I am on the Waterloo bridge. This is the ugliest one, but the one people remember. I have seen every other bridge connecting the waters of London, saving the most aesthetically unpleasing for the last. Frankly speaking, if my friend was not a Vivien Leigh enthusiast and did not insist on stepping the pavement from where ballerina Myra would jump end her life, I would have never gone. With a historical name commemorating the British victory against the Dutch and Prussians at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, it possesses a prestigious identity indeed. Its wide, spacious avenues convey the personality of a well invested winner reflecting upon the benevolent western hegemony that was Britain at the time. In hindsight, I do not regret the rendezvous because hideous as it is, the bridge is conveniently located on a bend in the Thames. It yielded a comprehensive view through which I could see prettier bridges that so filled my eyes with pleasure this one appeared even shabbier in comparison. As I curiously inspected the live panorama beneath (and above at a few quirky spots where the wars’ wounds are bandaged into modern architecture), London suddenly seemed small, chunk after chunk entirely covered in the palms of my hands. At my fingertips, I greedily accessed major landmarks and flipped through a series of motion postcards from the Embankment, Houses of Parliament, London Eye, and Jubilee Bridge to the West, leading along the Thames towards various skyscrapers and St. Paul’s Cathedral to the left. The busy hustle bustle of the South Bank was nicely paired with Big Ben’s monumental ding dongs, the daily sun rising and setting just as timely.
Whenever I stare down a bridge, other bridges enter my sight and I momentarily forget the one on which I stand. Waterloo bridge is especially the case, since it is so ugly and much more photogenic to look from than to look at. From its great standing point, I laid eyes on the famous Tower Bridge. But in lieu of being mesmerized by its supposedly jaw-dropping beauty, I noticed a certain queer discontinuity between the different shades of blues, as if they were trying to coalesce their individuality into a cohesive existence but somehow failed. As the blue support between each tower on top of the bascule darkened into a green undertone, tiffany-like hue of the dropping arches, the bridge shifted character from a mild, feminine structure to one of greater objectivity, neutral in its attempt to balance the mechanics of the architecture. Then I approached the streamline part of the bridge, where the most depressing of the blues emerged. Its dimness was a reassurance for the safety of human and vehicle traffic moving across the platform. Solitary yet resolute, it carved the weight and responsibility of the majestic structure. Upon its shoulders was a declaration to keep the bridge erect. It was the blue of ultimate guardian, the front line soldier whom any adversary must conquer before claiming victory. Like London during subsequent world wars, it would not budge a millimeter in protecting British nationality despite day-night bombing. It would never give up until the last second. It would be faithful in its duty.
There my steam of consciousness ended, and my phone reclaimed control of my mind. Gazing onto three garbage bins outside my pathetic basement dorm window, the only defect to the otherwise comfy room really, I cannot help but feel that my ruminative yet messy journal entry was unfinished, sliced of its totality as I lost my attention. I turn back to my computer and type “Tower Bridge” into Google Image, and immediately I am greeted with a plethora of beautifully captured images. Great, I think. Now I can resume my train of thought—But the contrast! To the milky blue hanging atop and the greenish blue suspending mid-down. The most depressing of the blues is so strong-willed it nearly drowns the other two whose presence in relation to it is so pitiful it might as well not have any, or only do to accentuate its superiority. Oh that blue of submission! Oh the other of commonality, so universal and forgotten out of a lack of individuality. Learn from my twilight, says the depressing blue, for in the absence of light you can still find a voice to express thoughts which without you would not exist. Take command, don’t give in. Find A Room Of Your Own to block external noises. Discover the mission after which you are placed. Acknowledge that it won’t be the same as anyone else’s. Rejoice in your most genuine confession to the world. Fear not hostility or opposition, for against great odds I rest an architectural miracle; against great odds I keep Tower Bridge on its toes. If I can stand the pressure of the bridge looming on top of me, you can stay true to yourself despite condemnation. Just remember when you feel weak, like you are about to collapse the next second, that I am your partner in crime who will stay in the battle with you so long as you fight. After all, those who have never tried do not have the right to claim failure because by not trying, they fail by default.
Perhaps my personification of the Tower Bridge and its multiple shades of blue is a grotesque exaggeration, I reckon as I settle on a bench in Tavistock Square, but I do not know how to better sympathize with women intellects from Virginia Woolf’s time. They were constantly struggling in a world working to exterminate their genius. Quoting my own words, “those who have never tried do not have the right to claim failure because by not trying, they fail by default,” I am reminded of a scene in the first chapter of A Room Of One’s Own. Casual frustration flushed over Virginia as she hurried across a lawn at fictional Oxbridge. A Beadle (minor parish official) displayed a face of horror when he saw her about to step onto a lawn only welcome to Fellows and Scholars, not women. “This was the turf; there was the path,” she acknowledged, “the gravel is the place for me”. She moved to aggrandize the issue on the account of a library, where an elderly man informed her that women would only be admitted with a Fellow or with a “Letter of Introduction,” further enraging her. Sadly, a woman’s anger is but a cry of unheard protest because “that a famous library has been cursed by a woman is a matter of completely indifference to a famous library”. Passing by the Chapel where a congregation troop gathered inside to hear the organ, it sufficed Virginia to watch the crowd assemble. The notion of joining slipped her mind as she knew she would only be denied permission again. The problem all along was not that Virginia apathetically turned down entry, but that the judgmental bouncer to the intellectual arena pushed her away and “sent her little fish into hiding”. Women had failed by default not because they did not want to try but because they were deprived the access to try. Instead, she went to luncheon, a suitable occasion where she belonged.
