Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Have Returned...

After a long, hot summer, hello again! I am back in the US, definitely missing the cool English weather. I am sure you are all desperate for another blog post, so have one on me!

After getting a flight back to Washington D. C., I started looking for a job and began my internship at Lee Hall Mansion. Eventually I found a job as a receptionist as a retirement community, which has been a source of both side-splitting amusement and watching-paint-dry boredom. At first I just needed a short break from the blog, but eventually that break evolved into a summer hiatus. After pouring my thoughts out not only in my blog but also in my academic writing, I was exhausted, and all the energy I had left went to deciding which Zelda game I would play that day. I decided that, after the incredible (life-changing?) term in Oxford, I needed to keep my thoughts to myself for a little while.

But no more! I am announcing the start of a series of posts concerning college life, titled The Life of an Almost-Adult. My senior year is a week away and I am absolutely terrified of life outside the Bubble, so why not spend some time remembering the things that make college so incredible? I will post once a week, depending on the degree of crazy my professors require of me (I'm with the conspiracy theorists on this one.). Here is a list of topics in no particular order:

-college illogicality                                     -college church culture

-professor hero worship                           -coming home

-cafeteria dining                                         -visitation hours

-GECs                                                          -freshman spotting

-study abroad                                            -senioritis

-classes (to sleep, or not to sleep?)         -off campus adventures

-Ring by Spring                                          -summer job hunting

-late night Disney movies                         -The Bubble (see all other topics) 

 (and other stress relievers)

Now, if we are very good friends and we've spent quite a lot of time together, you might have noticed something. I am a girl. And so, as you might feel, some of my proposed topics may have a little bit of that girly quality as well. If any male readers, or any readers at all really, think I've missed an important aspect of college life (or you just think my ideas are lame), please comment below!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Last Days

Well hello there. I've just finished a term at Oxford.

In a strange turn of events, I finished my last essay, my 'long essay,' a full two days before the due date. And almost 600 words above the maximum word count. That's never happened to me before! I didn't procrastinate. And I found I had more to say than they wanted to hear. Of course, I didn't cut anything out. That essay was crafted out of ...something creepy but not cliched. Fortunately, there was neither blood, sweat nor tears. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis' ghosts did drop by to see if they could offer any help.

Yesterday I was feeling very reluctant to go home, as you could probably tell by my last post, but well...then Iceland exploded.

Really! A volcano erupted, and now the sky over England is full of volcanic ash, making the airspace very dangerous, and all the flights have been cancelled! This could go on for days, depending on the weather, and even if the flights continue tomorrow or the next day, my flight (Monday) could be delayed. So I may not be going home as soon as I planned. And even if I do, all my friends who were leaving days earlier will be keeping me company. Isn't it wonderful?!

I've only got one thing between me and a four and 1/2 month summer. My long essay. I turned it in on Wednesday, but I have to edit it down from 16 pages to 10 for a contest I'm entering. If I win (which I probably won't), I get $500 and free registration/room/board for a literature conference at Taylor University in June! I really probably don't have a chance, but I figured someone other than my advisor should get to read this masterpiece.

Tomorrow: debriefing for SCIO and Addison's Walk. I'll tell you tomorrow what that is, because now I need to sleep.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bittersweet moments

Hello! It's my last week in England, and work on my long essay has commenced. I will be buried in the library for two days, then writing for hours on Wednesday, and then I will be done! I have very mixed feelings about this. Here's something I wrote in my journal a couple weeks ago when my mom and her friend were visiting:

I'm on my way to Dover with Mom and Donna. Being with newly arrived Americans really highlights how much I've taken to heart the English culture. Driving past the green fields and rolling hills makes me long to just finda cottage somewhere and stay there, taking pictures and reading. Most people assume that I'm in love with Oxford, and I am really fond of the town, but not really the university. I much prefer the Headington (a small town east of Oxford) part of things, the getting to know people and actually living (rather than researching). I said on the flight over that on this trip I was looking for an old friend I've only met in stories before. I've found my friend, but not where I expected. Instead of in the libraries, England is in the fields and the trees, in the perpetually green grass instead of the crumbling buildings, and instead of a highbrow academic life, the slowness and sweetness of developing friendships.

