Saturday, January 3, 2009

Oh, How the Times

This sounds pathetic really, but I'm not the only one. . . to Google myself. I did it tonight. I've sworn to combat this insomnia/extended jet lag thing by just going to bed, but I think a lot at night (something I picked up in Oxford I'm sure), but am not incredibly productive, so I write about things I don't have to "produce." My life. Oddly enough, that just seems to happen (sometimes I'm quite happy with it, sometimes I get frustrated), every single day I breathe. Funny how that works.

Well, I stumbled across a friend's old blog that she hasn't updated in a long while, as well as my old blog by way of a link. I am happy to say that from those moments of being the young feminist, frustrated philosopher, and stressed over-achieving student, while I am still to a great degree describable by those terms, oh, how the times have changed me, in unexpected ways. And since this is my blog, I'm going to probe the depths and you can't stop me. ;) Actually, I'm not a big fan of confessional blog posts, so I'll keep this brief.

Firstly, we can tack "strives to be compassionate and diplomatic" to "young feminist." "Frustrated philosopher" can stay for sure, but perhaps a little bit more confident because I've been forced to be, and far less skeptical, and certainly humbler. Or more humbled. And I hope that as an over-achieving (sometimes) stressed student I still make time to listen to others when they need me, to be thoughtful in my responses, to make tea and share biscuits frequently, and that through my work I speak for those who are ignored, moderate between poles, uncover beauty, uncover hurt that must be soothed and named out loud, and speak of love with truth.

I've changed a lot. But not so much. And that's okay.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Remembering Oxford (3): The Late Nights

I'm sitting on my couch having officially stepped (or slouched?) into 2009 three hours ago. This isn't much of a feat since the past few nights have seen a very messed up sleep schedule. Not sure where that's coming from, unless jet lag is hitting me a little late, which I guess could happen. . . Anyway, I think that tonight it is only appropriate to write of Oxford late nights, since at this moment I remember them well, and fondly.

They began during British Landscapes, a time when all in Crick and the Vines (the other programme house) were working towards the same essay due dates for our course in British history, which included cartography, philosophy, literature, etc. The first essay deadline was tough. Within two weeks of arriving in Oxford we were already reconciled with an all-nigher. I remember one night calling it sleepy time at around 12:30am and then waking up at 5:00 and typing with Rob and several cups of caffeinated beverages. That was my first induction into the world of Oxford sleep deprivation. The second British Landscapes deadline found many of us up literally all night (I believe I went to bed at 7:30am after sending in my essay) and sleeping till noon.

During Full Term our tutorial essays kept us up quite a bit. I think the earliest I made it to bed before a primary tutorial was 2:00am, to wake at 8:00am. But you know, while I regret that lack of sleep, I actually wish that I had enjoyed more of Oxford, more of my housemates. But essay nights were not entirely lifeless. Many of the Crick residents had Thursday tutorials, so Wednesday night was often full of coffee and a collective sense of scholarship and sometimes comiserating. We were there for each other, though, making tea, letting others ramble, giving back rubs. Christye and I tried to "camp-out" and have some real heardcore writing time, complete with caffeine, sarcasm, and profanity. Well, we generally had at least three of the four desired features.

My final tutorial found me up late in the IT room with Sylvia Plath and a consequently disturbed mind. "Ariel" speaks to me of self-destruction, of shooting over and over again into a process of "liberation" by violence. While that is certainly debatable, like much of Plath's work, then point is that in those long hours of eerie discomfort, Heather came to visit me and keep me company while I waded through the substanceless blue. And every once in a while I would emerge and walk down two flights of stairs to find Elizabeth, Abby, T.J., and the fam ready joke around a little and blow off steam. I believe that is also the night I eroded through the chocolate of a Reese's with my tongue.

For our final essay, which was longer than any case study for British Landscapes or tutorial essays, we were all joined once again in the common bond of writing for the scrutiny of Dr. Baigent. I had discovered the beautiful quietude of the IT room upstairs a few week prior, and therefore staked my claim in the desk in the corner. Rob, who's computer was in the repair shop at that time, and I made contracts that we would not use the Internet for recreational purposes until certain essay goals were met. And we made it! I finally turned in at around 2:00am. Another hard night, but a very satisfying one at that, much like the rest of the semester.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Remembering Oxford (2): In My Place (The Kitchen of 8 Crick Road)

I was going to write about the kitchen in our house (which we called simply Crick), and snickered a little thinking about the patriarchy (I wouldn't call them sexist) jokes that flew around our house. Of course, the fact that I loved cooking and baking and making tea and coffee helped to place me squarely in the large kitchen with tall windows (from which I know as a fact a grown man can leap quite easily). Wearing the aprons which hung from hooks on the back of the door also added to my domestic appearance. Housemates noticed and we loved to joke (I even dressed as a 50s housewife for Halloween).

