It feels like several lifetimes.
I'm sitting on the wood steps of my new house. It's been almost a week now since I've come home. Yes I can talk about it and I can tell stories but as I discussed with Josh last night nothing in my mind is settled. I hope it's still processing there in my subconscious behind the scenes cause when I had that FaceTime call with Tammy all I could do was stare at the ceiling and I couldn't say anything, I could hardly even say the words "I Don't Know."
(What can you say after an experience like that?)
I came, I saw, I conquered, I freaked out, I conquered again.
I came home.
The reason I'm out here is because the more I tried to put my stuff away in my room, the more I wanted to take a flamethrower to all of it. Who I am now is not who I was in April when I packed up all that stuff. Yes this is my town but I would rather have gone on far far away with a brand new place and brand new things so I could keep moving forward, cause today when I sat in the computer lab the dusty electric scent of the air and the familiar dimmed quality of light felt like whiplash, like I had gone back in time. Not that there was anything wrong with who I was before but you can't have traveled and lived and worked like that and not have become a different person afterwards, and I want to go forward.
This summer everything I owned fit in one and a half suitcases and I liked living like that quite a bit. When I carried a shameful amount of stuff out of my storage unit yesterday I vowed to get rid of a third of it. There is no reason one person essentially without a fixed abode should have that much stuff. But as I stand in my whirlwind disaster of a room, throwing clothes and books and paper into the sacrificial pile—should I be getting rid of all that? should I be getting rid of more? Like I said I want to take a flamethrower to everything I own but I know it's no good to burn who you used to be in pursuit of who you're trying to be. Every time I've tried to be something I am not, I learned that I can only be who I am.
So what do I throw out? And what do I keep?
When I came home the colors were more vibrant than I ever remember seeing. Today I went up to the mountains and everything smelled like sunlight and dust.
Yes Germany was beautiful but I was raised on this stuff.
I woke up this morning from dreams of Europe just like every other day. I can't believe I've been gone for a week now but things always change so fast. I'm amazed at how quickly the mind can adjust to something, how after only a day or a week or a month a place can seem so known and familiar, or so far away.
This isn't what you were expecting from my Post-IDEO Retrospective. Yeah come talk to me if you want to hear the stories, you know I like to tell them well enough. But this is what's happening now, sitting on the wood porch smelling like summer in the air thinking about who I was and who I am and who I'm going to be.
Like most of us I'm often a nostalgic but I tell you there was a moment at the end of this summer where I stood alone in the white light of my room and saw my life for what it was, a series of overlapping experiences that come and go and are allowed to end. Of course like everyone else I cling to the beautiful things that are gone but for those few hours I was able to let go and see everything fit in its perfect frame of What Is, not What Could Have Been or What Could Be.
This summer I found an artist named David Shrigley on the walls of the modern art museum in München. On that evening standing in the white light his piece came into my mind again, because I think that I get it now—
Or, more specifically, from Red Morning Street.
Silver bike and gray skies down to Kellerstraße.
It took me three months and three days, but finally, I Have Arrived.
Your Storyteller is a storytella, and par excellence.
I’m living in the moment entirely by accident
(And if I do it by accident, then it's par excellence.)
It’s the confidence and the comfort I was promised,
The confidence and comfort that three times I was promised,
And anything You promise, it’s Par Excellence!
I wrote this in my 13th story Parisian apartment, one year ago to the very hour that I am writing this now. For some reason I didn't post it then but there was no reason not to. So I am posting it now.
9: pm. (July 24)
I said that I wished I could see you again.
Turns out that was grandeur and panic, and that’s not what I really wanted, no, not really.
You realize that you’re not always going to have this view,
Metal on your chin and a breeze,
Mr. Porter and the table in the art room.
There’s a little pigeon drinking water from a puddle down beneath,
And of course it’s these things that you are always going to remember.
How many pieces has my brain forgotten
Because I filled the space behind my eyes with static and tried not to sleep?
I say that I’ll change, and yet every night
I go to bed hungry and wake up feeling hollow.
The taste of that apricot and pistachio tarte came back to me all of a sudden.
I’ve only ever seen the clouds as dragons in the sky,
But everyone’s face in Iceland looks the same, and that hurts for some reason.
The air like this makes me think of summer nights in Colorado.
And sometimes when I’m standing at the edge of a window, I have the urge to jump.
I tried so hard to write this blog post and I couldn't.
It's midnight and it's so hot in my room.
I've spent the past eight years of my life since I suddenly became self-aware in eighth grade desperately trying to understand the world and my place in it.
All I've come up with so far is that I exist in an in-between space.
In between every social group.
In between every skillset.
In between the trees and the museum as I ate falafels alone in Vienna.
Franz told me that he hired me because he wasn't sure how I fit in.
("Okay, this is Camilla, this is who she is, let's invite her here and see how she can shake things up.")
Tbh I'm not sure how I fit in either.
And now I find myself once again in some in-between space.
In between being a student and actual employment.
In between Europe and America.
In between futurism and being a Slovenian peasant.
Volker told me that I'm going to be so confused when I go home. At first I was like "What?" but I think that he's right because when I saw PJ's Fourth of July snapchat of people dancing to country music in unison it felt like a hallucination.
But at the same time when I couldn't pay with a card in a store today I walked out of there and sort of almost cried on my way home. As it turns out delayed culture shock is a thing and I don't have enough time left here to correct it.
Most of all though it's between being a kid and being an adult.
People all the time tell me I'm SO YOUNG.
("1994? Awww, how cuuuuute!")
