Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Grey Goose

I'm at that stage in life when many of my friends, acquaintances, and friends of friends are engaged, recently married, and even some, pregnant. All of this naturally leads me to think on what is the nature of love: are all couples equally happy (they claim to be!)? have everyone of them found 'the one'? have any of them 'settled' thinking this is the best they'll do? would they even admit that to themselves?

In Disney movies and chick-flicks we're taught that there is the one true love. I wasn't sure it existed until I read A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. It tells the story of a couple who truly fall head-over heels, madly in love and base their entire lives around protecting that love. On the way they attend Harvard and Oxford, meet C.S. Lewis, suffer WWII, and consider the nature of God. In it, Van writes that he doesn't think many people fall in love, the hard, gutt-wrenching, lose your breathe, sort.

In order to answer these questions, I read loads of Austen. The most useful to answer these questions was Mansfield Park. Fanny denies a marriage to someone all her relatives agree too because she does not think him a good person, and in the words of Dr. Goldberg, 'one of the most pernicious villians'. The surprise is that while reading MP you almost think there's going to be another Pride and Prejudice ending, only to have it turned around. Also, As You Like It, by Shakespeare. In each, there are a series of marriages, and one feels, at the end, that different couples reach different amounts of happiness. The woman who was tricked into marrying the farmer-peasant would seem much less happy than the marriage of Oliver and Ceilia. Yet even the rogue conversion of Oliver doesn't quite outshine the beauty of Orlando and Rosalind's relationship, and one is definitely happiest that they finally get together. And in P and P, we're happy enough for Jane and Bingley, but what we're all really waiting for is Lizzie and Fitzwilliam.

Vanauken and his wife use the image of the grey goose to define their marriage and their lives. Before they loved God, they both were determined to commit suicide the moment the other died. After God, they chose to not ever remarry. For them it was the grey goose. And what about all these love-suicide compacts in literature? And life-- I once went to a glenn in China renowned for the lovers that had killed themselves.

Is it a difference of nature? Are some of us like bunnies, and mate copiously? Are some of us like dogs, who are sad at death, but bounce back after a year or two? Or are some of us like those grey geese? Is it a difference of age? Is it a difference of the quality of love (is not strained)? The closest answer I've come to is that perhaps not everyone loves so intensely, but they're happy. Yet the grey-goose sort of love bestows itself on those who are worthy of it and to those that have deserved it. A thing like that ought not to be wasted.

On Husbands and Step-Wives

A small portion of my acquaintances have suffered severe tragedy that has taken the following pattern: a husband and wife are happily married and have children. When the children are in their teens, the mother contracts a form of illness and dies. Within the next year, the husband has remarried someone else, who possibly had a family of her own, and combined the families to form a new unit. All of this strikes me as profoundly sad.

I don't pretend to know the right answer to these things, and defer judgement, but I can't get around how this makes me feel. I feel sad. Sad for the family that has just lost its founding unit. Sad for the husband, but most especially for the children. How does one cope without their mother? Even now, I'll occasionally have nightmares where this happens and its terrifying in its gripping vividness.

My question is why would you remarry so soon? Or more poignantly, why would you remarry at all? [Divorce is a separate issue.] Is it a reflex of grieving? Is it a way to cope to raise the children? And is this the best thing to do for your family, the children you produced? I can't help but think of visiting a family in this situation, and my friend Amber was sitting on a countertop. Her step-mother came in shocked, and shouted, 'What are YOU doing on the counter-top? David! Look here at what your daughter is doing. I'm sure my sons would never do such a thing as that.'

