Thursday, March 29, 2012

Of Mice and Men

For a long time, I thought I hated Steinbeck. My introduction to him was the summer after I graduated from UNC where in the midst of physical therapy and yoga sessions for a back injury, I read. I picked up the Grapes of Wrath in the library and only read kept reading because I thought, it must get better after this. When I got to the ending, I was furious. This is it?! I kept screaming to myself. I resolved to hate Steinbeck for putting me through such a worthless experience.

Last week, Of Mice and Men came to town. Student tickets were cheap and the reviews excellent.
I read it in an afternoon, and I was numb when I reached the final page. Once the numbness wore off, I found it perfectly constructed, balanced. I had about 4 hours to process the book before I went to see the play, and the more I turned it over in the corners of my mind, the more I liked it.
Everything is foreshadowed and nothing is lost.

But it took the play for me to see its brilliance. The description of George in the book made me view him as a person who didn't really like Lenny, who didn't love him, due to his "sharp features." The play dissolved that notion and I could see a genuine bond of friendship between them.

It's about dreaming, the power of dreams, and the utterly humane ability to believe in their existence though circumstances seem otherwise. Lenny's sad ability to harm the things he likes, his childish desire to feel soft things, shown with such poignancy as the novel progresses. George, the brains, but also the friend, who despite rough talk, deeply loves Lenny--as shown in the final scene.

It's a sad book. No happy endings are alotted the characters. But despite the foul position these characters land in, the overwhelming notion is the power of dreams, which may not be real, pitted against the power of friendship, the only real thing these men have, and the "austere and lonely office" that love calls them to.

Kinlde Thoughts


As a person who spends most of my day reading books, many people have asked me if I'd want a kindle. My first reaction is no, never. There is something about seeing something on a screen that is transient, that doesn't seem eternal or long lasting. It's sooo easy to cut, paste, delete, so fleeting. Besides, I like books. I like turning the pages. I like the beauty of old books. I like wheedling my way though the page count and get an unnatural amount of satisfaction seeing my bookmark slowly conquering the pages. I like the sensation of looking at a book, with it pages and all, and thinking, yeah I read that.

As medievalist, a lot of publications for the books I need are either 1. v. expensive, 2. out of print, 3. in a library I may or may not have access to, or 4. online. Obviously, the library is the nicer option, but the problem with old books is you can't check them out and bring them home. You have to look at them in the library. Fair enough. But it slightly constricts the day or at times, research. Online presents itself as the most convenient option. But man, do I hate looking at a screen. I get irritated by how much I'm required to have a presence in front of a screen. It seems to suck the life out of me. Reading tomes on the internet isn't exactly ideal either.

Then, there is the fact the not just old Manuscripts, but book subscriptions, and articles I need to read, appear only online. On the screen. It's like they've paved paradise and put a virtual parking lot. Lastly, I travel lots. To and from Durham. To the States and back. To conferences. It's always a struggle to know which books to bring. They take up and weigh a ton.

So what I'm trying to say is that I've bought a kindle. I know: I feel like a traitor. Does it help if I say I've bought it in hopes it will save my soul, rather than destroy it? It's the screen really. It's a matt, which means I can read it outside and won't glare. The absence of that emanating glare, will, I hope, enable me to read a screen without being sucked dry like vampire fodder.

But I keep thinking, what if I lose my love for real books? What if I only use my kindle? What if, the horror, I buy books there because it's cheaper? This scares me. I don't want that to happen. I want my house piled high with books I've read and loved, the sort of library you feel could have been owned by some old magician, or Merlin. So, all that to say I'm quite apprehensive. Keep me in your well wishes that I won't end up turning to the dark side of the force. I can already see myself breathing through a black mask from not being able to inhale the dust mites of old books, and, Ahhhh I can already hear the "Anakin, I am your father" speech coming. NOoooooooo!!!!!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Don't Walk on the Grass: Oxford

This past week has been exhausting. Time seems to roll up and torpedo. I've just come back from a weekend in Oxford for a conference. Sounds Romantic, doesn't it? Spring birds, old colleges, academics discussing papers, tea and coffee breaks. Those were the highlights. Everything else was rough. As a first-year PhD just approaching my 9-month review, I know nothing. I enter a room full of academics, and its like, one of those parties where everyone knows everyone else and you just sort of know one of the people there? Usually, you'd drag your housemate along so you don't show up alone. That's what it's like except no tag-along friend in the face of lauded academics, who really are much smarter than you. Its enough to make even the staunchest of nerves tremble. Then, it's constantly putting your foot forward, introducing yourself, initiating, "oh I loved your paper"--none of which seem to be my strength when my confidence has been zapped and my knees knocking. Each day I felt like a mangey dog no one had the mercy to go out and shoot.

One thing that did make me laugh was some of the things people wore. One man, one of the most brilliant people in the room, wore a magenta shirt, a yellow and blue stripped tie, and a green tweed jacket.

I also spent the weekend with the lovely Harvey family, whose steps seem to coincide with mine, ever since our stint in Singapore, and with Cassidy, UNC IV friend. We even got to watch the UNC -Kansas game, which was depressing, but at least I felt like I was home again, listening to the familiar squeak of shoes on the wood floor.

But you know that bit in A Room of One's Own, where they tell Virginia to not walk on the grass? It's true at some colleges. But not at this conference. We were graciously allowed to luncheon on the lawn with our legs tucked up under our skirts, nibbling at prepared sandwiches.