And of course I feel my youth and inexperience so very keenly.
But in the past few months I have random intense memories all the time of being a kid.
And I've become aware of things like how you can't wear a crappy watch cause you might be meeting corporate people.
They say that growing pains are how you're going to get places.
But it turns out the pain part is a really big thing.
All I've wanted is for my life to make sense,
But instead I find myself in-between—!
The light is always white in Manchester.
Steak tastes like water.
"Three beers and—what do you want?"
Steak tastes like water.
I only had one good meal in Manchester.
Steak tastes like water.
"Did you notice how everyone has all these tattoos?"
Steak tastes like water.
Everyone looks like they're trying too hard in Manchester.
Steak tastes like water.
"So what do you think?"
Steak tastes like water.
My mind has never been so blank as staring at the sky in Manchester.
Steak tastes like water.
"It's...Okay. It's Okay."
Steak tastes like water.
I'm pretty sure it's never night in Manchester.
Steak tastes like water.
"Are you doing okay?"
Steak tastes like water.
The sun rose in southern Bavaria.
Radical transparency of the heart?
Yesterday was the day my parents got married.
Yesterday was always my last day of school.
Do you remember when you were a kid?
The park was so hot that day.
They gave you grape soda, grape soda was your favorite for that day and that day only.
You walked across the bridge in the afternoon.
I keep having moments where this feels like Paris.
That happens less and less frequently now.
Every time I tell myself "This isn't Paris, this isn't Paris,"
Because in the end, Paris wasn't a garden city.
Last night I stumbled upon a fenced enclave of houses,
In rows, with wooden fence,
I guess the prerequisite to living there was wanting to have a big garden,
Because every plot was a tiny house and a big big garden,
A huge garden, and it was wild.
There was a sign of a bike on the gate so I let myself inside.
I wandered around the rows and thought of that man who lived alone in Alaska for some reason.
When I tried to get out both gates were locked from the inside,
I lifted my bag over the fence and climbed and jumped like a kid.
I am a professional adult.
Today marks one month that I've been in Europe. My monthiversary, if you will. It’s gone by really quick and it’s been pretty darn good.
In the past year I’ve traveled more than I ever have in the rest of my life, including traveling internationally—twice. The funny thing is, I’m not super into #wanderlust like the rest of you. This is just a thing that happened to me and I’m rolling with it.
The thing that I’ve noticed, though, is that while I’m traveling, I don’t want to be a tourist. I don't want to stick out as someone who obviously doesn't know what they're doing. I don’t want to do gimmicky things stemming from a superficial understanding of places. I would rather wander along the back streets and see what real people are doing then stand in the middle of a crowd in some famous piece of architecture. (Though let's be real, I definitely do that too.) Travel > Tourism, am I right?
And so, based on my limited travel experience and assuming that other people have the same desire to not be tourist-y, here is my not-so-definitive guide on—
How Not to Be a Tourist.
I told you all I would blog all of this. Maybe you’ve been wondering about my radio silence from the sky.
But here’s the deal. I realized that Paris was my magnum opus. My baptism by fire into international travel experience. I had never pinned all of my thoughts and emotions and hopes to a place as I had to that city. That was the one place in all the world that I wanted to go. And so when I did, after seven years of waiting, I wanted to capture every moment in words. It was a labor of love—and it was completely exhausting.
I have been to Iceland three times. The first was incredibly traumatic, the second was not at all traumatic, and the third was moderately traumatic.
It’s finals week right now but I’m telling you a story that happened four months ago, during finals week in December. This happened four months ago but it still doesn’t seem real. Intern at IDEO—who does that? You don’t get internships at IDEO. It just doesn’t happen.
But apparently it happened.
So how did this happen? How did this happen? I am leaving in less than one week.
Here's a comprehensive guide.
They said tell a story—!
Sources for all images available upon request.
I've said it before, but—
Life was never actually simpler than this.
Tu es sur la lune?
Non, je ne dors jamais.
I see men as trees, walking.
They tell me I reached for the moon.
I too have seen the tree with the lights in it—
I am feather, pebble, stone.
I have felt my future rushing at me three times.
Have you seen the morning? I confused streetlights with the moon.
I felt it in blond and green and a rhythmic speed,
A golden rectangle between my head and my body.
Sometimes moments feel I M P O R T A N T
(and I could hear its speed.)
They tell me that flies are voluptuous.
Life was never actually simpler than this—
Are you paying attention?
I have a sense of wonder.
( P A Y A T T E N T I O N ! )
Who let the nosy one input all the data?
I'm a girl in love with the mountains
And the space between the mountains and the sky.
I looked at the lights and—
But I'm not what anybody's looking for.
Lead your life to the Lord, they said.
Life was actually once much simpler than this.
I wasn't paying attention for the longest time—
They asked if I'm on the moon.
This year I've seen the lights on the mountains, the lights behind the mountains, and the shadows at the tops of the mountains when the air turned them blue.
I always end up in the air watching roads snake through the trees. I saw the sun set and rise in a blazing red bead above Greenlandic ice sheets. I guess there's not a part of this world that isn't touched by human beings—the sky is so criss-crossed with contrails that our eyes must have passed over every inch at this point—
(Never Cry Wolf—what do we change by seeing?)
I had a sandbag in my chest for a month straight until the 28th day of November. I think all that weight may have crushed something inside of me—I was manic for a week with my loves in that computer lab, and my current level of disengagement seems uncharacteristic but I guess I got tired of worry.
