Author Thank You Note: Pierce Brown

Outgoing transmission: Pierce Brown
Subject: Thank You

Of all the authorial thank you notes that I wrote for this month — several of which are wholly ridiculous in tone — yours proved the most difficult to write. You are currently reading the results of attempt number nine ten

Where to begin? I regret to say I went into Red Rising with a good deal of reservations: it was blurbed to appeal to fans of The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game (I am, alas, a fan of neither), and its jacket description made it sound like every other class system-based dystopia that had flooded the market for the past few years, or so it seemed to me. But that cover was so striking — a bright red wing on matte black — that I did what I usually tend to do in situations like these: I shrugged and bought it while thinking “Eh, why not?” (This seems to be how most of my best and worst ideas start.)

I began with the audio — I can’t remember what exactly I was doing that fateful evening, but I needed to be hands-free — and from the moment Tim Gerard Reynolds read that first line, it was like one of those moments in a film where the protagonist pauses what they’re doing and the camera pushes in with a tightening, shadowy ellipse to form a spotlight, the world around them having faded away.

“I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.”

I’m a sucker for a good revenge plot; I stand by my opinion that The Count of Monte Cristo is probably the best revenge plot ever crafted. I love me a good revolution tale; American Revolution history is some of my favourite from this country and, oh yeah, Star Wars Rebel Alliance all the way. I also cannot resist a war story; I’m a rather odd child who knew Homer’s Iliad before Harry Potter.

So getting your story, complete with Classical allusions and pop culture easter egg-like references that kicked my high-functioning ADHD mind into full-on literary analysis mode was like getting the book I’d never dared to want, because there was no way in heaven, hell, or earth that it could exist.

And I don’t just love your trilogy because you’re a master of your craft and tell a heart-stopping story; or because you created and developed characters so beautifully flawed and tragically human that they transcend the confines of the page; or even because finding all those little allusions and references brings me inexplicable joy. I do love your trilogy for all those things, but I really want to thank you for how thoughtful your books are.

Your books dared to ask a great deal of deep and difficult questions. What happens after revolution? What happens when you gamble and fail? When you lose a battle but must continue the war? How do you deal with grief and rage and hate?

How do you not only live, but live for more?

I got to question and consider the world of your own making and the consequences of every small action, or even the lack of action. And then I got to apply it to my own life — which, in the wake of everything that has happened in 2016, meant an awful lot of thinking and drinking and more thinking.

But there is also a part of the story I didn’t mention, about when I picked up your first book back in 2014…it wasn’t a great time for me. I was going through what can only be described as a complete existential, quarter-life crisis. I’d graduated university without a job in my field, was working full-time at a bookstore which, while not terrible, was not what I wanted. I was just entering treatment for an eating disorder, which would lead to me (finally) getting diagnosed with anxiety and adult ADHD alongside depression, which I knew I’d dealt with since high school. Everyone around me was getting married, buying houses, raving about their dream-jobs and, well, needless to say, I felt very stuck and worthless and useless.

You didn’t really need to know all that, I suppose, but it’s the only context I can offer so that when I say your books were not only what I needed in that moment, but were what helped to spark a little fire to dare, to try, and to at the very least pretend to be brave…I’m not trying to be sycophantic. I may be prone to hyperbole in some things, but I don’t exaggerate when I say that your books had a profound impact upon me — upon my behaviour, my thought processes, philosophies, and just overall personhood. I can look at my short twenty-five years and find that point at twenty-three in late 2014 that denotes the shift of “before Red Rising” and “after Red Rising.

I hadn’t been able to live in peace but I started to find a glimmer of it in Darrow’s war. 

And as if that wasn’t enough, it wasn’t too long after I got diagnosed with Bertolotti’s Syndrome in late 2015 that I got to read Darrow scratching and clawing and working his own way back to recovery in Morning Star…just as I was going through physical therapy so I could go through everyday life with minimal pain or discomfort. It was this strange sort of inspiration, the rationale of “Well Darrow could come back from that, so surely I can grit my teeth and push through whatever’s happening here.” It’s not that I hadn’t thought that way before Morning Star, but something about the visceral way in which you wrote Darrow’s journey put everything happening in my own life into sharp perspective and helped me to hone my focus.