Anyways, that's how I'm feeling right about now. I am looking forward to spending possibly my last summer at home and seeing my friends again. But I am dreading leaving this beautiful country.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Everything in moderation

Hello readers!

I am now a week into post-term Oxford. I've written my last tutorial essay! Spring break has come and gone, and I've now started the SCIO portion of program, British Landscapes. Four days a week  we watch segments of Simon Schama's The History of Britain documentary and listen to lecturers. Sounds fun, right? I have three more papers, two case studies which will hopefully count for a course in the romantics, and my long essay, which will be comparing theories of story-writing between C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

Most people left for spring break on Friday, but I stuck around until Sunday night, when I left on an overnight bus for Edinburgh, Scotland! I had a really great time, but before I left on Sunday, I had lunch with my Bible study group and visited C. S. Lewis' grave, which was wonderful. The churchyard is beautiful, and his grave is beneath a tree. Having spent two months getting to know him (through books!), I no longer agree with everything he writes, but he will always be the writer who introduced me to story and fairy tales. Visiting his grave was an emotional experience (not too demonstrative, I promise!), and I may go back by myself (my friend Jen was with me at the time). I still have to tour the Kilns though!

So Sunday night, I went to Gloucester Green, the main bus station in Oxford, and caught a night bus to Edinburgh. I made one switch around 1 AM, and to be honest, the ride wasn't very fun. I couldn't really do more than doze, and that was in a variety of uncomfortable positions. Upon arriving around 7:30 AM, I found my hostel, changed clothes, had breakfast and planned my day. I really wanted to see a play or something while I was there, but no such luck. Everything was either too far away or on the wrong day. Oh well! 

That morning, I wandered into a couple bookshops, and of course found some wonderful books! I went to the Elephant House for lunch and stayed for tea, reading That Hideous Strength. I'm sure it sounds really lame to go all the way to Edinburgh just to read, but honestly, it was great. I hadn't read for fun in two months (quite a long time for me), and I just needed to relax. I went to the Writer's Museum after tea and explored the Royal Mile, a long street full of tourist shops, pubs etc. The next day entailed more reading, more tea and more museums (including the castle!)

I loved Edinburgh, but it was really nice to come home to a house full of de-stressed people. I think the next few weeks will let us get to know each other more, and have fun with only a medium level of academic stress :) Plus, my mom gets here in four days and the rest of my family in eleven! I can't wait to show them Oxford!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Where am I going exactly?

Well, here I am again! Today was a pretty normal Saturday, involving sleeping in, procrastinating, lots of Youtube and some reading. In a little less than an hour I will go to Crick house, where the other half of the students in my program live, to watch a movie and possibly play board games. It's always a relief to get out of the house and see other people, so tonight should be fun, plus I get to take a walk under the stars.

Recently I've been feeling a little lonely, I think, although I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe I am more homesick than I've realized - it's a little more than two weeks until my mom gets here! - but I think also I've realized just how little of an impact I am having on Oxford. I certainly didn't expect to storm the University with new, transforming ideas about literature, but now that 8th week is beginning and my last essays for the term are approaching, I am humbled in light of the great work even people I disagree with have accomplished. This week I strongly disagreed with the approach a certain author took in writing about C. S. Lewis, the subject of my primary tutorial, and I felt competent enough to explain why. Nevertheless, this person is a respected academic and has several books published. I think they have me beaten there.

Studying something so intensely as I have for the past two months necessarily brings forth new ideas, and I have so many right now that if I could, I would stay in the library reading and writing for days. Ideas for books have even flitted across my mind. I don't want this week to be the last time I study stories; their power in conveying truth makes me ready to talk about them for the rest of my life. And herein lies the problem: I haven't been planning on continuing my education past a master's degree, and possibly not even that far. Now I know that I want to at least study literature past Messiah, but what do I want to do with it?

