All posts by Gina Black

Look! Up in the Sky…it’s a Bird…it’s a plane…it’s Gina!

Tomorrow I’m off to London for my first visit there in about sixteen years. This is my fourth trip to this great city and the only trip where London is my only destination.

I’ve been preparing for this trip for months, making sure I will be warm and dry, my feet will be happy, and I will be visiting the best places to help me with the stories I’m working on now. At it’s heart, this is a research trip. I am in search of Charles II’s world. But I’m also going to experience Shakespeare and his world. And tea. And pubs with bitter. And Marks & Spencer. At least a little.

One big difference between this trip and last, and in fact *all* the trans-Atlantic (and trans-Pacific) trips that I’ve been on in the last forty-one years is that this time I’m flying alone.

I am a good traveler but a bad flyer. My brain understands that airplanes go up in the sky and stay there, but the rest of my body doesn’t. It believes that I belong with my feet firmly planted on the ground. On one of my last solo trips back when I was a teen, I remember sitting next to an elderly lady who asked if she could hold my hand during the take-off. She was very sweet. I’m wondering if things have come full circle and on this trip I will be that old lady.

Meanwhile, I’m keeping myself distracted by remembering my past trips. When I was seventeen I visited the British Museum (I still remember the embalmed cat and QEI’s elegantly ornate signature), Abbey Road (by fortuitous accident–it was on my way to where I was staying), Westminster Abbey (to pay tribute to QEI) and the Tower of London where I wasn’t terribly impressed with the crown jewels having just come from Persia and seeing theirs.

The next trip was when I was almost twenty. I traveled with a friend and got to stay at my Dad and step-mom’s flat in Chelsea, just off Sloane Square. They had been living there for a year and were just leaving as we arrived. It was quite comfortable and a rocking place to be in 1974. We had some fun because we were legal to drink in England but not in the states. On that trip I shopped, taking on Charing Cross Road and the great Foyles bookstore (amongst others), Marks & Spencer, and Harrods (we just looked–way too pricey for us). I revisited the Tower of London that trip and went to the Royal Portrait Gallery and the Tate for the first time. I had my first taste of steak-and-kidney pie at a family friend’s house.

My third trip was with my daughter who was a most able travel companion and helped me from getting lost time and time again. She also kept me amused throughout the trip with her wicked humor. At almost fourteen, she was already making life changing decisions:

April 2, 1996: Well, London is the city of stairs. Where everyone is in a hurry, and the traffic lights are just formalities. Apparently know one (sic) believes in escalators over here. I have decided to marry an Englishman, for he will have nice strong legs.

As well as other important impressions: The ketchup tastes different here.

On this trip–although I travel alone–I will be spending the next week with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. They’ve already been there for two weeks getting the lay of the land and breaking in their shoes. We are all Anglophiles so I’m very much looking forward to spending the next week in their good company.

I will be posting pictures and impressions on my author page on Facebook.

Oldest in the Class

I went back to school last September. Those who know me were likely mystified because I always hated school. Mostly I hated high school, but I wasn’t crazy about college either. So, before I got a BA in European History I ran screaming from UCLA to a job in Public Broadcasting (metaphorically, that is…they wouldn’t have hired me if I’d actually been screaming).

Surprise! I’m having a really good time this go-round. Maybe not such a surprise considering t I wouldn’t be there if I wasn’t having a good time. And perhaps that’s one of the big differences between now and then. I don’t have to be here and I don’t have to take classes from teachers I don’t like. Fortunately, I’ve found several teachers I really DO like. I took Shakespeare last semester from a master. The math class I’m having to take is fun because my teacher does great shtick. I’m not crazy about the homework, but you can’t have everything.

There are two mind-blowing differences from the last time I was in school.  The first is that I’m writing my papers on a computer. I know, as a writer I shouldn’t be surprised about that–and I’m not. But it does make the process of writing papers significantly different from the last time I did it. No more typing several drafts, literally cutting and taping them together to reorganize, and then pounding out a final draft the night before it’s due. No more carbon copies (yes, it was that long ago). But it’s also caused some confusion with my method, and thinking about it as I write this, I’m wondering if I could be hitting the computer too early in the process. I used to have a longhand draft. I think handwriting gives a certain freedom of exploration for topic and prose that a computer doesn’t–if for no other reason than the speed of committing words to paper is much slower. I once read that writing with a pen is a right brained activity, and typing on a keyboard is a left brained activity. I don’t know if it’s true, but it sure feels like it.

The other big change is OMG THEY USE CALCULATORS IN MATH CLASSES. Huge difference. No more working on a ginormous problem only to muff the arithmetic at the end–a classic Gina dumbshit that I’m still not immune to. I’m using a geriatric TI83 that I bought for The Daughter in the mid-90′s. She used it all the way through calculus and then The Son got stuck with it through linear algebra. It has been handed down to me with a few ailments: a line or two in the display are dead and some days it chooses not to turn on. Fortunately, I know how to persuade the batteries to make contact and eventually it comes around. I have mornings like that myself.

Probably the biggest difference is that I’m closer in age to the professors than the students. In the four classes I’ve taken so far, I’m the oldest student. I’m not sure whether that makes a difference except in obvious things, like the last time I did algebra was before the other students were born, and I haven’t written an essay with a thesis and topic sentences in just as long. But so far the most profound difference I’ve noticed is that when a class gets suddenly cancelled, instead of rejoicing, I worry about the professor. I’m not thinking this is due to my age as much as my being a mother. Mother’s worry, especially when people get sick.

So, take your vitamins and don’t forget to do all your homework. I don’t understand how you can concentrate with the TV on.

XXOO