I guess my big question is what does it mean to love? Song of Songs says that 'love is as strong as death.' Proverbs talks about delighting in 'the wife of your youth.' While ultimately, it comes down to personal courage, I can't shake the image of the grey goose from my mind. The grey goose mates for life, and once its partner dies, it never takes another.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Peeves

I am currently reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke which is all about magic. While in no way directly responsible for the following, it got me to thinking of all the things I don't like in novels. So here's a list:

- when it is boring, despite a fascinating premise
- when it is set in historically inaccurate times
- when it is unnecessarily long
- when it fails to satisfactorily tie-up loose ends
- when the author writes about a subject on which he knows little about
- when it misrepresents or doesn't do justice to something I love
- when it is cheesy or overly romantic
- when the book is too heavy to read lying down in bed
- when the information about the author is either a list of all their publications or far too short to do any good to anyone.
- when the dedications are sappy
- when the drawings a poor. There is nothing worse than bad artwork.

Some of these are due to incompetence. But most of them are due to the biggest flaw an author could ever possess: pretension. If there is one thing I despise, it is a pretentious writer.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Breathe Before the Storm

Image from

For the entire month of August, Edinburgh holds the Fringe festival, and already this city is heaving with changes and temporary construction stages. In Bristo Square, there is now the 'Udder Belly' and on McEwan Hall, instead of its stately stone blocks are painted black and white photos of serious looking people. Princes St. and George St. are already so full of tourists walking slowly and looking up at the sky (Edinburgh is a beautiful city) that it makes walking anywhere in a hurry impossible. Trunks and wheeled suit cases and people with maps and keys in there hands are likely the performers themselves staying in Edinburgh for the entire month. And in my favorite coffee shop, The Grind, obvious tourists wander in for a rest. Yesterday the sun was so strong and glorious there were several cases of sunburn, which means that the streets were thriving, and oddly enough, full of very pregnant women. (Yesterday I counted 10!). Here's a peek at whats about to unfold in the streets and performing halls in Edinburgh: Edinburgh Fringe .

Particularly, I'm interested in 'The 39 Steps' as this was novel published in 1915 by Edinburgh native John Buchan, achieved world-wide recognition in Hitchcock's 1935 movie premiere, and recently resurrected in the BBC's 2008 version with (a personal favorite) Rupert Penry-Jones. Now here it is back in its early play form by the Royal Scots Club, once again the '39 steps'.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Parenting Issues

Indy as an 8 week old.

Anyone to look at our bunny Indy would think that she was beautiful, curious, and generall a cuddly rabbit. From much of the time we've had her it seems to have been this way. But within the past several weeks, Indy has started grunting at us, not wanting to be touched, especially picked up, not even stroked, and running away to the opposite side of the room from us. What does one do with a recalcitrant bunny?

Immediately, the first thought was to give her away or to set her free in Fran's garden at home, as they have an abundance, if not a nuissance, of rabbits. But somehow, I viewed this stupid rabbit as God's grace to me, and giving up on the rabbit almost seemed like a spiritual symbol. (Life gets more complicated when a cigar is no longer just a cigar). So through copious amounts of research, I adopted a new plan of action.

I'd let Indy approach me, I'd coo and speak gently, but would only touch her when she came real close. I'd stroke her after a treat or when she lay down in her relaxed sprawl. This didn't immediately show its effects straight away. I've found I have to spend an hour with her a day, just sitting by her cage, letting her get used to me, and if I was lucky, would get to stroke her a few times.

What I've learned: patience and persistance. I need to spend time with this pet each day. Not 'I'll read a book and you can run around while I keep half an eye on you' time, but 'I'll sit here patiently and give you my undivided attention' time. That she first responds to curiousity first, anger second, and food third. That she is not a stupid bunny, unfortunately, but rather like her name, Indefatigable.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Recipe Book

I have this habit of writing down recipes I use on index cards and I'm sure my flat gets pretty annoyed to find recipes for 'Garlic Lover's Pasta' in the kitchen weeks after its use. So. I decided it was time to get a recipe book. I headed up to PaperChase on George Street, draggin poor Fran with me. They had an entire section dedicated to recipe books, just blank pages I could fill up, but I was annoyed at all their layouts- well any layout really. I just wanted a blank book I could plop open at need with wide enough pages to fill my scrawl.