Of course, I should have expected my feelings/my plan to change. Every time I get something set in my mind, it changes, either due to my own uncertainty or God's delight in showing me something new. At this point, I wonder what else can happen in the next few years to change my course, but I also feel very ready for 'life' to start. I know, I know - I'm living right now, and I shouldn't always be looking ahead, for fear that I will miss the life I have now. But I'm so ready to stop wondering and just be there, whether that means New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia or even Oxford. College is a period of preparation and development, but to what end? It would be nice to know which target I'm aiming at.

With that said, I do know that part (most) of following God means surrendering control over my life and future and living both with purpose and flexibility. It's a delicate balancing act, this mortal life.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Studying and Blogging in Epic Proportions

Hello! So, remember how I though 5th week was stressful? 6th week is even better!

Tonight will hopefully be an epic study session, interrupted periodically by the best distraction ever: figure-skating! So, in case you the reader were wondering what my study sessions look like, I've decided to keep a running blog tonight, recording what I'm reading, what I think about it (this might be a secret plan to make writing my paper easier. shhhh) and conversations that come up on a normal night of studying at Oxford. So, it's 19:30 (7:30 pm for you civilians) and I'm about to embark on an attempt to finish two papers by Friday afternoon, so I can enjoy Edinburgh this weekend. Ha, oh yeah, I'm going to Scotland!

Before we begin the Epic Blog Post of Doom, here's an example of how my night sometimes turns out:

Readers, you have been warned. Be prepared for what tonight may hold.

1950 Book: Women and Families: an oral history, 1940-1970, music: Master and Commander

UPDATE 1: 2130 hours
completed, music now Hidalgo.
Skiing is on the BBC now. I would close my eyes, but I need to keep reading. Also, I might fall asleep. So far on facebook, two people (Mom and Dave) have tried to distract me and only one, my darling Lana, has encouraged the continuation of studying. A teapot and mug now sit beside me, in the hopes that the sore throat I fear will be deterred. On to Sex, Politics & Society! countdown to ice skating: 3 hours

UPDATE 2: 2343 hours
Still on SPS, but I'm enjoying it. Finally found a historian who puts more emphasis on theory than statistics - AND he talks about Foucault! Yay Foucault! I can feel myself getting distracted though! After drinking a whole pot of tea, I needed something else in my stomach, so I got a slice of bread with nutella - definitely a good decision, but that put me in the kitchen where friends are - friends are not a good choice when trying not to get distracted. And then I was watching one of my favorite music videos...

Now I just want to watch more music videos and go buy music! Also not a good plan when avoiding distraction. I must continue! I will conquer all! Looking forward to figure skating in 40 minutes, when I will lay aside my history books and read That Hideous Strength so that I can write a paper on that as well.

UPDATE #3: 0317 hours
Music since last update: 1940s vol. 1, Little White Lie, now Olympics figure skating commentary
So, the figure-skating program is really, really long. Becuase it's been happening since 0030 and we're still not to the top-tier skaters. Luckily, I abandoned my multitasking and my computer to study without interruptions. So now I'm racing to finish SSP so I can go to sleep and wake up tomorrow and study more! Mostly what's happened since the last update is my friends laughing at me because I'm so tired and confused. Several times I've guessed what they've been talking about while I've been studying and been totally wrong, and then only vaguely disappointed that I still didn't know what was going on. You might be able to tell how tired I am by the run-on sentences. I know deep down that I am exhausted and could crash at any point, but I'm in the study mode and I need to keep going. Stand by for a conclusive update on my epic study session in the morning.

UPDATE #4: 1047 hours
Well, hello there. I am awake. Right now my plans are to read until I have to go to a meeting at 1430 and then go to the library afterwards. Last night was pretty typical of my study habits, and sadly, you missed out on some very funny conversations, but not the kind I can reproduce here. Bedtime was approximately 345 (is the military time annoying you too?) and I woke up at 930. Not too bad!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sometimes Fairy Stories Say Best What Needs to Be Said

I was thinking last night about writing a blog entry, and I thought, "But I just don't feel like being pleasant right now."