Simply put: your books changed my life.

So, thank you, Pierce Brown. Thank you for crafting this story. Thank you for writing it down and sharing it with all of us. In this all too often dark and terrifying world that sometimes likes to knock us down and basically beat the shit out of us, you gave us a trilogy about a rising tide of sons and daughters whose grit and humanity and glorious hope blazed with such ferocity that they shone brighter than the morning star itself.

And it’s a bloodydamn, gorydamn beautiful thing.

Per aspera ad astra and sincerest thanks,

Madeleine C.

PS. Also, you like Star Wars and puppies, so I should have known that would mean your books were going to be amazing.

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Heartsong to the City

I cannot help but wonder if I love this city because, right now, it is not mine. I am a traveler and a wanderer, a stranger in a foreign land with no responsibilities or cares, because this is not my home. I would love it to be. I would love to be here, living in this imageancient beating heart. The romance would fade and it would no longer be a love affair so much as a…what? Just a way of life? The extraordinary becoming the mundane?

This is not lost on me, and yet that is more beautiful than any facade that I could dream up in my own effervescent fantasies. Because not all of the wonder would fade — it truly wouldn’t. I love this city in a such a way that I know no other words. Perhaps if I loved it any less, I could speak of it more, but such are my feelings for this meeting place of the old and the new. Such is home.

When I first arrived, I briefly feared that I had put London into a kind of rose-tinted memory bubble. That all too quickly the glass would be shattered and fall to pieces at my feet. But within a few moments, I knew that such fears were unfounded. I fell back into the rhythm of the city, back into the habits I had acquired three years ago, and felt myself relax into a kind of comfort I can only call familiarity. Even when I travelled to parts of the city I didn’t know, or thought I did, and got turned around, I never felt particularly worried. It was always still just London. (Okay, small fib: I did get a little worried when I got turned around in a station trying to see one of the coolest people I know before I left.)

Rain is currently pouring down from the sky, shedding down the constant stream of tears I am holding back even now. Perhaps it sounds silly, but to know I am leaving tomorrow is so painful — it clutches at my chest and squeezes so imagethat the beating life organ escapes its ribbed-cage into my throat. I bite my tongue to return to reality, but the ache remains. What is the saying? “The ones we love never really leave us” — and this place has imprinted itself upon my heart so that, were they to cut me open and crack open the bone of my sternum, there, upon the muscle would be etched the words of this city. There, they would see LONDON. Because gods of Olympos I love this city, and I know if I start to cry now, I won’t be able to stop. I suppose you could say I’m a bit of an emotional softie.

Ah, nope, never mind — yes, there are the tears. I wish I could blame them upon the rain because the sky has been crying for me the entirety of this day thus far — why not now? But, no, it is not (just) rain that streaks my cheeks and forces me to look away from the window of my Airbnb flat; every second I spend looking out at the grey London sky makes me cry all the more. Tomorrow I will return to the USA and its southern sunshine, yet I would take a lifetime of rain if it meant I could but call this place my home. Even if it meant being thousands of miles and ocean apart from the world and people whom I love — yes, even then.

imageThis feels so much harder than it did three years ago, and it was hard even then. Perhaps I have to travel alone, wander as I did this past week, to make a place my own and to feel such an intense attachment to it. Huh, I almost wrote ownership — and yet this city is not mine, and how arrogant a human am I to even think something close to it?

I hope the city does not mind that I write it upon my heart, connecting the thinnest and most insignificant of threads between myself and it. Because I will come and go and live and die. And this place will beat on, not caring about a single little human who this very moment dares to dream it could and will be her own.

Goodbye, London. I will be back…and hopefully next time it will be for good.