After anally searching the entire store I found the pefect victim: an 8 x 10 book with brown pages that would seem to line the drawers of an older aunt's linen cupboard. Fran and I both agreed the cover seemed a bit plain, and had earlier, both fancied an orange print of birds and cages. I love prints of birds and this seemed perfect. When I got home, I put my 8th grade cover-book skills to use once again. And though perhaps not exactly perfect, its wonderful to create things however silly.

Friday, July 22, 2011


This has been growing on me for a while, but today I decided I do not like Starbucks.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Small Things

Today, I sorted through a hoard of small treasures I'd received from Heather Johnson who had moved back to America. In them I found:

- a pair of hiking boots-- yay for the all the Holyrood Hillwalking plans
- some excellent stationary
- an 100 pound pillow
- gloves and mittens- especially yay for mittens
- a hand-written letter, giving me beautiful thoughts and instructions that I discovered far too late

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Happiest Moment of One's Life

[photo from book]
'Virginia while talking to an old friend "said- and as though addressing herself rather than me: 'What do you think is probably the happiest moment in one's whole life?' While I was wondering how I should answer this sudden question, she went on, with a strange but very quiet radiance in her voice: 'I think its the moment when one is walking in one's graden, perhaps picking off a few dead flowers, and suddenly one thinks: "My husband lives in that house-- And he loves me." ' Her face shone, as I have never seen it." '

A Marraige of True Minds, by George Spater and Ian Parsons

Bad on Books

I have a bad habit of buying books that I think either look nice, or I think I ought to read them. In my library back home, the number is stupidly ridiculous and the idea of conquering them sends my knees weak. Since my move to Edinburgh, I have acquired an a small pile of books I have either borrowed or now own and am determined to read them before the year is out. I can count now at least 15 books: 15 collected in a space of less than 10 months! Pathetic. Been slowly making headway.

Sometimes I find the list of things I have to do crippling as it seems like so much. In the last month, I've found reading a book not at all to do with my dissertation helpful. It eases the cogs strung tight thinking about Medieval French Literature, and motivates me to keep working. I've found that when I finish a book, I'll momentarily pat myself on the back, but then think, alright, what next? Somehow this desire helps to tackle my dissertation.

Friday, July 15, 2011

De Profundis

In my last post, I described being gloriously duped by approaching texts with humility, from the view that they have something to teach me. One of the works I've most loved is the best letter ever written: De Profundis. And I may even mean better than Paul's pointy letters to the Ephesians. [Guys, I may need help with Paul because all I think of is "do this, don't do that,remember this." way to kill the gospel, mate.] This letter was written in the depths of human despair, but rather than contorting hatred to deal with such pain, there is poignant, poignant in the very sense of the word, love.

Oscar Wilde fell in love with an old school fellow, "Bosie" who was a sociopath: Bosie got in a fight with his dad, and Bosie's dad threw O.W. into prison in a legal scuttle. Bosie has not written or visited O.W. since the trial, and in the midst of the silence, O.W. writes the most heartbreakingly beautiful letter you will ever read. Here are some quotes, which maybe spoilers: you are forewarned.