In 2015 my favorite hobby became compulsive writing and my second favorite hobby became reading articles on the Internet. Maybe I don't have enough patience to read books anymore but I've still found a way to contribute to my professional development and ways of being.
Some people when they get older lose their spark and fire. Mine has been flaming higher for years and years but it hasn't overtaken me yet, at least not permanently. Maybe that flame inside me is getting tamed and controlled, I can send it through my fingertips rather than it raging through my body and consuming me. Those people at IDEO know I've got a fire in my blood and they said no to everyone else and yes to me.
The skin behind my eyelids is red like all those days on the bus as a kid. Things like this happen to me all the time lately, memories of things that used to be such a part of my being but I’ve since forgotten flash across my brain. I think I can understand what happened to me now in Europe and Paris because I've had enough time to sit back and look so that I can see.
The sky out there is blue and white, that's how it always seems to be.
Don't make me go by myself, Father. This is unbelievable to me.
Starting and ending on arbitrary dates, half of them snapchats, here is a pictorial representation of my last week or two.
I'm not writing this for you, I'm writing this for me.
What am I doing here? What am I doing?
I will follow until I know how to lead. And then, by God, I will lead.
Someone once that wisdom begins in wonder. Is that why I put my eyes to the sky and the lights on the mountains and let it hollow out the inside of my head, because then won’t it fill up with something more pure?
Someone once told me that as a designer you're only as valuable as your most obscure reference. Which is why I cast a net to be as broad as can be, French and art and biology, sometimes I feel overwhelmed and so spread thin like butter and afraid that it’s bad that I'm going wide instead of deep, but then I can draw things together in a way that’s never been seen, don't you know that the facade of the Crystal Palace is based on the form of the world's largest water lily—?
I don't understand why my art brain and my design brain are not the same. But visual arts and writing are all that I need for self-expression, and I can turn on my science brain like the flip of a switch—
But I just want my designs to make logical sense. I want them to make sense and to fit a need and to do what they're supposed to do. But in order to get there I am going to throw out all societal rules, take a nap under the table during the freshmen’s final, use that orange peeler to open your pill bottle and use an exacto knife when everyone else is using scissors—
I feel like being a designer is a contradiction. You've got to have that neat block-letter handwriting and tight sketches with thin black lines as straight as an arrow. But then you've got to be able to think like a mess, your workshop is colorful chaos, I don't think that I'd ever be analytical enough to work out the mechanical functioning of any old object but I'll do my research to try to get into peoples' heads?
And what if I'm a bit looser of a human being? Frayed cuffs and pockets filled with gold. What if I sketch in burnt umber prismacolor instead of a black Papermate Flair? But my life is thinking and aesthetic, and I want to do the big-picture research and make 60 degree case mitre trays with sprays of purple and green.
I wrote this on my gold iPod Touch in the sun on my walk home. But then once I walked into my apartment, I looked up and realized that my manifesto had already been written a year ago, and it was hanging up above my air-dried local walnut standing desk.
I will go broad instead of deep. I will draw connections that have never been drawn before. The more that I know, the more I can see.
Design research is mad science. Creating objects is mad science.
I’m making things up as I go along. My entire life is mad science.
You know I have stars in my heart, you know.
Autumn is rising and I can smell it on the ground. I think that the only things you'll ever really care about are the things from your childhood, and you know I spent every evening spinning circles under the tree as the sun went down.
The sky's been heavy for days and days, but you know that the air gets fresh when the storm finally breaks, I miss those thunderstorms in the afternoon in Colorado—
All that you tell me are the things you want and the things you fear. And I guess that we're all like that, but I can't see these things in myself, you know.
I only get to know a place when I'm right about to leave. It was only today that I was able to walk down that sidewalk alone without fear, without something deep and heavy in my heart, but maybe that's because these days there's no one in the metro stations.
A lady today told me that I'm on the moon, and I gave her a sign because you know that's where I've always wanted to be.
There's something to be said about a breeze and a time for changing things. You can't force life to happen, but it just does, you know how it is—
I'm waiting for things like I'm waiting for September, but you know that it's the little things in between that stick behind your eyes, like an afternoon in a cemetery or rainstorms on the weekdays.
Well, I’m unspeakably bored on my unspeakably long flight, so I might as well write this post now.
The End. The End of my European adventure. (At least for this summer….)
A lot of things happened. It was nuts. It was crazy.
I lived in the middle of a great European capital, where I finally got to test out my knowledge of the language and art and culture and history that I have been learning about for...
You know I wanted to die on the ground in front of Le Sacre de Napoleon.
Art is everything, I cannot explain it, my life is art, the world is art, why do you think I spent all that time in those four great museums and went to the Pompidou twice?
Everything I have ever learned I remembered when I saw those paintings and sculptures and the names and titles on the placards. Some part of my brain had been storing up all those lights and forms and colors, and I can’t tell you for my life how to multiply a matrix but I can recognize a François Rude from across the courtyard when I’ve only ever seen three of his works in my life.
I personify everything, you know that? I talk to paintings and statues and dead artists that aren’t there, how else are you supposed to take what’s on the wall and put it in your heart and your head?
That’s why I came to see you first, Winged Victory. You’re my friend, you know that? Lighting on your prow at the top of the stairs. I’ve cared about you every since I saw that documentary with Angela George in French class in high school when they told us that story of how the Nazis were coming and in those dark empty halls of that museum they didn’t dare to breathe as they carried your body down those stairs, praying you would hold together (because you know at that time you weren’t really held together).
