New year, new rules: How a week in Europe shaped a year at home

I’ve written New Years (and mid-years) resolution posts before, but this one’s a little different. My goals for 2016 revealed themselves over two and a half days in Dublin and three days in London between Christmas and New Years.

The push to see as much as possible in little time made me realize that it’s more important to set a few rules that say “do this” rather than a bunch that say “don’t do that.” That’s why my 2016 resolutions are written in the positive and meant to make 2016 a year of identifying who I am beyond a 24-going on-25-year-old former journalist* finding her footing in a corporate world.

*In case you didn’t know, it’s still slightly painful typing out “former journalist” — good thing my corporate gig provides really good health care and therapy options.

Of course, by “rules” I mean the Pirates of the Caribbean version: they’re more like guidelines.


After all, shi(p) happens. I could find myself kidnapped by pirates and, 2.5 movies later, made the Anglo Queen of the entire Chinese pirate sector, in which case “blog more” will either become very interesting or totally impossible due to the lack of WiFi on the open seas. “Drink better stuff” might improve, though. I hear pirates have excellent taste in rum.

But back to the Dublin- and London-inspired rules for 2016:

Figure out exactly where I want to live for the rest of 2016 and onward. When I planned my trip to London, part of the goal was to see whether I liked it as much as I hoped. The other part was to figure out exactly where I would want to live if I did get there. Of course, this was all before I got a very sturdy, satisfying and future-focused job in the heart of Chicago, but even after getting my current gig, I couldn’t help but explore the city with the eye of someone who will — not might, but will — one day call it her home. My conclusion: I want to live in St. John’s Wood, right on Abbey Road.

Somehow I’ll tolerate the crowds of tourists…
…only if they do what I did: Settle for a selfie while crossing the street, rather than holding up traffic and potentially becoming roadkill while stopping mid-pose. “Paul is dead?” No, you is dead.
Me posing in front of my future neighbor, Abbey Road Studios. I’ll tolerate the graffiti more than I’ll tolerate the street-crossers.

As I said, the whole live-in-London thing has been put on hold, as my job working corporate communications in the Windy City is about to get even more interesting as we launch a company news app for employees, I take editorial control over a second newsletter for company leaders and start writing features for the corporate magazine. That’s not to say living in London will never happen, however. The only way I could will myself to leave the city last Saturday was by promising myself that I would be back, and instead of for three days, it would be for three years. Three decades, if I had my way (and a lot of money).

But for now, I’m trying to decide where I’m going to live for the next three years-plus on Chicagoan soil. An apartment of my own is leading the thought-pack for right now, but it’ll take some research and reflection to decide exactly what to do. That’s just one of my long-term personal assignments for 2016.

Purchase only things of high quality. I kicked this one off on New Years Day when travel partner, fearless leader and human GPS Frannie navigated us through a parade and subsequent crowds in London’s Piccadilly Circus to find the Burberry store, where I proceeded to hand over an ungodly number of British pounds in exchange for a totally-worth-it wallet that makes me smile every time I see it.

As we walked out of the store, me cradling the gold bag to my chest like it was my only child and Frannie dreaming of the nap that lied ahead at the hostel (joke was on her: we walked Hyde Park in the rain for an hour instead), I decided that not only was the trip and money worth it, but also that this would be a year of limited but meaningful purchases.

Kate Spade, I’m coming for you next…in March, probably, once my bank account has healed.

In the meantime, blogging is free, and I’m going to take advantage of that. Last year I stopped writing in September during the hefty background check process for getting my new job, and I didn’t return often in November and December when every time I started a post it became a diatribe against gun violence or Donald Trump. The last thing I want is for this site to go from being “Quills and Typewriters” to “Guns and Trump-rantings.”*

*If the Trump is elected, I have dibs on that blog name — at least as long as the internet-slash-country stays together, which probably won’t be long. Maybe I’ll be moving to London sooner than I thought after all.

Every chance I had in Dublin and London, I wrote in a journal about what I had seen, from Oscar Wilde’s statue in Dublin’s Merrion Square and the phenomenal Irish stew I had in Temple Bar to the 26,311th performance of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap in London’s West End and Big Ben on the last afternoon of 2015.

How else should an Oscar Wilde pose for a statue? (And how else should you pose next to it?)
Best meal of the trip with the best non-Guinness beer of the trip.
If only that SUV was a 1930s roadster.
One of the few selfies I allowed myself to take (rather, that Frannie would allow me to take of both of us).

Journaling reminded me of why I love writing real-life stuff down. First off, there’s relief that I don’t have to find a filing cabinet in my brain for the memory. Second, there’s a chance to reflect and record the stream of thought that comes with an experience. For example, I talked myself through exactly why I wasn’t a fan of hostels — mostly because my protectiveness over personal possessions, hygiene and adequate mattresses and pillows don’t match what hostels have to offer. By the end of the week, I just admitted to myself on paper: I’m a snob who likes Marriott.

