Thursday, December 20, 2007

Almost Christmas...

Well. My essay is handed in, but I have been holed up in the library for a good chunk of most of the previous two weeks anyhow. It hasn't been unpleasant, however, as I get to spend quite a bit of time reading Irish fairy tales and ancient legends. I'm writing my dissertation on Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds, and his own source material (material he stole as much as anything else) is quite extensive. I've also been plodding my way through texts on Irish Orientalism (I shouldn't say plodding. It's actually very interesting and I do enjoy it. It can make for rather dense reading, though). The worst part of all of it is that the library is COLD. It's much more pleasant if you sit by the windows, but it gets warmer when you move away from the windows. Saturday, as one of the total of six or so people in the upper reading rooms, I actually needed my hat, coat, scarf, AND gloves just to work. Ugh.

The rest of Oxford is cold as well. It's beautiful and frosty, but I am fairly sure the temperature is below the BBC's purported 2 degrees Celsius. Even my lined gloves couldn't save my hands today. I've been guzzling tea and soup just to keep myself from hypothermia, and running has been out of the question even though I've been desperate to see Port Meadow all frosted over.

My week has been quite busy even outside the library. The Christmas shopping is all done; Dean wrapped all the presents and stuck them in the fireplace with lights, and it looks very festive. Meagan came to see me on Tuesday, and Kim and I wandered around yesterday. I learned that Magdalen College's deer park has more than twenty deer, not the occasional few I had assumed. Including a white one, calling to mind all manner of literary references. There were also quite a few dead deer at the covered market, as well as a hairy boar bigger than me and more turkeys than I have ever seen in my life. And pigs, and rabbits, and pheasants, and fish, and anything that anyone MIGHT eat for Christmas. Yum. Or not.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

It's December! It's December! I'm jumping up and down!

And....Dean is laughing his head off. Well. He does whenever I get hyper and excited about December. Autumn is my favorite season, and the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is my favorite time of year. Dean, however, is just a liiiiiittle bit humbug-ish. I think he will be getting Dickens for Christmas.

Our Thanksgiving celebration last week was marvelous, even given our 75 pounds (that's sterling, not weight) turkey. It was huuuuge. And expensive. I found what I now think is the BEST pumpkin pie recipe ever (it had better be, with all the double thick heavy cream it had), and we managed to squeeze about 20 people into Dean's living room in London, a mixture of Americans and British friends. See the American flag we made? No? :)!





I have been working nonstop (read: 6-8 hours many days a week) on my essay for this term. I'm writing about the ways in which Yeats, Synge, and Lady Gregory used anthropological/ethnological techniques in order to a) turn the discourse of the colonial power back onto itself and b) work themselves into the system by making their own role as intermediary between the native and the metropolis an essential one. I am not sure whether I am going over the top on my research; I still feel like I'm in thesis mode from last year and have this idea in my head that I have to read EVERYTHING. Which I suppose can only help, as long as I can fit all of my thoughts into 5000-7000 words. That's not a lot of words...

I have decided on a dissertation/thesis topic and submitted it; I will be writing about Flann O'Brien's At Swim Two Birds and its relationship to postcolonialism. I was assigned as my supervisor the professor whose class I just took - Elleke Boehmer - one of my favorite tutors so far. I'm quite happy with that...now I have to start reading...

Speaking of reading...I am writing this post in order to procrastinate. Well, I've reached my writing goal for today (I have 3000 words done!) but have loads to read. I am also going to the HMV staff party tonight, even though I quit and yesterday was my last day. I just decided I would rather spend allllll day in the library than make money :).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Rain. Sore Throat. Yeats. Bliss.



The ceiling of ChristChurch Cathedral...

It has finally started raining here...we had nearly a month of nice weather (nice for autumn at least)...chilly but often sunny. No more. The sky OPENED yesterday; unfortunately it was the day Mary and Whitney were here to see Oxford. It was too cold to stay outside for long. We took a quick wander around town (can't see too much on a Sunday anyhow) and ended in Christ Church and the Cathedral. As I had not yet been in, I enjoyed it as well...then hot drinks at G&Ds (for you, Colin) and a bit of shopping.