I love Crick kitchen, probably empty now, unless Jonathan is making himself a very early breakfast. For 24 people we had 4 ovens, 8 hobs, 2 sinks, 2 tables, and 2 commercial-sized refrigerators, one with a large poster of Shakespeare and his plays. Considering location, and the fact that I was in the minority of non-English majors in our home, William seemed to be quite an appropriate face to stare back at us as we contemplated what to next shove into our faces and go off to study. Actually, we weren't exactly like that.

Indeed, though many meals were eaten in a hurry, this kitchen was also like an art studio. It was there that T.J. and Dave created their peach dessert which we savoured twice with melty ice cream all over it (and which we came to just call "peaches"). Stacia made apple cake and the ever popular no-bake cookies (so good when scooped out of the leftovers bag after the final Tuesday afternoon tea at Frewin). Heather made pumkin almost everything, including happy engagement muffins for Rob, and for Aubrey and Jeff. Garlic bread, we cannot forget, was plentiful, and the French press rarely empty. Jonathan was always producing something exquisite with mushrooms or puff pastry or something quite exotic. I baked several batches of scones in this kitchen (which disappeared quite rapidly), and Amanda made Aunt Amanda's good time oatmeal bake on the days I needed it most it seemed. :)

Food groups of about eight people ate together several nights a week, sending in chefs each night, usually two at a time. We always made the kitchen smell so good! I would often walk in after a long day to hear music playing from speakers by the window (usually Noah and the Whale), and to be offered a cup of tea or coffee. There is also nothing like the sound of the front door opening, and going to the kitchen to turn on the kettle! I had my first taste of roasted chestnuts in Crick kitchen, and ate Jon's homemade guacamole with my fingers and from a big wooden spoon.

On Thanksgiving, we celebrated with a Dia de Gracias fiesta! We all made some dish of Mexican food to share. Lizzie was in the kitchen for four hours making tortillas, where I joined here an hour into the process, followed by others as we all cycled in and out of the kitchen, dancing to music, singing, and sneaking bites of Lizzie and Cameron's chips and T.J.'s salsas.

"Crickmas" was similar to El Dia de Gracias, full of people coming in after turning in essays to help set up for a meal of breakfast foods and baked goods. And the night our first departers headed to the Gloucester Green bus station, we scheduled a pot luck before seeing them off. There was salmon and mushroom puffs, salad, toasty nuts and granola, mashed potatoes, flat bread, sparkling lemonade, and more. It really was a magical kitchen, and I mean that with no melodrama whatsoever, no sarcasm either (though the sarcasm flew through that kitchen on a regular basis). I am the feminist who baked and cooked and served people tea and felt like had I found a place in Crick kitchen.

Remembering Oxford (1): Cornmarket Street and North Parade

Dear readers, perhaps my greatest gain from the Oxford experience (besides learning that I can function on very little sleep, or that crepes can be launched between stairwells and even up through 2nd (3rd in the U.S.) story windows) has been an enlivened appreciation for history and memory. Britain's history goes back so much farther than that of the United States, and sadly it seems that there is very little passion for U.S. history outside using it to promote some political agenda. Whatever happened to history for the sake of illuminating a place, for welcoming guests into a place much broader than today? Don't get me wrong, I do have American friends who love history. But there is something significant about not only knowing the history of war and policies,and knowing the history of a place and people. This is something diverse, it is found in memory passed on from fathers and mothers to their children, and then their grandchildren. So, while the Internet may be obsolete by the time we have children or grandchildren, I think it's vital that we remember and share our memories. I'll start.

Cornmarket Street, Oxford, England, United Kingdom:

The first day I awoke in Oxford Cornmarket street seemed to be the desired destination of every explorer setting off from our house on Crick Road. I had stayed behind to finish unpacking, have a leisurely breakfast and then head out for a little walk. Well, I'm actually quite terrible with directions and didn't want to wander far on my own, so I made it only to North Parade that morning, discovering little grocers-- some with licenses and some who proudly advertised that they were off license (I still have no idea what that means)-- and cafes where you can get a latte for a pound. Later in the term, North Parade became the go-to place of the desparate, especially on our way to, or on breaks from, British Landscapes lectures and videos.

