I Need to Write

Written by Swati

April 22nd, 2023

Recently, I’ve been reading “Letters To a Young Poet” by Ranier Maria Rilke. Anyone who is familiar with poetry or even a layer of the beautiful words found on Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr would recognize some of his more famous lines. An Austrian poet writing mostly in German, some of his work includes sound bites like, “ Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” and “The only journey is the one within.” And one of my personal favorites, “This is the miracle that happens every time to those who love: the more they give, the more they possess.” 

His work is both raw and polished, gentle flow of water and jagged edges of rock. When I finally obtained my copy of the book, I learned more about the heart behind his work. The book is a collection of letters written by Rilke to the young aspiring poet Franz Xaver Kappus, who studied at the same school as him. Kappus originally writes to Rilke looking for literary criticism on his early works, but instead receives advice about introspection and purpose. Two of the most basic rules authors follow, in my amateur experience, are: when your brain is empty: read. When your brain is too full: write. And listen to what people are saying, but listen harder to what they’re not saying. But something Rilke mentions often in his book that wasn’t such a big focus in my journey is the sheer necessity of writers to write. He pushes strongly to the calling of literature, how writers would be stunted without the written word. One of the best parts of being human is slipping on a career like a pair of shoes and taking them off when you’re ready for something different. The only constant thing in life is change. We are constantly creating, building, and destroying. We are constantly hearing, understanding, and internalizing. We are anomalies and enigmas. We want to stay the same and we want to change. We want people to see us, but we never see ourselves. We want to be understood but cannot fathom understanding. 

What a fascinating life to live as an author. An author who calls everywhere and nowhere home, everyone and no one family, who can become anyone in the blink of an eye. What an incredible existence to be an artist in Europe who can take residence in any country and chooses a city like a roll of the dice and spins twists into their lives like a protagonist who controls their own story. 

A writer is an admirer of the world, always peering through the looking glass, putting up a magnifying glass to their lives, shining a flashlight on the Earth and zooming in on what hits the beam first.

I’ve found indescribable joy studying strangers on the street and in train cars, frantically typing out thoughts in my Notes app on transit, and flipping through old books in foreign bookstores. If there’s anything I hope you find in your life, it’s what makes you tick. What flips the switch on in your brain, the magnetic force that draws you to being human. For some of us it’s a need to write that leads us to the need to live and whatever it is for you: I hope you find it. 

A Love Letter to Metz

Written by Swati

April 21st, 2023

I’m sitting in Fox Coffee, the buzz of a pianist tapping away keys in the background, business men in meetings, friends catching up over coffee, and babies crying meld together, creating a harmony of chaos. Life is about finding peace in the turmoil, focus in the wreckage. Periodically taking a sip of my chai latte and glancing up at a man swiping on an iPad in John Lennon-esque glasses and another shuffling a handful of sketches in the corner, I feel the tension release from my shoulders as my vision clears. This must be the French joie de vivre. I finally feel it. I felt it so quickly in every other country, in every other city but I fought a battle with Metz during my first few months here. It’s a bit bittersweet to reach this conclusion so close to the end, but somewhere along the trek through muddy pathways and tapping excess rainwater out of my shoes, I fell for Metz in my own way. 

Metz kicked me when I was down, trickled rainwater into my teary eyes, then baked me chocolate eclairs, poured me a hot cup of tea and ran a hand through my hair, pressing a menu-etudiant in my hands when I had long forgotten about eating. Metz is a mother, taking my rage with a gentle hand, welcoming me back with warm, albeit misty and rainy, arms.  

Metz is taking off the mask, letting the facade go for a moment, wandering through a book festival and finding authors from different corners of the continent gathered in one place. Metz is knotted eyebrows and narrowed eyes bumbling through French conversations, picking out a few intelligible words and gesturing wildly in grocery stores. Metz is kind strangers with understanding eyes, encouraging smiles. It’s wondering who’s lying in intense games of One Night, suspecting new friends and questioning trust, observing strategy in a fierce game of Go. It’s slathering Nutella and strawberries into homemade crepes. 

In its own way Metz is both comfortable and suffocating, beautiful and boring, a calm pool of water next to the tumultuous sea. She is a baseline, a sanctuary, a suburban hideaway tucked away in the middle of madness. She is the last date before a breakup, wondering if the spark is still there. Whispered conversations over coffee, staring emptily at the ground, irreconcilable differences. Freedom from the chains of love or imprisonment in your solitude? Pick your poison. 

