and majestic. I was to be born again in the chapel of “Howdy pardners” and “You betchas”. I used the word soccer instead of football and I put my hand on my heart during the Star-Spangled Banner. When asked to perform my own national anthem, I refused, saying I hated the Queen and that garbage song. I remember that lack of pride specifically shocking the Americans, and I wondered if in a dorm room on the other side of campus, the other Winchester students were proudly belting out “God Save the Queen” in front of their cheering American admirers.

Even though I would later adopt a lot of Americanisms, I don’t want to give the impression that I was somehow destined to be Americanized or anything. It wasn’t a smooth transition at all. As I got to know Aaron, Jimmy and Zeke better, I began to realize just how differently they thought to me. As I have stated in other posts, the traits that seemed to define my new friends were openness, direct language, decisiveness, and a lack of fear of embarrassment. What I mean by that last one is not that all Americans are flawless extroverts, but simply that they came across as not showing any outward signs of shyness. I couldn’t have been more different to them. I was self-conscious, passive, bumbling, and awkward. But I’ve covered that in previous episodes. Today I want to draw attention to more superficial changes.

Believe it or not, at the time I had a “no-denim” rule. I wasn’t quite sure what my fashion sense was, but since the age of 15 or so, I refused to wear jeans. All of my trousers were black office-style pants. I often wore button-down shirts tucked into a black belt. I guess I was trying to look old-fashioned or something. Anyway, in the U.K this never really stood out. At Winchester there’s kind of a hipster atmosphere anyway, and what I wore was never a point of conversation. But right off the bat in the USA, the locals seemed perplexed at my choices. Americans were shocked that I didn’t have any jeans. I was told that if an American were to dress this way, they’d be considered “preppy” and “a nerd”. That’s not to say that all Americans dress the same, but what the exceptions did was really own it. Their style was a way of expressing themselves and considered a part of their identity. They weren’t self-conscious about being the girl that always wears a beanie or the guy that always wears a trench coat. I was no such exception. I had no such ownership and confidence in the way I dressed. I was still figuring it all out, trying one item and then the next.

“It must be really formal in your country,” one person told me.

“This is normal for the English,” another person explained, as if defending me against accusations of being a dork.

I’d say most Americans at the time wore jeans when it was cool and athletic shorts when it was hot. I didn’t even own any shorts! But both girls and guys alike seemed to be stocked with them. Almost all Americans wore backpacks too. When I was 11 years old and I went from Primary School to Secondary School in the U.K, I was told immediately by older kids to adjust my straps to wear my bag as low as possible, or I’d get bullied. If you want a snapshot of life in a British school, then just picture every person’s backpack level with their ass, because that’s how it was. The kids that didn’t make the change quick enough were probably hounded into a discreet corner and given a good beating. Anyway, no such rule existed in the USA. Aaron took one look at my low bag and said “That’s just stupid,” before adjusting it to its proper height for the first time in a decade. I later logged into Facebook and saw a status from my friend and fellow writer who was studying in Oregon. She was saying how she couldn’t get over how high everyone’s backpack was in the USA, and recalled how kids with high backpacks would get bullied in school. And she was from Shropshire, so it’s clearly a nationwide insanity in U.K schools.

I got my first pair of jeans when I went deer hunting during Thanksgiving break. They were an old pair handed down to me from my host dad, and I had to wear a tight belt to keep them up, because I had no defined butt whatsoever. I was rail-thin. My host dad said “We just had to sort you out,” and gave me a brown leather belt to replace my black one. All of a sudden I felt like a cowboy. That day drinking beer in a tree stand seems like a turning point now, because when we got back from the hunt, I had lifted my decade-long ban on denim. I quite liked feeling rustic and unpretentious for a change, and within months I had completely shed the French philosopher look. I went to the student building on lower campus and bought myself a gray sweater. I rushed back to my dorm and tried it on with my new jeans. I then walked across the hall into Aaron and Akbar’s room and I remember Aaron looking up and going “Whoa! You look great”. My new style was already winning me compliments. People said I looked like “an American college boy”, and I wondered if I would possibly get mistaken for a frat bro.

10 Things Texans Say

In my most recent post I discussed how Americans and British people use the same words differently. It’s got me thinking about all things semantic, and there’s so much more I could write about the way Americans speak. I lived in Texas for two summers, and that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Texas is big. So big, in fact, that it really warrants its own post. Admittedly, my exposure to The Lone Star state has been limited; focused almost exclusively on the Houston area. I’m aware things are wildly different in the likes of Fort Worth and Waco. I wouldn’t be surprised if the folks over in El Paso talk entirely differently, given that it’s as far away from Houston as is Mexico City. So the following is based off of experiences I’ve had in the Magnolia City, and how they’ve seemed to be especially Texan to me. They’ve contributed to my overall impression of the state. They’re quirky and colorful evolutions of the Mother Tongue.

