The Jared I Remember

Jared Broer’s story is not mine to tell. It’s important to me that I start with that, because I think that there is a tendency to spin the lives of those who have left us into narratives, into things from which meaning can be pulled and lessons can be learned. Jared told his story all on his own, by living with originality and vibrancy.

All the same, people as vibrant as Jared don’t just go away without leaving some kind of mark behind, in the same way that you can’t look at the sun and not gain a few spots of brightness on your retinas. So I’d like to remember Jared as I knew him, as he was to me for a time that was much, much too short.

The Jared I remember lived life turned up to eleven. I mean this figuratively but also quite literally, as he was the one to always sing duets with me in the car at the top of our lungs. He always had a new catchphrase, which was usually was born from private jokes that he had with his family. He used the term “GAINS” to describe his muscle development and always made us admire his “lats.”

He would laugh and holler whenever I played board and card games with his family, especially when he submitted a risqué or ridiculous answer when playing Nouns. Nouns, by the way, is a game where we the players all write nouns on sheet of paper and gave people one-word hints in order to try and guess them. I recall “Southeast Asia” being one of Jared’s favourite nouns to use. He also wrote down a lot of business and economic terms that none of us had any hope of guessing. The Jared I remember always had a host of stories, like the one about him falling off the roof of the school and his resulting concussion. Apparently it caused him to mumble something about enchiladas over and over (or was it fajitas? My memory is as bad my ability to guess Jared’s economic terms during Nouns).

The Jared I remember was fond of doing things that I would have never been bold enough to do myself. Embarrassment, for him, never seemed like a legitimate excuse for not doing what he wanted to do. Once he ran behind the prom pictures that Brendon and I were taking in his underwear (a fact that he always denied, but my parents and grandparents will both testify to the truth of). He was always armed with a sense of humor and he wasn’t afraid to use it. He once called The Pony Soldier Inn to ask them where the name of their establishment came from, and upon being presented with the option to hear a long story about its origins, hung up on them, saying, “Never mind, I don’t care that much.” He was full of one-liners like that—phrases that could have won a show an Emmy for Best Screenplay had they been used on a professional sitcom.

The Jared I knew was intelligent like his father, compassionate like his mother, and fiercely loyal like his brothers. I gave him a birthday card that I made with a picture of protein powder on it, and he gave me text messages with bad puns that always made me laugh. The Jared I knew played the triangle or the cowbell with glee whenever his family went out Christmas carolling (he was the only one of the Broer boys that didn’t play an instrument in high school). He was supportive and was good at listening and communicating even when he wasn’t interested in the same things that you were. I myself had long conversations with him about my opinions about classic books. I liked listening about his passions, too—about Steph Curry or Foster’s School of Business.

I watched Jared graduate from high school, clapping and hooting for him in the stands. He, along with his brothers and parents, were among the first pairs of arms to welcome me when I graduated with my BA. I always looked forward to coming to the Broer house for Christmas and hearing his big voice and his bigger smile welcome me home. The Jared that I remember was best friends with everybody, was generous and driven, and, of course, he was the proud owner of a great head of hair. The Jared I remember lived a life so brilliant that nothing—not my words or anyone else’s—could contain him.

During Lent this year, I sent him a message telling him how much he meant to me and that I was so glad to have him in my life, and he responded by saying that I was “kick ass.” It still kicks me in the gut whenever I remember that. I didn’t know then that it would be the last message that I would ever send to him, and I’m glad that at least I got the chance once to tell him about how important he was, to me and to everyone else that he came into contact with. The Jared I remember never got the chance to turn twenty, to graduate with a business degree, to start his own company or get married or whatever else he wanted to do, and it feels unfair to me. You know, it seems trivial to mention, but one of the things that I cried about the most when I learned that he was gone was that he never even got the chance to legally be my brother. It doesn’t matter, though. The Jared I knew was my brother for those five and a half years, and nothing can take that away.

In that last conversation that we had, he told me that he couldn’t wait to see me again. I wasn’t aware at the moment that the next chance for us to meet up again would be much further off in the future than I thought. When I look back at that message, I smile in spite of myself, thinking about the years that I did get with him, however few they were. All have to say in response to his comment is this: I can’t wait to see you again, too.




