Excited to share some very happy news with family and friends… I have accepted a scholarship offer from the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Creative Writing Program at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where I will concentrate in Nonfiction beginning in the Fall of 2017.
The opportunity to earn a terminal degree from an institution which has been a consistent advocate for women’s education is a privilege, and I am so grateful for the support I have received as I have worked towards this goal for the last three years.
This does not signal the abandonment of the research career I began at the University of Glasgow, and certainly not a divorce from journalism. But for now I have chosen to pursue a terminal degree in writing prior to considering doctoral study or other endeavours.
The programme is, uniquely, heavily centred on using writing as a way to give back to society, and I look forward immensely to all of the learning opportunities this will afford. Further, the willingness to incorporate academic intersectionality into graduate study which Sarah Lawrence is acclaimed for in its undergraduate programme fosters a learning environment I feel my work will have a place in. I am excited to get to work in the Fall and very much appreciate the support and feedback I have received over the last two years.
Edinburgh is a city of human industry, harbouring the elite who live comfortable lives, the tourists who splurge and indulge in cultural experience at the same instance as the students, the poor, and the homeless. In many ways, the cold, metropolitan sister of Glasgow seems more her cultural foil than close relative. Frequently regarded for her friendly acceptance and treatment of travellers local and foreign, Glasgow is in many ways a more authentic experience of Scotland than the tourist-prone Edinburgh could hope to be. But with some of the most iconic sights in Scotland within or just minutes from its borders, Scotland’s capital city ranks highly on the list of places to see for many world travellers, and with good reason.
In the wealthy parts of Edinburgh, Scotland has never looked more beautiful. The district close to the castle, known as “Old Town”, is perhaps the most frequently visited (and inauthentic) Edinburgh experience a visitor can have. Close to the castle, winding cobblestone streets play host to expensive sports cars darting between buildings before vanishing out of sight, revving their engines impatiently though fully equipped knowledge of the restriction borne upon them by the nature of the antique streets. Well-dressed men in suits and ties weave between tourists; women with tiny dogs and expensive haircuts (who have somehow managed to procure magic potions to restrain their hair even in near one hundred percent humidity) wobble insecurely on cracking sidewalks, grateful only for their presence as an alternative to cobblestones; tired looking restauranteurs post chalkboard placards in the street with what’s on offer for the day’s fish lunch. The heart of the city breathes with the disease of tourism in its veins, tied to that which sustains it as the dregs of culture swims for deeper depths, desperate for oxygenation. It is night to Glasgow’s somehow-sunny days )between the ever-present rainclouds).
But even within these less authentic parts of Edinburgh, authenticity is to be found through its illustration of internationally shared sociological problems — and the presence of their solution.
Winding through the streets of Old Town, alleyways overtake your peripheral vision: the especially dark, damp, and dirty looking sort your mother warned you about and your father probably darted between as a boy. Cigarette butts, old newspapers, garbage — nothing to look at, particularly in light of the more fantastic sights just beyond. But these alleyways play host to, and frame in their own right, the sights which surround them. Through their frame, we are able to see Edinburgh in a new light: the fantastic, upheld symbolically and realistically, by the less fantastic sights surrounding them.
The alleys which see homelessness, people rooting through the bins, people standing outside of student accommodation smoking their stresses away, are the same alleys which catch glimpses of young love, of castles just beyond them, of jokes between friends, angsty teenagers spurting their misdirected rage into colourful patterns sprayed onto walls, or of pigeons consorting with a strange, tall man with brightly coloured trousers and an even stranger affinity for carrot cake. The city’s economic and cultural disparities are well portrayed by peeking down the alleys (perhaps a bit farther than you dare). It is by looking through these alleys and those like them by which the visitor to Edinburgh will truly be able to see into in this city’s soul for all its diversity, and find balance within.
The winds are still bitingly cold here in Glasgow, but nature is trying to convince us all it hasn’t let us down. Winter is waining here steadily by the day, and as if to spite the cold, the earliest traces of buds are appearing on some of the city’s more brazen trees (viz., those farther from the banks of the River Clyde and / or the coast).
Glasgow’s People’s Palace features an impressive collection of plants and flowering flora which offer a pleasant distraction from the damp, raw winds and unabating, early fall of the sun. All else of what’s on offer at the fantastic corresponding museum aside, the flora itself allows visitors to get lost in a peaceful, tropical version of an English garden.
A lovely respite from the cold (or the endless heaps of paperwork which accompany the commencement of second term in graduate school).
When I arrived in Scotland this September, a cab driver told me “Scotland always welcomes back her Sons and Daughters”. This sentiment has been echoed by many for each month I have been here, often at points when I would otherwise have felt alone. Instead, I felt surrounded by a community which loves its people – all of its people.
