The Problem of Plaster

Darcy in England

Image Credit: Darcy Christoffersen

 

It was my first day in England and I was already bleeding.

I had just endured a 24-hour travel day that consisted of two six-hour flights, a three-hour layover in-between, a two-hour bus ride to York, and all with about four hours of sleep. I was exhausted, hungry, and I was feeling overwhelmed at being outside of the country for the first time.

And now I was bleeding. I am not entirely sure how I’d managed to injure myself after only a few hours in the country, but it had happened—most likely from me getting a papercut or hitting my finger on the edge of a door (that’s a common one). Regardless, I was bleeding and I couldn’t find a Band-Aid.

I walked up to one of the York St. John Global Guide, students at the school whose job was to help international students adjust to their time at York, and asked, “Excuse me, do you have a Band-Aid?”

She gave me a blank stare and replied, “What’s a Band-Aid?”

In my sleep-deprived brain, I stupidly replied with, “You know a Band-Aid. Like that thing that goes on your cut when you bleed to stop the bleeding.”

She and I stared at each other for a moment. Neither one of us entirely sure what the other was thinking. I literally had no idea how to describe a Band-Aid, as I had never tried before. Everyone I had ever talked to knew what it was. I turned to my best friend who was there with me to ask her how she would describe what a Band-Aid was, but before I could, the Global Guide stated, “Oh! I know what you’re talking about. But, uh-I don’t remember what it’s called.”

She then turned to another Global Guide and tried to describe to him what I wanted. He appeared confused and shook his head, so I said, “A Band-Aid?

He also stared at me, as if trying to figure out the answer from my blank stare. After our stare-down, he shrugged his shoulders and turned to another Global Guide. This time though, she knew what I was talking about.

When I said that I was looking for a Band-Aid, she said, “Oh a Plaster?”

Plaster.

What a freaking weird name to me. When I think of “plaster,” I think of an art supply, or something that is used in a DIY house project. Not something that you used to stop the blood rushing from my finger.

But that was just the beginning.

Throughout my time studying abroad, I would see many more differences between America and the United Kingdom.

For example, there was an event hosted by the Global Guides that celebrated different countries around the world. The American table hosted the game: British English vs. American English. From “trash can” to “rubbish bin,” “fries” to “chips,” or “cotton candy” to “candy floss,” it was kind of amazing to see how, although both countries speak English, some simple words could differ so much. I remember there were many times that I asked for “fries,” and the British person taking my order would automatically reply, “chips?”

I distinctly remember another time where I struggled with the differences in language. I was at a restaurant in my early days at York, and I was unsuccessfully looking, like my life depended on it, for the bathroom. I was embarrassed to ask anyone where the bathroom was (because I didn’t want to seem like a dumb American), and I figured that that it would be easy to find. I was wrong. I spent a solid five minutes walking around the restaurant, searching for the stupid bathroom.

Eventually, my need to go pee outweighed the embarrassment I felt about searching so hard to find the stupid bathroom, so I asked the waitress. She stared at me, almost like I was a puzzle that she didn’t understand, and then pointed at a door that said “WC.” At that point, I didn’t care what the words meant, I just wanted to go to the bathroom. But, I would later find out that the WC meant “Water Closet,” aka the bathroom. This proved to be another of many instances, in which I struggled to overcome the language differences between British English and American English.

And it all began with me asking for a Band-Aid and them giving me a plaster.

 

By: Darcy Christoffersen

Journey to Montana

Image Credit: Darcy Christofferson

Image Credit: Darcy Christoffersen

My journey to Montana started with an airplane. More accurately, with two airplanes. It was just my dad and I on yet another one of our wonderful college visits. Almost every high school senior knows what that’s like. The packing, planning, and stress that accompanies the visits that take you one step closer to the inevitable choosing.

This trip was to Carroll College in Montana. A small liberal arts school, it was one of many that I applied to, that I thought suited me perfectly. But all I really knew was that I wanted a small school in another state, to see what it was like to live outside of California.

I am still not much of a flier. Starting as I watched the enormous green agricultural fields and the towering skyline of buildings of Sacramento grow smaller as the plane climbed into the clouds, the knots in my stomach persisted through Salt Lake City, Utah and Butte, Montana. I held onto my dad’s hand for dear life, as if that would somehow protect me. My hands clenched onto his, tightening with each bump and bounce that the plane hit.

With the final descent, I squeezed still tighter and braced for the impact that I felt was inevitable. We did not die. In fact, we landed completely safe at the tiny airport in Butte. As we stepped off the plane, we were greeted by a brisk wind and the darkening of the Montana sky, an imminent sign that the cold was welcoming us with more cold.

Butte was the complete opposite of home. Sacramento was hot and dry and didn’t get much colder than 40. I lived in the same house in the same city from the age of two. All my family and friends were in Sacramento. It was a large city in a large state with millions of people, and while I knew where everything important to me was, there were always new things to discover. I loved it and I didn’t know anything else.

The Butte airport itself was no larger than a Target and resembled a warehouse that would one day be converted into a Costco. It was February, snow was everywhere, and it was freezing cold. All things I had never really experienced in Sacramento. My dad planned the timing of our trip specifically so I could get an idea of what it would be like to live there.

We left the airport to walk to the rental car and we were immediately surrounded by a blanket of fluffy white snow. It was as if someone placed an enormous down blanket over the town of Butte. But more than that, there was a peaceful feeling in the air. There were no cars out, no traffic noise, no people talking around me. Everything was silent. It was as if my dad and I were the only two people in the whole town. It was eerie being so far away from the hustle and bustle that you experience everywhere in California. Montana was so far removed from everything that I knew. No family. No familiar weather. No loud noise. How was I supposed to find a new home when I recognized nothing?