Let There Be Light

After watching my mother and grandparents attend a lantern festival in Las Vegas, it reminded me of all of the amazing art pieces that I got to see in January for Lumiere. I wanted to take a little bit of time to talk about some of my the pieces that I saw on both of the days that I walked around the city and why I liked the festival so much. So here’s my list of favorites, in no particular order:

  1. Waterlicht (King’s Cross). This display was supposed to be inspired by water, and the laser lights that rolled like waves overhead, combined with the fog machines and the surreal ambience of the music, made it feel like I was swimming in the sea of some alien planet. This area was as awe-inspiring as it was calming. Maybe that’s because being reminded of something bigger and more influential than yourself (in this case, one of the elements) isn’t always frightening–sometimes it’s reassuring.Lumiere 1
  2. Aquarium (Soho). For some reason, I was convinced that the phone booth just contained a projection of fish, but no, there were actual goldfish bobbing about inside this famous London object! It was hard to get good pictures of this one since there was a giant crowd when we went, but I loved the whimsy of taking something ordinary and making people want to take a closer look at it.Lumiere 3
  3. IFO (Identified Flying Object) (King’s Cross). Elisa and I headed to this giant birdcage as the first stop of the night, and I instantly loved it because it featured a usable swing in the middle, making it one of the most interactive exhibits that I came across. The interesting thing was that the outside of this birdcage was illuminated in shifting colors, but the inside was a boring gray–perhaps to suggest that metaphorical cages can look beautiful from the inside but dull on the inside? Maybe that’s just the literature grad student in me talking.Lumiere 4
  4. Voyage (Piccadilly Circus). I was reminded of Disneyland fireworks when I saw this building, mostly because of the intricacies of the projections. The building was made to look like the inside of a train station, and then it shifted to depicting the journey of that train to different countries, as well as showing images of clocks and gears. As someone who is far from home right now, it made me feel very sentimental about the way that time passes when you are traveling.Lumiere 2
  5. Childhood (Trafalgar Square). The flatmates and I had to get a picture here because of the dreamy way that the square was lit up by a field of flickering balloons. They lit up in patterns to the music, combining the innocence of the object of the balloon with the advent of modern technology and culture. We also saw one of the balloons pop and the workers had to rush to fix it!Lumiere 6
  6. Guardian Angels (King’s Cross). This was a small set-up that was located in a park around King’s cross, but despite its size, I adored the simple charm of the floating watering cans and the fiberoptic strands that streamed out of them. Elisa was the one who realized that “Guardian” could be a pun on “Garden,” which enhanced my love of it even further.Lumiere 5
  7. The Light of the Spirit (Westminster). If I had to pick a favorite of all of the displays that I saw, this would take the prize. The projectors turned the facade of the abbey into one giant stained-glass window, as if somehow the intimidating stone was scraped away to reveal the beautiful landscape underneath. Vasilis said it best when he noted that this was maybe the most beautiful thing he had seen since he had come to London. The only bummer was that some people decided to make shadow puppets against the abbey with the projector, but otherwise it was gorgeous.Lumiere 7

What I really enjoyed about this festival was that not only was it a chance for artists from around the world to showcase their work, but it was also about lighting up the drab atmosphere of London in the winter after all of the Christmas lights were taken down. Since it gets dark so early this time of year here, it can be easy to feel a bit depressed. A little bit of light, even of the human-made variety, was definitely a welcome sight.


In Retrospect

GreenwichIt’s been months since I’ve posted anything to this blog, mainly because my first term here was spent acclimating to the United Kingdom, meeting new friends, and, of course, doing lots and lots of schoolwork. Since I’ve now become more accustomed to the way that London and grad school function in general, I’m going to try to push myself to write more often.

To sum up my first term at Queen Mary, and to celebrate the arrival of a new year (albeit a bit belatedly), I wanted to talk about things that I have done this year that I had never done a year ago.


  1. I’ve been in two places at once.

Or should I say two hemispheres at once? I travelled with my flatmate, Esteban, to Greenwich, a slice of the city that looks like the more upscale version of every seafaring town you can imagine. I was able to stand with one foot on either side of the Prime Meridian of the world—that is, the line that divides the East Hemisphere from the West.