I woke up this morning, however, with a sore throat again. After being pretty sick for more than a week a bit ago, I'm not pleased. And this is a busy week; I have to get a good start on my essay before Friday, do some serious dancing, and be in London Thursday for Thanksgiving.

Speaking of which, Thanksgiving makes me so happy. Mary and Whitney smuggled us canned pumpkin, something of a luxury item in Oxford. There is one known store that carries it, and it runs about $3 a can. I have to make pumpkin pie, chocolate pie, and candied yams, and everyone else is bringing something as well. I think we'll end up doing dinner picnic style on a tablecloth on the floor, as getting tables and chairs for 15 people in Dean's living room on short notice is a stretch.

As I'm under the weather, I've been avoiding the world except for class and dance practice, and staying in bed with my Irish literature. It's not such a bad life.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Old School Oxford?

Before I start this rant, do realize that I am enjoying my program and am glad I am doing it. With that disclaimer, it is so very very different than Scripps, and I am only now beginning to realize the ways in which this is true...

While at Scripps, I thought of it as your basically liberal private college. Perhaps a little more than the average, especially when it came to gender, but not remarkably so. And when I thought of it as liberal, I thought mostly of its everyday politics, not so much of its teaching and curriculum (although perhaps in the Politics Department it was unavoidable).

But coming here, I have realized that as a student at Scripps I was exposed to many more ideas and areas of critical theory than the majority of the students here. Let me rephrase; different ideas. Most of the English students from Britain spent their three undergraduate year studying THE BRITISH CANON and all that entails. For some, that meant the accompanying theory and interdisciplinary subjects. For many, not. And my course is remarkably entrenched in the canon. This is not a bad thing in itself. Although at times I feel that I struggle because as an American I missed out on more Modernism while taking the second half of America Lit (DIE!), it's certainly an area in which I can afford to work a little harder.

But the problem with this focus on THE CANON (I do feel that it needs to be spelled and said in capitals) is that, at least here, it often resists any sort of modern (read: any theory after new historicism) or interdisciplinary approach. I was "warned" after bringing up Marxist literary criticism, and especially warned against using Said for a paper (I have my doubts and will use him anyhow; I am quite capable of being critical of him...). When bringing up French feminists and the ecriture feminine in class yesterday, I am fairly sure that I was one of three people, one of whom was the professor, who knew what I meant. And our 20th Century course seems to trail off, with a few exceptions, around 1950 (i.e. the beginning of the end for Modernism, a favorite focus). My Bibliography instructor, vocally anti-New-Historicist, is having us read Derrida. I'm not actually sure if anyone had before. Sigh. I suppose that's a stretch and underestimates both the students and their programs. But it is the feeling I get...and it frustrates me to no end. Scrippsies, you have it good.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fairtrade for the poor student?

Linacre is an entirely "green" and "Fairtrade" college, possibly (my memory fails me), the only one in Oxford. I enjoy it very much, because the emphasis on recycling and such makes it feel more like home (Portland, where EVERYONE recycles). I get frustrated sometimes over here when I can find nothing to do with cans but throw them away. There's a something programmed into me that makes me cringe and feel incredibly guilty when I throw away plain paper or glass jars...

Unfortunately, however, I cannot afford to completely offset my carbon footprint, a growing trend. I have yet to have been in a car in Oxford, and have taken the bus only a handful of times. I ride my bike and walk. I recycle what I can, turn off lights, take showers, etc. All good things. But when I started looking at flights home, I was told that I should be paying more money to buy carbon shares in order to offset the pollution caused by my flight. I agree, the pollution sucks. But I can't afford to double the cost of my flight. I would also like to limit my grocery and clothing purchases to organic, fairtrade, and generally ethically sound products. Often, this is a simple substitution. To completely overhaul my purchases, however, I would have to have a substantially larger income. What's wrong with the fact that only the rich can be ethical?

