All We Have To Decide

It was October, 2016.

I sat in my kitchen, home for the weekend or for October break or some reason or another; in any event I was home, and much as I had before I was contemplating my future.  After all it wasn’t too long ago that I was sitting at the same exact table writing down my thoughts about what Castleton had to offer me as opposed to Plymouth.  By the time I stood up I knew that it was time for a change.  Within a few months I had transferred to Castleton.  The same feeling that I had then was rearing its head up again now.  Verbatim, this is what I said to myself:

“Fuck it, I’m gonna do this.”

“This” meant going abroad.  I had no idea what the process would be like or where I even wanted to travel to, I just knew that I couldn’t let an opportunity like this pass me by.

The next day I began to look about online as to how to even go about starting the process of applying to go abroad.  It took a while to get the gears turning, but eventually everything was starting to get checked off the list.  First off, I decided on Scotland as the place where I wanted to go; after all I had family roots in the country and have always wanted to see what the place had to offer.  I found a direct enrollment program for the University of Edinburgh from this company called API.  They looked legit, and before I knew it I was submitting deposits and buying plane tickets.

Of course, the process was not without some drama.  I specifically remember one day during the Fall 2016 semester where everything had to be due by the end of the day for me to be enrolled in the program.  In a very real sense I could have easily folded my cards and walked away from the process, surrendering myself to another semester at home.  For all intents and purposes there were a few hours where my chances of going abroad could have been decided by a coin flip.  Demoralized as I was I bit every bullet and committed to finishing the process.

Oh how glad I am that I did.

Fast forward and its January 10th.  The big day had finally come.  I sat in Logan with my folks until the inevitable time for us to depart came to pass.  Thankfully there were not many tears shed as the occasion was one of more excitement than a lamentation.  Empty passport in hand I went through security and boarded the plane having no idea what would await me when I departed.  Was I ready?  Hell naw, but that didn’t matter.  I was ready to be unready… if that makes any sort of logical sense.

I couldn’t sleep the entire way over, and that paired with a painful case of tonsillitis made the origins of my travels quite the rough endeavor.  My tiredness did not help anything as I touched down in London and transferred on up to Edinburgh.  Because of that my attitude towards touching down in Scotland was one of a passive nature; the only thing I was happy with was getting both of my checked bags!  That being said I wasn’t unhappy per-say; just indifferent, and a little scared.  I took a seat at the scheduled API meeting point and began to wait for the others who would join me on my journey.

Slowly the others trickled in.  I remember Dorian was early, as was Danny.  Lawson, Sarah, and Allison eventually made their way forward as well.  Before long a good chunk of the group found their way to the meeting place.  Only Bridie lost her bags (can’t imagine how stressful that must’ve been, Chicago).  I’m not sure any of us anticipated just how incredible the next four and a half months would be; I certainly didn’t.  Now, a little over five months post-leaving for Europe it is time to look back and make some final remarks about it all.

It truly feels surreal to be reminiscing on it all – I will try to be concise for everyone’s sake of time, but that will prove difficult.  Thankfully, there’s a lot of good stuff from the other posts if you are interested.  This is the story about the stories.  As such, the pictures will be limited.  The vlogs, minimal.  This is simply what I had originally intended this grand project of a blog to be – the telling of a story.  So go on, picture us sitting by a campfire under the starry night sky, for I have a final tale to tell.

The World Between

“The World Between Edinburgh and Me” stems from the title of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.  While my writings were not an attempt to mimic Coates’ experiences of racial hardships or conflicts they were intended to describe how I sought to reduce the disconnect between the rest of the world and myself.  After all I’m just a white kid from rural Vermont – what do I know about how other people live outside of New England?  The answer is not a hell of a lot.  In fact, being abroad for 4 and a half months did little to mitigate the disparate feelings of separation that I felt towards my fellow man.  In reality, what started as a journey to increase my level of understanding about the rest of the world only proved to humble me; showing that , indeed, I knew nothing.

As I continued to travel my ignorance did not fade as I thought it might.  Everywhere I went I was forced to into situations with new languages, foods, and ways of living.  The more I saw, the less I knew.  More and more I began to realize that the disconnect wasn’t just between Edinburgh and me: it was the whole of the world.  It’s why I started to title my vlogs “The World Between Vlog” to emanate that.  It’s why I shortened the url of this blog to what it is now.  There was a whole world of things I didn’t understand out there – and here I was, trying to embrace them all.

But why blog in the first place?  Why go to all the trouble?