  1. I’ve stood by the graves of some of the most famous dead writers in the world.

During the exploration of Westminster Abbey that I took with my father, I lingered quite a long time at the Poet’s Corner, where Geoffrey Chaucer, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Charles Dickens, and many others are buried, and where others like Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, and C. S. Lewis have been memorialized. Some of the writers where buried underneath the floor here, so you are practically encouraged to walk over the resting places of some of Britain’s most prestigious bards.


  1. I’ve witnessed shows on the West End and in Shakespeare’s Globe.

Make that shows. Plural. Elisa and I have set out on a quest to conquer the city’s theatre scene, and, between the shows I’ve seen with her and the one I’ve attended with Esteban, Bismeh, and Ashley, I’ve made a significant dent in the number of available productions. Also, I’ve found that the major differences between the West End and Broadway is that the West End doesn’t give out free playbills, but it does have ice cream vendors available during intermission! To top it all off with seeing Much Ado About Nothing, one of my favourite Shakespeare plays ever, as a groundling in the globe really just made my theatre-loving heart explode.


  1. I’ve seen the Christmas lights on Oxford Street and eaten churros at a Christmas carnival.

Before I came to London, I was told that it was beautiful around Christmastime, but I was still floored to see the grand scale on which all of the streets were lit up with elaborate decorations. Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland was also amazing, not only because of the food and rides and the spontaneous karaoke at the German village, but also because of the fun people that I was with!


  1. I’ve watched a fireworks display for Guy Fawkes Day.

I still don’t quite have a handle on exactly why the British celebrate this day, but they sure do know how to go all-out with their fireworks! The one in Victoria Park that we saw was star/space themed, and it even had a spacecraft model from which an astronaut descended to the sound of Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man.’


  1. I’ve been blown around the White Cliffs of Dover and discussed the Wife of Bath in Canterbury.

The White Cliffs may be stunning, but they are also windy as heck. Ashley and I also had to restrain our cries of distress as a few mischievous boys went up to the wild ponies to try and pet them (‘You fools!’ I wanted to yell, ‘Do you want to get hoof-shaped marks kicked into your forehead?’). Canterbury and its darling little crooked bookstore made me want to move there forever, and the cathedral’s glass windows were beautiful, too.


  1. I’ve played card games and seen movies with people from around the world

I’ve met a lot of awesome international students while staying at QMUL, but one of the best experiences has been getting to know my flatmates. Not only are they lovely people, but in getting to know them, I have gotten to learn everything from slang terms and songs from other countries from chatting with them.


  1. I went to Narnia for my birthday.

I got to skip through the snow with Esteban on my birthday, and I was able to go out to dinner with my flatmates. I also got to do something that I’ll probably never be able to do again—walk through the wardrobe to a Narnia-themed movie theatre and obtain some great hot chocolate!


  1. I’ve toured a house in which each room is dressed up to resemble a different era in London’s history.

In my Writing the East End class, my professor, a tour guide for the London Migrant Museum, took us around the Dennis Severs’ house. The house is arranged around the life of one family in Spitalfields as they grow up, go through joys and tragedies, and just carry out every day life. It was four rickety floors of historical oddness and I loved every minute of it.


  1. I’ve gotten to go to Hogwarts.

Well, not really, but I have gotten to pose with a Ravenclaw scarf at King’s Cross Station and I was able to take part in all of the Hogwarts classes at the British Library’s Harry Potter exhibition, so I’ve at least come close. The British Library is also great in all of the manuscripts it has there—from the Magna Carta to first editions of classics—and seeing those texts felt like magic, too.


That’s only a small amount of the things that I’ve gotten to tick off my bucket list. I can’t wait to tell you even more stories about what I will be able to do in my second term here in London. Cheers!

Beautiful Ugly

The other day, I was wandering up to the seventh floor of the Graduate Center (which is just about the tallest building on the whole of campus) with one of the students from my Resources for Research class. She hadn’t seen the view from the top of the structure yet, and as we reached the viewing balcony, we stared at the Central London skyline jutting up in the distance. She then asked me how I was liking the city so far. I praised it for being beautiful and diverse and full of history (sounding strangely like some sort of travel brochure; Join the adventure! Fill up your camera roll on your phone and empty out your pockets!). However, she surprised me by replying like this:

“Actually, I’ve always thought that it was kind of ugly.”