Just like me, Donald Trump is a Scottish-American citizen. And as a Scottish American whose culture and family is rooted so deeply within this community, I can speak to the fact that that connection carries with it a great deal of pride. Pride in country, in family, and in fellow men and women.
The fire and ferocity behind Scotland’s pursuits of freedom are a well-documented (and frequently embellished) facet of our culture. That fervour was present tonight in the hearts of the people who came together in City Centre.
There were no blue faces tonight, no tartans – and no, no haggis. But there was peaceful protest, there was ferocity, and there was a sense of safe community.
Being behind a lens frequently gives you a free social pass into diplomacy — the world sees you photographing and assumes you are doing your job and are to be left alone.
I make every effort when photographing to reveal truth, to remain objective, to analyse in the moment so that others may see that truth: to capture my perspective through compositions which convey the emotional and cultural relevance of a scene. But today I am a participant as well.
Behind my lens, I was shaken and moved to tears as a man began his speech with an emphatic battle cry: “Donald Trump: I am not afraid of you”, followed by the screams of the crowd. Sons and daughters of Scotland and of the World stood together tonight in a joint effort — putting aside political and cultural differences to stand in solidarity with my American friends and family. With me. With you.
Today my heart bleeds for the millions of innocent people at home who are afraid of facing a future which jeopardizes their religious, social, and human freedoms. For my friends. For my family. For those who choose to believe the values of the Democratic Party to be so clearly portrayed by one or two examples, and who then choose to regard my loved ones and I as ‘unsaved’ because of it. If that is the saviour you follow, then I am justified in divorcing myself from your brand of faith and am further at peace with my own.
Mr. Trump has taken his oath today, and it is my hope that millions of Americans do so as well. Whether they be participating in his festivities, remaining impartial, or protesting his inauguration, may they vow to keep their hearts and minds open to the opinions of their fellow Americans.
It is my hope that they vow to expand their horizons. To not get angry, but to be thoughtful. To read more. To vow to do act with the class and grace our nation deserves, to commit acts of kindness, to deny gilded temptations which gloss over the truth. To make themselves uncomfortable, and then to come to terms with why they may feel that way. To swear an oath to defend our nation from whatever evil it will encounter: to defend your brothers, your sisters, your countrymen.
Mr. Trump may not support the arts, education, equal rights, or maintaining the separation of church and state which we rely upon for democracy to function, but I do.
In protest to Mr. Trump’s ideologies concerning education, the arts, his blatant lack of support for Native American rights, and his demagogic rhetoric, I will take to mine in whatever way I can through my art and writing.
He has taken to demeaning, to bullying, and to fighting a big story with a bigger one. He has chosen his weapon of choice in a battle for America. And I will take up mine.
“Bridges Not Walls” – A movement to protest the ideology of Mr. Trump. Glasgow City Centre Trump Inauguration Protest Rally, 20 January 2017. Caroline C. Evans Abbott
“A Very Dark Day”: Glasgow City Centre Trump Inauguration Protest Rally, 20 January 2017. Caroline C. Evans Abbott
“Dismantle White Male Supremacy”: Protest Sign. Glasgow City Centre Trump Inauguration Protest Rally, 20 January 2017. Caroline C. Evans Abbott
Scotland took a stand today, alongside thousands of citizens all over the world to protest the entry of a man into the most powerful position in the world – a man whose clinically narcissistic temperament has been overlooked by a population which felt abandoned by our government. That abandonment is what we must address going forward: with love, with education, and with exposure to the arts. But all good things in moderation, and I feel I speak for Scotland and for many Scottish American citisens when I say:
I may or may not have held an original Manet in my hands today, itself enclosed in a book from James McNeill Whistler’s personal library.
The University of Glasgow’s Special Collections Library is found on a quieter floor of the Library (the twelfth to be precise) with ample space for reading and reviewing specific rare and protected works from the University’s archives. First editions, rare editions, ancient texts — everything and anything. It offers an intimidating front (the illustrated diagram of a fetus in-utero in the entrance display case, however beautiful, is not altogether helpful), but an inclusive atmosphere once you’re in the door. You sit in peace and quiet reviewing a book lain on a specially designed pillow with “book snakes” (yes, seriously) to weight down the pages. Contrary to popular belief, no white gloves here — bare, clean, dry fingers only. Standing in a line, my classmates and I initially stood with militant precision (though admittedly avoiding laughing at various in sundry jokes) before realising that we could operate normally among the books.
In a world of increasingly freely-accessible literature even for those outside of the academic community, and particularly at a University with so many digitised resources, why are books still important?