And then I learned about your technical mastery in that art history class, the counterbalance of your leaning and your robes and your wings, how you once had a head, how you used to be painted, but you know Winged Victory, you’re my friend, you’re my favorite statue, I like you how you are now, you’re more charismatic without a head, you know how I feel about anything with wings.
And I came to see you next, David—
David! Jacques-Louis David—!
Peintre du roi, peintre de la Révolution, peintre de Napoléon—
Your painting is the biggest painting that I could have imagined, chéri! How did you paint it the size of the wall, all alone, no one but you?
I even cried aloud, you know that, when I saw your self-portrait on the other side, when I saw the Oath of the Horatii—it was strange, I knew it already, it was so familiar—
It was like my surprise at my woodshop project turning out just like my plans and my CAD model. It's strange to see it exactly the same, but bigger, real—
It's softer somehow, in real life—the edges are softened, there is less contrast in the skin tones, the shadows—
But your autoportrait, chéri—your light curly hair, you painted it so lightly—your face, chéri, it's crooked, your left eye turns to the side, your nose, your mouth is twisted, it's off center. I couldn't see these things until I was standing right in front of you!
You painted yourself with your brushes, chéri, your paints. What you were, it's an artist.
I saw your portrait, chéri. I recognized it by its colors—it’s rusty, and orange, and brown—it's my favorite color of green.
I recognized your curly hair. I saw it across the hall and I gasped and the breath was knocked out of me and I think I almost screamed.
But let's talk about this painting, this painting where I for months have been planning to die.
It's as big as a wall, you know. Mr. Kipp taught me that in high school.
I saw other paintings here that one could call as big as a wall. I thought that I might be disappointed.
I was not disappointed, you know. I was not disappointed. This is the biggest painting I have ever seen.
But oh, the tâches on Josephine's robe—the way you represented golden thread reflecting the light—
I don't know how you made this canvas, the spaces, the light, the color.
Oh, but you, you, Raft of the Medusa—
Je t'ai vu en ombre, tu vois?
I gasped aloud when I saw you. Pyramidal composition, pile of pale green bodies.
You were the size of the wall. They told me you would be. But I saw you in shadow, and I gasped aloud.
Almost all the paintings in the room are paintings I know. Delacroix, Géricault, Gros, Ingres. Did you know that Romanticism is my favorite art and literary movement of the 19th century?
So I wandered around, mouth agape, blinded by wonder. How could I not?
How is Mr. Kipp doing? Where is he now? He was the one who taught me about all these paintings in the room.
Oh, but then I crossed the garden and I saw you, Monet, master of colors—
Maître de l'aube, l'ombre, le crepuscule—
How did you decide which water lilies to bring forward and which to reduce to an irreplaceable scribble? How did you decide which colors to put in the waters or the trees?
How did you decide which view to paint, which time of day? How did you make a canvas that big? How did you paint with it outside?
Did you know that the canvases would be displayed in this place, chéri? Or was the space made for you?
Toi, Claude, Monet, thank you for showing me these things the way you see. Without you, I don't know if I would be allowed to see at all.
And then I went to this old train station on the other side of the Seine, where I spent too much time in the halls downstairs and had to rush through the upstairs impressionism like a madwoman when they announced on the intercom that the museum was about to close, but to be honest I think my eyes had been glazed over already.
But you ever just see something that knocks you backward like a flat plane of cool air?
Your deep eyes and straight stand in the blue. Of course I had to sit down and draw you. You know that I spent the morning talking about religion.
And you know, Sainte Geneviève, white and blue and holy holy holy, I didn't expect to see you because I had never heard of this piece before, and aren't the unexpected sometimes the most important things that you will ever get to see?
(Don't tell me, you're the one having the vision.)
Oh, but then I crossed the river again. My head had been full of the cushy art from the 19th century, until I crossed to that that building where they took all the parts that were supposed to be on the inside and put them on the outside in full technicolor.
It's not fair that this art is exhausting, because all of the art in this museum is good. It's just...infinitely heavy.
I don't like solemn themes when they're compounded like this. I don't like to see alienation and tragedy from the Middle East, of losing identity and globalization, of disquieting juxtapositions and forms. It's the stuff I don't want to be relevant, so it hurts. Why can't we go back to the existential crises of the worldview of Romanticism?
But it’s important, it’s important, that’s why it fills up my head with a fire and my body with sand.
I went to see the world’s most famous urinal, and on my way back I glanced up above the entry, and—
Duchamp, you sly dog, you've done it again.
The best and biggest surprise of the day was suddenly seeing your shovel, your ready-made, In Advance of a Broken Arm, hanging above the lines of the entrance to this floor, which nobody noticed because nobody looks up.
Someone else is playing your game...is anybody noticing? I think it’s better that way, a sign to the enlightened, for the people who look up.
But even so, you know I walked all the way through this floor, and I was disappointed when I didn't see the work of Joseph Beuys, my favorite Fluxus artist, who even knows what Fluxus is, not me—
But then I saw him all of a sudden in a sound installation downstairs, rolls and rolls and rolls of felt, a chalkboard and thermometer on a silent piano.
The room was supposed to be hot and full of silence. It smelled full and dusty like Aunt Barbara's house and that felt blanket that changed color from green to gray that night as the sun rose, or maybe it was the other way around.
But the room wasn't hot, it was polluted by the annoying sound exposition with those teenagers behind me, and we were only confined to a square meter of space, we could not walk around at all.
Mais quand même, c'était Joseph Beuys, Joseph Beuys, Joseph Beuys, I loved him since I read his story in manic silence one night, and ever since then I kept seeing his little sleds and packets sent out to send help.