When she said this, my reaction was that of genuine surprise. Many of the Londoners that I have met express the same feelings about their city that they do about their football team—a deep, unwavering pride. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about what my general impression of this city that I am now living in actually is. Is there anything that I’ve noticed to be actually ugly about London?

The more I thought, the more I came up with things about London that I would categorize as not beautiful (though some might disagree with me):

  1. The color of the sky almost every day, which usually resembles the color of the glue that I peeled off of my hands when I was in kindergarten. And, just as constant as the rain, there are the high costs of almost everything (except museums, which are wonderfully mostly free).
  2. The constant noise of the sirens, the traffic, the undergraduates that insist on performing karaoke at one in the morning (although that last one might just apply to college campuses in general).
  3. The way Regent’s Canal, which lies outside of my kitchen window, becomes occasionally choked with duckweed and, with its arrival, an eclectic collection of bottles, bags, and other assorted “rubbish.” There aren’t many garbage cans around on the street as you walk, so the pile-up of trash does seem inevitable in a multitude of places in the city.
  4. The musty smell that somehow exudes from old buildings. Elisa and I have discussed this one, and we’ve compared and contrasted the distinct smells of both of our flats.
  5. The streets can be crowded and hectic too. Apparently there are bicycle/moped thieves that will snatch your phone right out of your hand if you are walking too close to the bike lane?! (Don’t worry, I tend not to walk around with my phone out and I stay aware of my surroundings. Don’t tell my parents to come and make me go back home just yet).

However, there are a lot of things about London that I would argue are beautiful:

  1. There’s art and literature everywhere. They have an amazing theatre district (and the Old Globe). There are whole tourist attractions dedicated to novelists and their characters (The Sherlock Holmes Museum, any place affiliated with Harry Potter). Some flats have blue plaques above them to describe what famous author, artist, or philosopher once lived there (also, did I mention the free museums?).
  2. The aesthetics of the old British pubs, restaurants, and bookshops, many of which look like they’ve jumped right out of Pinterest pins. In fact, they are better than pins because you can go inside and actually buy the food and admire the rows of titles before you. That is all not to mention the web of Sunday markets that sprawl across all edges of the city.
  3. The green spaces that house hundreds of birds, such as geese (like the ones that parade near the canal outside my aforementioned window) and even swans (like the ones I saw with my dad in St. James park.)
  4. Ninety percent of the buildings or sites that you visit come with a prepackaged history that can span hundreds or even thousands of years. All of that comes with a sense of being in a place where people of great fame and contributions to the world have been before you. Plus, some of the architecture is sublime, like many of the stained glass windows in the cathedrals.
  5. Just walking down the street, you might hear English, Spanish, Chinese, Urdu…it’s like playing a dozen films at the same time, but all of them are in different languages and the dialogue of all of the characters blur together in a colorful blend of sound.

So, what’s my conclusion? Is there really any way to reconcile the beauty and ugly without giving up this exercise altogether?

One possible solution can be found in one of the books I’ve read since my program started, called An Acre of Barren Ground by Jeremy Gavron. The author of this novel includes a chapter on the way that the landscape of the East End was reshaped after World War Two. Apparently, from what I’ve learned about the conflict in London during this time, the East End was hit harder than the West because of its reputation as a center of industry, which the Axis powers wanted to target. The bombing that resulted from the air raids caused the East End to become pockmarked with rubble and holes from where the explosions went off. According to Gavron, however, seeds, through hitching rides on railroad systems and drifting on the breeze, were able to take root in these divots, eventually sprouting up to form plants and flowers.

The green of new shoots juxtaposed with the gray desolation of war feels like a nice metaphor for the East End and London itself—the crumbling old coupling with the shining new, the corruption with the culture, the graphitized walls with the million-dollar paintings. London, to me, seems to be a city too large and too caught in a state of constant change to ever be categorized as just one thing or another. Rather, it lives on in a way that allows the beauty and the ugly to both exist, side by side.

