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Class…? What’s That?


It’s a beautiful Friday afternoon in Milan and I am officially finished with my first full week of classes here. Yes, that’s right…studying abroad in Italy is more than just traveling and eating pasta! I must say that my classes here are fantastic. I began my week with an elective course entitled “Television, Advertising, and Music: the Italian Approach to the Media” led by a professor who is in the music industry himself. I am also enrolled in a course for my major called “Strategic Management & Entrepreneurship” in which my professor has his own brewing company! My other courses are equally as good and are taught by people who currently work in the field about which they are teaching. In that respect, they act as resources and connections for all of their students. One of my professors, who teaches my Fashion Market elective, gave us the invite to several Fashion Week events, two of which I am attending today!

The courses themselves were structured similarly to my classes at New Paltz. My professors upload all of their lectures onto Blackboard so we can refer to them if we miss any notes in class. They strongly encourage participation and class discussion to further our understanding of the topics covered in class.The classes run for about the same time as my classes at New Paltz, if not a little longer. My professors are very engaging and display a strong passion for their jobs.

One of the coolest things about all of my classes this week was when the professor took attendance and I was reminded of how many different countries are being represented in each of my classes. We all went around introducing ourselves and saying where we are from. At New Paltz, I’m so used to hearing “Long Island, Queens, Long Island, Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey…” but in my classes here it is more like “Brazil, France, Germany, Hungary, U.S., Australia…” and so on. The list is endless. As we went around the room, each person responded with a different accent. It amazes me how so many places in the world are being represented at just one university in Milan. Luckily, I get to talk to all of them and hear about their life experiences in comparison to mine. I might even have a place to stay if I end up visiting these places in the future!

Being back in school definitely feels a little strange after being on one of the longest summer vacations of my life (close to 5 months) but it feels great. I have a very good feeling about my classes, my professors, and the things I will learn both in and out of the classroom.

Un bacione…xxoo

The biggest bull ring in Spain and the third largest in the world

Life in Madrid

The very fact that this was my first opportunity to post here since I arrived in Spain exactly 3 weeks ago speaks volumes to the kind of hectic scene I flew into (and one that I was certainly not as prepared for as I should have been). Two of the most important things I’ve learned not to do while you are about to embark on your study abroad journey: 1. Don’t wait until the week before your flight date to figure out your housing accommodations. 2. Make sure you have access to Wifi when you arrive. In hind-sight these both should have been givens, but alas… maybe someone will learn from my mistakes.

Trials and tribulations aside, my limited time here in Madrid has truly been an amazing experience. The amount of friendships made from people all over the globe is a once in a lifetime experience and I know that it is only the beginning. The ESN (Erasmus Students Network) team here at UC3M provides the students with more than enough opportunities to meet other students studying abroad with a variety of trips, tours, parties, etc.

Despite the tardiness, my friend Nicolas (another fellow New Paltz student) and I are very happy with the apartment that we got. It isn’t the closest to our university or to the nightlife, but it is right next to the beautiful El Retiro Park, one of the staples of the city. The food in the neighborhood is also delicious and for the most part pretty cheap (at least compared to NYC).

Speaking of NYC, “the city that never sleeps” nickname might be even better suited for here. A theme I have noticed since being here is that these Spaniards like to do everything later. People eat lunch at around 3-5pm, dinner past 9pm, and the clubs are all open until 6am. Getting used to the time schedule here has been very difficult and I still haven’t quite got the hang of it.

Other than a few tours of the city and seeing some amazing art museums, I haven’t really done as much traveling or done as much sightseeing as I would like. One thing that I have done is witnessed my first bullfight last Sunday at the world renowned Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas. At first I enjoyed it; the atmosphere, the culture, the history, but then it really took me by surprise just how violent of a sport it is. After seeing the way that people in the U.S. reacted to the death of Harambe, I found it mesmerizing that every Sunday in this bullring they brutally kill 6 bulls in front of a huge raucous crowd. I’m not one to talk badly about another culture, but I can’t see this sport being around for much longer (I could be wrong though).