While digitising resources in a digital age is critical to accessibility and use of literary materials and their cultural longevity in a society which is more and more heavily rooted in technology with each passing year, reviewing the nuances of an original physical copy which holds high relevance to the period in which it was written or published can tell us more about a work which we otherwise may have easily overlooked due to its physically intangible nature.
As wonderful as digital resources have become (and as advanced) they are a gateway to the pursuit of knowledge itself as they should be a gateway to the handling of real material. At some level, the review of these materials enables students to contextualise nuances of the material which could otherwise be a missed but relevant portion of their academic or personal analysis — the colour of the binding, the manner of the binding, the cut of the pages, the material of the paper. And it doesn’t hurt that you just can’t replace a good book.
We are bound to the books as they are bound to their own history, and it is our responsibility to continue a balance between digital resources and hands-on examination which encourages critical review of the works by parties educated by digital resources first. Digital resources should act as training wheels to handling the books themselves, and while special collections is alive and well, it certainly doesn’t seem the busiest floor of the Glasgow University Library.
These facets of the library provide sustained and childlike hope in discovery itself — discoveries yet to be made in a world which often seems to have done everything already. With continued student participation in special collections and adviser / professor / tutor mandate and introduction of its use in a contextual light, there is hope that the floor might get some more attention… even if it’s not the books that get students in the door, because who can argue with this view?
Yesterday, I visited Old Dalnottar Cemetery, Glasgow to pay my respects at the family grave. I laid down a wreath procured from a friendly Glaswegian flower shoppe, took a bus to the nearest stop (with the assistance of an absolutely lovely older woman whose parents were buried in the same cemetery — who waited with me to be sure I got the right bus), scrubbed and cleaned the stone, and took some photos beside it (something of a new tradition in my family). Additionally, it was confirmed that my hair has most certainly “gone native”.
The names of my direct descendants line the stone, none of whom I had the pleasure of meeting in this life… but all of whom I know through the stories, anecdotes, and fastidious work of my relatives to maintain their presence and stories through oral tradition and careful documentation.
I have not known them in the living sense, no. But for the memories detailed by all members of my family who did, I love and respect them as members of theirs — and for their contributions to my own story, my path, and my character.
To Sydney Gilchrist Abbott and Margaret McAllister Abbott, Papa and Mama, as they were lovingly called, I owe my Father’s outstandingly kind and loving character. To Thomas Abbott and Isabel Gilchrist Abbott, I owe our family’s legacy in the Scottish community. I am proud to be their great and great-great grandchild, to carry their name, and, in the case of Papa, to attend his alma mater, The University of Glasgow.
Planted at the base of the stone, an elegant metal plaque bears the name of my great-aunt, who recently passed. She was a fixture of love and light not only for her immediate family, but for all those who touched her life in times of their need. I owe to her efforts immense gratitude for my Father’s incredibly high moral caliber and personal strength — for keeping his love and faith in family alive and well always. I am perhaps most proud to have known her for all of her beauty, inside and out, something the plaque captures well: “loving, gracious, cherished”.
Older Scottish cemeteries carry with them an ominous appeal — the dark shade of the trees, lush grass, and wet moss accent a carpet of fallen leaves and provide hushing acoustic resonance to the place of reflection. But they are a place to remember the love — and sustain it — which exists in all of us, respecting those who have fallen to time.
Guy Fawkes night 2016 arrived with a bang, taking Glasgow in a firestorm of pyrotechnics erupting from every corner of the city. Organised firework events boasted the bigger displays, one of the largest annually hosted on the Glasgow Green, drawing hundreds of onlookers to join in ooh-ing and ahh-ing in the bone-chilling November air.
But graduate school is a foreboding opponent to scheduled inclusion of organised or in any way pre-planned fun, and things of this nature generally tend to escape my notice from time to time. Permitting oneself to celebrate unnecessarily in an environment geared towards the studious immersion in literature and research writing calls for dedication and excellent time management, and there is an element of guilt associated with frivolity. For this reason, the celebration of Halloween 2016 in the United Kingdom was a quiet, adult affair inclusive of two episodes of X-Files before passing out, and a selection of British candy aimed at indulging American traditions which prompts thoughts of “oh… they tried, how sweet”… but really, with the current state of the American political system, I get my horror fix every time I read the news (a tired joke this season, but all-the-more accurate when observed at a great distance).
Celebrations of this nature can be difficult to manage concurrently with serious academic responsibility. Per my experience with the seasonal American cousin, Halloween, When Guy Fawkes night arrived, I figured I could just opt-out in favour of my responsibilities — particularly considering I had already been running around the city all day. But it was not to be.
Moments after returning to my flat — located far enough from all major fireworks events where their sonic booms could not possibly have been a detriment to my research — it started.