Leaving the Hobbit Hole

One of my favorite things about The Hobbit is that it does not begin with a dashing hero that immediately embraces challenges of the quest ahead of him. Rather, it starts with a short, hairy-toed protagonist that must be slowly coerced and even guilt-tripped into having an adventure. In fact, it is obvious that Bilbo is very attached to his home, as you can read from the first sentences of the book:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

Tolkien takes the time to describe the place where his main character lives because it reflects who Bilbo is as a person: someone who leads a simple but enjoyable existence. His worldview is quickly shattered, however, with the arrival of a horde of hungry dwarves and wizard with a twinkle in his eye that hides his shady ulterior motives (honestly, I love Gandalf, but who just barges in on someone with a small army of dwarves and then springs the task of “burgling” a dragon’s horde on them?)

The reason that I’m taking so much time to talk about The Hobbit is because I feel like Bilbo Baggins’ experience is a good analogy for the way that I feel now that I am just a few days away from going to the U.K. Granted, the end goal that I am facing is quite different from the one that the characters in the novel are up against. I am going to finally get to experience a place that I’ve always wanted to visit before and I will be able to attend a great university (as an added bonus, my path should be delightfully free of trolls). However, like Bilbo, I am reluctant to leave the coziness of my home and the life that I have known since I came home in December behind. If starting a postgraduate degree wasn’t scary enough, I just had to add to the thrill by attending a school in a foreign country, didn’t I? As time moves by and my flight grows closer, I have been spending more and more time thinking along these lines: Why did I make this choice? It would have been so much easier to stay close by! I don’t even know the metric system!!!

As all of these worries start to bother me, though, I think about this quote: “There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something.” The point here is that if you want to go out and discover something new, sitting around in the land of comfort and routine isn’t going to help. That was certainly the case when I went to California in 2013, and I’m willing to bet that I’ll have a similar experience in London, with its cute little bookshops and its short train ride away from the place where Tolkien wrote those famous first lines.

I’m off to start my unexpected journey this upcoming Thursday. Wish me luck as I set out across the pond for the year.

Journey to the Past

Recently, my grandmother proposed an interesting challenge to me. She told me that I had relatives that immigrated to America straight from England; namely, her grandparents. She also had names, addresses, and locations that matched what she knew about her grandparents’ lives in England. However, there were some big gaps in the information that she had, as she hadn’t asked them much about their lives back in their home country when she was young. I did have some old newspaper articles describing their lives in Wisconsin, carefully preserved in laminate. With the birth dates and records that she provided me, I went on a history-fueled scavenger hunt to give me some clues about some of my British family members.

I started with the smaller tasks rather than their more herculean cousins; I found out what the mysterious “E.E” that made up my great-great grandpa’s middle names stood for (Ernest Edward, as it turned out). I located their Ellis Island immigration records from 1910 and 1913 and was rewarded with pictures of what their ships’ mythological-sounding names were. Then came the harder stuff, by which I mean sorting out who my great-great-great (whew, that’s a lot of greats) grandparents could be from a slew of other Williams, Samuels, Anns, and Sarahs. After a number of hours on the computer over a couple of days, I uncovered an entire line of people dating back to 1760 on my great-great grandfather’s side. It just so happens that some of my ancestors were christened in a church where Charles Dickens would wander the pews and pluck names for his characters from the gravestones (how’s that for an interesting fact?). I especially laughed when I found out that the place where my great-great grandparents grew and worked was a mere 22 minutes from the place where I will be studying in the fall. Other facts that I found were sad, as many of the old churches were ruined in the bombings that arrived with the war that my great-great grandparents likely moved to America to evade.

As I riddled out the names of more and more people, I gathered bits and pieces about the jobs they had, the parishes where they worshipped, and even where they might be buried. Parts of the research were frustratingly difficult to carry out, especially because it is hard to trace a maternal lineage due to the name changes that come with marriage. Even so, it was strangely comforting to me to sort through all of these photocopied documents and ship manifests. When I arrive in London in September, I no longer have to think of it as a completely foreign landscape. I can view one street as the former site of the teahouse where my great-great grandmother was a manageress. I can see the docks as the place where my great-great uncle eventually was shipped off to the Boer War in South Africa. It makes me feel safer to know that I came from such courageous people. After all, my great-great grandma sailed across the Atlantic by herself to start a life in a new country. I never chalked up bravery to be a quality that I have in excess, but who knows…maybe it’s a family trait?

