High School English with a Twist

The musings of Susan E dot Cohen

Susan Leaves America

Susan Cohen, World Traveler

Susan Cohen, World Traveler

As the title suggests, this piece is about my first trip abroad. It’s a companion piece to my personal essay, ‘Passport in a Drawer.’ The goal is to share my experience in a light, fun manner. As detailed as it may be, it still lacks detail. When traveling, a great deal of the experience is sensory. Some of that cannot adequately be described. At the same time, some of it should not be described. It’s for me. 

I created a name for my trip, “Susan leaves America.” After all, my name is Susan and I was leaving America. Although humorous, there was a serious undertone in this title. After 27 years in America, I was leaving my nation for the very first time by crossing the Atlantic and traveling to London and Paris. In a way, I was a 21st century explorer just going in the opposite direction of all the European explorers.

A trip like this required a title. It marked a change in me and my understanding of the world. For a very long time, I was missing the understanding that travel requires. I did not understand why people traveled. As naive as it sounds, it was true. This trip signified finally understanding and wanting in on the experience.

My feelings about travel began to change around the Royal wedding of William and Catherine. Watching the anticipation leading up to that big day back in 2011, I was introduced to England. This formal introduction awakened a desire to see it. I was fascinated by the country’s pomp and circumstance, its history, and of course, Catherine Middleton. I must thank the Duchess of Cambridge for my newly developed interest in England.

Her story, which I first read about in Newsweek, drew me in. It was a catalyst so to speak. By the time she walked down the aisle of Westminster Abbey, I knew I needed to see London. It would just take almost three more years, but everyone has to have a waity period. This was mine.

London led me to Paris. How could I travel across the Atlantic and only see one country. I wanted Paris for its light. I had long imagined what it might be like. I figured it was something (emphasis on something as I knew it would be 100x that) like the delicate sunlight that hits the Beresford on 81st and Central Park West. Something about that corner reminded me of images and pictures I had seen of Paris.

When I would tell people I had never left the country they were always surprised. “Really?” was a common response. It was usually given with an appropriate accompanying facial expression. I think I baffled a few people with my domesticity (emphasis on domestic and not its usual meaning).

Everyone assumed I had left, which was flattering. It was certainly a testament to how I was raised and the manner I live in New York. I offer an example of how cultured one can be if they have not left the United States, primarily New York, for 27 years.

However, it certainly demonstrated how important those around me view international travel. A few of my acquaintances in New York assume everyone travels or has traveled, and if you have not, some even question whether you are cultured. I could write a dissertation on what makes one cultured, but I will just say there are different kinds of culture. There is the culture I achieved in New York and then there is the culture one can only acquire through travel. I knew I was missing the latter.

The day before my trip, I looked outside from my apartment and thought tomorrow the view will be different. I possessed an idea of what I would see, but I had no idea what the other side of the pond would be like. The one thing I knew was that this was one an important moment for me.

The truth is this trip changed my life. I can pinpoint hundreds of tiny moments of change throughout my week in London and Paris. Two people have inklings on the experience. The first is my travel companion who literally gave me the world by taking me to London and Paris. He watched me experience it, but also participated in the experience. A great deal of it will remain between us. The second person is one of my closest friends, Meghan, who lives in London and spent two evenings with us. She helped make our trip special.

When the Virgin flight attendant said, “darling,” in a British accent as I boarded the plane, I was thrilled. I was one step closer. When the pilot said, “returning” in reference to our destination, Heathrow, while still in the US, I was delighted. If that was how I felt boarding the plane, you have an idea of customs in Heathrow. I was probably the most excited person – on the inside – to ever go through customs.

Traveling from Heathrow, simply sitting in a car that was driving on the other side of the road was a first. As much as this trip was about seeing the sights, I also wanted to experience the culture. Being in a car on the other side of the road definitely met that criteria. It’s comparatively different than in the United States.

Cruise on the Thames with Big Ben and Parliament

London is history mixed with modernity. That’s why I fell in love with the city. Big Ben and Parliament came to life. In Westminster, everywhere I turned was someone who had impacted the world. I stood in a building where coronations take place and the wedding that inspired this trip. A short trip down the Thames, a river with so much history. Tower of London and oh those jewels.  St. Paul’s, honoring all who had fought, and climbing those hundreds of steps for that view. Walking amongst kings and queens and across a bridge that had stood in various manifestations across a river for hundreds of years. Signs all over London for establishments from the 18th century. Visiting a recreation of the Globe and imaging the theatre in its prime.


