My seven-year-old son and I flew to London for Thanksgiving. My honey, a pilot, was going to be there over the holiday, so we decided to join him. England over Thanksgiving is interesting because, of course, they don't celebrate Thanksgiving. We had Italian. And went to Stonehenge. And the London Eye, and Windsor Castle, and rode "The Tube." At dinner Thanksgiving night, we passed around a notebook and each person at the table added a sentence to a story we created about knights and maidens and other worlds. Of course, my son had the best imagination and spun the story to new places. It kept him occupied during an "adult dinner," and made the grown-ups open up their creativity and spontaneity.
England is full of interesting history. When we moved to Pennsylvania from Florida, we marveled at how "old" things were. Our town was founded in the mid 1700's. George Washington's home is nearby. It all seems ancient until you tour Windsor Castle and see a plaque identifying the vault holding the ashes of Henry VIII. Then you tour Stonehenge, which is 3,000 years old, and ponder how they carried these giant stones over land when the wheel hadn't been invented. We walked down cobblestone streets and watched the guards at Buckingham Palace. We stood in front of a royal throne that dated back to 1359.
History was everywhere and you could feel the stories swirling through the rooms and down the streets. So many had walked those paths. Times were so different. The castle towers hinted at their legacies. The ancient swords represented battles from hundred of years ago. It reminded me of the importance of stories. Stories are how we share the past, pass along information, and intertwine generations. I sometimes feel that being a writer is a selfish, frivolous pursuit. But as we circled Stonehenge, I was reminded of the importance of sharing where we've been and what we've seen. What we've experienced.
Another interesting thing about London is its dichotomy. One moment you're immersed in ancient history and the next you're confronted with the most current trends. London is a global center for the arts and fashion. The theatre is as big, if not bigger, than in New York City. The art is incredible. The fashion is cutting-edge European. But I must admit, the coffee is terrible. I had to find a Starbucks for a decent cup!
But in the hustle and bustle of London, and even in the quaint country side, the English made me smile with their directness. The signs for the bathroom don't say "restrooms, bathrooms, ladies room, or mens room." They simply say "Toilet" with an arrow. Exit signs say "Way out." Yield signs say "Give way." Elevators are called "Lifts." I'll admit, I'd rather ask "Where's the ladies room" than "Where's the toilet?" but I appreciate the culture.
England has its layers and its many sides: history, culture, trends, and bad coffee. It reminded me of the layers we each have. We are mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, teachers, advocates, and women seeking our place in this world. We are fathers, sons, brothers, buddies, hard workers, football lovers. In writing, we must make certain to give our characters layers. To make them realistic, they cannot be one-dimensional. There is good and bad, funny and sad in all of us. This must translate into our work.
And in life, we must remember that everyone has a story. Layers. Sides. One part of us might hold a royal throne from 1359 while another is an arrow pointing to a "toilet," but we are essentially the same. And we all have a story that deserves to be told.