With classes well under way things are beginning to settle down a little bit for me over here, but a trip to Barcelona this weekend awaits and I couldn’t be more excited!

 

 

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A Taste of Italy


Three weeks have gone by in the blink of an eye. At the same time, it feels like I have already been here for several months! I have met countless new people from countries all over the world, I’ve gone on three trips, and I have eaten a scary amount of carbs. Luckily, I am averaging seven miles a day à piedi (on foot).

The food is as good as I had hoped it would be, if not better. Every day I must restrain myself from stopping into one of the many gelatterias I pass during my travels. One of my favorite things to have here is “un cappuccino”. During my first two weeks here, I was enrolled in an intensive two-week Italian language course in a part of Milan called Buonarroti. On the first day of class, my roommate and I got off at the wrong metro stop, which just happened to bring me to one of my favorite spots, Cremeria Buonarroti. For the past two weeks I woke up early almost every morning just so I could stop here for my “cappucco e brioche”. The man who works there quickly began to recognize me and knew my order after just a few days. Each morning I was greeted by a warm and welcoming smile, putting me in a good mood for the rest of the day.

When I first moved into my apartment here, I tried to keep an open mind. It certainly was not what I expected but I tried to make the most of if for the first few days. Eventually my roommates and I agreed that it was a bit too far from campus as well as the other international students. After speaking with our housing service, we were moved into a new apartment! We were all quite pleased with our new accommodation. It is about a thirty minute commute via la metropolitanà and is located off of the stop “C’a Granda” on the lilac metro line. We immediately settled in and felt right at home. Until next time….arrivederci!

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Beginnings

I have been in Prague for almost two weeks now, and these are my observations thus far:
This place is old, I mean REALLY old. I went on a tour of Prague Castle (literally down the street from my dorm) and it was built in the 9th century. Our tour guide told us stories about the things that have happened there over the years that I cant even remember half of them.

However one need not visit castles to feel the ancientness. Just walking down the streets in any part of the city will show you how old it really is here. The randomly twisting streets and terracotta roofs make the United States look like a new born baby just learning how to walk.

From what ive experienced, most Czech people embrace the old and reject the new. Buildings like the one in the picture i posted are looked down upon and considered ugly (this radio tower was voted the 3rd ugliest building in the world, and now has crawling baby sculptures all over it). Other skyscrapers and modern looking buildings left over from the communist regime are often left unused and sit in the outskirts of the city. It is a refreshing break from the modernity I have grown up with. Its like im living in the 12th century while still being able to ride the tram to class.

I have also come to realize that the United States is more often than not the exception rather than the rule. I have also studied abroad in Limerick, Ireland and many things here in Prague are much closer to Ireland than the United States. For example: water is never free. Every restaurant I go to here charges something like 10 czk (roughly 40 cents US) for a glass of tap water. Some places dont even offer water from the tap and force you to pay for a glass bottle of filtered water. At convenience stores and grocery stores it is not uncommon to find beer CHEAPER than water. Everyone here is drinking beer constantly. While I normally wouldn’t complain, it has been so hot this past week and all I want is a nice tall glass of ice water free of charge and that is impossible to get.

The upside is that everything here is insanely cheap. A large beer at most pubs comes out to roughly 1.25 USD on average, and a meal is usually not more than 150 czk (about 6 USD). However, you have to pay for EVERYTHING. Bathrooms, plastic bags at grocery stores, and tap water are just some that I have noticed in my first weeks here.

It is too early to draw any real conclusions, but as I get more comfortable with this city and the rest of Europe I will be sure to update this blog with observations, pictures, and interesting stories.

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Home Is Where My Eyes Are – And I Can See Better Here

England is more home than home… but also way more exciting, and slightly scary. And I haven’t even been to London center yet.
On a side note, I had my first crumpet today… here it is:

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I know I’m technically in the honeymoon phase right now, but even though I didn’t understand the way the roads worked, or often what people were saying (in my language, mind you), I felt a strong affinity with the United Kingdom as soon as I got there. I hardly felt that I had traveled any distance at all, or that I had only gotten closer to home.