It’s for the kids, man.

Nah, I jest a little, as my NSFW language throughout the series might not make me a children’s author.  I did, however, want to put pen to paper and record what was for other people: my folks, my friends, my professors… even for myself and my future children.  I wanted (anyone) to be able to look back and gain a glimpse into what was the single greatest journey that I ever embarked upon (to this date).  Hopefully it inspires some to journey out themselves; hopefully it shows my kids that I’m human who went through a whole spectrum of emotions and understands what it is like to be young and, frankly, stupid.

I tried to be transparent; to be honest with you as well as with myself as to what I was going through.  Many of the adventures usually involved putting on my beer goggles, and I’ll readily admit that Mac came out more than I intended (my tolerance has skyrocketed since I first journeyed out).  It wasn’t all dancing on tables and trying to provoke ghosts in haunted graveyards though – between all the fun and games I had the time to also get put through the whole range of emotions a human can experience: I did get down on myself, and I did get angry at things.  I fought doubt.  I embraced spontaneity.  I put on the face of an enforcer.  For the life of me I also tried to shed the title of “foreigner” as well, but to no avail.  There was more than once when I almost broke down as well, but being grounded gave me an opportunity to pick myself back up; thankfully I have some damn good friends who lended a hand when I needed it.

What I’m getting at is that this blog was meant to be a piece of myself: a snapshot of a few moments in my life when I began to understand that I am part of something truly special on this Earth.  I wanted to share these moments and eventually look back on them when I learn a bit more about what exists between the world and me.  There certainly is a lot more to see after all.

I wrote a hell of a lot for this blog.  Writing about Rome took ten hours just on its own.  Needless to say I toned down the quantity of words after that grand effort.  Even now I struggle to finish this last piece, even though there is nearly nothing left to say.  My hands are tired.  My mind is exhausted.  What started as a simple record-keeping project turned into a part-time job all on its own.  That being said, I would do it all over again if I could.  This was my reality, and I managed to find a way to hold on to it that can be spread all around the world and throughout time.  For that I am proud of my work.

I hope that you were able to draw some truths from my words, and that they guided you in one form or another.  As much as it was for me, this was for you.

From The Looking Glass

Little did I know how much I would come to appreciate the camera my parents would surprise me with on Christmas Day.  At the time I didn’t really understand what I could do with the thing, nor did I ever consider myself a photographer – a videographer for that matter.  Still, I felt excited to take some high quality photos of my journeys – wherever they would take me.

On my burner phone abroad I was able to download an app that would directly connect my new camera.  From there I would be able to download whatever pictures I had taken straight to my handheld.  In order to form that connection I needed to create a name for the device, for which I chose “Normandy”.  While the historical reference was part of my rationale (and not to discredit it) it was not the primary reason for my choosing it.  No, I named my camera after the protagonist’s ship in the Mass Effect series: the tip of the spear, which ventures first into the unknown (I suppose Enterprise might have worked as well).

I learned how to take pictures slowly.  It was simple things: the buildings of Uni Edinburgh, posters I saw, etc.

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I didn’t really have a purpose for my photos yet.  I didn’t know what was and what wasn’t important.  I didn’t know what shutter speed meant, or what aperture was, or ISO for that matter (I still don’t, really).

That’s when I (re)discovered vlogging.

I had subscribed to Ben Brown a few months before I departed to go abroad.  His content reminded me of a time when I was a young teenager and YouTube was still getting on its feet.  Back then I also had been watching a vlogger: Ray William Johnson.  For those who don’t know Ray was the host of the original internet clip show =3.  From what I recall he was one of the first to hit 10 million subscribers, and for a time was the biggest internet star of the time.  In his early days he also vlogged on a secondary channel, which was BreakingNYC.  I LOVED the concept of trying to tell a story; of getting a glimpse into the type of lifestyle that I aspired to have.

Fast forward almost a full decade and there I was re-exposing myself to the style, much more refined than what I once knew.  There I sat, pouring over hours of Ben’s vlog content, which led me to discover a whole network of vlogging: Nicole Eddy, sliceofmatt, FunforLouis, and Casey Neistat.  I was hooked all over again, and I couldn’t get enough.  These people were living life to the fullest; doing incredible things in wondrous places.  I wanted… no, I NEEDED to have that exciting life for myself.  At the time I was only filming little 20 second bits with Normandy of simple things like the top of Arthur’s Seat, and I was taking pictures but not really doing anything with them.  That was about to change.