I had seen Buckingham on television, but standing outside it is different. There is a mundane quality to the palace as cars travel in and out of it. Work must be done and this is a working palace. At the same time, I could see how easily it transformed into the ultimate symbol with balcony at the epicenter of the roaring crowds. The famed National Gallery held Impressionist paintings I had yet to view. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York certainly has a few of my favorites, but it cannot possess them all.  Even the tube was exciting with that tap in/tap out system. In New York, you swipe. Tapping was just so British.

On our second night, Meghan took us to see St. Paul’s at night and across Millenium Bridge. As she said on the bridge facing the church, “this is the money shot.” It certainly was. This was London at night in all its glory.

After those first few days, we were off to Paris for the weekend. The Eurostar was the most exciting train ride I have ever taken. I was traveling within Europe as the Europeans do. Not to sound colloquial, but it was awesome. Arriving at the Paris Nord, was my first introduction to a non-English speaking country. With Paris, it was love at first sight.

Soon we were popping into Hermes, Gucci, Dior, which I certainly have done before in New York, but this was different. This was experiencing these brands in a whole new context, Paris. Everything is different in Paris. Never had I seen a Hermes bag be matched with a scarf. The intricacy and attention to detail as they tried one scarf then the next. Sure, I could have seen this in New York, but in Paris, this just made sense. (Side note: I have no interest in owning one.)

As art appreciators, we lacked the appropriate amount of time to give to the Louvre. Instead, we opted for lots of walking and Notre Dame on Sunday, a day when many establishments are closed in the city.

Notre Dame

I remember viewing slides of 19th century paintings of the boulevards in Art History courses in college and  on walls of museums. I imagined what the light might be like and there it was; shinning brightly with a hint of spring in the air as we strolled along the Seine on a Sunday. The light in Paris was everything I expected and more.

The Light!

The dining was life changing. It’s certainly an experience. Potato and leak soup garnished with chives that I wished was endless followed by lamb that melted in my mouth and a moist, delicate lemon tart for dessert at Noglu, an 100% gluten-free restaurant. Perfectly cut non-greasy fries with an appropriately seasoned jar of ketchup to accompany at my hotel. Ladurée macarons that were delicate and delicious. I feasted on exquisite eclairs, chocolate tarts, and other pastries from Helmut Newcake, an 100% gluten-free café and patisserie.

Lamb at Noglu

 

 

 

 

Lemon Tart at Noglu (Maybe It’s a Cake?)

 

Gluten-Free Pastries at Helmut Newcake

 

 

Happy Customer 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
London felt different after Paris. I now understood how the two cities existed in relation to each other. This is a very important perspective to possess. Our last two days included stops on Piccadilly Road including to Fortnum & Mason. I had heard about this famous department store, but here it was in its glory. Floors of delicacies, sweets, and teas. I wanted to buy every tea cup and saucer.

On our final full day, we headed to the famed British Museum. We started off with the Rosetta Stone and then, at last, we saw the Elgin Marbles. In a freshman art history course, I first learned about them. Finally, I had a visual to see what Lord Elgin brought back. Fulfilling that freshman Art History student’s education at last.

Controversial as they may be, his decision allowed us to see history that might not exist without him and this museum. We viewed other rooms and then scanned the centuries with an afternoon at the Tate Modern moving from Picasso’s to Dali’s to Miro’s and a Turner. What a Turner it is.

On that last night, dining overlooking the Thames with St. Paul’s in front of us with Meghan, I did not want to leave. Soon there was one last tube ride, a walk along Oxford Street, all the while letting London know I would be back. London, I say it again, I will be back.

I was meant to take this trip at this exact moment. Everything up until this point had been preparation. I just had no idea that I was preparing. Now, this 21st century explorer wants to keep exploring.

As Meghan texted when I arrived in London, “Welcome World Traveler.” I certainly earned that title.

 

 

 

 

Passport in a Drawer

I have been having a hard time describing my first trip abroad. The following essay is an attempt to convey what it meant to me. I know this piece is far from perfect, but it captures how I felt and continue to feel about my experience. A little bit of background is needed. Prior to the seven years this essay focuses on, I did not have a passport. This short work will be followed up by a longer piece describing where my passport took me. 

For seven years, my passport sat waiting for me. First, in a drawer on Long Island and then in the City. The drawer kept it safe. It had nowhere to go because I had nowhere to go.

The few times I looked at it, it seemed powerful. It possessed potential. I found myself feeling sophisticated just holding it. This blue booklet gave me access to the world. A world I was not yet ready to see.

For years, I lacked interest in travel. More than that, I was timid about travel, but also intimidated by it. I was afraid of leaving my comfort zone.

