For her college computer class (do we still need those?), my sister was tasked with interviewing someone and writing a blog post about it. Because I am, in her eyes, a paragon of truth, wonder and interesting things, she chose to interview me. Or maybe it was because I’m, you know, around. Whatever. Anyway, she asked some good questions about my travels and my writing, so I thought I’d post the Q&A here, in case anyone’s interested in what I had to say.
Kate: Why do you think you are so drawn to the city of London and its European borders?
Ditty: There’s a certain energy to London that I’ve never really felt anywhere else. As Samuel Johnson said, “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Admittedly, I haven’t had the opportunity to visit many big cities yet, but London obviously has a very different feel to it than my native Kansas City or even Paris. There’s this wonderful dedication to the arts in London, and in Europe in general, whether it’s by way of the many museums or the gorgeous architecture or London’s fantastic theatre district. In many ways, a city like London is always changing while still retaining this rich loyalty to its history and culture. That paradox fascinates me.
Kate: What is one of your favorite experiences you had while you were in London and why?
Ditty: One of the most interesting experiences again relates to the theatre. I ended up seeing Birdsong twice, which ended up being a fantastic decision because they had four actors out sick for the second performance, including one of the principal actors in the second and third acts. This afforded me the opportunity to see how different scenes played between different actors, how they were forced to modify some scenes because they were shorthanded, and how the audience reacted differently to various aspects of the show as well as how the actors responded to the audience. I wrote about it in a little more detail on my blog, but, in short, it was really very educational for me as an artist and entirely fascinating as an observer.
Kate: What is your least favorite?
Ditty: My least favorite was getting lost twice on the way home after having had a particularly nerve-wracked and in some ways mortifying evening. It was snowing, and I was freezing, and I was exhausted, and I wanted nothing more to crawl into bed and turn off my brain ‘til morning. Unfortunately, my sense of direction had other ideas, and I ended up taking a wrong turn and having to walk much farther than I should have to a tube station, and then, about 7 minutes from my bed & breakfast in Hammersmith,, I ended up hopping on the wrong bus and managed to find myself back across the river right under Big Ben. I did eventually make it home, but it was not my finest series of moments, to say the least.
Kate: Could you see yourself making London your permanent home in the future?
Ditty: I don’t know about “permanent home,” but I could certainly see myself spending lengthier amounts of time there. In a perfect world, I’d have a flat in London, an apartment in Paris, my house in Kansas City, and maybe a beach villa, too. I draw different things from each place, and I’d love to be able to pick up and go wherever I’m feeling drawn in the moment. I’d go to London for energy and inspiration; to Paris for beauty, a little existential meditation and creative focus; to the beach for a little R&R; and back home to see family and friends.
The truth is, as much as I love spending time in Europe, and as much as I’d love to do a lot more travelling, I think I’ll always consider Kansas City a sort of “home base.” I think that’s probably a very “Dorothy” thing to say, but it’s the truth.
Kate: In your opinion, what are some specific qualities that Britain has that the United States lacks?
Ditty: Again, I’d have to point to that respect and loyalty to history, art and culture. Europe is very proud in a lot of ways because it’s experienced so much. There’s a great scene in the film EASY VIRTUE where Kristin Scott-Thomas’ character is berating Jessica Biel’s Larita for her suggestion to sell off the family’s land: “Coming from a country no older than the chair you’re sitting in, it seems a very practical solution.” We do that sort of thing all the time here in the States. We knock down buildings and build new ones instead of restoring them. We put a much higher priority on the practical rather than the beautiful. There are obvious advantages to those ways of thinking — forward progress is a great thing — but you lose a certain respect and appreciation for what’s come before.
Kate: Instead of going to go see major attractions such as Westminster Abbey, etc., what are some lesser known attractions in London that you particularly enjoyed?
Ditty: There’s a really interesting art/science gallery called the Wellcome Collection that’s worth checking out. It’s sort of a nice break from the more traditional galleries and museums. I also enjoyed a quick visit to the Old Operating Theatre Museum, where you can see a vast array of historical medical devices and instruments, as well as the operating theatre, which is exactly what it sounds like: a place where doctors could gather to watch an operation.
I’d also highly recommend catching some West End theatre. You can get very cheap tickets for day-of shows at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. I think a lot of people tend to go for the big stage musicals, but the stage plays are really what I’ve enjoyed the most. The Woman in Black is a fantastically spooky piece, and it plays at the Fortune Theatre. The Comedy Theatre, which doesn’t necessarily stage comedies but so far in my experience has provided ambitious shows with fantastic actors, has become my favorite theatre, and it’s just around the corner from Leicester Square. It housed my favorite shows on both trips — namely, La Bête, which transferred to Broadway shortly after I saw it, and Birdsong, which just ended its run.
Beyond that, there’s also the highly entertaining street theatre in Covent Garden, the various markets in different boroughs, and really simply walking around and immersing yourself in the energy of London. There’s really no better place to simply people-watch — Trafalgar Square can get particularly interesting sometimes after 10 p.m. You can also catch red carpet premieres in Leicester Square on a pretty much weekly basis (they had the NARNIA and TRON premieres while I was there), and it’s always kind of neat to see the set-up they create (you can also glimpse the actors if you’re into that sort of thing and are willing to fight the crowds). They went particularly all-out for NARNIA, transforming the entire square into a sort of winter wonderland, and they had these huge laser-light-show things set up for TRON, which was interesting to see.
Kate: What was one of the weirdest things you experienced on your travels?