Pure Imagination

If you take the Tube down south past the river, changing onto the overland line and taking a bit of a small walk, you’ll end up in a district known as Brockley. I’d never been to this part of the city, and admittedly had to let the Citymapper app guide me like Dorothy down the Yellow Brick Road — just, you know, without any singing.

Further into the town you can detour just off to the left and you’ll end up at the foot of a great green hill. Well, it’s green right now. How that works during the rest of the seasons, I can’t say for certain. But right now: greener than my pack of Orbit spearmint gum. I climb slowly, because I’m not alone: I’m out with one of my imagefavourite people in the world, the only person I really know in London. For the first time it’s not just me on my own, mind wandering about to think on the idea of tempus fugit and whatever else it chooses.

At least, until I reach the top, and turn northward to face the city skyline. There is haze obscuring what could be a perfect miniature of London, the easily-defined lines of buildings softened. I feel I am looking through frosted glass, the barrier of haze the only thing keeping me from reaching out a hand to touch the city. It’s a sight like I’ve never seen, and one that I don’t think can be replicated, seeing a city skyline from a such a view — knowing that such a place is real. That it’s right there. That I’m actually standing here, on a patch of green, looking out at what I can only call my favourite city in the world.

I have no thoughts. My mind is blank, awash in the sight that I feel privileged to see. This is the city of pure imagination: you think it can’t be real, that someone has pulled it from the effervescent world of a mind’s fantasy, but then there — right there…it stands, close enough to touch and far enough to still seem the stuff of dreams.

Dreaming Dials

It’s easy to see why London inspires so many writers, especially fantasy writers. It is an immortal city, where the old and new sit side-by-side in surprising comfort. Ruins of the Roman walls of Londinium can be found but a stone’s throw away from a 19th century pub and a 21st-century skyscraper. It truly is one of the most remarkable things you can and will see, especially when you’re an American. Our idea of “old” is nothing compared to London.

imageOne of my favourite fantasy novel series’ in recent years is The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. Whenever I wish to feel under-accomplished, I just remind myself that Ms. Shannon and I are the exact same age and her imagination and painstakingly detailed worldbuilding is on a level that I cannot fathom. No, really, just look at the first book in her series: it’s got glossaries, charts, and maps.

And it is of this series that I think about as I wander down Monmouth Street towards the intersection point of the Seven Dials. Like the centre of a wheel, the spire at the heart of the Seven Dials rises high into the surprisingly sunny sky. The gold of its sundial flashes in the light, and the blue of its face seems even darker and more rich in colour. It seems fitting that I would be looking up at a sundial, given how I had spent so much of the day before musing about time and the past within the halls of the British Museum. Here, right in the open, this comparatively small monument to time stands straight and tall to remind me of each fleeting moment.

Carpe diem.

These words echo through her head as she races down the winding, cobbled streets of London. Her boots echo and clatter against the stones, and she curses the loud soles, wishing them to silence themselves. Oh, that she could disappear within the shadows, but no, the agents would find her nevertheless. They would emerge from the echoes and take hold of her.

Her heart skipped a beat, knowing the horrid fate that awaited it if the agents took hold of her. How one of their hands would plunge into her chest, grasp at the beating organ and squeeze down hard, harder, harder…until death bloomed within the cavity of her ribcage in that place where a heart used to be. She turns around the corner of the obscure passage so quickly that imageshe nearly topples over, nearly barrels into a couple that makes their way towards their awaiting carriage. She doesn’t apologize. She doesn’t have the time.

Flash.

There — the sun! It flashes atop the dial at the top of the great spire that sits, dead centre of the Seven Dials. It calls her home, calls her back to where she may yet be safe. That place beyond the reach of the agents, the place where her debt means nothing. That’s what they say, anyways. She’s heard the whispers: that the dials is the heart of it all, the heart of Time itself. There time is everything and nothing, and the Chronagents have no sway. They cannot cross the border into the heart of their power, for fear that they themselves will be ripped apart.