But this museum isn’t gentle, I knew that already.
Contemporary performances and installations have eaten me alive, Le Courbusier's Utopia screened with communism and fell flat in those dirty streets like the one where I live. Cubism and Picasso felt far away and muffled, and the room with Dada broke my spirit so I hadn't felt as much as I should when I saw Duchamp's Fountain.
I feel hollow inside and my head is stuffed with cotton. There's a weakness radiating from my center into my limbs and the skin beneath my left eye hurts like a contusion, my retinas feel fried from wild-eyed wonder.
But here I am with my one true love, and surprisingly that love is abstract expressionism.
And here I am in this room, my soul might stop beating in front of these Pollucks. One of them is called The Deep, and with that chasm, that white and black and red and chartreuse, I can tell you that it's deep.
Sam Francis did a piece called Other White, a canvas of off-white in grays and blues. He said that it's the color of the space between things—
(Then someone else can see the color of the space between things. It's the color of the interior space in the Pantheon.)
And then Rothko, Rothko, those unimaginably deep colors in unimaginably deep layers of paint. The absurd feathery softness of the edges of his forms. I could stand there forever transfixed. Did you know that he slit his wrists and died in a painting of his own blood?
I only make pilgrimages for artists I like, but when I see an artist I like, it's a pilgrimage.
There is something about abstract expressionism that makes me want to be devotional. Jackson Polluck's The Deep. Mark Rothko's Untitled (Black, Red over Black on Red). I see it afar and I came into this room and my first instinct was to stand there and and stand there and worship.
But even then you know it's not quite the same feeling, you know that I saw that painting of Saint Geneviève, white and blue and holy, holy, holy, that light filled my soul and tears jumped my eyes, which is why I am sitting on this floor, holy holy holy, anything that touches you is from God.
So this week I went to Delft.
I went there to see a grad school, in a tiny little city in the Netherlands, that I knew about because one of my design professors had gone there on sabbatical and brought two Dutch people back with him to teach our class about sound design.
A lot of American designers don’t go to grad school because it’s not necessary, we are a skill-based field, and you gain skill by working. But my Life Goal is to be a design professor, because I know how to do research and teaching makes me happier than most other things, which means grad school is in my future.
Paris is burning me up inside. It’s not the City, it’s the city. The big, the loud, the dirty. My internship is burning me up inside. It’s not anyone’s fault, but I came here and I think I developed social anxiety.
(“You don’t talk a lot, do you?” that creepy old man said at the lunch with the old people.
“No, but I’m...like that,” I said. BUT NOT USUALLY! I'M TRYING!!!!
“She might not talk, but she listens,” Maurice said, tilting his head and touching his ear, and I thought, ah, that’s why he’s perhaps my favorite personne âgée.)
So I was burning up inside all day from anxiety. I can hardly even remember the morning, to be honest, because I stayed up until 2am research the Netherlands and Delft, one because I’m a champion procrastinator and don’t do things until they have to be done, and two because that’s the time I can usually bring myself to go to bed anyway. Moving halfway across the world did nothing to fix my bad habits.
But then the anxiety slid away with the smooth rolling of the first train to Lille, blonde air and blue sky, I looked out the window and I felt calm, felt happy, felt okay.
One time I was walking down to campus at 6:30 in the morning, and in the pre-natal morning light the sky was soft and dim and blue, that color of the night when the night has not quite fled away, and I felt like a future I did not understand was rushing toward me, and that somehow being on campus for this 7am design final was part of it.
But that’s how I felt on this train, except this time instead of my future rushing toward me, I was rushing toward it, and taking charge of it this time.
We got to the station in Lille, me and Elizabeth because Elizabeth came with me, looked out the window at those industrial towers of that industrial town, bought some chocolate because you know we both needed it, sat on a bench and used the 20-minute free wifi, there was a pigeon in the terminal and it was missing all its toes on both its feet.
And then we got on the train again, Elizabeth again put her head down and music in, I looked out the window and got a text from my phone saying “Bienvenue à Belgique,” all the little houses were connected with up-down zig-zag roofs and each of them were different colors.
We got off at Rotterdam, having passed through the entire country of Belgium in less than an hour, we got down the platform and past a couple restaurants and came back up, the interior space was clean and beautiful and not at all like the metros in Paris.
We took a little train, like the RER lines but quieter and cleaner, past forests and canals and a swan and a gray heron, I looked out the window and asked Heavenly Father to help me know if I should live here, I looked at the tiny green water plants and I think I felt good.
The ticket lady kicked another lady off the train, we gave her our tickets moments before descending, I talked to Elizabeth in French because that is my default setting for a foreign country, apparently.
And it was amazing, first of all, how clean and nice the inside of the station. Everything seemed new, or well-maintained, there were words on the ceiling.
We saw a seemingly endless garage of bikes hanging up on racks—for rent, or belonging to the people here? Two young people took their bikes and started riding them around the station, it was 9pm, there were very few people there.
We exited the station, we couldn’t believe this place.
We arrived in Delft at the setting of the sun, after night had started falling and the colors of the horizon were pink and orange and that light and gentle blue that I saw at the salt flats, I think.
There was a canal in front of us that ran to our left and our right. Red brick cobblestone road, bikers going by, everyone biking, everyone is biking.
I could see the windmill to my left from that picture, the tower of Old Church or New Church in the distance, I couldn’t tell, I read about them on Wikipedia—
We found our hostel with the help of some of the locals, our room was at the top of a steep steep spiral staircase, we went to bed, I had to wake up at seven.