The car ride from Butte to Helena enabled me to take in the beauty of Montana. As I looked out my window, everything was flat. The land looked as if it went on for miles, buried under a thick layer of freshly fallen snow. Gazing out at the scenery was indescribable. There was a tranquil atmosphere surrounding the landscape that lulled you into a sedate state of being. The feelings of contentment, peace and serenity overwhelmed you. Your thoughts drifted out of you, like a sailor to sea. It was unnerving, but also exciting.

This was not the world that I knew. Montana was quiet and scenic. California was overpopulated, loud and industrial. But it was my home. How could I move so far away from it? I was proud to be from California and I loved being a part of such a diverse and interesting state. Montana was beautiful, but so silent. How could I live in the silence?

As I sat staring out of the car window, watching the snow begin to fall, I turned my head to look at my dad. In that moment, I was so confused and unsure about my future, but I felt at peace. I didn’t know where I was going to be next year or in the next ten years, but I knew that wherever I was I would find my way. My dad always said that “life has a way of working itself out,” and I believe him. This is what I tell myself as I watch the falling snow cover my window and obscure my view of the scenic plains that stretch out into forever.

By: Darcy Christoffersen

Silk Road Assistant Editor: Kyle Southard

KyleSouthardphotoMajor: Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing, English Literature, Art minors

Graduation Year: 2017

Hometown: Corvallis, Oregon

What impact have Pacific University’s English Professors had on you?

I actually decided back in 7th grade that I wanted to pursue creative writing when I grew up, and that was one of the driving forces behind me coming to Pacific. So in terms of deciding on my major, Pacific’s English department didn’t play a huge part—it was set before I even knew the university existed. Where it has had an impact is in solidifying the direction of my creative pursuits, on top of convincing me that using creative writing as a springboard for my career is not, in fact, an absolute effort in career-suicide, as many naysayers would have us English folk believe.

The English professors here are easily some of the friendliest and most invested people that I’ve met, and I can honestly say that they have done so much more to help me plan out my goals and set myself up for the future than any other group that I’ve encountered. Keya and Kathlene have provided me with invaluable insight into my stories, and it was specifically through Keya’s Monsters and Demons class my first semester of college that I realized the full potential of my writing abilities. That same class also set me on the path of fairy tale-retelling that I have been on for the past two years, and I’m proud to say that it’s a path I have found compelling enough to pour countless amounts of time and thought and effort into.

How do you think your time spent at Silk Road will transfer into the “real world”? What have you learned/hope to learn?

Honestly, I never expected to be involved in a literary magazine’s review process. That always seemed like such a high-tier job to me that it never even crossed my mind as something I could do. So just being on the fiction review team this semester has already enlightened me to the fact that life can give you some really great and unexpected opportunities if you give it a chance.

And, of course, there’s a lesson in humility to be learned from being in that kind of position. I’d be the first to admit that many writers—myself included—have a bit of an ego going, and so it’s really easy to fall into a mindset of, “I’m the best, and I’m the only one who knows how to write.” And in some ways that’s true—no one can write your ideas like you—but when you’re giving a pass or rejection on a story, it really makes you realize that not everyone thinks in the same way as you. Your story could be out there, in the middle of some other group, and they could be scoffing at the same ideas that you and your friends absolutely love.

It’s fascinating—really makes you think. And that’s what’s most important.

Due to the popularity of digital media and e-books, what do you think might happen to book and magazine publishing in the future? Is there anything you would like (or are afraid) to see happen?

For the past few years there has been a lot of talk about how hard-and-true paper books are going to become a thing of the past and that everything is going to go digital and all of the stuff. I definitely think there is some truth to it, but I don’t think it’ll happen anytime soon—for all of the ease and convenience of e-books and such, along with concerns about environmental sustainability, there’s too strong of a sentiment today in favor of physical books continuing to be a thing. I suppose I could see the majority of magazines going the way of the Internet, considering that they generally have a narrower audience, but there are definitely a few that would stick around. If nothing else, novels aren’t going away anytime soon, for better or worse.

As far as what I would prefer to happen to novels and magazines—I’m very middle-road on the discussion, if I’m being honest. On the one hand I would love to one day get a book published and have a physical copy for myself. I just think that would be the most bizarre, surreal, and wholeheartedly fulfilling thing that I could do—if I could get a single book published and hold it in my hands, I could die happy knowing that I had accomplished one of my life-long goals. At the same time, I recognize that trees are important and it’d be very detrimental to the world if we ran out of oxygen, so that really calls my priorities into question: Books, or life as we know it?

It’s a conundrum.

What does Silk Road embody to you? What words would you use to describe Silk Road to someone who knows nothing about it?

I definitely see Silk Road as a sort of “The problems of our people” deal—a collection of stories focusing on common issues that most, if not all readers can relate to, without stepping too far outside of the frame of realism and believability. In my experience there’s nothing terribly fantastical about anything that gets published in Silk Road, even within the fiction section, so you don’t wind up with super crazy existential explorations of human morality framed around zombie apocalypses or anything like that. Probably because of that, there’s a very anchored and grounded feel to the magazine that helps the reader empathize with the various narrators and poems and such that come and go throughout the various issues.

All things considered, “realistic” is probably one of the best words I could use to describe it. Possibly not even just in the sense of, “This is something that could or has happened”—take off the “ism”, and you really just have a magazine that feels “real.”

Really.