Metz is closing your eyes in the rare moments of sunlight, drinking up the precious, fleeting warmth. Metz smiles sadly as you grit your teeth, scribbling out half-hearted notes in class while staring out the window, always in wait for what’s next. She is a curious fusion of exhausted parents and spirited youth. Leather jackets and black puffer jackets populate the buses, dogs scamper next to their owners, teenagers dot the sidewalk, gasps blended with “c’est pas vrai!” and “mais non!” color their heartful conversations. 

Metz is now a piece of home, a shard of my heart, a worn couch cushion, every layer in a croissant. She is a complicated blend of chai, all of the emotions seeping together, each finding their own place in the mix.

Let’s Talk About You and Me

Written by Swati

April 14th, 2023

I realize now that I have fully sung the praises of every European city and country that I’ve been to and from the bottom of my heart, I believe every single word. But I also want to pay special attention to the bad days. The days you need a hug, the days you need your best friend on the phone to tell you she misses you and she’s just as proud of the person you’re becoming as you are, the days you wonder if you’ve changed at all after 17. 

At the end of the day, Europe won’t fix your problems. Studying abroad won’t fix your problems. Moving out of your house won’t fix your problems. Starting a new job won’t fix your problems. This is probably because most of your problems live in your head. Or because you’ll trade certain problems for other ones. And if you play your cards right, dealing with those new problems will instill in you the fight to learn how to fix or learn how to live with your other problems. Meeting new people and working with new personalities while planning trips is hard, but venturing out on your own and creating your own itineraries is also hard. Only doing homework and never spending time with people is hard, but spending all of your time socializing and falling behind in class is also hard. That which you are actively choosing not to do, indirectly chooses what you are doing.

The two most central conflicts at this point in the semester I think are balance and fighting the inner self, or rather teaching the inner self. Personally, I’m only on campus for 48 to 72 hours at a time. I got infinitely lucky with my schedule and have been able to commit a majority of my time to traveling, seeing the world, and constantly putting myself in controlled but new, and at times uncomfortable, situations to see how much I’ve grown. Hearing stories of other group trips and travels helps put a lot of things into perspective in terms of interpersonal conflict and interpersonal relationships. Change starts in your head. A change of scenery was what I needed to kickstart my journey as a young adult, but this arc has been a long time coming and I truly believe if you go into an experience knowing what you want, and having support in those decisions, you’ll get what you want, if not for what you need. Regardless of what happens, you’re growing. Regardless of what happens, you’re learning. And everything you pick up throughout the course of your life and every lesson you learn rears its head again later. I will say, the time comes in which you need to reach out to others to get support and it is my greatest wish that everyone is met with the same warmth when they need help as when they don’t. It’s difficult to heal, but it is worse to stay hurt. And to get past anything, the only way around is through. 

It is too cruel a world to hurl abuse at yourself. Be patient, be kind, and be gentle. It’s easier said than done of course, but is it not in our blood to fight and go in search of difficult victories? We are now creeping up to the end and I feel nothing but such intense joy for giving myself the permission and space to follow my heart and find wonder in the beauty of the world. So much good exists if only you remember to look for it. The sun comes in only if one remembers to open the blinds.Let’s Talk About You and Me

Monthly Musings #3: Make the Week(end)s Go Slower

Written by Swati

April 4th 2023

3 months, 9 countries, a lifetime of memories. Enough titles from bookstores to last me the next few years. Can we believe how quickly the semester has gone by? I’m trying to grasp on to the ends of every moment, but find them slipping through my fingers. This semester feels like sand on the weekends, shattered glass during the weeks. It’s difficult to recuperate from travel and the unwelcoming arms of classes on Mondays wrap around us like steel arms. The seconds pass like ice melts in the winter, my fingers creak over laptop keys. 

This month was growing pains. This month was hitting the wall, running my fingers over concrete, slipping over lakeside rocks, pulling myself out of knee-deep water with a laugh. Sometimes the world laughs at you, sometimes you laugh at yourself alongside it. I’ve learned it’s best not to take yourself too seriously in moments of distress. Somehow we find a way.  Somehow we will find a way. This month was train rides, observing strangers from toe to head, blinking away stray tears. This month was girls’ night in tiny kitchenettes, tender chicken cutlets over sauteed broccoli, giggling to the Mamma Mia soundtrack. This month was tears of affection, tears of exhaustion, tears of confusion, tears of uncontrollable joy. This month was fighting with the world, finding out that it won’t always fight back. This month was throwing my arms around strangers turned to sisters, chasing after stars at dusk. 