Words for Wandering: A Traveler’s Vocabulary List

In my humble opinion, one of the most awe-inspiring things that human beings have developed is language. In fact, people have created 7,000 dialects of 2,700 different languages worldwide. Over 231 languages have now been declared to be “dead,” and every 1-2 weeks, another dialect or language meets the same grim fate. There are even over 200 artificial languages, which are tongues that were created for books, movies, and television floating around. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings accounts for either 12 or 13 of them (depending on which source you believe). In summary, whether it is of the written, spoken, or signed variety, language is an entity as complex as it is vital for human survival and happiness.

Although I only speak English, some Spanish, and a few phrases in Gaelic that I learned from Celtic Thunder (don’t judge me), I collect interesting words, both from languages that I am familiar with and from ones that I can’t even guess how to pronounce. Lately, as I’ve been starting to plan my trip to London, I’ve been paying special attention to the words I’ve compiled that revolve around journeys, travel, and locations. Going to a place that you’ve never been before is almost always a fascinating experience, and going to an entirely new country when I’ve never left the U.S. before comes with the kind of feelings that are difficult to express. Luckily, with the help of a few languages, that process becomes much easier. Here are some of my favorite words relating to places and travel, in no particular order, and how I relate to them:

  1. Resfeber (n.) Swedish for the nervous feeling before undertaking a journey, where anxiety and anticipation tangle together. For me, this always manifests as the nausea and sweaty palms that I feel sitting in the airport as I wait for a flight.
  2. Dépaysement (n.) French for the disorientation felt in a foreign country or culture, the sense of being a fish out of water. When I tell people that I am getting my master’s in another country, and they inform me about how certain practices are much different across the pond (like measuring things in grams rather than pounds and the concept of afternoon tea), I get a fish out of water feeling.
  3. Fernweh (n.) German for “farsickness,” an ache for distant places or for travelling. I am trying to assemble a bucket list of things to do while I am in London, and seeing how amazing all of the sites will be makes me long to be there so that I can start experiencing it.
  4. Occhiolism (n.) The awareness of the smallness of your perspective.  The same emotion swept over me when I stood on top of the canyon walls in Zion National Park, as I realized that I was just a small speck in comparison to the vastness of nature.
  5. Wasuremono (n.) Japanese for forgotten or lost things, as in an item left behind on a train or forgotten at home. Whenever I packed up to go to Concordia in California, I would always leave something behind that I really needed and I always took something with me that I never used. It’s like an irritating exchange process.
  6. Akihi (n.) Hawaiian for listening to directions and then walking off and promptly forgetting them. As someone who is notoriously bad at giving and taking directions (cue me getting lost in the neighborhoods of Sun River, OR), I hope that I get better at this as I learn to navigate East London.
  7. Videnda (n.) Latin adoption, “what is to be observed,” the things that should be seen or visited, especially because they mark the character of a person or place. Whenever you see a picture of Big Ben, the London Bridge, or a double decker bus, people think of London. Those are the kind of touristy things that I am looking forward to doing unabashedly. You’d better believe I’m getting a photo in a phone booth while I’m overseas.
  8. Coddiwomple (n.) To travel in a purposeful manner toward a vague destination. I did this a lot with my tour groups in NYC, as we would make great time in getting to an area like Greenwich or Brooklyn Heights, but once we got there, we would take our time strolling around, heading to no place in particular.
  9. Cynefin (n.) Welsh for a place where a person or animal feels it ought to live and belong, where the nature around you feels right and welcoming. Whenever I came home from break and my plane would land in Portland, I would see all the endless green of the trees and recognize my cynefin.
  10. Smultronställe (n.) German, literally “place of wild strawberries”; a special place discovered, treasured, and returned to for solace and relaxation; a personal idyll free from stress and sadness. When I was younger, this used to be the swingset in the back of my house where I would swing all of my stress away. Now that I’m older, I hope I can find a place of wild strawberries in the U.K. (actual strawberries not required).

So whether you have forgotten your toothbrush in a different state or are getting lost in a tangle of streets this summer, I hope that one of these words can find a home in your own vocabulary.


Credit to Wordstuck,,, Buzzfeed, and for the words and language facts.