-The real fool, such as the gods mock or mar, is he who does not know himself
- I blame myself for allowing an unintellectual friendship, a friendship whose primary aim was not the creation and contemplation of beautiful things
-Now and then it is a joy to have one's table red with wine and roses
-for formal courtesies will strain a close friendship- but simply the grace of sweet companionship, the charm of pleasant conversation..., and all those gentle humanities that make life lovely...
- I was made for other things
- I had always thought that my giving up to you in small things meant nothing that when a great moment arrived I could myself re-assert my will power in its natural superiority. It was not so.
-Failure is to form habits
-Ethically you had been even still more destructive to me than you had been artistically
-Ultimately the bond of all companionship, whether in marriage or in friendship, is conversation
-It was only in the mire that we met
-It was necessary for me to be a little by myself
-Suffering--curious as it may sound to you-- is the means by which we exist, because it is the only means by which we become conscious of existing; and the remembrance of suffering in the past is necessary to us as the warrant, the evidence of our continued identity.
-So much in this place do men live by pain that my friendship with you, in the way through which I am forced to remember it, appears to me always as a prelude with those varying modes of anguish which day I have to realise
-It was not the first time I had been obliged to save you from yourself
-I made your sorrow mine also, that you might have help in bearing it
-It is not our vices only they make instruments to scourge us. They bring us ruin through what in us is good, gentle, humane, loving. But for my pity and affection for you and yours, I would not now be weeping in this terrible place.
-To be entirely free, and at the same time entirely dominant by law, is the eternal paradox of human life
-In you hate was always stronger than love
-Love is fed by the imagination, by which we become wiser than we know, better than we feel, nobler than we are: by which we can see life as a whole: by which and by which alone we can understand other in their real as in their ideal relation. Only what is fine and finely conceived can feed love.
-Your terrible lack of imagination, the one really fatal defect of your character, was entirely the result of the hate that lived in you
-The fatal errors of life are not due to man's being unreasonable. An unreasonable moment may be one's finest. They are due to man's being logical.
-The supreme vice is shallowness. Whatever is realized is right.
-Everything must come to one out of one's own nature.
-At all costs, I must keep love in my heart. If I go into prison without love what will become of my soul?
-But love does not traffic in a market place, nor use a huckster's scales. Its joy, life the joy of the intellect, is to feel itself alive. The aim of love is to love. no more, and no less. You were my enemy: such an enemy as no man ever had. I had give you my life: and to gratify the lowest and most contemptible of all human passions, Hatred and Vanity and Greed, you had thrown it away. For my own sake there was nothing for me to do but to love you. I knew that if I allowed myself to hate you that in the dry desert of existence over which I had to travel and am travelling still, every rock would lost its shadow, every palm tree be withered, every well of water prove poisoned at its source.

-But the little things of life are symbols. We receive our bitter lessons most easily through them
-Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only records its moods, and chronicle their return.
-Only youth has a right to crown an artist.
-It [sorrow] is a wound that bleeds when any hand but that of love touches it, and even then must bleed again, though not in pain
-Where there is sorrow there is holy ground
-When wisdom has been profitless to me, philosophy barren, and the proverbs and phrases of those who have sought to give me consolation as dust and ashes in my mouth, the memory of that little, lovely, silent act of love has unsealed for me all the wells of pity: made the desert blossom like a rose, and brought me out of the bitterness of lonely exile into harmony with the wounded, broken, and great heart of the world [ a man tipped is his hat to him while he sat in a prison cell]
-why literature is, and has been and always will remain the supreme representative art
-I would have written to you in season and out of season in the hope that some mere phrase, some single word, some broken echo even, of love might reach you.
-I knew you had feet of clay.
-Only one whose life is without stain of any kind can forgive sins.
-Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in the search for new sensation
- I grew careless of the lives of others
- I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the house-tops
-There is only one thing for me now, absolute humility
-Now I find hidden somewhere away in my nature something tat tells me that nothing in the whole world is meaningless, and suffering least of all. That something hidden away in my nature, like a treasure in a field, is humility.
-It is the last thing left in me, and the best
-One cannot acquire it except by surrendering everything that one has. It is only when one has lost all things, that one known that one possesses it.
-And the first thing that I have got to do is to keep myself from any possible bitterness of feeling against the world.
-I have arrived-or am arriving rather, for the journey is long, and 'where I walk there are thorns.'
-When you really want love, you will find it waiting for you.
-There is not a single degradation of the body [prison dress, work, food, etc.] which I must not try and make into a spiritualising of the soul