In Portugal I learned to admire. Literary landmarks, detailed porcelain tiles, the sun’s gentle caress. Life is sweet where the weather is nice. Or where people make the weather feel nice. And maybe that’s the secret to it all. In Belgium, I learned of the sweetness of simplicity. Chocolate shops, bookstores, and walks along canals. In Ireland I learned to love big. Throw my arms around the world and feel what it’s like to have it wrap me in its warmth and chaos. I learned to ask small questions, await big answers. I learned to do the things I thought I would hate just to give it a chance, sometimes hectic pays off. And in Switzerland I learned to never control my awe of things big and small. The relief of reunion, a newly bloomed spring tree, a groomed dog’s soft coat, a father gently guiding his toddler by the Swiss riverside, a necklace for my best friend. Ducks swimming forward, looking you right in the eye, telling you a secret. This month I learned to skip through empty streets and spin around my room at midnight. Falling is another way to learn how to fly. I learned how to lean on the people around me and found comfort in the similarity of our experiences. I took off the rose colored glasses and realized the petals were beneath my feet the whole time. Everything comes back, but youth never does, not in quite the same form at least. If I could do anything, I’d stop time. I’d freeze it now, as I write this and look back on memorabilia that already means the world to me. I’d freeze it every second of this semester. I’d make these past few months everlasting. But the fact that they are fleeting makes them all the more precious. 

From London With All My Love

Written by Swati

April 13th 2023

London, London, London, how I truly love you. Being in London is like slipping on your old favorite shoes, flipping through your favorite childhood book, finding a sweatshirt that fits just right. Wandering through Kensington and Westminster, I felt my heart fill up with the greatest sense of belonging. London bookstores feel like a boost of glucose straight to your bloodstream. A perfect mix of classics and currents, well-loved second hand treasures and mint condition newly printed novels. So many cornerstone female and feminist authors hail from these streets: Virginia Woolf, the Bronte sisters, and Mary Wollstonecraft. I spend many hours digging through bookshelves to find their stories and muses. Life in London is a thrill, it’s a city that’s exciting, it’s a city that’s inviting. Londoners, in my experience, also went out of their ways to help me. At the British Library, a man drew me a map to his favorite bookstores nearby and told me to be safe in the protesting Parisian streets when I Ieft England. Two elderly women stopped me on my march to the train station to let me know my backpack was open and made sure nothing fell out. Every upbeat pop song that dances through my head feels just right in the city. The brick architecture, the newly restored Big Ben, the London Bridge that is not actually falling down. It feels like the buzz of New York with the charm of Paris. As soon as I stepped off the platform at St Pancras International Station on Thursday morning I put on the rose colored glasses of life and didn’t take them off for six full days.

I spent my first and last day in and around books, The British Library, where I registered myself for a library card (my favorite souvenir!), and three bookstores, Waterstones, Judd Books, and Collinge and Clark for collectors. Taking the day to settle in and pop into shops while strolling the streets was the perfect beginning to my London adventure. I ran into the Thursday afternoon street market by University College London and found an Indian street food stand run by a Tamil man, from the same hometown as my mother, who made chicken curry that tasted the same as my grandfather’s. I spent hours flipping through old novels and found books written by the philosopher I met on the train in Italy. Over the next few days I saw the London Eye, Big Ben, Kensington and Buckingham Palaces, walked the streets of Soho and Chinatown, spent a morning in Wales, fell hard for the Phantom of the Opera, and indulged in English breakfasts and tea.

London is not just a place, it’s a feeling. High tea with delicate sandwiches, flower petals falling between pages, sun sparkling on the Thames. My mother says I fell in love with London before I even knew what love was. And after this past weekend, I can fully attest to that. I love people watching on the Chube, despite how slow it is. I love afternoon strolls in the Kensington Palace gardens, the fields gently caressed by clusters of spring flowers. I love walking down the streets and seeing black trench coat-clad shoulders and simple leather bags, haphazardly layered gold necklaces. I love the hum of traffic along Portobello Road, the jewelry stalls in Camden Market, the busking in Covent Garden. I like to think London taught me what love is. As soon as I stepped off the platform, it was at first sight that I fell. Dearest mum, you could’ve made me English. What a shame. Never mind the past. London, I will be back. For a year or two at the very least, the better part of this lifetime if I’m lucky.