I’m basing this list off of experiences I’ve had, and I’ve decided to pick words and phrases I think most Texans would use. I never once saw a Texan call themselves the “rootinest tootinest” of something or yell out “tarnation!” when they stubbed their toe. So I will be leaving out things that don’t go beyond the stereotypes. If you’re a Texan reading this, let me know in the comments how many of these you use. Hopefully, I’ve created a list that is representative of everyday life.


  1. Ain’t.
    This one might be the most subtle, widespread item on the list. It’s used as a twangy corruption of “aren’t” in much of the Deep South, and is considered something of a staple of Texas. But it’s such a natural, unconscious part of a Texan’s lexicon that you hardly even notice it when they are using it.
    Example: “Ain’t they gonna notice we just taped over their wedding video with the latest episode of Fixer Upper?”
  2. Sir/Ma’am.
    It’s quite common in Texas for people to address each other as “sir” or ma’am” when in a formal or professional environment. I noticed it first when my roomie Anne-Marie was calling up AT&T to complain about the shoddy internet service, and the woman on the other end of the phone kept calling her “ma’am”.
    Example: “I’m so sorry about that ma’am. We’ll send someone out to you as soon as we can.”
  3. Y’alls’s.
    This one might be my favorite. I decided not to put y’all on here if only because it’s so obvious. Instead, I’d much rather bring attention to the way I’ve noticed Texans use the word y’alls’s (pronounced: YAHL-SIZZ) to refer to the possession of a group. It’ll make more sense in the example below.
    Example: “What’s yalls’s street address? I heard y’all moved to Seabrook.”
  4. All y’all.
    This is the second y’all-related entry and it’s another beauty. Whereas y’all refers to a group of people, the phrase “all y’all” refers to multiple groups of people. Imagine it being used by a carnie to a long line of waiting teenagers.
    Example: “All y’all can go right on home because the mechanical bull done broke on us again.”
  5. Dropping the “g”.
    I like this, because I feel like it’s emblematic of a recurring theme in Texan English. Texans like language that rolls smoothly off the tongue; they haven’t got time for worrying about what might be considered “proper”. When using words like “fixing” and “shaking” the “g” at the end will completely disappear. I find it so interesting that the “g” upsets them, and I completely agree to be honest. You don’t need to emphasize the “g” for the word to make sense, and so “fixing” evolves into “fixin”.
    Example: “Melanie burped at the dinner table yesterday, so when the Pastor left I gave her a whoopin.”
  6. Reckon.
    I love this one because there’s an anecdote to go with it. My friends and I went to a birthday dinner at the local hibachi restaurant in Webster, and our group was the first to arrive. As we waited, my new friend Jeb decided to teach me some Texan. Jeb didn’t wear a Stetson or a bolo tie. In fact he was a swimming pool salesman. But he was born and raised in Texas and told me that all Texans say “reckon”. He double-dog-dared me to go up to the hostess with my hips cocked and my thumb in my belt, and say “I reckon y’all have a table for Mr Potter”. Unfortunately, I didn’t seem to be channeling my inner Matthew McConaughey because the lady glared at me and said “What?”. I shuffled away in shame while Jeb translated for me.
    Example: “I reckon you need to watch Dallas Buyers Club a few more times before you impersonate a Texan again.”
  7. Come up/Come over/Come down.
    It doesn’t matter whether you are north or south of the person you’re speaking to, or if you are on the top floor and they the bottom. Texans use any of these three variants to invite people to their house.
    Example: “Y’all should come up this weekend, we’re makin’ pizza rolls!”
  8. ‘n.
    This one is great because it’s another example of the way Texans like to speak. Texan English is very smooth; words roll seamlessly into one another. Texans often reduce the word “than” to just “n”. They then tack this “n” onto the end of the previous word for optimum comfort and efficiency. Bigger than becomes bigger’n. Tougher than becomes tougher’n. You get the idea.
    Example: “Hoo-ee! Your wife is madder’n all hell about the mess we made on poker night.”
  9. Coke.
    I learned this one before I ever crossed the Red River. In the Upper Midwest they call it pop, in the south they call it soda, and in the UK we call it a fizzy drink. In Texas, all sodas are referred to as “Cokes”. Whether it’s a Dr Pepper or Blackcurrent Fanta, it’s simply a Coke in Texas.
    Example: “What kind of Cokes do you have? I’d love a Mountain Dew.”
  10. Not my first rodeo.
    Texans love these little idioms. It’s a big part of the way they communicate and it’s what makes them so special. Famous examples include “All hat and no cattle” and “More’n you can shake a stick at”. However I decided to choose “This ain’t my first rodeo” because I feel like it’s the most likely to be used by all kinds of Texans, and not just the straw-chewing stereotypes. I could definitely see Jeb using it, and many other Texans, whether they are city-slickers or country folk.
    Example: “You asked for key lime pie, and that’s what you’re gonna get. Don’t worry- this here ain’t my first rodeo.”

During my stay in Texas, I actually met more Louisianans than Texans. So I thought it might be fun, as a special treat, to list my favorite expression I learned from them. Jeb’s wife is Cajun, so we’ll go ahead and call her…Blanche. Anyway, Blanche told us that when Cajuns go to the grocery store, they say “We’re makin’ groceries.”