Monday, March 19, 2012

This Week: March #2

- Spring
- The walking shots are courtesy of Thing 2
- Thing 1 broke his finger in 2 places
- Fran's reaction time is 42 for 60 seconds
-Felix's color is changing to more brown
- Of Mice and Men made brought tears to my eyes
- Fran's parents were in town for the weekend
- This is how one should be buried
- The Box Car Children
- A cat amongst the ivy
-Gorgeous walk to Leith
- The Royal Brittania

London: Part II

Our final day together

we spent it with our old friend from Singapore, Louise

at the palace

tower bridge

tower of london
[I do wonder if this isn't where Lewis got the idea]

he could be a model

so could she

beef eaters

Abby conquered her fear of the grim

at this museum

later we watched this play

with these people [with Dr. Simon]

[with Professor Karen]

back at the hostel

we relaxed with a cheery game of pool

this one says it all

Our Northern Lights Experience

So we went to see the Northern Lights.

As soon as our bags were unpacked in our rooms, the city of Reykjavik entered a 3 day snow storm. On Tuesday our excursion to see the Northern Lights was cancelled. On Wednesday, we piled onto the bus along with other tourists and drove out onto a field. The clouds filled the sky like an unceasing blanket. For a small moment, a rift appeared low and to the horizon. But we saw nothing.

The final night we were in Iceland, we decided not to go on the tour. Fran had a bad cold which I caught, and the idea of wading out in the cold for something that most likely wouldn't show up was depressing. But. Fran had read earlier that day solar flares had occurred so strongly they interrupted satellite signal. If we weren't going to see the lights tonight, he said, we woudln't see them at all.

Mitch, Fran, and Abby piled on their clothes and stalked off to the Saebrut. Just as the road bent toward the mountains, the lights ended and one could see the sky. Snorting and sneezing, I went to bed, ocasionally looking out the window for those lights you see in magazines. None.

Suddenly I'm wakened by Mitchell pelting through my room with visible, electric excitement. He had seen the Northern Lights, they all had, and he had dashed back to come get me.

Over my jammies I pulled on my coat, and hauled myself outside, depressed in spirit and certain I wouldn't see them. These wispy clouds kept coming through and blocking any sight we had. But the wind (or providence) was in our favor and blew all the clouds out of the sky. And then there was nothing.

Just sky. And I saw another wispy cloud about, and I was getting cross and ready for bed again, when that wispy, low arching cloud strengthened in appearance, but stayed fixed. And slowly it grew a very pale green. At first it was one band, and then a second, stronger band appeared directly above it, so faint it looked like clouds, and then stronger. And then a third. It stretched across the sky like a rainbow for the night, but without the vibrant color, just the one. As the arch ended over the mountains on the east side of Reykjavik, the arch digressed into many fingers.

The pale green steadily strengthened in light, but never brilliant. Then like an olympic figure runner across the arch, one bit grew brighter and faded into the next section's brightness, running like a dollop of brighter light until it dispersed into the many fingers.

Finally, the clouds blew back over and our every body member felt the cold and we turned, silent and happy to the indoors. Content. I couldn't take pictures as my camera was just inadequate. And I'm glad it was. That way I could just enjoy, and not focus on the harried moment of getting the right photo. Abby said, she felt that God gave us moments like these to slow down and admire and just be still. I must wholeheartedly agree.

Blue Lagoon

Last Day in Iceland we went to the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport.

ready to go go

these craggy walls- i loved them

the weather beckoned with blue sky

snow in my hair

it was so coooold

And that's it for Iceland. We had one spectacular day in London after this, but all in all, we saw all we came for.

Movies: Iceland 101

I wish I had taken more movies while we were away! But here is one of a teeny geyser which disappointed both Mitch and Francis (as you will hear).

This second is a movie I took while Abby layered up to go outside and see the Northern Lights. Now my use of the word 'fat' may horrify many of you, and to the outside observer, I should be jailed for bearing hatred towards larger persons. THIS IS NOT THE CASE! It has been a family joke for years now, that Abby, try as she might, (and my mother for the majority of her life), can not gain weight. So we both find it hysterical she puts on so many clothes she seriously cannot move.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Iceland: Day # 3

On our last full day in Iceland, we went on probably the highlight of my time there. It was a tour of The Golden Circle which included the Rift Valley and Parliament, geysers, Gulfross Waterfall, and a volcanic crater.

Here we are at the Rift Valley: the separation between the North American and EuroAsian tectonic plates. We're standing on the North American side (as it should be!)

And in that fog are the Mountains that stand on the EuroAsian side.

moore ass

we happy few

a section of the high cliff we're standing on

This is immediately below the ledge we stood on at ├×ingvellir for the assembly of the first parliaments (ever) called Althing. You can read about them in the old Iceland Sagas.

The Icelandic Horse is not a pony, and has 5 gaits, one of which is so smooth it will not slosh a pint of water you hold in your hand while riding.

Now onto the geysers. Pronounced "gay seers"

Here she blows


"Little Geyser"

The biggest one we saw

Look at this smoky ground: perfect for all sorts of goblin creatures

Stop #3: Gulfross Falls

Playing tag along the wintry planes

Extinct Volcanic Crater

Greenhouses run off of geothermal electricity

My sister bundled up to see the Northern Lights. The only time in her life she will ever look big.