Part of this could be because American culture is just everywhere. I think my sense of American Exceptionalism was bruised by seeing Coca Cola advertised on the sides of all the buses, as well as Doritos, McDonalds, and even KFC for sale in most chain stores. It seems that old Rammstein song is very true: “We are living in Amerika – Coca Cola, Wonderbra.” This Kingston is more like my old haunt of Kingston NY than I would like to admit – it was a wake-up call to realize how much the American market has taken over.

…But then again, there are delightful things that are different about it. Generally speaking, everything’s older. The houses are all in better condition, cozier, made of sturdy brick or old stone and mortar. and there’s more densely packed history here than there even was in Kingston or my home of Hurley NY, two primary destinations for old stone houses in my state.

Things are also smaller and cuter almost all the time here! The streetlights are on little poles! The radiators are paper-thin compared to those in the US, the toilets, sinks, and bike lanes are all smaller, and all the cars on the road are itty-bitty compared to the hunkering American monsters that eat up our roads. I love the sight of so many Mini Coopers pooting by. I love the red public telephone boxes on each street. The only thing I’ve really noticed that are bigger here, are the double decker buses, and the imperial pints you can order at the pub, as long as you’re over 18. Fun note – I have already been carded twice so far, something I’m not complaining about since I’m 25 and have been legally able to drink for four years in the States. So go me!

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There are foxes everywhere, and in our area of London there are way more parakeets than you’d think there’d be! This is due to a classic film shoot decades ago, where a small number of ‘keets were released into the wild, after which they multiplied ravenously. The Thames is inhabited by a million billion swans, and there’s also an expansive park nearby with deer and badgers and other creatures, which makes me feel more at home coming from a rural community.

 

Public transportation here is both more comprehensive and more irritating – You can catch a bus from wherever you are (or close by), and bus fare is paid with just one nuzzle of the oyster card on the panel, but you’d best plan up to a full hour ahead even if you’re just heading across town – because these buses are often late. At least in this suburb of London. I have yet to try the subway, but the double decker buses are very exciting to ride because of all the “humps” (crosswalks) they have to go over, and how fast the drivers drive (apparently they do not need to have a special license to drive them!). It’s like being on a very large, ungainly land speedboat.

Brits seem more conscientious of the environment, and also not. For instance, at Sainsbury’s and most chain grocery stores, they charge 20 pence per plastic bag (these are pretty durable for re-use) at the checkout. But as my boyfriend (also studying abroad through the same program) and I walked down his suburban street, we noticed a small, ransacked heap of garbage (most likely towed by a fox) laying on a lawn for two days, and no one picked it up. It reminded me strongly of my homeland.

Some prankster back home told me that all of the stores in the UK sold only health-food, and as such I would never find an American equivalent of a health-food store. I’ve found that Sainsbury’s is much like any Walmart or Shoprite, with mostly non-organic food and a few organic products with jumped-up prices. And I went to my first health-food store today, and they were not nearly as comprehensive as the one back in Kingston NY. So there – America is not the only “unhealthy” place in the world!

In the United Kingdom, I noticed, value judgements are placed on things in the most official manners in order to control the public. For instance, this sign illustrates the deep scorn reserved only for pigeons, making sure you know exactly what to think of them:

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I quite like the pigeons myself. But I haven’t had a sandwich stolen by one yet.

Some things they have here that (for the most part) they don’t have in the Upstate New York:
-Lemon Curd at an affordable price
-Of course the Double Decker Buses
-A Million Accents
-Super Cheap Playstation Games (Dennis got Arkham Asylum for 4 quid!)
-Fresh Fish and Seafood
-Subsidized Theatre (CHEAP TICKETS, especially for “Youths,” 25 and under! My dream!)
-Wine, Beer, and Spirits for sale in the grocery store!
-Many more options for different kinds of Asian, Carribean, African and South American Cuisine
-Calling Hookah “Shisha” (I almost accidentally ordered this at a Lebanese restaurant, thinking because of the fruity “flavours” that Shisha was a drink)
-1 pound and 2 pound coins (I can pay for a cup of tea with just one coin! So cool.)
-Lots of women openly and shamelessly wearing hijabs! It seems to me like they are very unselfconscious compared to American women wearing the same thing, – I may be wrong, but there’s much less of a stigma here. Makes sense, since even London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, is Muslim, and there’s no Donald over here)
-So many mysteries – like what, exactly, is “Chip Butty?”
-And WAFFLEMEISTER (…just …waffles. everywhere, with sweet and savory amazing things on them)

