I’ve been a rockgodsuperstar at submitting things to competitions I will never win lately. The most recent of these is a 2500 character entry for a World Nomad scholarship to the Balkans…

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I initially misread the required length of the submission as 2500 words versus 2500 characters and crafted a truly lovely overarching tale of our adventure on the Scottish island of Fladda. (One I’ve written about before here.)

The entry (below) is what happens when you realize the discrepancy and try to adjust six pages worth of necessary details and story setup into one page. In hindsight, it may have gone over better as a bulleted list, i.e.,

  • Sonia and Gretchen make decision to go to Scotland
  • Sonia and Gretchen think they can somehow do this on, like, ten American dollars
  • Sonia and Gretchen make decisions based on their outrageously unrealistic budget that do not benefit them
  • Sonia and Gretchen more or less suffer for six days but they do so in a truly breathtaking place
  • Sonia and Gretchen walk away from this experience with some deep-seated Scottish wisdom that basically revolves around the notion that it’s ludicrous to not drink available alcohol
  • Under no circumstances is this ever not true
  • Still one of my favorite stories


“I have a friend who owns an island off the coast of Scotland. You can probably visit if you want.”

Words that would be responsible for a two-day trek from Galway across the waist of the Emerald Isle, over the water to Glasgow, onto a train bound up the still-brown hills of the Western Highlands to Oban, and, finally, to a bus, to a ferry, to a boat, to the island. Words that would prompt a lesson my sister and I now know to our toes.

Fladda, unimaginative Old Norse for ‘flat island’ is a tiny, rocky interruption in the ocean. We were two pale, big-eyed American girls who found ourselves on that pile of flattened, uninhabited Scottish rock, perpetually licked round the edges by the hungry Corryvreckan, with limited food and, due to some logistical gymnastics of transport and timing, an absence of beer.

Getting to Fladda is a trial. Words like Cuan and Cullipool and Alistair are meaningless until you’re wedged between a car and railing on a three-car ferry between those towns and informed that the main controversy is whether or not to just build a damn bridge. They are blank until Alistair’s wife collects you on the other side then joltingly drives you down to the water where you meet Alistair, a blond-fuzzed, red-tinged Scotsman, as you climb onto his boat.

I remember the way the wind felt on Fladda and how watching the water and the clouds expanded my understanding of beauty. I remember trying to memorize the gradients of ocean and sky: sleet gray, hard gray, bright gray, fresh golden edged, blue-green on the verge of plunging back into cold purple, periwinkle, white. Rimmed with froth and seagull cries. It was uninhibited and ancient. It was the loveliest thing I have ever seen.

But we were also bored and we sorely missed the beer, lost in the cracks between Glasgow and Fladda, that we didn’t buy. The island’s emergency supply contained a case of Guinness that for four days sparked debate about whether we had finally reached a state of ‘real need’. It taunted us, but ultimately remained untouched. And when Alistair picked us off the island our final day, the Guinness dilemma was recounted as the main hardship of the trip. To which he laughed and exclaimed, with an air of surprised Scottish disappointment, “Ye shoulda drenk tha Guinness!”

At the end of my life, if I have any words to impart to beloved humans, among them will be, “Don’t worry too much about love. You know how to love, so you will find love.” and “Always drink the Guinness.”

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