Not only that, but now that it's "trendy" to be organic and the oversight of farming/harvesting/production processes is a bit shaky, I'm not even sure that things at the supermarket are worth paying more for. As one professor put it, it seems a bit absurd to buy Marks and Spencers Organics in their normal, ridiculously plastic-y packaging.

I would love to limit my own damage of the environment. The co-op's plastic bags are super-biodegradable. Oxford's buses have exhaust filters. I walk everywhere. It's all good. And scientific advances that help our world are also excellent. But in many ways, isn't it silly to ignore what my own family and friends did when I was younger? We reused packaging. We turned off lights. Etc. We didn't HAVE to shop at Whole Foods to save the world. GRRRR. That's my vent for the day.


On another note, this week will be CRAZY but I am enjoying myself. I've organized drinks for my course on Tuesday, and a Halloween party for our house on Wednesday. And I'm going to the ballet on Thurs....hooray!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Time is marching on...

It feels very very odd to have had only two weeks of my term while other schools are on fall break/half term holidays. That said, however, the term is really only eight weeks long, which means I only have four more weeks of certain classes and my essays are due startlingly soon. And it's almost Halloween!! Time does fly...

Now that I've settled in a bit, I will say that Oxford is still lovely and still cold. It seems to rain every Tuesday without fail, but has been fairly sunny the rest of the time. I tend to spend my free evenings/afternoons curled up either by my window looking out onto the yard, or, if I'm brave, on the bench in the back garden with tea, blankets, hats, sweaters, and my books. And Olly, our squirrel. I've been climbing the apple tree to get at the last of the apples, and they are quite yummy :).

My course is going well, although I feel as if I can never ever possibly read everything I should. I've also been taking advantage of a few other lectures/seminars/classes...in addition to three basic classes I have to take, I've been going to an undergraduate lecture series on Brian Friel, the Postcolonial Literatures Seminar, and the Irish literature seminar (both of the seminars are interdisciplinary seminars that are open to anyone...generally they consist of lectures followed by questions, although the post-colonial one is changing this term (apparently) and we are doing a reading group and presentations and such as well). This means I get to meet more people and see more colleges. I am also taking an actual Printing Class...this has me more excited than one might think (in fact, Dean takes great pleasure in laughing at me when I talk about it because I jump up and down with excitement). It's taught by Paul Nash, who owns a fine press of his own, and takes place in the basement bibliography room of the Bodleian, and we get to produce books on the hand press there. More and more I am thinking about a career in special collections, and I am finding so many opportunities like this "thrown" in my way...I sat next to the head of Western Manuscripts at a formal dessert last week, and left with his card and a great deal of excitement!

Speaking of formal desserts...formal guest dinners consist of lots of food, wine, gowns (academic ones of course), and then more wine. And more food. They are very nice :).

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Oxford: The Beginnings...

(My house in Oxford)



I've finally moved to Oxford!!!!! Well, I am currently sitting in London, but I spent the second half of the week up there moving in to my room, getting various errands done, getting the lay of things, etc. This is what I discovered:
1) Oxford is colder than London. I also keep forgetting that it's not still the end of summer.
2) You need a bike. I think I walked 12 miles the first day. I now have a bike.
3) My room is huuuuuuuge!!!! It has a fireplace (which I am not allowed to use), a conservatory that opens onto the very large back garden, a nice kitchen around the corner, kooky wallpaper in the hall, and a friendly housekeeper.

(My room...part of it at least)











4) Graduate sub-fusc gowns are particularly ugly. Well, actually kind of cool as well. The are quite short, with now sleeves, and women wear a black ribbon tie and a squishy black cap. I get to wear it for Matriculation (on the 13th in the Sheldonian), for some dinners, and various other things.
5) My college (Linacre, see www.linacre.ox.ac.uk) has good food. And nice people. Very nice. And it's a lovely walk from my house through the University Parks (http://www.parks.ox.ac.uk/introduction/).
6) I live very very close to the Parks, particularly nice for runs. I can get from there to Mesopotamia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesopotamia,_Oxford), where I can see lots of birds (swans, herons, geese, ducks, mockingbirds, and many more).
7) The English building at Oxford is one of the ugliest.
8) All in all, I am very very excited :).