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I think for me, the easiest thing to get used to was the currency. Lucky to arrive in the wake of Brexit, when the Pound is not so strong against the Dollar, I’ve just been adding .30 to each pound I spend and I understand how much it really costs to live here. With proper budgeting and affordable rent, it’s manageable, though this first week I have both invested and splurged. I will definitely have to cut back and cook at home more. Also, I was amazed and delighted to find that there are FREE CASH WITHDRAWAL MACHINES, which I just don’t understand why in America we have to pay to get our own money, and here I just stick my American bank card in, and it withdraws and converts my money into pounds at no extra cost (except perhaps a few cents of a bank fee). What is life!!! Here is more evidence of splurging, when Dennis and I bought “Snogs” (frozen yogurt) and proceeded to… well, you know. Eat frozen yogurt next to each other in front of EVERYONE.
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Oh yes – lodgings. My lodgings situation had to change last-minute (AAAAAAAA) due to “unforeseen circumstances,” so I was assigned new lodgings that became available five days after I had booked tickets to arrive (AAAAAAAAA), thus I had to stay at a B&B for five days before I moved in – a strain on my budget. Luckily for me, Dennis’ landlady, Meow (yes, that’s her name, and it’s wonderful like her), was incredibly kind and offered to put me up for a few days until Dennis’ roommate moved in (Ahhhhhhhh…) and so I had free lodgings for three days, then two days of the totally charming B&B (first time I used skeleton keys in a practical sense!), and now I’ve finally moved into my new room (Yusssss!!!!!).

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I feel that I really lucked out. I absolutely love where I get to live, my landlords are friendly and accommodating, and my neighborhood is rife with foliage. Nearby is a game park full of deer, and I woke up this morning to the clip clopping of hooves from horses that live right down my street. Not only is it beautiful, but they have a lovely dog and four chickens! So I will never be short of animals to talk to!

 

To top it all off, I’ve included a picture of me, my boyfriend, and our friend Hannah (or as we jokingly call ourselves, Harry, Ron, and Hermione… okay, so that’s just what I call us, but never mind). All of us come from the SUNY New Paltz theatre department. I feel like we’re lucky to have each other to bounce off of whenever a hiccup comes along the road (and there have been a few). So far we’ve hung out a lot, but I think we’re all eager to branch out soon and make other friends as well at the university. Classes don’t start for over two weeks, and I am super eager to see what classes are like in the UK!

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If I learned anything from this first crazy week, it’s this: Do not freak out. Everything’s okay. Things will seem totally up the wall. You will most likely worry about things. Stress is normal, you’ll get used to this brave new world. Sooner than you think, you’ll start looking the “right” way before you cross the street. And if you are in a situation where you’re not sure what’s next, don’t worry, because there are many kind people in the world who are willing and happy to help you. You are less of a burden than you think. You will come out okay. I’m stunned by the kindness of people I’ve countered in my first few days, and I have confidence that once classes start, I will make so many more friends and never, ever, ever want to leave this incredible place.

One thought – I wonder if, when we experience and see the world in a slightly different shape, we stop taking for granted an existence that is not so different than our own? Suddenly, we become aware of what we have ignored for most of our lives? Could it be that only by seeing the world “slant,” as Emily Dickinson would put it, do we appreciate the poetry of life and look closer at things that are, deep down, very familiar to us? What if humans, even in their delicious differences, are actually just different colors emanating from the same ray of light?

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The Honeymoon Phase

I’ve been in London for exactly 3 days, and I’m in love. I found a friend who I’ve stuck by since we suffered through a 6 hour delay in our flight out of JFK to Heathrow.
I’ve seen a bit of campus, explored Kingston and walked along the Thames, and had a ‘cheeky Nando’s’ for lunch. I went to walk around central London yesterday–if you ever happen to be in Camden market, make sure to get fish and chips from Poppies. Absolutely amazing.
I just got back from a day trip to Brighton, and I haven’t even thought about being homesick until now. My laptop is about to die, and I don’t have a converter for the charger just yet, so this is it. (There goes my Netflix plans for the night.)