Imagine that, readers. I didn't know it was possible to have a bad day in Internet-land! Don't you have to always be cheery and funny and gushing about whatever experience you're sharing?

Surprise! The answer is no.

One really unfortunate but possibly unavoidable* factor of living in a house with 31 adults-who-were-until-very-recently-teenagers is the gossip. Prejudices are formed, rumors get spread and feelings are hurt. Fortunately, being a person who isn't usually in the popular** group, I have managed to stay out of dodge so far. At least, I think I have...you haven't heard anything, have you??

Anyways, that's the sort of tone that has pervaded the house for the past few days. Please, don't think, however, that I live with a group of emotionally-stunted people who best function by discrediting other people. There's a simple explanation for the recent behavior. It's 5th week.

The Oxford term (Michaelmas = winter, Hilary = spring, Trinity = summer) has eight weeks. The primary tutorial meets once a week (8 times, 8 papers) and the secondary meets every other week (4 times, 4 papers). If things go well, the research begun in 1st week continues to build until 8th week, culminating in a more complex understanding of the subject and readiness to take an exam (which, as a Visiting Student, I don't have to take). So, this week I had my 5th primary tutorial, and next week I will have my 6th, plus my 3rd secondary. This means lots and lots of work. It also means that we are over half-way done with term and all those research skills and writing styles that we were sure would improve over time need to start improving NOW.

Thus the recent poor behavior and my reluctance to write a blog in which the sun shines (it doesn't) and the birds sing (they do). Normally I love my primary tutorial, in which I have so far read George MacDonald, Lewis Carroll, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Some would say that's not exactly a challenging reading list, but I disagree. I'm not just reading to enjoy the plot; instead, I'm reading with an eye for literary theory (why the authors chose the fairy-tale form to share this particular information) and identifying specific connections between Lewis and the other authors.

Unfortunately, this kind of study is not really available at Messiah - the study of prose literature largely starts in the 1920s and goes backwards. Modern fiction, especially fantasy which has a bad, 'escapist'*** reputation by itself, gets overshadowed by the strong poetic movements of the 2oth century. I don't mean that Messiah is ignoring certain kinds of literature: it's a small college and only so many classes can be offered. Anyways, I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to study something which I wouldn't normally be able to spend time on, but I have at last moved on from the fairy-story aspect of Lewis' writing to more satirical, theological writing. Of course, he is a good writer and I appreciate what he has to say, but fairy stories, the content of the first four weeks, are why I chose this tutorial specifically. Also, Lewis' particular issues, including a ridiculously misogynistic tendency, are much more visible in books like The Screwtape Letters and the space trilogy.

Fortunately, I'll start work on my long essay soon, in which I am comparing The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit based on Tolkien's definition of the fairy story in his essay "On Faerie Stories". Of course, this makes me so happy that I might as well sing "My Favorite Things" for the rest of term.

Well, this entry that I thought was going to be very depressed and negative actually turned out to be closer to neutral and vaguely optimistic for the future. So...is it possible to write a truly negative blog post? Maybe the Internet gods forbid it. I think you readers ought to be thankful for such a lengthy, non-negative post and leave me comments of gratitude to encourage more of the same. What do you think?

*I actually don't think it's unavoidable, from a very good experience with my Messiah roommates and friends, but I'm pretty close to sounding self-righteous and holier-than-thou, so lets just say I don't think it's unavoidable and move on.

**Popular - 1. regarded with favor, approval, or affection by people in general 2. suited to or intended for the general masses of people - Now there's nothing wrong with being popular, but in the high school sense in which I have experienced popularity (more specifically, the lack thereof. I'm not bitter at all!), it becomes a very dangerous concept to which subscribing potentially stunts individual growth by emphasizing the importance of being 'normal' and accepted. As has been stated by many child psychologists etc., at this point in a person's life, they need to understand who they are before trying to please everyone else.