I don't remember exactly when my next attempt to Cornmarket took place. I imagine not long afterwards. But it soon became a daily habit to walk the 15 minutes to Cornmarket (and then usually to High Street on another trip that day) to visit Frewin Court and check my mail, or to get groceries, or study in Borders. The thing about Cornmarket is that it is only one segment of an ongoing road which begins as St. Giles, turns into Magdalen, turns again into Cornmarket, then St. Aldates, etc. . .

Cornmarket, however beautiful the other streets are, was my favorite street in this neverending story of pedestrians. A man with scruffy hair could often be heard playing the pipes, stomping out the rhythm. No matter how tired, stressed or rushed I was I couldn't pass him without smiling. It just happened. A young woman played her penny whistle on Cornmarket as well, though not as well as the piper piped. She had short, dark hair and put her heart and soul into every penny of that whistle, though. Towards Christmas, little brass bands and a Capella groups sang Christmas carols, and the whole street was decorated with icy blue lights that looked like icicles dripping water (they probably were dripping water, seeing as it was Oxford).

Then there were the red poppies. They are to me a memory of remembrance. In Britain as in much of Europe, there is a strong collective memory of the world wars. With the 90th annaversary of the end of WWI, the street was flooded with lapel poppies, the red flowers of Flanders Fields. Almost everyone wore one, young and old, people my age to my great-grandparents' age. At first this was hard for me to see without thinking of the Imperial War Museum, without thinking of the violence and death, the mourning and loss. Then I realized that this is exactly what we need to remember when we think of war, in some way, and what the poppies represent. We need to remember the red. I've blogged about this a bit earlier, but that was before I saw the poppies. Here at home, I do not wear flag pins or yellow ribbons. I do not give money to military organizations. But I found myself asking the woman outside Pret a Manger for a poppy, and donating my 50 pence into her dark blue bucket. Because these poppies do not feign glory, they do not shine like buttercups, and they do not smell of one nation. They are the deep color of blood, of the fields painted with pain, asking us to remember. I bought a poppy on Cornmarket Street, and wept.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

They Will Keep on Remembering

In the words of Naomi Shihab Nye, "This is not a game. This was never a game."

What can I say as an outsider, watching from afar, caught in a different time zone, peering through news reports? Does anyone hear the bombs, the screams? According to BBC News, today was the most violence-filled day in the history of the Gaza Strip. You would think that would be hard to accomplish. I really don't know what to say right now as I take it all in, sitting on my sofa late at night. Inside I want to scream with each Palestinian woman, man, and child.

Will this day, this year be remembered as another 1948, another 1967? Will next year be different?

Friday, December 26, 2008

I Miss

I just realized that I wrote hardly anything about Oxford, almost nothing really. So, I will begin with a list of what I miss about it now that I am home, and we will go from there. In no particular order, except that I like to number things for easier reading:

1) The Victorian house in which I lived in North Oxford
2) The kind, fun, intelligent, hard-working, inquisitive, loving, faithful people who lived there with me, and who studied with me
3) Our Jr. Dean's antics. You know who you are.
4) Rick-rolling, and being Rick-rolled
5) Getting engaged and unengaged, and proposing and being turned down
6) The libraries
7) My philosophy tutor kindly pushing me to be critical and yet not overly skeptical
8) My poetry tutor telling me to write what I think, no matter what. No matter what.
9) Walking through the University Parks
10) Walking to student theatre productions (and enjoying them!)
11) The beautiful city of Oxford
12) Baking disappearing scones ;)
13) Conversations-- about theology, literature, feminism, history, identity, pacifism, poetry and how it breaks and heals us, etc.
14) Jane Eyre (that woman was all over our house)
15) Impromptu dance parties
16) Sarcasm and sardonicism with people I love
17) History vaster than my imagination
18) Red poppies on lapels
19) Girl time
20) Sunday tea
21) Dancing and singing along to Noah and the Whale with a kitchen of people
22) Scotland, and jokingly (and seriously) making fun of English custom in comparison)
23) I'm running out of words for the sounds and images flashing through my memory, the faces, the kind words, the laughter, the books, poems, walks, scoops of ice cream, biscuits, cups of tea and coffee, pheasant soup, proof-reads, hugs, and for that I am thankful. And glad I didn't miss a bit of it!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Philosophical Inquiry

This is a fresh poem, composed the other night, the night before my last philosophical theology tutorial (and the night before my second-to-last philosophy essay was due). Enjoy!

Philosophical Inquiry

I just want to know how
you are doing, my love—
how time, a distant relative,
has sketched your face
in lines and circles,
how you see the world
when your eyes are shut
and you are sleeping,
consciousness only memory,
or how you fill space
with your body, moving
past wholes and halves
of steps towards me,
this moment a justified belief.