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 :)