It took me a long time to feel ready to leave the boundaries of not just my country, but more importantly my own. My passport had waited patiently for this moment.

First, the passport was called upon when booking flights. Out of the drawer it came for its number. A personal passport preview. Then, as soon as I arrived at the airport, my passport made its debut with the TSA agent. The blue booklet from the drawer had been used at last.

My passport went from having a hypothetical power to a real one. Holding it in the airport, and later in train stations, represented waiting to get to this moment – to both leave and arrive. The arrival brought with it several stamps, but most importantly, the first one in Heathrow.

I was probably the only person that day appreciating the stamp given to me in a passport that unbeknownst to anyone around me, had sat in a drawer waiting to be used for seven years. The wait was certainly worth it.

Stamp away.

The Sun Rises and Sets on Instagram

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The Statue of Liberty Amidst The Sunset
      Photo taken by Kirby Wetzel

The sun rises and sets on Instagram. There is even a hashtag for the sun on the app  – sunstagram. Instagram is sort of – a big emphasis on sort of – like Louis XIV. I am trying to make the connection, but it may not be there.

Now, taking photos of sunrises and sunsets is nothing new. Instagram certainly did not start a sun photographic trend. What is new is that posting pictures of the sun – especially sunsets – has become a daily habit for many Instagram users. This is a byproduct of the app’s design.

Instagram encourages users to go out and share the visual experience. Each photo inspires the next one. The design of the app has certainly encouraged its users to see the world differently and capture it.  Instagrammers have chosen the sunset as an important visual experience that needs to be shared. Yesterday is a prime example of this point.

I missed the sunset yesterday. Prior to Instagram, I probably would not have thought much about missing a sunset on a Tuesday in November. I would have just accepted it as reality of the time of the year. I am less likely to be outside when the sun sets earlier in the day. However, yesterday was different. Several photos on Instagram made it clear that I missed an absolutely beautiful show in the sky.

Even though I missed the sunset, I had the chance to experience it from different vantage points in New York because of what Instagram encourages its users to do. Looking through the photos, I realized that I want to seek out beauty in the world each day.  I want to experience that beauty, especially the sunset.  I want to thank Instragram and Instagrammers for reminding me to interact with nature as much as possible.

In case you missed the sunset too, here are several spectacular photos taken by my friend Kirby. I hope they inspire you too!

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Continuing Television Education

Continuing Television Education taking place on Susan's television.

Continuing Television Education taking place on Susan’s television.

Lawyers must go to Continuing Legal Education (CLE) courses. I have chosen to do Continuing Television Education (CTE). I consider CTE to be a very important part of my profession. What that profession is I’m not totally sure, but it involves – or I hope it involves – a lot of television and different kinds of it.

Anyway, CTE requires a certain state of mind. It’s half an hour to an hour of complete focus in the name of television. CTE can occur during lunch or later in the afternoon. It must be completed between 12:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. otherwise it’s just regular television, and CTE is far from your average television viewing experience.

There are three types of CTE. The first is the most important type of CTE or at least important for me. It’s catching up on one of my favorite shows. Often that means watching the previous evening’s episode. The second type of CTE is trying out a new show without giving up my evening. It’s akin to saving time. Finally, there is always the option of watching Sex and the City reruns on E!, which I do at least once a week. Sex and the City CTE is thirty minutes of trying to figure out why my teenage self loved the show so much. I think a lot had to do with not knowing what it was like to be a grown up. At the same time, I have a greater appreciation for the final seasons now that I am an adult or a semi-adult.

My favorite CTE of the week takes place on Monday, as in today. Monday’s CTE is almost always The Good Wife. Now, I have previously written about this show (click here for those thoughts) and find it to be very invigorating. I’m inspired by Alicia Florrick  and how she solves problems and conducts – well most of the time – herself. After watching the show, I want to be more like Alicia. If say I’m writing an email or running an errand after watching the show, I’m going to do both with dedication and a higher level of intensity. It’s all thanks to my hour of CTE.

In all seriousness, CTE does not exist. Up until an hour ago, there was no such thing as Continuing Television Education. However, there was lunch time television named after the fact that I frequently watch television while eating lunch. Even though I made up CTE, one could argue I just gave lunch time television a more formal name.

Whether I adopt the name CTE or continue to use it’s given name of lunch time television, it really is just loving the ability to watch up to an hour of television in the middle of the day. It likely stems from longing to watch daytime television when I was a kid. Now that I can watch television during the day, I appreciate it and have given it a purpose.