Anyway, this blog offers me the same chance to record, reflect and present thoughts to people I don’t even know (see? I’m not entirely anti-community). Things to look forward to in 2016: a guide for fellow journalists transitioning from a newsroom to a corporate setting, a review of “Hamilton” on Broadway coming in late April and continuous commentary on the media’s handling of the presidential election.*

*Having been part of the press but no longer wearing that particular hat, I feel perfectly at ease lambasting my former industry as the only reason Trump has gotten this far.

Speaking of writing, do more of the long-form stuff. I’m not limiting myself to writing on Q&T all year by any means. We visited the Dublin Writer’s Museum, where I saw original drafts and letters by James Joyce, Wilde, Samuel Beckett and — my new favorite — Irish badboy and pubfly Brendan Behan. We dined at The Oliver St. John Gogarty Bar and Restaurant, where writers Gogarty and Joyce frequented so often that they’re immortalized outside as bronze statues.

Another moment of hamming up the camera while next to a statue of a dead Irish writer. Sensing a pattern yet?

Of course, if Dublin is writers’ Mecca, London is their Medina.* After stopping by the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street and spending close to three hours of touring the Harry Potter studio, where nearly every set piece known to fans is located, I was back into my “I have to write something soon” cycle.

*Don’t get the reference? Good! That means your as uneducated on Islam as the entire GOP party.

Not pictured: Mrs. Hudson’s restaurant on the right and the Official Beatles Store on the left and the myriad of Benedict Cumberbatch shrine accessories located within.
No one ever looked this happy going up to see Hogwarts’ headmaster, I’m sure.

I’m not holding myself to finishing a project, but to finding something to sink my typewriting claws into this year in hopes that I might make some progress on creating something that stays popular for more than a century and (preferably) makes millions of dollars. Oh — and doesn’t drive me to drink myself to oblivion, as seems the trend with most Irish writers.

Drink good things. That brings me to the decision that will contradict all other “drink less alcohol” resolutions. It’s true: in Dublin, Guinness tastes better. Maybe it’s the pour. Maybe it’s the temperature. Maybe it’s just the psychological effect of being walking distance from the storehouse. I prefer to think it’s the charming Irish brogue of the bartender serving it, as it was at Parnell’s and McDaid’s, two century-old pubs we visited. Jameson also tastes better, but it’s probably because the Dublin distillery serves it to tours alongside a taste of Jack Daniels, which next to smooth Irish whiskey tastes of nail polish remover, pleather couches and painful undergrad embarrassment.


The beer and whiskey in Ireland reminded me why I liked the taste of alcohol, not just the warm, relaxed feeling it induces after a long day at work, but the tea in England reminded me of how I can get that same feeling during the day and not get fired for inebriation on the job.

At the request of both my former Londoner cousin and my former boss, Frannie and I had high tea at Fortnum & Mason, a London establishment that started in 1780 and essentially made tea “a thing” in the Western world. After a year of getting hooked on crappy coffee, I started reassessing my choice of breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, late-afternoon and after-dinner beverage.

Should have brought rapper Drake to tea with us, ‘cuz “we fancy, huh?”

So drink better alcohol and get back into tea. Check. Should be made easier with the Jameson tumblers and F&M tea I brought back, as well as my adventures trying out every high tea in the city of Chicago.

Join a new club or class. In 2015 I discovered the beauty of high tea through afternoons at Chicago’s Ritz Hotel and London’s Fortnum and Mason — and those teas will continue — but this year I’m looking to continue my education in other ways. I’m currently eyeing some Italian language classes at the ItalCultura center here in Chicago, an idea that sparked after spending New Years Eve in London with five Italians. Frannie and I parked it at Prince Alfred, a pub just down the street from our Queensway hostel that catered to mostly local patrons, many of whom had emigrated from Italia and were working at the local restaurants.

Obligatory “Through the beer-glass” pub sign shot from Prince Alfred’s second floor. Wait, that’s not obligatory? Well it is now.
Screen shot 2016-01-07 at 10.43.36 PM.png
The bar didn’t have champagne, so we settled for a bottle of Prosecco. Poor us.

Between the three guys doing celebratory shot-and-beers and the two women tending bar, I got a chance to practice my Italian — albeit slurred with three Strongbow ciders and two years of inactivity. Unfortunately, all I could really remember was that “tanti auguri, tutti!” is a well-wishing used at all occasions, including New Years and birthdays, and that “il capodano” is Italian for “administrative center” (I didn’t use that one). All other vocabulary, grammar and sentence structures I learned over three years of minoring in the language seemed to disappear, as did the voice in my head reminding me that all I can really do is order cappuccinos and ask where the administrative center is in town. Thanks, booze!

The Prince Alfred crowd pretended I was charming enough (at least enough for the bartender to kiss me on both cheeks at midnight and one of the Italian ragazzo to kiss me full on the lips shortly after), but I wonder how much fun it would have been if I had been as sharp with my language skills as I was when immersed in college coursework. I guess I’ll just have to take a few classes, go back to England and find Prince Alfred’s. New Years 2017 just got more promising.

But first, 359 more days to go. Here’s to a 2016 full of change, productivity, fun and rule-following. Tanti auguri, tutti, and cheers to a New Year!



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