***There is absolutely nothing wrong with escapism in literature. Tolkien said (speaking about fairy-stories, but I think it applies to art in general) that while stories provide entertainment, their primary role is to provide rest and consolation, so that we may return to the real world more able to deal with 'reality.'

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Return

I'm back with a brand new power cord!

Well, dear readers, Oxford is...so wonderful. It's hard to explain, because it's really not a land of castles and dragons, but going from day to day with one purpose, to broaden the reaches of my mind, changes everything else I do. It's perfectly normal to have a conversation on the validity of Freudian motifs in children's literature, and a few days ago, several people were up until 4:30 in the morning arguing (among many other topics) about the coming together of postmodernism and Christianity. Sunday morning, I woke up before my alarm (a very rare happening) and was pleased because it meant that I could get to the library (not open on Sunday) earlier. I'm training myself, along with everyone else in the SCIO program, for research.

Tired is a constant state of being, unfortunately, but everyone else is having the same experience, so it's not so bad. I'm planning three trips between now and the end of term, I think. One to Edinburgh in a few weeks. Just a weekend trip. And another to Hay-on-Wye, on the Welsh border, but I'm not sure when that's happening. I am going to Italy for spring break though! A small group of friends and Dr. Rosenberg, the program director, are going to Florence, Ravenna and Pisa. So I won't get to Rome or Venice, but the places we're going are so incredibly beautiful, and I can't complain :)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Surprised by Joy

For the last three mornings, I have waked to the sound of English rain on my window. It was saying something to the snow.

"Come now, you know you don't belong here! You've got to leave. Yes, that's right, out the door."

The snow is gone! *happy dance*

Before I get mobbed, I loved the snow while it was here! But not only did my feet turn into prunes, but also, it is extremely hard to walk in snow! I'm not just talking a few hundred yards. MILES. Every day. Which I do enjoy, by the way. But when combined with snow, I get a little whiney. Not good for first impressions.

Luckily, Oxford and I have made friends. Three days in the beautiful Radcliffe Camera have reminded me that I do actually like researching enough to be annoyed that all the libraries close on Sundays. Also, I loved living in Philadelphia. But Oxford is so much better! The green, the history, and the community all combine into a beautiful, enchanting place. Even the fact that England ran out of road salt just adds to the charm.

No adventure too grand as of yet, although I am beginning to think that I can't stay away from the Kilns for too much longer. It calls to me. I'm also looking into doing some horseback riding while I'm here, but unfortunately, it seems that the university club is defunct, which means many more pounds must be parted with. My mid-term break comes along in a few months, and I am planning on going to Wales with the SCIO group. I will root out some old Arthurian castles and take pictures. Maybe I'll write my own "Idylls of the King"! *nerd joke*

I have had some awkward moments figuring out the coinage here though. Most cash transactions take place with coins, and it's really awful when you're rooting through the fifty coins, knowing that everyone else knows you don't know what you're doing. I think I've got it down, but bus fares need to happen quickly, and I'm not quite up to that speed yet. I was thinking about purchasing a bus pass, but the walking is definitely good for me. I'd like to follow in C. S. Lewis and Tolkien's tradition of walking everywhere, provided the weather cooperates. I don't mind the rain at all, and as long as the snow stays on the western side of the Atlantic, the poor plow and salt-less Oxford roads and I will get on just fine.

Tomorrow I'll go to St. Ebbe's Anglican in Headington, which is about a 15 minute walk from my house The Vines. I went last week with some SCIO friends and I really enjoyed both the English company and the tiny service. It reminded me quite a lot of Liberti, the church I attended off and on in Philadelphia, and the people are very welcoming (my accent makes me more interesting, I think). After church, it's back to the house to write up my first Oxford paper, which is due Monday morning.