Lunch time television – or afternoon television since sometimes it’s at 4:00 p.m. –  is about pausing my day. It’s about stepping back from work. It’s about recharging. It’s idea time. I find that I work well when I take the time out of my schedule to sit back and relax. I believe in taking breaks when working.

Although I literally just made up CTE, I do hope you you adopt it and help make it a real thing. Then again, CTE is real for me.

My Summer of Scrubs

A few weeks ago, I typed out the the following:

My evening ended like an episode of Girls. A 20-something confused, unsure, and staring with music playing in the background. All that was missing was a preview of next week’s episode. 

A few weeks later (aka now), the following sentiment still holds true. I can’t preview next week’s episode. As I reemerge from two years in academia, I’m finding myself to be in a similar position as my 22-year-old self. The only difference is I have five more years of wisdom and my routine does not include watching Scrubs every single day. Let me expand on that point a little bit and also state that no, I’m not using Girls as my spiritual guide. I do watch reruns of Sex and the City on E! in the early afternoons. I find I now watch the show with a different perspective, but that is neither here nor there.

Yes, after I graduated from Barnard, I watched Scrubs M-F from 3:00-4:00 p.m. and then again from 7:00-8:00 p.m. I had to be home for the show. If I was out, I came home. It was my one constant during my three month job search during the summer of 2008. I basically relied on it. It gave me structure and security. To this day, I’m grateful that Comedy Central made Scrubs part of its programming that summer.

My main motivation for watching the show was I had started watching it a few years before, but had not continued. I had always wanted to catch up and here was my chance. However, a deeper connection with the show was quickly established. I connected to JD and his feelings and observations about the world. During that summer, JD was like a mentor to me.

I was at the bottom of the totem pole and trying to figure things out, here was JD doing the same. JD and his friends were growing up, making mistakes, learning from them, and maturing before my very eyes and I was doing the same. In a way, I was on a parallel course minus becoming a doctor.

I eventually found a job and my afternoons and early evenings with Scrubs stopped, but the lessons from it remain. Scrubs was there when I needed it. It provided a foundation for adulthood.

I’m hoping that television will help me figure out life post-graduate school or at the very least, give me a meaningful routine. Even better, anyone in television want to hire me?

The Internal Piper Chapman

Netflix’s new hit, “Orange Is The New Black,” is all about actions and consequences. Piper and her fellow prisoners have thoughts and action that exist in the world and for the purposes of the show, have been encapsulated within the characters and magnified by the prison setting. The show forces us, the viewers, to place ourselves in all of the prisoners shoes and consider what we would do. Yes, it definitely portrays prison as humorous, but the humor is designed to draw us in. Through this humor, we get transported into prison, attached to the prisoners and their problems, and then once this connection has been established, we have the opportunity to examine what it means to be human and what truly is important.

Within all of us is a Piper Chapman. Maybe that’s why I related to her and did not judge her throughout the first season. As people, we know what we can do to avoid situations and then like Piper, we just walk into them. We act without thinking, make the wrong choices, and although we do not have to worry about a Red not feeding us, we too face the consequences.

The question the season finale left us with is what happens next. In that final scene, Piper certainly could not charm her way out of the situation and made a choice that was starkly different from her other prison choices. What exactly that means is not yet clear, but it certainly gave all of us something to think about as we wait for the next season.

The Reality Show Apology

I have thought about this often and with Yom Kippur a few hours away, the timing is ideal to discuss apologies. Specifically, how apologies are handled on the Real Housewives franchise on Bravo. Before I go any further, I know you are questioning what do a group of women from across the country employed by Bravo have to do with the need to seek forgiveness for Yom Kippur? Just give me a paragraph or two to demonstrate my thinking.

The Housewives series is big on honesty and apologizing. Now, I am well aware that the series has come along way and with time has become a bit more scripted, a bit more aggressive, and a bit (possibly extremely) vindictive. However, even with these changes and the the franchise’s general ridiculousness, it has women being honest, talking it out, owning up to their actions and behaviors, apologizing to each other, and at times – depending on the season – moving past their issues and becoming friends (or friends again). Again, I am aware that the producers often make decisions and apologies can be fake, but the idea here is to apply the notions of honesty, discussion, ownership, apologizing, and moving forward beyond the screen.

The Housewives’ abilities to not just be honest, own up to their actions, apologize and move forward, but do so at times very calmly and maturely, is admirable. Again, I know this is a reality show and they may rehearse, but the principles on the show are something that I know I can benefit from. I have left situations saying if only this is the Real Housewives and we could meet the next day and all can be cleared up. Although not every “let’s get together” on the Real Housewives ends well, it still shows people being honest and trying and that is the goal regardless of the outcome.