I woke up in the morning morning from heat and strange dreams. I think I had been half awake half the night, in and out of consciousness, and when I woke up I didn’t know where I was, or which orientation I was facing, and I was 100% convinced I was here with Caitlin until I looked over the side of the bed and saw Elizabeth.
We woke up at 7 and got ready to leave by 8, because I had that appointment with Reinier at 9 (a PhD student and one of the Dutch people who had taught us about sound design), and I didn’t really know how to get down to TU Delft.
Delft is beautiful in the morning. No one was on the streets yet, everything is quiet. It’s kind of light and blue and gold, and the sun touches things and everything is quiet. I like mornings. Light in the mornings and it feels like magic.
Suffice it to say that Delft is lovely, there are flowers on the canals, the people are kind and beautiful and welcoming, the streets are paths of cobblestone for bikes, the shops are sweet, I felt good here, I felt safe.
The streets here are red and brown, and they’re made of bricks that are long and thin and it’s the same as the houses that stand on each side. It’s like the city folds down and holds you in and it feels complete, gentle, safe, and calm. And up top, the sky is blue.
We walked the wrong way at first, because everything is flat and I didn’t know what way was north or south.
We figured it all out eventually, with the help of two maps and some street signs with names we didn’t know how to pronounce.
When you come down from Delft into TU Delft, everything opens up. The campus is long on the sides of the avenue, like really long. I think it’s a long as the city itself. And it’s not clear when it starts, because it’s just on the continuation of that road, but we suddenly started seeing TU Delft on the street signs.
I realized too late that I didn’t actually know what building I was going to. The campus doesn’t have one main central building, apparently, and we didn’t have wifi so it was too late for me to ask. Luckily, there was a student services building to our right with a guy smoking outside, so Elizabeth said “It’s all you” and I went inside and asked the guy at the counter, which was kinda scary because he was hard to understand, but apparently the industrial design building was right next door so we walked down to that.
And it was HUGE! It was white and blue. And HUGE inside, and spacious, and so beautiful, and well-designed, and clean. Everything was high quality. By that, I mean all the furniture was just really nice and really just well-designed. The whole building was like that. It was fun and it was colorful and it was clean and spacious and beautiful and just good, it felt good, it felt like everything I love about industrial design culture.
We waited at the revolving doors behind the information desk for a while (a place that has a huge whole spacious building and an information desk dedicated to industrial design! I thought about our dark beige little hallways and wow, what a difference), arriving by the mercy of God just five minutes early, but it was almost 9:15 and Reinier hadn’t showed. I didn’t think we were in the wrong place…but we sat at those tables and waited, until I got the courage to go up to the information desk and ask to use their phone.
A male voice answered and said something in Dutch on the phone, so I said, “Is this Reinier?” “Yes.” “It’s Camilla.” “Oh Camilla, yes.” (Reinier says “yes” at the end of all his sentences.) I told him that I was here, that I hope it’s the right place, he said he’d come down.
And so I sat with Elizabeth on those chairs for a second, and then I saw Reinier come down, tall and slim and dressed in jeans and black.
He said hello and we shook hands. I felt like a child, which I guess I am, because I’m only 20, but here we are on a grad school visit, so I’ve got to feel legitimate.
He asked if we wanted a drink of water (and remembered that we don’t drink coffee, how nice of him), and Elizabeth decided to stay on the tour after all, which I turned out to be really happy about.
And then he led us upstairs to the break room with the good drink machine where you can get water with "sparkles", and for everything I walked through, I just loved it. It was colorful, there were design projects on the walls, there were studios everywhere—beautiful studios, full of fun and random things (like any design studio should be), with names like StudioDO and StudioMAKE and all sorts of other names in negative-space cloudy white on the door, which were just studios for the professors and their research (because industrial design research is FUN), and that’s how design should be!
The office spaces were AMAZING too. The hallway just widened out gradually for a bit, and there were like six or eight desks just kind of strewn around equidistant across the space, each one of them full of STUFF and COLORS in their corner, and Reinier said “Hey” to lady with long dark brown hair, or however it is they say things.
There was a set of vibrant-colored couches, an ornate table covered in chalkboard paint, Reinier said this is where they have meetings when people come to do research.
He showed me ALLLLL the studios for students (there were 60 studios! 60!), the project spaces for master’s students’ second year, the AMAZING machine shop (metal equipment, wood equipment, VERY LARGE 3D printer), the “workshop” for hand tools (which is what “shop” is short for, of course—and I think I like workshop better) which is a massive room downstairs, the fact that they have giant LECTURE HALLS, AND I LOVED IT, I LOVED IT, IT MAKES DESIGN FEEL SO GOOD AND SO IMPORTANT!!!!
So then we sat in the front terrace where Elizabeth and I had been sitting in the first place while waiting for him, and I asked him a lot of questions about the Netherlands and the program.
I have two pages of notes on this stuff. Let me tell you just a few little parts—
He told me about how they have 350 first-year students in the industrial design engineering program here. How they have no selection process, which makes them have some kind of mediocre students, but about 1/3 drop after the first year.
He said that the students at BYU seemed to him to be a lot more passionate and focused—on the whole, better students. I told him that’s because we had to fight to be there.
He said that the program at Delft focuses more on the actual engineering of products and how to make things in reality, how to make things that work. He also said that their program focuses more on design research, user research, rather than on just arbitrary measure. I told him that it is true. But that I think things are about to change, and very soon.
