Anna Curzon Price
I’ve now mastered my summer story. After the first efforts at retelling the complexity of a few months of semi-adventure, semi-boredom, I’ve worked out a rather formulaic meta-narrative to explain my summer. It is the only way to cope with the repeated need to detail and justify how you have spent the last three months at each new social occasion.
My story needs to touch upon the general themes of overcoming loneliness and homesickness, pushing boundaries and gradually gaining the confidence that I too can act in the practical, adult world, as opposed to being solely confined to the abstract labyrinth of the UL and social theory. It must explain how dealing with unrecognisable alphabets, failed credit cards and sim cards, the booking of countless bus journeys and the planning of detailed, complex itineraries were not boring organisational tasks. Instead they were challenges – each a small test through which I could prove my own resilience and independence as well as the rather macho ability to travel as cheaply as possible (I definitely think this is one of the most subtly competitive aspects of the retelling of a summer story).
Yet the more down pat my narrative seems to be the more distant the experience of travelling feels. It was only when a friend recently summarised their summer to me as ‘beautiful’ that I realised this is what I have been forgetting in my edited-down adventure story.
The feeling of exhilaration and excitement that one gets from stumbling across a green leafy temple in the middle of a concrete jungle mega-city, or wandering aimlessly through what is, to seasoned inhabitants, identity-less suburbs, doesn’t really fit into the self-development narrative so it gets left out. It is difficult to explain these moments without delving down to a level of detail that even my parents are not prepared to listen to.
But as memories of my summer increasingly rely on my repeated retellings I feel these memories becoming more and more distant – devoid of the feelings of enchantment which made travelling so exciting in the first place.
I think this putting of beauty on the back-burner when retelling one’s story comes from a desire to be seen as constantly improving and pushing oneself, progressing, growing up. Of course travel does have a self-development function – and the construction of one’s personal mythology around a summer is both enjoyable and necessary. But I still find it a shame that the successful gap year or adventure abroad is one in which one ‘finds oneself’ – to the point where it can feel like the particularities of the foreign scenery where this introspective adventure was played out has no relevance to the overall story.
The only way in which I rekindle a shadow of these intense, exhilarating moments of contact with otherly beauty is when I flick back through my sketchbook. Drawing as a form of recording requires intense focus on what is outside of oneself, the particularities of the scene around. Unlike with the taking of a photograph, I do not think about how my method of recording will somehow fit into a wider story which I will tell about myself and my travels to others. Drawing is not an immediate, readily shareable medium and therefore it removes some aspect of the pressure of narrative construction; instead, it allows for a more intense appreciation of one’s surroundings.
Valuing beauty and the time one spends simply in a state of wonder or enchantment is important. It is something I think that in Cambridge especially one can easily forget to do. Not everything has to fit into a story of self development. As a result I would like to share a few snapshots from my summer instead of a summer story – moments which I had forgotten before flicking back through my journal in the search for a story I could write about.