By Bryan Lawver
I have my first graduate class this week, but before I start talking about grad school, I would like to talk about what I did after finishing my undergraduate classes. Not the relentless job hunt, or the angst, but what I did right after graduating; the not-necessarily-productive part. The “this is just for me” part.
There are a lot of opinions floating around about what to do between undergraduate and graduate school. Some people say that you should get a job, or an internship, or spend time honing your craft – whatever it may be.
I went to Iceland.
The plan felt more like it formed around me, rather than I had an authorial hand in it. It started with a tax return, an unexpected call from a sibling, and a fondness for Icelandic rock music, and in the beginning of May 2010, as my classmates were walking across an auditorium in caps and gowns, I was – along with a friend – boarding a jet owned by Icelandair.
Our timing was fortuitous. A volcano beneath Eyjafjallajokull, a glacier seemingly named by a cat walking across a keyboard, erupted that spring. It covering acres of Iceland in ash, and stranded hundred of international travelers; generally making life even more difficult for a lot of people already living in a particularly forbidding landscape.
Okay, fortuitous might not be the right word. In the end it may have been a bit sociopathic. But that’s how it felt to us. I was a writer, and my companion was a photographer. This would be a great chance for us to cover something momentous, something unique; something that might get noticed. We ran the idea by a professor from our school – who was also a contributor for a local newspaper – who said that he would pass it along to his editor.
And then off we went. If this all sounds rushed and ill-planned, that is simply because it was. We went, despite the myriad of ways that we expressed and explained and excused ourselves to friends and family. We had the idea in our heads and we were determined to have fun.
The first thing I noticed about Iceland was that we were about to crash into it.
At least that’s how it looked. We descended slowly, painfully slowly, through what I assumed to be a layer of clouds. I was looking straight down out the window, waiting to break through so that I could see the island from above and watch our approach. What I saw instead, the instant that we broke through, was the ground just feet below us.
I jumped, not even having enough time to register my own fear, and then realized that what we had been passing through was a thick blanket of fog.
The same sheet of gray cotton lay over the countryside in the cab that we took from the airport to Reykjavik, trying to make small talk with our cab driver. He spoke English, but not well. I was disappointed to realize that I could not use him as a source for my article.
Upon arriving in Reykjavik, I was relieved to find that the man’s unfamiliarity with English was not the norm. Nearly everyone under 50, I was later told, spoke English fluently; and I saw evidence of this everywhere. Signs and menus in English, clerks effortlessly switching languages when they realized that my companion and I suffered the mono-lingual handicap. I thought about the imperialism of English, and what this meant for the culture of Iceland – usually isolated from the world by its physical solitude and the inscrutable mindset that seems to pervade island nations. I asked a lot of Icelanders about this, and no one seemed to care much. There has always been Icelandic music and literature and film, and there always will be, I was told. Some things are expressed better in Icelandic, and they will continue to be.
Damn, I thought, another dead-end topic.
We trudged on, moving from a hostel to the house of a group of students whom we had agreed to stay with. We bounced along, visiting cafes by day and bars by night, having a good time, but always on the lookout for a good subject, a photo opportunity, a striking detail to open my article.
I probably would have gone on this way, perpetually disappointed, if we hadn’t rented a car and driven into the country.
CHECK BACK NEXT TUESDAY FOR PART TWO!