Monday, June 13th. 9:33 pm, in the back of Öz Konya Kebab: brightly lit, with LED lights on the ceiling that ease through the rainbow.
I am not raging against the machine, exactly, staying up late to write this; the machine is kind to me, has free seltzer and coffee in the break room all day. There is oatmilk in the fridge, and a basket of granola bars upstairs. In some ways this is exactly what I predicted a startup would be; in other ways, it’s better.
I’ve been just over a week in this city. Some notes from the road…
June 3rd. Tucson, Arizona, my room with blue walls and faded art from past comic-cons.
The last time I packed this backpack it was with eight books, all fantasy; two pairs of jeans; just enough socks, shirts, and underwear to get by. Now it’s half-full with the work-appropriate clothes I couldn’t fit in my two suitcases. I’m going to be in Europe for the same amount of time. Less. I wonder, when did I learn this luxury?
Chances are that I’m not going to come home with half a novel written, this time.
June 4th, on the plane to actually Reykjavik, after Seattle and before Copenhagen itself. I ate actual Icelandic skyr! It tasted kinda like yogurt.
I finished Pleasure Activism somewhere over the sea. Adrienne maree brown’s language of self-love fills me with warmth.
I mixed up the time zone change and resigned myself to ten more hours of flight, when in fact there were only three. A relief.
June 5th, Copenhagen
They lost my bags in Amsterdam. The man at baggage claim with an accent like my late uncle’s told me they’d send the bags to my place tomorrow. My Molchat Doma shirt had been worn for over twenty hours.
The sun never sets here.
I tried to puzzle out the Danish bus system on six hours of sleep in the last seventy-some, gave up, walked forty minutes through the sun to my hostel. It was good sun, albeit weak compared to where I’m from. The shops and houses were old, adjoined, and quintessentially European. The Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants I passed by smelled amazing.
10 pm, at the bar of my hostel
I’m sharing poetry over Zoom with some friends from MIT. Their words are rich and good.
I am again eighteen, lying awake in a hostel bed while around me men shuffle and snore. Reviews rave about the cool concept of this place — a lot of tents in a big room, a bed three times the price it would be in Spain — but tents are less soundproof than walls. You can hear dozens of people snore, cough, sneeze. At 6 am alarms start going off, and do not cease.
People have holidays in Denmark in which the stores are not reduced to 10 am to 7 pm, but are simply closed. They are open 10-7 on regular days. There is no equivalent to the Target or Walmart open at any hour, if you’re willing to drive far enough.
This day was such a holiday. Work started at 8 the next morning. I had only my Molchat Doma shirt, which at this point had been worn for over thirty hours.
I wandered the streets until I found a shop that was blissfully open. The selection was targeted toward women slightly more conservative than me, but the prices were good, and the owner let me pay in US dollars when I didn’t have Danish krone. I bought the sort of loose pants I wore all the time in high school, and a dress with a cut similar to one I wore on my second-ever date, back when I was fourteen.
A friend I’d wandered MIT with showed me around Copenhagen, from the Little Mermaid statue to the docks to Reffen, a market with food stalls from all corners of the globe. There was real Mexican food, the stall painted like fast food places back home. I hadn’t expected to taste that for months.
June 7th, Seaborg ApS
I begin work!
I’ve worked odd jobs all over, but this is my first in the tech industry. I walk from the hostel, deep shadows under my eyes. I’m wearing the flowy pants that would have suited me perfectly when I was fifteen or sixteen.
I have thoughts about the highs and pitfalls of working at a startup, and on the many forms of engineering and how I take to this one, which involves a lot of modelling and frowning at equations or articles on the three monitors of my company set-up. Those thoughts are for another blog. Suffice to say that my company is warm and friendly, and there is a lot of free food.
My luggage hasn’t come — it’s been three days, I’m running out of fresh clothes — so after work I get on the phone, bounce between different agents and long holds for a couple hours. No one can find my luggage, though they assure me it’s probably not gone for good. When I finally put the phone down, all the shops are closed except for Fotex, which is the Danish equivalent of Walmart. Like at Walmart, the selection is fairly random, so I buy some pants that are too big and a bra that is too small, thinking it will be very cheap when it is in fact only mid-range cheap.
I get to my room. I’m allergic to something in the bed.
At work I feel like I am in middle school, wearing clothes that only sort of fit and definitely don’t flatter.