Goodbye New Paltz!

Okay. Breath in. Breath out.

So, I did an amazing yet emotional thing recently. I went to New Paltz a few days before going to Spain. Trust me, it wasn’t easy. I let go of my comfort zone. So, there was a lot of crying. But, I will not forget what my friend told me that weekend. Which was to prepare myself for the best experience of my life and not to worry because things will be exactly the same when I get back. That’s when it hit me. He was right, I’m going to Spain. I’m going to Spain. I’m going to Spain. Spain. Spain. Spain.

Me? Spain? I was born in Honduras, I have 30 cousins and 100 tias and tios and I’ve only seen one person go to Europe and now me. AND now me. I’m 22 years old so I know what this experience means to my family. I’m Latina and proud, and everyone in my family is now completely involved. It’s crazy, I have my godmother buying me a purse because I have to represent Honduras, my other aunt bought me some films to take pictures, my cousin is showing me Spain bloggers, my uncle— well you get the point! Do you see what I mean? This is not only my experience anymore, it belongs to my family too.

Also, I can’t even begin to explain how lucky I feel and I owe this to my parents, myself and SUNY New Paltz for making this dream possible. On another note, I feel nervous too. Who’s going to be my roommate? Will she be nice? AND THE CLOTHES, am I packing correctly? How do I know when to stop packing? I’m a huge fashionista and I’m trying to fit my closet inside my luggage. It’s sad, I’ve watched so many tutorials on how to pack but it’s still hard because I want to take my top 100 shoes. haha. But, I’m serious. So many people are telling me that there are stores over there, mhm nope I don’t believe it.

 

Alright, I’m joking but still. I can’t help it.

 

 

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New Paltz


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T-6 days ’til departure

So, I leave for London in 5 days. I’ve never been out of the country on my own before, so I’m a little scared. Mostly I’m excited. London is #1 on my list of places to visit; it’s surreal to realize that I’m going to live there for 3 months. I’ve said my goodbyes to my friends in New Paltz, I have all of my paper work mostly in order. Now all I have to do is wait for the day to come.

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Una Settimana Dopo….


While grabbing “un cappuccino” with my roommate before class this morning we both realized that it had been exactly one week since our arrival in Milan. When I first arrived I was beyond excited to start a new chapter in my life. As I stepped off the plane, I tried to wrap my head around the fact that I was finally in Italy. The Malpensa airport, unlike JFK, was quiet, calm, and quite pleasant. I initially thought of how I would be considered a resident of another country for an entire semester and was overcome by joy and happiness.

When I saw my campus for the first time, I was speechless. It was absolutely beautiful. Google images did not do it justice whatsoever. I was surrounded by other international students from places all over the world who shared my excitement to be part of such a wonderful experience. Of course, in this last week I have had to make many adjustments and will continue to do so throughout the semester. My large iced coffee was replaced by a teeny tiny espresso and my breakfast now consists of “brioche con crema” (one of the many delicious pastries Italy has to offer).

During this last week I have had to become much more independent and open-minded. I now live in a bustling city that is quite different from my small suburban home town in New Jersey. I have already met people from counties all over the world and have formed relationships that will last me a lifetime.

One of the most breathtaking views in Milan is, of course, the Duomo (pictured). My jaw immediately dropped as I approached it for the first time. I had never seen a church so large and so beautiful. Luckily, it is only a ten minute walk from my campus and is surrounded by numerous stores, restaurants and gelatterias! I am certainly still adjusting to my new home, but I am so incredibly happy to be here in Milano! Ciao!

A glimpse of sunset over a Catskill Farmland, the homeland I'm currently saying goodbye to.

Jumping off Diving Boards in Slow Motion

Destination: Kingston University, London, UK.
Time: Fall Semester.
Day: -10.

