This Is Me
I was born in a little East Sussex town called Eastbourne. At least, I thought it was small. My boyfriend, who was born and raised near Toronto, Canada, told me later that it was actually a very large town, and looking down from the South Downs upon it in more recent times, I can see that. It stretches all the way to the horizon in some parts. Nonetheless, growing up I thought it small.
My family is a science and medical family. My parents are a doctor and a biochemist, my older sister grew up to become a physiotherapist. My grandpa was a chemical engineer who, at one point, worked for the Canadian government on a paper mill in Saskatchewan. I have cousins studying maths and physics at universities like Imperial. In fact, I have so many cousins at Imperial studying the sciences, that it has become a family joke that we are slowly taking over. It will come as no surprise to the reader, then, that I was set up for a life of science from a young age. My secondary school was a specialist science college, where I received A grades at GCSE in all science and math courses. I took biology, psychology and sports sciences at A level. Yet I did not want to follow in the family tradition.
I did not want to stay in Eastbourne, as my sister had, studying some biology or medical or chemistry degree. I wanted to get out of the old Victorian town, and far away from what I perceived to be living in the shadow of my family’s success. To live and study somewhere where I wouldn’t be referred to as ‘Jess’ little sister’, or ‘Dr. Folwell’s daughter’. So naturally, I went and studied politics and the University of Kent, Canterbury. This was the university that my mother attended, barely a two hour drive from my hometown. It is, perhaps, not so easy to up and leave.
Politics, I soon discovered, was not for me. While I enjoyed the conflict analysis and resolution side, I found the politics side boring and disheartening. All I learnt was that war and conflict is inevitable, and there is no perfect society, no perfect democracy or political theory of being. Humanity is flawed, and set up for failure, simply by the way we are. Before the end of my first year exams, I dropped out and had secured a place at Canterbury Christ Church University in the Creative and Professional Writing course. After the first week, I knew that I had found my calling. I loved to write!
During my first year, I spent every holiday visiting my boyfriend in Canada, and every term time taking inspiration for my writing in the beautiful scenery, architecture and people that I found there. The lakes the size of oceans, the buildings and skyscrapers so tall I could sometimes not see the tops through the clouds, the four feet of snow that fell in one winter night, the 35°C summers, the forests and the animals — I have succeeded in seeing 1 racoon, 1 snapping turtle, 3 loons, 7 Canadian geese, and approximately 200 black squirrels. I found it hard not to love the country, but we only ever stayed south. I travelled north from Toronto for two hours once, to spend New Years at a cottage on a lake, but Toronto is in the far south, and we barely scraped the surface of the north. Or the midlands. Or the south. Every time I have been there, I want to go north, further north, into Yukon and Nunavut, and up past Hudson’s Bay. I have decided that I shall live there one day. Maybe for a year, or longer.
What I found though, in experiencing the beauty of a new place, was that I was more able to appreciate the beauty of an old place. Every time I went home to Eastbourne, I found something that I had seen a hundred times beautiful. The South Downs are incredible, particularly at night when you can see hundreds of thousands of stars above the sea. Especially when you can see the glittering lights of the town below. I found I missed Eastbourne when I was in Canterbury, and even more curiously, I found I missed science. I wanted to study medicine, and use the writing skills learnt at Canterbury Christ Church for research reports and studies. I wanted to be a doctor in the far north of Canada, and write a book on my adventures and life in the Great White North. I wanted to heal bodies with medicine and minds with books.
Perhaps writing is not my only calling. I think my calling is to be a doctor, writing about my life of working in the wilderness.
With thanks to Heidi Conroy