Ditty: On my last day in London, I was wandering around my favorite places bidding them adieu, and a guy jogged up to me in Covent Garden. He immediately started rambling about how he’d seen my magenta tights and thought I looked interesting and that he had a friend who worked in the fashion industry and that I had reminded him of her due to said tights and also my knit hat and coat. At some point I became fairly certain he was trying to hit on me rather than pickpocket me (it’s often very difficult to tell the difference, I’ve found), but he was saying odd things, likely due to his nerves, such as I had “one playful eye,” which immediately made me wonder if I’d somehow developed a lazy eye since I’d last looked in a mirror, or that I seemed “bouncy.” He also told me about the novel he was writing — it was his first — which sounded like it would either end up being really quite interesting or really quite terrible. In the end, he turned out to be a nice enough guy, and he requested a hug “since we’re friends now,” and I gave him one. He was the first native Brit to hit on me, so, despite it being really quite bizarre, I recall the memory fondly.
Kate: In a nutshell, how would you describe the people of Britain?
Ditty: Well, I can’t really speak for all of Britain, of course, but I do interact with a fair number of non-Londoners on twitter. To sum them up, I’d have to say that, in general, they are a delightfully witty bunch, often with dry and somewhat acerbic senses of humor but with an undercurrent of real kindness beneath the stiff-upper-lip exterior. As for London itself, it is truly a melting pot of different cultures, nationalities and personalities; there’s really no way to sum up the people of London other than to say they’re fascinating in their diversity.
Kate: You’ve also been to France, what is your favorite thing about France and why?
Ditty: Imagine your typical, entitled, stressed-out, always-in-a-rush American bustling up to a French person, who is in the midst of sipping the tiniest cup of coffee you’ve ever seen. Before the American can even get out whatever question he or she thinks is So Very Important, the Frenchman delivers a look of utmost disdain, which clearly says, without saying a word, “Chill the fuck out. There is nothing in the world that is more important at this moment than me enjoying this tiny cup of exquisite coffee — certainly not you.” At which point, if the American is smart, he or she does indeed chill out, find a pastry or a crêpe, have a seat on a bench or at a table outside a café, and look around at all the beauty he or she was missing while busy being busy. That is my favorite thing about France.
Kate: Would you say that the atmosphere in European countries has a significant influence on your writing? If so, how?
Ditty: Most definitely. There’s so much beauty and energy in Europe that it’s hard not to find inspiration. Over the three weeks I spent there this past year, I think I filled an entire moleskine notebook with observations, notions and stories, and those usually take me a good year to fill up. The access to so much great theatre motivates me as well, and I’m actually in the very beginning stages of planning a short film inspired by a human statue I saw in Trafalgar Square.
Kate: If you could only visit one again, would you choose London or Paris?
Ditty: There is honestly, truly, absolutely no way I can make that choice, and you are a terrible person for even making me consider such a thing. Both cities are full of meaning for me, and I can’t imagine not getting to visit both of them again multiple times throughout my life.
Kate: What should people keep in mind before traveling abroad?
Ditty: That’s a very broad question, and I think there are a lot of better resources out there for the practical side of things (when to go, what to do, what to see), but I will say this: Consider yourself a guest in someone else’s home when you travel abroad. Be polite. Use your manners. Try not to inconvenience your hosts. Try everything that’s offered to you, even if you don’t think you’ll like it, because every experience has value. Engage your hosts when it’s appropriate, and learn everything you can without being a pest. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and be grateful when you receive it. Smile. Laugh. And look up (and down).
Kate: What are some examples of how you “dare to be different?”
(Ditty’s Note: This is a running joke in my family ever since my fifth grade teacher told my parents I was “eccentric” and “dared to be different” during a parent-teacher conference.)
Ditty: Ha, well, there are so many examples I could give, but I fear most of them are simply me just being a bit weird rather than me actively daring to be different. But I’ll try. One thing that seems a bit unique is that, when I decide to do something, I do everything in my power to actually do it. Whether it’s writing a script by a certain date or revamping my health & fitness, I seem to have a bizarre level of drive and perseverance, and that’s something I seek to cultivate.
I also do my best these days to be my authentic self, regardless of the expectations of others. So, in that respect, it’s not that I try particularly to be different; it’s that I embrace the aspects of my personality that don’t necessarily mesh with the typical.
Oh, and I also do things like taking up horseback riding, fencing, going to London alone for my golden birthday, signing up for aerial acrobatics and pottery classes, and spearheading a sisterly helicopter trip.
Kate: What inspires you to write?
Ditty: I like to examine and attempt to explain various aspects of the human condition through storytelling. I think it’s human nature for everyone to do that in their own way, whether it’s through art, science, politics, philosophy or religion. For me, it’s always been writing, though I’ve been less aware of it at certain times in my life.
I was once accused of writing to escape, and writing can do that for folks temporarily, but it’s never been that for me. Writing is a means of understanding, not escaping. So, to answer your question as properly as I can, I guess it’s really just life that inspires me to write. Whether it’s an overheard conversation or a weird news story or an amusing encounter or simply a poignant observation that leads to a given story, it’s always a product of the emotional core of life.
I don’t really recycle my real-life experiences as often as I recreate the emotions felt during my experiences. And because of that, I hope that what I write is emotionally truthful even when it’s obviously a bundle of lies. As Neil Gaiman so eloquently puts it in A Writer’s Prayer, “Lord, let me be brave, and let me, while I craft my tales, be wise: let me say true things in a voice that is true, and, with the truth in mind, let me write lies.”
Kate’s write-up (complete with unflattering pictures of me + 20 pounds) is here.