My primary tutorial is C. S. Lewis in Context, and, as much as I love him, I don't want it to turn into a biography. Instead, my first paper is about the power of myth and story, how the Scottish writer George MacDonald connected that with the Christian faith, and how his book (fairy story for adults, really) Phantastes "baptised [Lewis'] imagination." Story is a powerful thing, the extent of which I haven't yet grasped, and to be studying writers who devoted their lives to it is a privilege.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

On the way

Here, for you lucky readers, is what I wrote while on the plane over here. Once the world stops spinning I'll let you know how England is for real.

I'm on my way to London.

If I wasn't actually here on a huge, uncomfortable plane, I wouldn't believe it. Or else I would think that I should be having a nervous breakdown or vomiting butterflies or something. Strangely, I'm not. I'm so not nervous, in fact, that I almost feel guilty. This is a huge deal. I just changed the time on my iPod to 4:59 (military time!) when really we all know it's 11:59 pm! I can see Reykjavik on the map of our flight, and London is blinking at me in ALL CAPS as we get clsoer.

Why am I not nervous? Maybe I'll go crazy after being forced to drink tea, but I hope not. I have a theory, as usual. England has always existed in my head. I read Narnia when I was six and lord of the Rings in middle school.* - 2 hours and 13 minutes to destination - I have spent my whole life imagining England, so it doesn't seem like the unknown to me.

Now I'm getting sleepy.

England is a person, an old friend who writes letters to me about her life, about the people she meets and the adventures they go on together. And now she's written to ask me if I would come too.

So, this flight, despite taking me away from family, friends, my church and most of my books, is also taking me towards one very dear friend, many new ones, more books than I can imagine and a part of the Church I haven't yet met. I'm not nervous.**

It appears that I will not be getting any sleep. As soon as I decided I was tired, the crew decided it was time to eat.

*I am definitely not bragging about my literary prowess (HA!). When I read those books the first few times, I had no clue what they were about.
**I really am, but..."I can't think about that now. I'll think about it tomorrow."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

We're off to see...

Well, here I am, going to England...


I feel slightly like the night before my dad and I left to drive up to school for the first time, when I was so nervous that I couldn't stop trembling. I'm pretty emotional right now for several reasons: one, I've dreamt about going to England for a long time. It's always been a sort of mythical place in my mind, because, obviously, that's where Narnia is! I know, I know - if I flounce off the plane with the camera flashing and my eyes sparkling, asking where Mr. Tumnus is, I will get eaten alive. So don't worry, Internet. I'll play it cool.

Two, I know that this term a lot of big decisions about post-college life (what???) must be made. Oxford is a great place to do that, but the fact that it's far away from home and school makes me nervous.

Along that same idea, with every step forward I take, I can feel myself growing up a little bit more, and it's sad! I'm really excited to see what I get to do in the next few years, but soon, my enjoyment of going home in between semesters will be dampened by the totally lame fact that there are no more semesters! I will be offered the choice of kicking myself out on my own or having it done for me by my (extremely loving) parents. Living for several months in another country (on another continent!) speeds up that process a lot, I think.

With that physical separation comes the natural worries for my family. If something horrible were to happen, I would have to drop everything. Not a pleasant idea, certainly, but there's really no choice to make. I already know what I would do.

On a totally different note, I am absolutely terrified of the academic work. But in a very good way. Basically, Oxford is going to kick my butt. There's no getting around it - it's going to happen - but frankly, I need it. At this point in my college career, I know what I want to do, which lets me automatically eliminate any effort not aimed at that. Not good! I'm hoping my research skills, which are seriously lacking at the moment, will improve, plus I am especially looking to learn much more about C. S. Lewis, a man I have idolized since I was six but have never studied academically. As a Christian, I almost feel guilty that I haven't read all of his theological books (which of course I will do this term); as a reader, I am utterly ashamed that I haven't read the Perelandra series (that's not the series title, just one of the books, but I'm too lazy to Google the series right now); as a historian, I really really want to connect him to his context: the Great War, World War II, the Lost Generation, the Great Depression, all of that good stuff.

My flight leaves at 7 PM tomorrow and I still have a work-study project to finish. Time for sleep.