The topography of London is one of industrial paperwork crafted by a diversely evolving English culture. Meticulous holes of nature peaked through but these parks and open spaces had not always been so open. The eight Royal Parks covering nearly five thousands acres were initially royal hunting grounds owned by the English monarchy for recreational purposes, before they became public. Smaller gardens are administered by local boroughs and while some are public, a considerable amount remains private. I am sitting on a bench opposite Virginia’s Bust, which though public gives a generous impression of exclusion as if my unchallenged inclusion is but a boo-boo overlooked. Physically grounded in Tavistock, I march on a mental trip to other squares in Bloomsbury—Bedford, Brunswick, Regent, Russell—each an important part of my community in London and each enriched by an unique purpose above everyday convenience. Brunswick, for example, dates back to 1739 when philanthropic Coram founded the The Foundling Hospital to help abandoned children with healthcare and education. Highly costly, it incited sponsorship from famous artists of the time who donated various art pieces in hope of assisting Coram’s incredible cause. For this reason, the Foundling hospital has developed into the Founding Museum, a site of great cultural significance.
It was getting late, and my grumbling stomach ticked against the clock to alarm of my hunger, but there was no time to eat. I must attend the evening service at All Souls Langham Place in Oxford Circus to square off my last plan of the day. I was debating whether to walk or take a lift and chose the latter, using hunger as an excuse to be lazy. I tapped the Uber app on my i-Phone 6 Plus, rejoicing in my unlimited data as I requested a driver to pick me up, only to be dropped in a place I can walk to within twenty minutes. Whatever, this is 2016 and calling a Uber driver to my rescue is a privilege of my century. Three minutes later, my happy rescuer appeared and I comfortably situated myself inside my personal carriage, head leaning against the window to take a quick nap. Some time passed, and my driver woke me up. He asked if he could borrow my phone as GPS since he lost signal and had no idea where we were going. I handed him my phone in silent anger, only to be accused a few minutes later that I did not enter the right address. He said that his phone regained signal and directed differently from my phone. Enraged, I stormed out of the car and abandoned technology all at once. As I went to figure out the way myself, I eventually made it on time anyway.
Exiting All Souls, I linger along the steps leading down the road and take out my phone to draft a complaint against my terrible driver whose only task as a driver is to know how to drive and how to get to a destination. That a driver has so little sense of direction so as to necessitate his client’s data is a huge shock to me. Shivers run down my spines as I dwell on the macro phenomenon this driver typifies: an all purpose cell is causing us to shift dependence from our brain to technology, consciously and subconsciously. Consciously, the most obvious case is like the one above where the abundance of options enables us to select a passive solution, the way I rely on my phone’s built-in calculator for tips and discounts instead of quick math skills which I know I have. Subconsciously, virtual reality reduces contact and renders us, in the words of Virginia Woolf, “without a self, weightless and visionless, through a world weightless”. While location service gives us a means to pinpoint a place, it gives people a means to pinpoint us, more precisely the romanticized version of us that is how we want to be perceived, not the three dimensional person we are. No one breathes a glamorous life perpetually even if they seem to be according to Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and other social media platforms. Virginia’s struggle to liberate her intellectual genius is now complicated by a new shell that kidnaps us from A Room Of One’s Own. If freedom of speech has unveiled our light and poured out our creativity, digital surveillance has packaged that light and creativity in a sphere of distorted filter that “must continuously create itself by updating its declared “status,” as stated by Edward Mendelson in his article In the Depths of the Digital Age. Such psyche is a palimpsest that seeks more “to be updated” than “to be”. Continual existence involves the constant erasing and remaking of our past records for the sake of staying on top of everyone’s newsfeed. We seek to satisfy our paradoxical desire for private exposure, all the while ignoring the person next door and being ignored in return.
Lifting from the steps, I closed my journal and gathered belongings into my backpack. I searched for my phone but it was too deeply buried to be found. In all serendipity I gave up and whispered Amen. Thank you Lord for the opportunity to press my calligraphy against paper which I owned; thank you that I had books in my bag and a hard copy of the Holy Bible. Thank you that I still had a palpable Sermon to attend and palpable Christians to meet. Thank you for letting me be cognizant enough to realize the aforementioned, thereby handing me back a piece of myself.