All day I am sniffly, and when I get back to my room I cannot stop sneezing. I lived in a space I was allergic to once before, and thought that I could take it; I could, but it was hard, and I swore at the end that I wouldn’t sign up for anything similar again. I send a strongly worded email to the landlord. I splash a lot of water on my face, contemplate the hardwood floor, and crawl into the allergen-filled bed.
I feel like I am caving inward. Tumbling backward. Like all the awkwardnesses of years past are coming out at once. I took strength from those times, inspiration — I wrote my first novel wearing too-big sweatpant shorts — but I can’t access any of that now. I sit down and try to write about the feeling, but I am exhausted, and all my words are bad.
The landlord had my bed cleaned with chemical spray, which kinda sort of did not actually work, I am still actively suffering when I get home. Working on this.
But my luggage came back!!!
The housing RA, an exchange student who I’d reached out to a few days back, was coming in just as the delivery folks came with my suitcases. Lucky thing, that, because my dormitory has no intercom or package drop-off point. He called me to come down. I thanked him profusely.
I hauled my stuff to my room, giddy and, at this point, exceptionally exhausted. I took out one of several mint boxes filled with earrings and opened it, then pawed through the earrings, wondering which ones to wear the next day. But, I realized happily, I didn’t have to choose. I will wear all of them. I have many days.
I hopped over to a bar and started writing.
This bar allows smoking inside. It doesn’t smell like nicotine, exactly; not like ashtrays, just like smoke. The lights are low and golden, the decor kitschy and antique. Fat candles burning low, streaks on the mirror, actual antler horns on the wall…
June 10th, Friday night
After the luggage fiasco was concluded, things took a distinct and definite upswing. My company put on a seminar event about the intersection of design and science, with talks by many engineers in my field. One of them drafted the entirety of his presentation on microsoft paint. My favorite presentation was by a graphic designer from India who talked about order and chaos in the western mindset, influenced by colonization, and the value of embracing chaos and complexity.
After that, several coworkers and I went to see a band out on the grass before a bar. They played mostly American rock songs from the ‘70’s. The sun doesn’t set until 10 pm here, and I lounged on a blanket someone had brought, drinking in the music and the people around me. I met a woman from New Mexico — her face lit up when she heard my accent, not just American but Southwestern. I probably did the same, surprised to find familiarity in a place so far away. She told me about her work as a nurse, and how she’s building a house on a mountain in New Mexico. She was flying back there in a few days.
the next days
I went back to Reffen market. I wandered the streets with a new friend.
And then I finally went running. My running shoes had been lost in my luggage all week. I put on a podcast about Robin Hood, one of the endless re-tellings. I thought I knew all the stories by now — I made a concerted effort some years ago to see every remake, though I got through just a small fraction — but Episode 273 of Myths and Legends, if you’re interested. was equal parts familiar and new. The creators had looked through old ballads, and brought to life plot arcs that every re-telling I’d seen had forgot.
As I ran, the path changed underfoot from a city sidewalk to asphalt cutting through a manicured park. Then it morphed into a bike path that ran over a busy street, and then, unexpectedly, turned to a shady forest path. I was seventeen, in western Massachusetts, my first time travelling alone, running through the woods on the outskirts of a camp about Jewish books. I was eighteen, running in Portland, marvelling at all the trees. Miles from anyone, some part of me thought to be afraid; but I pushed that away. The first longing I ever felt was for overgrown trees like these.
I have learned since then to idolize the desert. But there is a certain draw to the shade beneath the trees. This, I thought, is where Robin Hood lived.
Monday, June 13th. 11:11 pm. Öz Konya Kebab is emptier, though not by much.
Despite this litany of grievances, I am grateful to be here. I’m grateful for my RA and the folks in the airline who did what they could to get my luggage back, and the co-workers who invite me to events even though I’ll be gone in a handful of months. And for the friend who, when I complained about everything and then said sorry for complaining, texted back, “never apologize!!”
I am twenty-one. I am contemplating my next tattoo and the last poem I wrote. I’m scouring the world around me for the seeds of stories. Tomorrow I’ll be jumping between nuclear physics videos and my thermodynamics lecture notes, and trading metal band recs with the coworker across from me. I’ll swallow these streets and this city.
When this summer ends I will leave many stones uncovered. But some few of them will be mine.