-It is to absorb into my nature all that bas been done to me, to make it part of me, to accept it without complaint, fear, or reluctance.
-It is only be realising what I am that I have found comfort of any kind
-To regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development
-The only people I would care to be with now are artists and people who have suffered: those who know what beauty is, and those who know what sorrow is: nobody else interests me.
-Then I must learn how to be happy
-I tried to be as cheerful as possible, and to show my cheerfulness, in order to make them some slight return for their trouble in coming all the way from town to see me
-Sorrow, then, and all this it teaches one, is my new world.
-But behind sorrow there is always sorrow. Pain, unlike pleasure, wears no mask
-there is about sorrow an intense, an extraordinary reality
-For the secret of life is suffering
-I remember talking once on this subject to one of the most beautiful personalities I have ever known... a suggestion of what one might become as well as real help towards becoming it; a soul that renders the common air sweet, and makes what is spiritual seem as simple and natural as sunlight or the sea
-Now it seems to me that love of some kind is the only possible explanation of the extraordinary amount of suffering that there is in the world
-if the world has been built of sorrow, it has been built by the hands of love, because in no other way could the should of man, for whom the world was made, reach the full stature of its perfection. Pleasure for the beautiful body, but pain for the beautiful soul
-We think in eternity, but we move slowly through time
-hearts are made to be broken
-for in life as in art the mood of rebellion closes up the channels of the soul, and shuts out the airs of heaven..
-I must be filled with joy if my feet are on the right road and my face set towards 'the gate which is called beautiful', though I may fall many time in the mire and often lose my way
-At every single moment of one's life one is what one is going to be no less than what one has been. Art is a symbol, because man is a symbol
-For the artistic life is simple self-development. Humility in the artist if his frank acceptance of all experiences, just as love in the artist is imply the sense of beauty that reveals to the world its body and its soul
-The man who would lead a Christ-like life must be entirely and absolutely himself
-There was nothing that either Plato of Christ had said that could not be transferred immediately into the sphere of Art and there finds its complete fulfilment
-But the very basis of his [Christ's] nature was the same as that of the nature of the artist-- an intense and flamelike imagination. He realised in the entire sphere of human relations that imaginative sympathy which in the sphere of Art is the sole secret of creation. He understood the leprosy of the leper.
-He wakes in us the temper of wonder
-One always thinks of him as a young bridegroom with his companions, as indeed he somewhere describes himself; as a shepherd straying through a valley with his sheep in search of green meadow or cool stream; as a singer trying to build out of the music the walls of the City of God; or as a lover for whose love the whole world was too small
-He is the leader of all the lovers. He saw that love was the first secret of the world for which the wise men had been looking, and that it was only through love that one could approach either the heart of the leper of the feet of God
-It is man's soul that Christ is always looking for. He calls it 'God's Kingdom', and finds it in every one.
-Most people are other people... their lives is a mimicry
-Christ was not merely the supreme individualist... but he has far more pity for the rich
-that there was no difference at all between the lives of others and one's own life
-Since his coming, the history of each separate individual, is, or can be made, the history of the world
-Every single work of art is the fulfilment of a prophecy: for every work of art is the conversion of an idea into an image. Every single human being should be the fulfilment of a prophecy: for every human being should be the realisation of some ideal, either in the mind of God or in the mind of man.
-the great sins of the world take place in the brain
- I see also that to Christ imagination was simply a form of love, and that to him love was lord in the fullest meaning of the phrase
-If any love is shown to us we should recognize that we are quite unworthy of it. Nobody is worthy to be loved.
-Love is a sacrament that should be taken kneeling
-Those whom he saved from their sins are saved simply for beautiful moments in their lives.
-All that Christ says to us by the way of a little warning is that every moment should be beautiful, that the soul should always be ready for the coming of the bridegroom, always waiting for the voice of the lover
-That is because the imagination is simply a manifestation of love, and it is love and the capacity for it that distinguishes one human being from another
-He does not really teach one anything, but by being brought into his presence one becomes something
- I have a right to share in sorrow, and he who can look at the loveliness of the world and share its sorrow, and realise something of the wonder of both, is in immediate contact with divine things
-For a sentimentalist is simply one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it
- I would not care about being loved on false pretences
- A man's very highest moment is, I have no doubt at all, when he kneels in the dust, and beats his breast, and tells all the sins of his life.
-It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution

LOVE to you all

Thursday, July 14, 2011

All is Vanity

Recently I have read through the book of Ecclesiastes. When I was younger I got the impression that Solomon was fumbling his way through to the conclusion, where 'all counts' where of course I thought he was right there, but not so right in the rest of the book. How could he be right, a Christian, a Jew, saying 'Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you die. All is vanity!' He sounded like a crazy magician at a feast with an open bar.

However, this round, this verse caught my eye: "Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God as given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil-- this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart."

I found this scandelous. A rich man, a God-fearing rich man, enjoy his wealth? He shouldn't, like the pious saints and monks, give it away to the poor and live as a hermit in the desert? A gift of God to enjoy possessions? A gift of God to enjoy life? A command to eat and to drink (alcohol?!) and most shockingly Be Happy? I'm not supposed to go around thinking about the passion of Christ all day and be sad I'm not as good as I ought to be?

This will sound very silly, but for a long time I thought only stupid people were happy. Pure gothic romantic that I was, I didn't think Christians were allowed to be happy, and that if you were, it was only because you were to dim to see the enormous suffering present in the world. How dare you be happy when there are people dying in Africa?

I laught to think of myself in high school. I had a crazy ambitions list: I wanted to see all 7 wonders of the world; I wanted to learn 7 different languages; read the complete works of Sherlock Holmes and Shakespeare; to climb the Appalachian trail, to learn how to install a carburator, to become ambidexterous.

College tempered that. Professor Goldberg used to say college was about finding your limitations, and then build yourself up within those limitations to achieve what you needed to. I found my limits and I've rather neglected the ambitions list, but I found, despite it all, that I don't remember much. I don't remember much of high school, or even of college: of friendships, or past relationships, or heart-aches, or despairs. I find that Solomon is right, that I have not remembered the days of my life, because 'God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.'

And, as hedonistic as it may sound, in the past year, well-apart from this verse, I have striven to be joyful in the present day. I'm a much calmer person. I'm no longer freaking out, as I probably should, about the fall ["omg i don't have any solidified plans"]; I'm worried about my dissertation, with my present task as I should be.

I found the book of Ecclesiastes so intruiging, I asked a lady in my church to read through it with me, as I am sure there are many more gems hidden within this work to further instruct me in wisdom. Perhaps I am horribly naive, but I've always approached books with, what can I possibly learn from this? What does this have to teach me? Even if I'm being stupidy fooled, its a delicious way of doing so.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I feel it all

I can't say I actually 'feel it all' or even 'feel it all a little bit', but about some things I feel very strongly. Especially when I read secondary articles on books I love. The other day I was reading something on a story called "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" and if you can dig out Eng Lit 101 Norton Anthology, I highly recommend 30 minutes of your life to scour that poem. Well, I was reading what some scholar had written about it, and I felt like this person was distorting absolutely everything I loved about SGGK. They were saying awful things, distorting, what I perceived to be the real intention of the story, and I got so angry. At first I was seething with anger and started to call this author all sorts of bad names for the harm they were doing to Gawain's repuation. But then, I surprised myself by bursting into tears. Showers of them. I was so angry, but at the same time, so sad this person refused to see such beauty in a work I thought was obvious, made me cry at first in anger, and then, in sadness for them. Now, its rather silly to cry over something someone else wrote, when it hardly concerns me, only the text I'm reading.