Lungs are on fire, she is so close…so very close. A shout behind her, she’s right there — she leaps for the spire…

It could be easy to get turned around here in the Seven Dials, but it’s rather like the old saying of “All roads lead to Rome,” because I always figure I can turn around and find my way back to this intersection. There is, as Dickens said, “enough around [me] to keep [my] curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time” here in the Seven Dials, though my destination is elsewhere. I am headed towards a different end, yet the Dials is a place I feel drawn to visit, as if the spire at its centre is a magnet, drawing this poor iron-blooded human in.

I imagine the world that Ms. Shannon creates in her series, where past and future meet in strange harmonic dissonance, and when I look around at the intersection of the Seven Dials, it all makes sense. This is an immortal city, where things are always changing and shifting, yet the past remains. It is more than visual, it is palpable, like a thin sheet of phyllo lain atop another to continue building and adding. It brings everything together more tightly, turning the individual into the collective, and yet should one individual within the middle fail, it all crumbles apart in the end.

A bell rings to toll the hour and take my own passage out of the Dials, out of the world of the clairvoyants and syndicates from a fictional past-like future. I carry on, shoes clacking on the stones, and smile at this place that feels weirdly like home.

A Shattered Visage Lies

The sands brush across her face, soft and warm, granules coating her skin in a glittering layer of pale dust. A few paces before her, two great trunks of dark stone rise higher, higher towards the clear azure sky. Heat from the sun beats down hard, throwing harsh, glaring light onto the imageruined, shattered visage that crumbles, half-forgotten in the desert.

But she remembers. She remembers when time was different, when gods walked the Earth and men were beautiful for their mortality. Every breath could be their last; they may yet never again see the sun rise or set upon their warm, dusty land. It truly was a tragically-beautiful time.

Until men fashioned themselves into gods. Until they demanded more and thought they deserved immortality. Oh, how she thought to curse them with that, to watch their world spin and rage and die away, falling ever more irrelevant while they themselves continued on. Only then would they realize what a horror it was to be immortal, to wish yourself away and ended and go on, ever on across the threshold of the world into the dying of the light…

Many people wander to the Egyptian treasures of the British Museum to see the famed Rosetta Stone. And while I look at it and marvel that this single slab of rock, covered in script, is the reason we have been able to decipher hieroglyphics, there are other things which seize my attention. There, just to the left stands Ozymandias himself. We may know him better as Rameses II, one of the greatest pharaohs of Egypt, but Percy Shelley immortalized him forever in the hearts of poetry-lovers as Ozymandias. imageAnd it is from that poem that this post takes its title.

I am still in a strange emotional state, forcing myself through jet-lag and the roller-coaster ride that is walking through the treasures of Greece, but I made my mum a promise to say hello to the mummies for her. Mummies hold little fascination for me, though I know that my mum has always loved them. I’m more interested in what the Egyptians built (or, rather, had built by slaves) — their monuments and structures are so easily recognizable and their sheer size is enough to marvel at. I look up into the face of Ozymandias and I don’t have to wonder if he knew whether or not he was running out of time. I think the Egyptian pharaohs knew the impact of mortality well-enough, which is why they immortalized themselves in the monuments that were built.

I search for one pharaoh more so than all the others, disappointed and unsurprised when I do not find him. He was labeled the world’s first monotheist — or at least the first ruler to institute a monotheistic state religion. He has been called a visionary, a madman, and a heretic. He was stricken from the records with such thorough diligence, that the world would have forgotten whom he was, just as the Egyptians had intended. They would have stolen the small measure of immortality that he had imagedesigned for himself.

Akhenaten.

I walk past several monuments to his father, Amenhotep III, and there is only one treasure, one piece of the Egyptian past that holds any true mention of Akhenaten…and it is of his absence, of his being stricken from this list of kings. His son achieved modern celebrity, what could have once been called the nouveau immortality before the rapid pace of the Internet age, by being discovered, tomb untouched and forgotten, in the Valley of the Kings. Tutankhamun, born as Tutankhaten; the boy king forever reduced to a glittering golden mask. His father, Akhenaten, was not so lucky, for he was reduced to nothingness, to being forgotten and abandoned, whisked away by the sands of the desert and of time.