He said that there are 55 elective courses in the masters, that you can specialize or you spread yourself broad, that the topics cover everything under the sun.
It seemed to me that their master’s program is just an extension of the bachelor, not a big separate GRAD SCHOOL type of thing, with teaching experience and everything, and I was worried that doing this program wouldn’t qualify me enough to be a professor. Because we’ve got to remember the end goal here.
We talked about the differences between the educational system in America and the Netherlands. A lot of subtle differences in terminology, a lot of differences in how the system is set up.
Reinier has been here FOREVER. He started at TU in 2000 and in the industrial design program in 2002. I asked him what’s next, and he said he’s got (hopefully) got another year in his doctorate, then he’s going to do a post-doc, then he wants to teach!
Reinier says “yes” at the end of his sentences. Very well-enunciated, “yes”. “How old are Dutch people when they start to learn English?” Elizabeth asked. “You speak English so well.” And Reinier was so pleased.
I left from that feeling excited and hopeful. Not sure if This Was the Place because we have to remember my Life Goal. But the sun was shining and the day was bright, and Delft is wonderful and nothing can go wrong.
After that we just WANDERED AROUND THE TOWN for hours and hours. We ate lunch at the CUTEST little restaurant called Jans with nice, kind, tall waitresses who were very friendly and spoke English. It was the type of restaurant that very easily could have looked like it was trying too hard, but it didn’t somehow, it just had that right amount of sincerity and charm and flat out quality that it didn’t need any sort of pretention. That was just how it was, plain and simple.
I got what turned out to be an open-faced chicken sandwich on gluten-free bread with frilly little greens and a curry mayonnaise sauce. Then we got tiny delicious ice cream (apple tart for me and stroopwaffel for Elizabeth—simply amazing) and I got a gluten-free dutch pastry that was absolutely NUTS. It was like a giant tall macaron but the pastries had more sugar and there was a massive amount of whipped cream on the top and in the middle, and it was covered with nuts. In all honesty, I LOVED it.
We stopped at a little design café/shop right next to the hostel that had some nice felt bags I liked, bought some Delft blue china in the centrum market square, stopped in a little store that had a lot of the really clever/charming design things made of silicon (you know the kind), then we swung by a thrift store on the side.
This was a cool thing. It was a pop-up store, which means that the lady just rents a building for sale for like a couple of weeks or a month, and then moves on to a new city.
There was a lot of vintage/secondhand stuff, but also a lot of handmade stuff from modern-day designers. You know the kind. Leather bags and even a cool pair of wooden headphones. I didn’t think I liked anything at first (definitely not the clothes), but on the way down the stairs, I found a vintage medium brown small leather bag with embossing on the front and a thin strap for €12,75 or something (and I have been looking for one of those for a long time, even if I didn’t know it the entire time). Then I impulse-bought a soft light blue suede pouch near the register from a modern-day designer. It was €30, but I bought it because it’s actually worn around your waist with a brown leather belt, and I thought that was kind of silly but also just so rad.
Then we went down to another vintage store, where Elizabeth bought a black jacket that said “Parisienne” and I bought a little colorful woven wrist/arm band/wrap.
By the way, this entire time of walking through the city, all I could think of was that this is lovely, this is lovely, there is no other word to describe this but lovely.
The streets are that shade of reddish-brown. Even when the day is hot, it is not unbearable. There are happy, pleasant people walking by and biking by, and no one is trying to steal your wallet. There are beautiful, cute little shops, this town has two or three churches, there are little green pebble-plants in the canals, and did I mention that there are canals and bridges everywhere.
We walked down a road by a canal, on a path by the canal and the road, ducked under the leaves of a weeping willow, and I said that I felt like this would have to end, that there was no way that something could be so lovely.
Then we took a walk on the “Outer Canal Street”, as suggested by Reinier. I thought it was going to be a hilly, grassy little canal shoot with trees, so I thought that we could both sit there and write for a while. Turns out it wasn’t, that it was just a canal street like all the rest, but it was still actually pretty nice, and it was cool to see how people had all parked their boats there. We saw a swan pedal boat, and a bridge that was like a ramp instead of stairs because it was for bikes.
We walked down it and watched the city change, watched it change from an insular little medieval village to something a bit more like what we see in America, with overpasses and dirty white walls of buildings.
Then we couldn’t really find anywhere suitable to sit, so we kind of came back to the city and chose a spot at the side of a canal, even though I haven’t seen any Delftian people do that, so I don’t know if it’s socially acceptable.
We both pulled out our laptops and started to write at that point. People on bikes went by, and a lot of food delivery on motorcycles. They were loud, and had big boxes on the back. There was something under the water that kept sending up bubbles. Elizabeth stuck her earbud up her nose, and I took a snapchat.
Delft has a smell, you know. It’s not like the Paris smell, which smelled of pink and light powder. The Delft smell is like deep deep brown sugar and a bit of syrup turned sour. Not bad, but a bit heavy, deep maybe, like a rich amber molasses or something a dark forest green.
We got up and wandered around the city after that, because it got cold, and I think we both were done. Two sets of perhaps Arab boys in cars with the windows down said “Hey” as they passed us, and I wondered about the student life here.
And then we were walking up the street, watching the magic descend with the colors in the dusk, running my eyes along that red-brown brick stone and the upper story of the houses across the canal, and I felt good, so so good inside, and I turned to Elizabeth and said "There is a very good chance that I am going to live here."
I think I decided in that moment. That it would work, I would make it work. Then we spent the rest of the night wandering around and feeling good, visiting the north-east corner of the city, meeting some cats. The colors touched the air with the dusk. This city was meant to be seen in the evening and the early morning, and I fell in love with it more with every step.