I’ve been getting little daily freakouts with increasing intensity.

Especially every time I fill out the date on a special order slip at work, I feel it. The quiet roar of a sensation not dissimilar to jumping off a diving board. This feeling continues in slow motion for me throughout my days, now that my departure date is less than two weeks away. But every so often time accelerates as I realize how close I’m getting to my first real adventure. I still can hardly believe it’s actually going to happen. It still feels so much like a dream in my head.

I’ve been buying the things necessary for studying abroad. A new contact lens exam and box of lenses. The cute little doo-hicky that will keep my laptop from exploding when I plug it in. Melatonin for the jet lag. A more convenient haircut. I’ve also been taking care of more important things, such as applying for an absentee ballot to vote in one of the most important elections in American history. Trying to pare down my wardrobe to two weeks’ worth of clothes. Reassuring my dog, Lucy, that I will Skype her every week. Saying goodbye to as many friends as I can before I board that plane.

And still, doing this intricate dance just a few steps at a time, I feel like I might be forgetting something vitally important. And at the same time, in the back of my mind, I know everything’s going to be okay.

In short, I can’t tell whether my stomach is full of spiders or butterflies.

It’s a delightful kind of a mixed bag telling my friends, family and teachers my date of departure, the primary question I’m being asked these days. There’s one big detail that never fails to make it weird.

“So, when are you leaving?”

“Uhhhh – September 11th.”

[face] “OHHHhhhh, great!…”

And then I say, “It’s the cheapest day to fly.”

And the other person doesn’t know whether it’s a joke or not. So I clarify, no, literally, it is not. My plane ticket was about $100 less than it would have been two days earlier or later. I always feel like it’s important to justify picking this particular departure date, since it gives everybody so much ageda and anxiety when I tell them. Either that, or I choose to say “I’m leaving in ___ days!!” Which makes it a lot less awkward, unless they’re really quick at math.

I think it’s unfair for spectres of the past to inhibit living spirits’ journey into the future.

While I have a lot of irrational fears crowding my peripheral vision of the future, I think that once I get there, the place I’ve been wanting to visit since I was a wee know-nothing, everything will fall into perspective. This is a story I want to be able to tell. And I’m sure I will find myself, just a little more, because I learned today from brilliant theatre artist Becca Blackwell that “[No one] is ever complete.” So I don’t need to be scared if all of me isn’t waiting to be discovered in London. I don’t need to be scared of a scary date. I don’t need to grieve over unlived losses. The future is nigh, and it’s probably going to be awesome.

So, some really cool things:
– I will watch the wake of Brexit from the point of view from those least represented in that decision, the youth population.
– I will catch a glimpse of the first Muslim Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn’s, first term in office.
– I will visit the locations of incredible archaeological and geological wonders, such as Avesbury, Stonehenge, and Newgrange (because nerd!).
– I will take a weekend to go out and see my namesake city, Geneva Switzerland.
– I will see some of the best professional theatre in the Western world, performed in the Motherland of English-speaking actors, London UK.
– I will make connections with fellow performers and theatre-makers abroad, broadening my post-graduate work opportunities abroad.
– I will learn all kinds of legit dialects, and hopefully some very useful additions to my actors’ toolbox.
– I will learn how language influences culture, and vice-versa.
– I will eat fish and chips.
– And I will produce all kinds of creative work unlike anything else I’ve made, while having fun and making memories.

I can’t wait. I hope this experience changes me forever.

In the meantime, I look at sunsets in the Catskill mountains with additional attention, as if I could manage to say goodbye enough to them. I imagine possibilities in my head how the SUNY New Paltz Fall Theatre shows will come out, and try not to cry about having to miss them. I watch as much Doctor Who as I can, in a vain effort to catch up to Peter Capaldi before I leave. It’s not gonna be easy to go ten days from now.

I wait, mid-dive, in a surge of slow time, as a new and unscryable eternity approaches.

My reflection, now’s face, stares back at me as I inch closer and closer to what I look like underwater.

“What lies ahead? I have no idea. I am on the verge.”
-Mary Baltimore, On The Verge, by Eric Overmeyer.