I am amazed more at just how long ago the rule of the pharaohs was: the Ancient Greeks would have looked at the Ancient Egyptians the way that we look at the Ancient Greeks. Thousands of years passed by in the sands of Egypt, an entire empire rose and fell before the Greeks became as we remember them today.

Time stops for no one.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Steeped in the Blood of Greeks

Jet-lag still seeks to overwhelm me. To wrap me in its tight embrace and bring me down to the ground in complete and total exhaustion. I am up, I am walking. I know I must make my way through the rest of this day, to push my body further along, in order to acclimate myself to London time. This city stops for no one, nor shall Kronos stop himself for me.

I spent much of my time three years ago in the British Museum, finding its bustling halls of history a peaceful, safe haven. There were always things to see, even if I had already seen them. Even now, its magnetic pull draws me up towards its imposing imagefacade, inside the tall, metal gates, and up its concrete stairs. The glass doors and a bag-check are all that stand between myself and some of the past’s treasures.

There is one place I must go, one place that calls to me in a siren song of whispers past: the Ancient Greece exhibits. Statues to Aphrodite and Dionysos, of Naiads and Nereids. Their marble forms frozen perfectly in time, watch me as I pass, as I linger. They call to like: blood to blood, as if they sense that I am of the lineage of Hellas. And though it is but 1/4 of my bloodline, it is one to which I most often feel closest: that part of me that beats the drums of Lakedaimon and the Peloponnesos.

The Elgin Marbles are where I feel it strongest — that intense, pull of the past. That white hall, where sit treasures steeped in the blood of Greeks. Birthed to be the cause of conflict between Sparta and Athens: paid for by Sparta, those funds misused by Athens, later stolen by England. My feelings roil like a tempest on the Aegean, swirling dangerously so that I feel the lump in my throat. When I look at the treasures imageof my own people, sitting her cold and far away from home, something pierces to my soul.

And I am there, the Mediterranean sun upon my skin, sweat trickling down to sting my eyes with the salt. War has come to Athens, the cries of the starving a drowning cacophony in my ears. I stand on the bow of the warship, this great navy of Lakedaimonians, their own war chants shattering across the Athenian harbour. There is nothing but salt: sweat, tears, blood, and the sea.

But there, high, high up on the point of the mighty Acropolis, I see it, the thing that gleams like a spark in the night. Where men and gods converse in open halls of white marble…marble bought with Spartan gold. And look what good that gold has done them now: where is their mighty armada? Where is their fleet to oppress us further?

Where is the glory of Athens now?

imageThe cries vanish, blown away on the breath of the wind and the song is different. It echoes through my core, strumming at my being. This is a song I know intimately, the song of grief — deep, national grief. This is the grief of an entire nation, the kind of grief that leaves nothing to imagination. And yet this grief is not mine, it is not ours — not yet. Kronos, that god of time shows me and I see the Acropolis fall, its treasures plundered, dismantled. I see them sitting, cold and alone in a foreign land of no sun, no salt and no sea. The light of the gods drains from within their marble house and it all goes dark.

And suddenly I see we are running out of time, rising and falling like the winter wheat. And I do not know what it is we must do to survive, do not know how to stop the spinning threads of the Moirai. I lift my eyes to the sky, to the arc of lightning that blazes from suddenly-appeared dark clouds to strike at the crown of the Parthenon.

imageI do wonder if the Ancient Greeks ever knew they were running out of time — every day coming closer to just running out of time. Whether it was Alexander or Rome or
the Turks or whomever came next. Their time was over, and they crippled themselves with the Peloponnesian War, proving once again that this was not a unified country of Greece, but a land teeming with Greeks: their city-states were countries in and of themselves.

United they stood, divided they fell.