Out of the windows, I could see the flashing, colorful lights in blue and red and green and yellow reflecting on the sides of the buildings next to mine, I could feel the red bricks framing the sill shivering in synchronicity with these dramatic flares and all their sounds. Flashes came from everywhere — in every size and colour and form. The explosions rocking my building were a show for a neighbour’s building, whose fireworks I could see clearly from mine. From every direction, fireworks exploded as if to place stars in the black sky — to the left and to the right, from behind and across the not-so-distant River Clyde overlooked by my lower Dumbarton flat. The people in the street below walked among these events as though it were a virtual reality with no hurry to rush to their source or to gain entrance to an official fireworks display. They stood at the bus stop, watching peacefully, not a one worried for being late for a prior engagement, not a one worried for missing a closer perspective on the show. Simply engaged in the encircling show, presenting a faithful belief that the fireworks would again be seen, and that enjoyment of the show — as a part of it — was a singularly more important task than to photograph it exclusively, or to have a “better” view.
The official fireworks events had to have been lovely. But I’m rather glad I missed them in favour of the sight of a wee child in warm white tights and a beautiful blue wool coat crossing the street with her mother, pointing at the bright lights flashing and seeing the mother smile as she scooped the daughter for a better look (and probably to expedite the street-crossing process).
For a few moments, it was like living in a wonderland: a crazy, ridiculous, mildly disrespectful, joyous utopia of a wonderland where detachment from the realities which plague us is a necessary and integral component not just to the culture here but to the well-understood importance of satisfaction with life in general. It seemed as though at every prior moment in my life where there had been fireworks, there had been something else on my mind. Here, those concerns had no place (for now).
So I did my homework later.
Glasgow, Scotland does not give the option to ‘opt-out’ of any cultural event. There is no magic button you can press to be excluded from activities, nothing you can do to seclude yourself in a quiet corner so as to better comprehend the writings you’re mulling over. There is a camaraderie of debauchery and celebration associated with tonight which knows no bounds: everyone is a participant in cultural events in this city simply because those cultural events reach every corner of the populous in spirit and in practice. Glasgow is the crazy friend who pulls you from your flat when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the future and all of your unanswered questions, urging you to escape into some frivolous madness and somehow manages to find it in every corner of the world they happen upon — or force their way into.
It lives through the spirit of the participation of the people, and thereby, it embodies the existence of every person you have ever known to have drawn out from within you a true love for life and for living. It is the fighting until four in the morning to be followed at seven by laughter and play-fighting and collapsing in an exhausted heap before realizing that the impending night will call for the repetition of these events, and that you are doomed to never again sleep the same because you have fallen in love in every sense of the phrase, and there is no cure.
The phrase “People make Glasgow” is a popular identifier for the friendly, inclusive nature of the cultural climate here — and people really do make it a wonderful experience due to their unique individuality and a sociological demographic which cultivates polite, peaceful coexistence. The individuality of those people is responsible for the nature of the city: finding the darkest corners of the city and transforming them into a crazy, wonderful, insane, fun, immersive, excellent learning experience. People really do make Glasgow.
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Glasgow, Scotland is welcoming in the chill of autumn with some last beautifully sunny days before the cold, wind, and rain of winter begin.
As fall begins across the hemisphere, different nations celebrate its effects as is their wont, and documenting these precious changes through the lens is, in many ways, a critical part of documenting our cultural experience.
The opportunity to bring a cross-cultural perspective to the field is as exciting and invigorating as breeze is brisk.
For every year of my education, from Pre-K through senior year of college, my Mom insisted on taking a photo of me on my first day of school — sometimes to the point of obsession.
Walking me into class, taking pictures in the hallway, of me with the teacher, doing various accents, frequently making weird, obscure culture and pop culture jokes and puns, that pretty much no one else ever ‘got’ — which she delighted in.
This year, she couldn’t be here with me in Glasgow to demand one in person (she has her own students to torture), or to insist on meeting my professors, but for anyone who knows my Mother, you know that she never takes “no” for an answer, and that the prospect of disappointing her is one of the most heartbreaking — and terrifying — things in the world.
So I took some for her this year on my first day of graduate school before she could ask (albeit mirror selfie format, but under the circumstances I think she can forgive me).
She gave and gives me everything I need — as does Dad — to approach anything I need to with a balanced perspective — complete with a sense of humor which makes life a lot easier to handle. I always knew how much those pictures meant to her, but today it takes on a special meaning being so far away from her, from my Dad, and from the entirety of my supportive and loving east coast community.
I love you Mom, you are my best friend in the whole world, and if I grow to be half the woman, person, educator, and academic you are, I will have succeeded. Thank you for giving me everything that I need.