My advisor has suggested a different route I take with my thesis, and while I know this will ultimately prove beneficial, I have found it initially frustrating. I was venting my frustrations to poor Fran, to which he replied, "Well, everybody hates work, Nat. Just buckle down and it'll be over 'for you know it." [Fran usually hits my moods spot on, so it was quite surpsingly when] I found myself replying, "But I don't hate work. I love what I do. I really love it, and its so odd for me to dislike what I'm doing, as I've never disliked a days work of this in my life." Frustrating, yes. Very frustrating. But do I love it? Yes, I really do. It strikes a chord somewhere that inspires my entire being. I often think its with my faith. However, with this resonance, with this love of my subject, with this frustration in work, I can't help but think of my other, dare I call them colleagues?, who are also plodding along in their Medieval History and Late Antiquity dissertations along with me, and I can only raise the ever-essential glass of wine to them in a warm-hearted and like minded toast, that they may find deep fulfillment in their dissertation and lasting oh-so-deserved pride in the work of their hands; that they not find it vanity, but surprising joy, and that their minds uncover the nature of the medieval mind.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Humiliations Galore

Imagine, having a body you always thought was slim, then waking up one morning to find that size 's' of your underwear won't even make its way around your thighs, and instead of mercifully bursting a seam to allow you to dress in dignity, refuses to stretch full on, and you now have to welcome the day commando, as there is nothing clean in your drawer.
That, ladies and gentlemen, has been my experience as a master's student at Edinburgh.

Don't get me wrong: in class I was brilliant. I could answer every question, guess every analogy, make out every line of hazy 12th c. Middle English, but the papers and the grading system! All my bests efforts at UNC combined would not have allowed me to PASS a single essay at Edinburgh. The first grade I ever got back was a '58' in Latin Paleography, with the instructor adding, 'Thats a very respectable mark.' I had poured hours into that project only to get a 'C' and that was respectable?! The second mark I got back, I poured and poured over researching an essay. My mark? a 50. I barely passed. My main instructor had failed me, but the kind marks of the second marker thought it a bit harsh. But still a 50! To barely pass! Me, who had always gotten straight A's my entire life. To nearly fail. The resounding question in my mind was "WHO DO I HAVE TO SLEEP WITH TO GET AN A IN THIS COUNTRY?!" Now, those of you who know me will laugh as you know I'm as frigid as my mema's 6 foot deep freezer. But still the question remained: what do these people want?

My next essays I received 'respectable marks' again and jumped into the air dancing when I received a 68 - 'just two points from an 'A'. In the throws (or the bowels?) of my dissertation the question I keep facing, is what do they want from me? And will it be good enough?

The best answer I have found is to pretend. Have you ever driven in your car, listening to NPR and pretend that you're giving the answers to the person their interviewing? I can remember doing that in a storm once. "And Dr. Moore, what were the influences of your world changing novel?" "Well, Ira, I can truly say King Arthur and Oscar Wilde were in my thoughts when I composed the pivotal scene..." Anyhow, when I sit down to write my thesis, I pretend I'm as famous as JK Rowling and as brilliant as C.S. Lewis and as alegorical as Dante and forthright as mother, and write like I am somebody and speaking to a room of brilliant scholars, and as stupid as it sounds, it helps. It helps me achieve my most complex sentences and link two- and-two together. It helps me grease those intellectual axels. Sometimes, I even propose a scathing toaste to academics I despise (sort of like Screwtape's toast at the end of the Letters). Speaking of which, I will rant about that next...

Monday, July 11, 2011


- I am proud of myself for facing my fear of the library and tackling a ton of books for my dissertation today. However, my brain doesn't seem to have exercised this muscle much for now looking at this pile of books after a break, its refusing to work. It jumps straight into 'panic' mode. Not the gasping for breathe, hyperventilating sort of panic, but the ah my brain is too full of information and I can't figure out how to sort it panic, so that I literally can't read non-fiction anymore. Hence the last hour I've been reading up on how to approach slightly aggressive rabbits and getting really excited for Harry Potter 7 Pt 2. WEll I have a whole pile of books I suddenly want to read, but now have to wait until after dissertation.

+ Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell-- a book about magic, leant to me by Fran's mama. Its huge, but it looks fascinating
+ Virginia Wolfe, Women and Fiction-- its music to my soul, but I've only had it in snatches. Can't wait to devour this book.

When I first read Virginia Wolfe, I was very skeptical. When I read A Room of One's Own, I was still uncertain. I found the style beautiful, lurid, lyrical. But I wasn't sure it was true. After four weeks on the move, with no room, with no place to put down my books, to sit down and write, to compile my thoughts or compose my infamous to-do lists, I've found Wolfe to be spot on. I'm not sure how it is with others, but for me, to truly write, to truly tackle a literary subject, I must have a space of my own, to unpack and uncoil, dive-- both into the subject I'm reading and to find what my thoughts are about this subject. To discover what I think, is by far, the most suprising and most rewarding. So. Has been galloping off to another country, constiuting a debt the size of the Malfoy Manor, to struggle against an academic system unfamiliar and humiliating-- has it been worth it? Moments with my window open, a light breeze nosing through, the sun setting behind the church steeple, and to be entirely at the beck and call of only to myself is utterly luxurious, and seem like rich rich soil in which a foundling plant is to thrive.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Bit of Home

For Chrismas, Abby created this for me, which was one of the sweetest presents I've ever received. At Christmas, I couldn't bring it back with me as I didn't have enough space, but it was top on my list to bring back this time. On it are lyrics from the Mumford song "After the Storm" and on its side is a flower in the shape of the continent of Africa. I know Abby's heart is in East Africa and I think one day, she'll manage to tear her way back there again. In the meantime, its a good way to keep my sister near and the East of Africa in my thoughts and prayers, especially in light of the awful drought that threatens yet again to rip away any possibilty of stability or sustainability:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Variations Upon a Theme: Shakespeare Part II

When we went to the Globe, I picked up a facsimile of a first edition print of Shakespeare's Loves Labour's Lost. I've never read this play and thought I'd give this copy a try, but found this edition far too difficult to absorb at midnight on a train headed home. The folios were first published in 1623 and I found the replication of print styles intriguing. I've included the first photo to give an idea of the size of the thing: loads longer and wider than any regular book, which oddly gives the book a sort of pathos. The second photo is to demonstrate the style of the print, which is surprisingly challenging to read, and tests an ability to read 17th c. typescript.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Globe Theater

This is in the standing area of the globe, me clutching an edition of hamlet.

Here are Dr. Simon, Professor Karen, and the ever-photogenic Fran.

Yesterday the Goodisons took Francis and myself to the Globe Theatre to see a production of Hamlet- which was one of the single best experiences of my life. [The other that ranks was when the Avett Brothers performed at UNC.] I think every theater should be shaped like the Globe. It was three stories of seated sections shaped in a semi-circle that surround the stage that jutts out of the back wall. In addition to the risers, there is also an enormous standing section where people are on just about chin level with the stage. Its also outdoors-- with an open roof-- which allowed a gentle breeze to constantly lick our faces and even twittering birds to land on the thatched roof. With so many people, especially the standing audience the atmostphere is one of energy which the actors thrive off.

The troop was amazing opening and ending the show with songs and dance which they played themselves on a violin, mandolin and guitar, all singing and dancing. The dialogue moved rather quickly which kept our attention and it was astonishingly easy to follow the plot and charachters. Hamlet himself was superb, providing a funny and lively performance and never failed to hold our attention. Rosencrantz and Gildenstern were funny, and the cast managed to bring new life to a very popular drama. As far as criticism, I found they had cut a bit of dialogue (though understandably) but in a rather important section in the "repentance" of King Claudius, which is a pivotal moment of the play. Also, the woman who played Ophelia was dynamic and loud, and I am of the opinion that the actress should approach her charachter with a sensitivity that this one failed to show. However, it was such an elating performance that I couldn't stop smiling the entire time and am so thankful for the privilege to have attended.