When I look at this marble, I see the clean white awash with blood, swimming in the sacrifice of so many Greeks of the past. This is the lump that rises in my throat, the imagetightening in my chest. This is why I am drawn to these treasures of my past, like moth to flame. I stand, I stare, I drink it in. I cannot touch, though I wish I could. Just have one moment to physically touch this part of my history, to make complete the connection that echoes maddeningly in my ears, louder and louder every second that I stand and stare…

I arrest my gaze, feel torn away like a bandage too soon and too fast from a still-bleeding wound. Oh yes, it is steeped in the blood of Greeks. And do not doubt that the Greeks still see that blood on the marble, blinking at how rapidly the world turns. At how quickly we all just run out of time.

Memory Glass

I land to rain.

This isn’t all that surprising. After all, last time I was here, I joked that I didn’t see the sun for the entirety of my stay — which is almost true, though admittedly more fiction than fact. But it’s raining now, and not just the mists and drizzles that usually grace the city, but true rain. I suppose London wanted to make sure I didn’t miss its usual weather. I can’t help but quirk a smile.

If there’s one plus to landing in a part of Europe when an American, it’s that you’re usually in the shorter line at Border Control. No exception here, and I had a lovely gentleman as my “officer.” And by lovely, I mean, didn’t make me feel like I was going through an interrogation — I regret to say I have gone through borders where that felt like the case.

They grab me roughly by the shoulder, ignoring my cry of protest and surprise, dragging me through the glass to shove me into a chair. No doors, no windows — though one wall is made of two-way mirror glass. I try to stand but, no, they’ve wrapped shining coils around my wrists; they gleam like golden whips, pulsing with heat and energy, as if alive. When I pull on one, it flashes a dangerous shade of copper and squeezes back.

This place is strange and, like the restraints, it feels alive, flexing and breathing like a set of perfectly-square metal lungs.

“Why are you here?” The uniform stands several paces from my seat, hands clasped behind a suit-donned back. Blue eyes pierce my own with an unnerving steadiness. They’ve done this before and they’ve done better, done worse, done…

“Vacation,” I say.

It felt strange to say I was there for “vacation,” since that always feels like such a foreign word coming from my own lips. I’m usually more like the lyrics to “Work this Body” by Walk the Moon:

And I will work this body I will burn this flame
Oh in the dead of night, and in the pouring rain
Yeah, I’m a workaholic and I swear, I swear
Yeah, and one day I will beat you fair and square

But save for a few questions, that was it. I’m just here on holiday, I’m here to wander.

The tube ride is thus far uneventful, and I already feel myself sliding back into the habits I picked up three years ago. Eyes averted from anyone else’s, I stare out the window across from me, earbuds in, speaking to none. The rumble of the tube vibrates through my feet and sometimes over the melodies that waft through my mind. Much of the early journey is above ground, so I can see the gathering of the city.

A city is a city. What amazes me is the ability to easily recognize that you are, indeed, in a city. And yet a city is not a city, and no two cities are alike. I live in a city, within the Monument District of Richmond, VA. I suppose you could say I live in a slightly swankier part of my city — it’s certainly one of the “hipper” areas of the Southern capital — but it’s still a city. But that city is not this, is not London. There is a hegemony to the architecture to these outskirts, these clearly residential areas that surround the British capital. Tightly-knit, and dark, with little smoke stacks piercing upwards from the sloped rooftops. It’s not a bad thing, in fact I find it comforting: this is something I can know, can easily recognize. Though I did not tube in upon my first arrival in London, I know I’m in the same place.

That’s something that’s different. The anxiety. It’s not the same, for sure. Last time, I landed knowing that, hey, there’s going to be someone to pick me up, to show me around and help me acclimate. I will be taken care of, because I am still a child, even at 21 years old. I was a student, a senior in her final semester, and yet I was still a child. I say this with no sense of indignation, because it was true, and even then I wouldn’t have made any claims otherwise.