Even if the apologies are for ratings, I have learned from watching these women make amends and do better. Real or not, I have learned how I want to proceed going forward. I will not have time to ask everyone for forgiveness before this evening, but I am going to take the Real Housewives toolkit and apply it tomorrow, the next day, and the day after that.

For this Bravo, I thank you.

The Royal Evolution Continues

Yesterday, I had the television on most of the day, had my twitter feed open, and had NBC’s live feed up on my computer. All was intended not to miss the announcement of Baby Cambridge. In the end, the live feed paid off. I heard Brian William’s voice and quickly turned on the television. Brian sent me (us in case you watched it too) over to Natalie Morales and soon, the announcement came. It was exciting and once again, a chance to see Royal protocol on display.

Today, I woke up a few minutes before 7 in case the Prince of Cambridge leaves hospital (Note: Missing definite article like the British). I have the Today Show on in the background ready for Natalie to return from in front of the Lindo Wing. For those who know my television habits, I rarely watch it in the a.m. So, the fact that I watched part of the Today Show yesterday and woke up for its beginning today, demonstrates that not only am I a (huge) Royal Watcher, but I feel NBC is providing excellent (and I mean this) Royal coverage. They have the perfect balance of reporting the news and additional commentary. I commend them for a job well done!

As I have previously written, my interest in the Duchess of Cambridge is one of admiration and to illustrate my feelings, I quote myself below:

I want to approach things the way Catherine does. She takes her time in order to do things right. She see things as incremental and part of a bigger picture. I know that my view of Catherine may not be how everyone see her, but this is how I see Catherine. I see her as a strong, powerful woman who understands how the world works. The world requires patience and she was patient and it paid off. Look at her now.” (Cohen, March 1, 2013)

This admiration has a lot to do with my interest in personal evolution and my first piece on Catherine touched upon that point (Note: I only used Kate because the piece required it, but I refer to her as Catherine or Duchess of Cambridge):

The process of evolution is powerful. Maybe that is the power that intrigues me. The power to evolve and change oneself. Evolution is a chance to decide who you want to be and how you want to get there. Kate has decided what kind of Royal she wants to be through her wardrobe that ranges from Top Shop to Alexander McQueen as well as her charity work.” (Cohen, July 13, 2012)

I feel strongly that when the Duchess of Cambridge leaves the hospital today with her husband and son, she will have thought things through, likely impress us with her poise, and most importantly, do what is best for her young family. Going forward, she will continue to see the bigger picture. I look forward to watching her evolve into a Royal mother. I believe she will be an excellent one.

Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge!

No Need for a Passport: Vast/Small Distances

I have traveled vast distances in the last week. To Japan and Mongolia to be exact. Well, not exactly. I took the subway and the crosstown bus to The Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) a few days ago and went slightly downtown to Lincoln Center last night. However, through the portal that is New York City and its cultural institutions, I had a chance to experience a world beyond my own. I was temporarily transported to Japan through the Met’s exhibit “Birds in the Art of Japan” and to Mongolia through the incredible band Hanggai.* I had a chance to expand my horizons without leaving my horizon. No need for a passport. Although, one could say my MetroCard acted as my passport. By traveling a short distance to travel a great distance, I have awakened a desire to learn more about what I saw and heard. Soon, the distances will become smaller and the desire bigger.

And, what would travel be without a few photos!

*More on Hanggai soon!

My MetroCard (Passport) Case/Holder.

Proud owner of this MetroCard (Passport) Case/Holder.

Hanggai

Some of the awesome members of Hanggai.

Bought a CD and got it signed.

Bought a CD and got it signed.

More signatures!

More signatures!

Answering An Admissions Question

I found the following article on the Twitterverse, “Tufts Is Asking Its Applicants ‘What Does #YOLO Mean to You?’” This seems like a tough (which actually sound like Tufts – trying for a pun) question. The answer needs to be interesting without being crazy. It needs to give enough insight, but not enough to have your application thrown in the “no” pile. Basically, Tufts has found a way to look like it’s staying hip and relating to its applicants, when in fact, Tufts is just masquerading a “cool” question as a means to differentiate thousands of applicants with the same SAT score from each other. One smart admissions office.

If I had to respond to this question in 200 words, I might just write that acronyms can be extra-grammatical and therefore can be analyzed linguistically. With this perspective, one does not have to view YOLO as pertaining to oneself, but as it relates to the study of morphology. I definitely think that would get me in. Then again, I learned all of that in graduate school. Go figure.