Which is why it felt like someone had carved out my heart with an ice cream scoop when, seconds before I was about to close my eyes that night to go to sleep, I saw I had three new emails and Bryan Howell told me that the MS degree from TU Delft was not enough to make me a design professor.
NO! NO NO NO NO NO!
It turns out that to be a professor, you have to have a terminal degree. That means a degree with no other degrees that can come after it. An MFA is a terminal degree, because there’s no PhD in fine art. An MS is not because you can get a PhD and beyond, and guess what TU Delft offers?
Then why did this place have to be so lovely? Why did I feel so good about coming here? Why did that design building have to be light and open and blue and white???
It would be so easy to be swayed. This place has a charm like I’ve never never seen. But we have to remember what counts, we have to remember my Life Goal.
I woke up the next morning in the white room and it for a second I didn't know anything at all until I remembered that something was wrong and it was like the ice cream scoop all over again.
But I still laid in bed and looked at the ceiling, read my scriptures and felt disappointment but when I prayed I could pray nothing but gratitude, thank you for letting me come here, for letting me fall in love with this city, for letting me see that beautiful design building, I trust you to guide my life.
But it was just time to get up and go. There was no need to take my time, I got up and washed my face and felt kind of like my chest was hollow inside.
Elizabeth and I checked out and left our stuff under the stairs so we could walk around and get it later. We left and there was a market set out on the street outside, something that hadn't been there before.
We went down to where we had eaten lunch yesterday and I ate three eggs and good ham and cheese at our breakfast. There was another market with flowers, and I remembered that those girls in the Orangerie had told us about markets on Saturday mornings, and I thought, darn it, why can't I live here.
I impulse-bought a leather wallet for €17,95 at the little market, and a pair of super dope high-top shoes at a store for €29,95, because why not, you only visit the Netherlands once. And now it looks like I'm not coming back here again.
We went to the New Church by the market square and climbed the tower. It cost €4 to get into the church, and the tower, and the Old Church across the town—
The climb up the tower was an experience to be sure. The steps were wooden or stone, warped, wrapped in a ring by being stacked around a central pole (I was interested in the construction method), with huuuuge gaps between the slats, younger Camilla might have died.
It was a dizzying experience, literally. It made me dizzy, and off-balance just a tad. And nauseous, a bit. I thought about all those monks or church workers or whoever rang the bells having to climb up every day.
The view from the top was incredible. We were so so so high. All those little houses and their red roofs. We could see the trees and canals, and I thought, gosh dang it, I wish I could stay in this city.
The view wrapped around the tower. It was wonderful, but we were only up for a sec. We spent more time on the stairs than we did at the top, and then we had to go down.
There was another place to get out that we hadn't noticed on the way up. It was a little labyrinth, almost, or pillars and balconies, and the spaces were so trim that even Elizabeth and I almost got stuck, and we joked around like crazy and I was just so glad to be traveling around with that girl.
We kept going, we wandered around the city. I impulse-bought a green wool jacket from WWII, with a red cross and “NEDERLANDS” on the sleeve, from a street vendor and the only person I met who didn’t speak English.
(“Thirty! Thirty! Three…zero!” But he said it in his language, and I wasn’t sure what he was saying, and he wrote the numbers with abruptness on his hand in a way like Helen Keller, then eventually we got it, and eventually we got it that he asked if I wanted a bag, and then he said something that I thought maybe meant “Two more, thirty two,” but we didn’t quite understand so he just waved his arm and let us go, and I figured out just now that he must have meant that the bag cost two euros more.)
We walked back down to the south edge of town, where I bought hazelnoot (hazelnut) and blebessen (blueberry) ice cream from a probably over-rated vendor just outside the Old Gate edge of town (seeing as the ice cream at Jans seemed to be a lot better), but it was still very good and the hazelnoot tasted like Peanut Butter Captain Crunch.
We had an amazing lunch from a place called The Living, where you load your plate up with whatever you want and then pay by weight. The choices were all delicious fresh whole foods and salads, grilled eggplant and zucchini, watermelon and feta salad, different peppers and chickpeas, something that was maybe cabbage and fennel. Everything was made with oil and everything felt kind of Mediterranean. My entire plate was €5,85, which I would say ain't too bad.
We went back to Jans for the third time in 24 hours, because I wanted to try their “Snickers”-flavored ice cream (which did not actually have Snickers in it, or caramel, but I thought it was delicious, and probably better that way). And then I also bought that nougat thing again, because I loved it.
And then we had to go get our stuff, to leave that city, goodbye Delft, goodbye.
Delft is lovely, I cannot deny it. It broke my heart in the morning when we were walking around and I knew I could not come back here.
But at the end, I know that I can’t give up yet. This place is too lovely to do that.
So maybe I can't get an MS degree and be a professor. But what if I can come do a year here, or a semester? What if I’m in an MFA, but they don't teach me how to do research, or the kind of skills I know I need? I can come here, I can take those elective courses, don't people do things like this from time to time?
I’ve been told in this world that if you decide what you want, you can make it happen.
So maybe I will end up back here again, in this city that’s at it’s best in the mornings and the evenings, in this city with its churches and its flowers and canals, in this city where Reinier turned very seriously to me and said, “If you move here, you’ll need to have a bike,” in this city that is so nice and so friendly and so lovely and so clean, where I looked at the tops of the buildings and I felt so good about the idea of living here.
Everything is okay.