I am still a child in many respects, but there is no one picking me up from Heathrow now, no one whisking me away to the safety of a bus that will take me to a prearranged house that was paid for by tuition, with a weekly allowance, and a group of people all from the home-away-from-home that was JMU. This time, I am alone. I tend to travel alone a lot, and it’s something I truly enjoy. Back home in the US, my friends say it’s so brave and intimidating. It’s not, really. It’s more just that I’m not great with people, and the fact that my life is fairly scheduled enough as it is, so on vacation, I want to do a bit of flying by the seat of my pants. Hard to do that when you’re traveling with other people.

Three years ago, I needed that schedule, that sense of certainty. I don’t need it right now, and the anxiety I feel is that of knowing I still view London through the glass of memory. I imagine the city that I knew, which may not be the city that is. Three years is not a long time, and yet it is a long time. How much has happened in the past three months, let alone three years? I am anxious that I will step off that tube platform and find myself in a city I no longer recognize, and while I do not claim to be an expert on imagethe city of London, the dread that I will not even know the streets I walked every day during that final semester flutters through me.

It’s still raining when I exit the tube station at Warren St. In Fitzrovia. This is not a part of London I know that well, though it is spitting distance from my old stomping grounds. (It’s just about 1 mile exactly form my former residence.) There is still that same feel: cobbled, narrow streets, with hole-in-the-wall business aside some larger-spaced chains. There are great, shimmering office-like buildings that tower along what part of the skyline you can see when you look up. One seems familiar, a ghost tugging at a strand of memory. But it I still sounds like London, still smells like London, and that is the important part. The glass is being wiped at, thinning under the heat of my skin.

Several hours later, having exchanged brunch, keys, a walk, and much laughter with the lovely woman in whose flat I’m staying thanks to Airbnb, I am alone with my jetlag. Hypnos pounds upon my limbs when I sit, the stillness of my body turning it to stone. There are still too many hours left in the London day for me to sleep, and I must adjust. I must push my body forward through the very extremes of its exhaustion and limits to acclimate.

I walk.

Through the tireless, ever-moving streets I walk. Sunglasses keep my eyes from the crowds of people, an audiobook in my ears shielding me from the city noise. The rain has stopped, the sun peeking out every now and then behind scattered clouds. I remember it now, feeling like a small ripple in the fast-rushing current of life that surrounds me. I walk to find familiarity, to find the places I knew, and as I wander, I wonder.

The memory glass is there but not gone. ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall,’ I laugh to myself. But this is no mirror, because I do not see my own reflection. I see the world with a strange halo, a hue of rose-colour that is cracked and dimmed. I know I should feel sad in this dimming of the rose, of the happy past, but I am not. This Evil Queen need not fear the ending of a past, for whatever Snow White arrives to seize the throne is but a new experience in the same palace. The walls and halls and floors and doors will all be there, but a new set of feet tread these old stones — old, but not tired.

And then the familiar suddenly appears, shining and bright. The rose is melting, swirling and fading in the glass to turn back to a blues and greys and browns and all the kaleidoscopic motion and noise that is the palace coming to life. The spell is broken, the past takes flight. The present is when the future begins.

As reality settles in, I cannot help but smile, the tugging at my lips growing wider as I approach the streets I know. The streets I walked so many times that I do not need a imagemap to find my way. So much is still there that it almost amazes me. This is a city that is both forever-changing and changeless, which is perhaps why I love it. I can’t help but hold my breath as I approach the Madison House; when I was living within it, I jokingly called it the MadHouse, for the many levels of punny-ness associated with the moniker.

It’s still there, still standing amidst a row of similar brown and white buildings on Bedford Place. Still bookended by Russell and Bloomsbury Squares. There’s flowers blooming in Russell Square; they’re purple and yellow. I smile at seeing another, more colourful reminder of JMU here in London. I know that’s not why these flowers are what they are, but it’s a particularly happy coincidence.

Memory often feels fleeting and effervescent; no matter how we hold to it, the present wipes it clear as we trace our steps over and over again. Perhaps this is true, but sometimes I like to think we chase that temptress, Mnemosyne. We chase memory in all forms: memories that were, memories we are living, and memories we have yet to make.