The first “vlog” I filmed was the Anti-Trump rally.  I wrote about it in Marching on Parliament, but let me set the stage: in the shadow of the U.S. travel ban there was an organized rally in Edinburgh where citizens were to march on Parliament in protest of Theresa May and Donald Trump.  API sent us an email advising us not to attend…. yeah fuck that.  This was an opportunity to see something and be a part of something that I had never experienced before! There was no question about it, I had to go and observe.  I wrapped my scarf a little extra tight in the extreme case that shit got out of hand and tear gas was thrown, which in retrospect was probably a little bit overkill, and I loaded up my camera into my backpack and set out.

After the rally I was so excited to post the photos and videos I shot and write about the whole ordeal that I couldn’t sleep until it was all uploaded.  It took me late into the night, but eventually everything was out in the open.  For the first time I had covered a section of my life on three fronts, those being photo, video, and script.  It was very rugged as I didn’t know anything about video production.  I used a free splicing app to cut the video together, and had nothing to edit the photos with.

Following the rally I started to use Normandy more.  I filmed more and took more photos.  After the St. Andrews trip I picked up some photo editing software. I bought a video editing suite.  I started to post to Instagram every day.  I was forcing myself to be creative.  Over time the pictures got more focused; the videos turned into actual vlogs.  Let me show you what I mean… The photos and vlogs below are in four stages:  Early abroad, middle abroad, late abroad, and present day.

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Early Abroad – No edit
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Middle Abroad – edited
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Late abroad – no edit
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Current – edited

I never could have dreamed that what started as an attempt to imitate some of my favorite social media personalities turned into something much greater.  I love taking photos, and I love seeing a finished video.  I love it so much that I am seriously considering making an investment into a Canon 80D to run with this newfound passion.  That being said, it is much harder to film and to shoot back home… This endeavor was essentially a part time job when I was abroad, and now that I am working full time as an intern there is nearly no time to pursue this hobby.  That, and I am not at the world’s doorstep anymore, at least for the time being… The goal, then, is to find new ways to shoot, and new ways to expose what I see to the rest of the world.  Hopefully knowing how to do that will come into focus soon enough.

To be honest, I wasn’t the most enthused person when I first received Normandy.  I wasn’t a photographer, nor a vlogger.  Today, I’ve taken near 6000 photos and videos, and have created 49 vlogs.  Oh how times change – I never would have guessed that I would run so far with an opportunity given to me.

[EDIT: I took the plunge and purchased a Canon 80D!  Here’s to pursuing a passion!  Below are some of the photos I’ve been able to take and edit.]

MS1starry nightcold nightmilky way

My camera ended up being one of the greatest gifts I ever have gotten.  Thank you, Mom and Dad.

An Honest Truth

Here’s the thing: I’m way behind schedule.  My initial plan for this last blog was to get it out within a few weeks of coming home.  Now (7/27) I am but a week away from the finale of my summer internship and I have made such little progress on putting down my thoughts.  Yet, this story still needs a capstone, and so I must press on.

I pressed on through a lot of things while I was in Europe too.  Courses that I took kicked my ass, and I had to come to terms with the fact that maybe I’m not as smart as I think I am.  The same idea applies to my travels as well, for I was ill-prepared to witness, let alone understand, the new world around me.  Whether it be the little things such as learning how to politely order from a bar or more daunting tasks like planning and booking international trips I had to take my actions into my own hands.  In doing so I feel like I (finally) became an adult.  Thankfully I had a plethora of friends who were by my side along the way who were going through the same exact thing.

 

Damn, how I miss everyone!  Every Friday I still wish 5/5 was popping off – everyone getting ready for a night out on Cowgate.  Three Sisters, Jake’s, Opium, Silk, Espionage (Espy’s), Dropkick Murphy’s, Frankenstein’s, Whistle Binkies, The Peartree, Liquid Room, Stramash, Movement, Revolution, Pilgrim, Hive… we left our mark on all of them and more.  Vermont’s club scene is, shall we say, lacking.  The hedonism that boiled hot within my veins has since been reigned back since I returned to the Green Mountain State, but is nonetheless still there, waiting to bubble up and out of me should the opportunity present itself.  At least I can safely say that nothing beats the feeling of walking home across the city from McDonald’s at 4:30 a.m. and seeing the first rays of sunlight poke out from beyond the North Sea and over Arthur’s Seat.  Good stuff, that.  Needless to say if anyone want’s to be shown a good time fly me out to Edinburgh with you and we’ll have some fun!

It would be wrong of me to lie and say that academics were my first priority during my time in Scotland.  Why study when I could visit a new bar, city, or country with my friends?  Heck, I went to Amsterdam in-between my first two finals… which probably wasn’t the best recipe for success; yet who cares?  I went abroad to be abroad and study on the side.  I went to live out of the bounds that I knew, and not to shelter myself in the familiar territory of academia.  Still I managed to bust my ass and get Bs in all my courses.  I worked hard and I played hard and traveled even harder – what a way to live.

The answer to the question of whether or not I would change anything while I was overseas will always be a resounding no.

There And Back Again

I think that if the past eight months have taught me anything at all it is that this life is awfully short, and yet still full of endless possibilities within which we can immerse ourselves and simply live.  Yet, it is still the choices we make that bind us to lives of unending exuberance or trivial pursuits.  I made the choice to go abroad; made the choices that led me to countries all over Europe; made the choices to be friends with who I did, and how much I ended up studying.  Choices like these led me to get a permanent reminder of how much control I have over my own destiny, and for the rest of my days I will have the words to remind me as such tattooed on my side.

Admittedly my love for Lord of the Rings roused a sense of pursuing and epic within my being.  There was ne’er a time when I was faced with a new hurdle or perspective endeavor when I didn’t whisper to myself “I’m going on an adventure!” before taking the proverbial plunge.  That’s all anything is after all – new adventures to follow completed journeys.  Once I stopped thinking that a destination was a conclusion and started considering a part of a journey did I finally find freedom within my found capability to do great things.

Of course, this applies to barriers of the self, and not necessarily to those which may be out of our control.  It wasn’t my choice that my body decided to start having panic attacks during the summer where I felt like I might be on the cusp of dying.  It’s not my choice to see some of my friends transfer, graduate, or go move across the country.  It’s not my choice that today, August 26th [I know, I took a while to finish this thing.], is my last official day of summer vacation in my undergraduate career.  For better or worse the passage of time presents to us unavoidable barriers that we must confront in all aspects of our life.  In my case, they have to do with my health, my studies, and my relationships to others.  As a result my awareness of my mortality and my sentimental nature have become abruptly acute.  Oh, how I wish I could rewind time, or at least stop it, to relive some of my favorite experiences with the people I have come to love in this life.  In a very real sense my time abroad felt like the “peak” of my young adult life, and I shudder to think that the life that I grew into has slipped through my fingers.  With lament, I know things can never be what they once were, but ever so slowly I am coming to terms with the fleetingness of life that has been bearing down on my mind.

Yet, even with these demons haunting my daydreams I sit here today with a deep appreciation for the times that were, those that are, and the ones still to come.  Unequivocally I can say that I have grown up and have seen, heard, and experienced things that have affected me on all levels of consideration.  Cameron Pratt of January 10th is a different person than Cameron Pratt of May 24th, who is even different still from Cameron Pratt of August 26th.  The sledgehammer has fallen on the mirror of my self-impression.

I started writing this blog as a type of gift: for myself, my friends and family, and my progeny.  Truthfully I did not think that it would become something so important to me – my Magnum Opus.  Now, as I begin to type these final words, I am glimpsing visions of everything that has brought me to this point here and now.  What a wild ride.

It is a strange thing to go through something so viscerally life-changing and come back to a life that has remained relatively constant in your absence.   My friends and family, having not walked in the same shoes as I (though I tried as hard as I could to facilitate that here) may not understand the lens through which I now see the world.  Such is true, I would assume, for all of my comrades who were by my side during this tale that I have now told in its entirety.  I suppose then, as the saying goes, that the more things change the more they stay they same.

So here I am – at the apex between the end of a triumph and the beginning of new endeavors.  I sincerely thank each and every one of you who have followed my journey up to this point: your support has meant the world to me!  More importantly, to my friends who were along on the ride with me, I thank you for your companionship and your unrelenting drive to have the greatest experience of our young lives!  I know, someway, somehow, that our paths are bound to intersect once more.

134 days.  134 days of the absolute best time of my life, overflowing with experiences and personalities that have come to fill these pages.  With a simple phrase in my head (and now on my body) I strove to embrace the life that I chose to live.  After all:

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

I decided what to do with the time that was given to me.

And now, with nothing left to say, the breadth of my stories covered within these manuscripts, it is time to say farewell.

For now you have come to know how I’ve grown in the world between Edinburgh and me.

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