My few days up there were quite busy, trying to get money sorted, coursework, errands, bank account, etc. etc. A friend from home came to visit as well, so Dean and I walked with around Oxford, in the Christchurch Meadows and such. We had dinner at Linacre (excellent food) and a drink at the King's Arms (for Crowley). I'm back in London just for the weekend to get more stuff and see a few people. Dean, Meagan, and I went to Spitalfields Market this morning just to look around and take pictures...



(notice the brownie samples...there was a pile about three feet high of brownies)


unfortunately the food hall is closed for construction but we enjoyed The Big Draw London, which included random people setting up sketch books for the public and placing models for the public to draw. I would add pictures but I can't seem to get them to flip the right direction on the blog. Anyhow, it was fun. I'm back to Oxford tomorrow for some orientation/induction/fresher's week stuff...a full day with the English Faculty on Tuesday and various events from meetings to wine tastings for the next week. Lectures start next week...

Friday, September 21, 2007

London, Smokers, Beekeeping, and Rare Books...

Smoking bans are brilliant, brilliant, inventions. Every country should have them. The difference it makes to going out, even walking by a restaurant or bar, and being able to breeeeeaaaathe!!! But. What amazes me is the number of people who complain about the ban, swear they will have to quit smoking, and then don't. Smoking kills you. Smoking in Britain now means sitting in some little "garden" area, in summer possible a pleasant patio, in winter a few tables exiled to the outdoors. And. It's COLD. At midnight, even in September, it's FREEZING. Is that all really worth it?

Anyhow. That's my smoking rant for now. Even with the smoke or lack of it, I've had a lovely relaxing week with no job or schoolwork to worry me. I have to be up in Oxford next Wednesday for my first orientation, and I've been looking confusedly at my lecture lists, and I'm starting to feel little niggles of stress. Mostly, however, my days consist of waking up at a decent time, dancing or running, then reading/drinking tea/listening to, or, as time went on, trying to drown out the sounds of Dean's too familiar final project track. I do have a lot of reading to get to, but it's fairly enjoyable. And Dean has been too busy to do anything, so it seems to have worked out just right.

I did go to a Claremont Colleges Happy Hour earlier this week, where I met a handful of Claremont alums. I also went to see a play that Meagan designed (for those of you who don't know, Meagan is just finishing her Master's in Theatre Design). It would sound fairly melodramatic if I described it (well I will anyhow: after arriving in London to stay with a girl with whom he had a three week fling, the lead catches her with another guy and goes to the house of the only other person he knows in London, a crazy, forgetful, pack rat ish, deaf, rather ethereal girl he met on the tube that day. They spend quite some time together, she disappears, he searches for her, sort of moves on and goes back to original girl, sees her at end, trauma. See? It sounds melodramatic). BUT it was one of the best plays I have ever seen. The actors were excellent; the design was perfect, thanks to Meagan; I enjoyed it more than any play I've seen in quite a long time. And it had a Scottish beekeeper in it.

Dean finishes tomorrow, so I'll be meeting Kim, another Scrippsie, for lunch and then heading up to meet his class for drinks. I'm hoping to catch one of the new exhibits at the victoria and Albert Museum, either on Lee Miller or Paris Couture (see www.vam.ac.uk). Both sound amazing, but the couture one only opens tomorrow so it might be a bit crazy trying to get in.

Ahhhh...I FINALLY made my way to the little tiny rare books/used books shop in Chiswick High Road. If anyone's seen Black Books, picture that but smaller. If not, just think tiny shop, piles of books, very nice. Lots and lots of lovely illustrated books from my childhood...Blue Fairy and Olive Fairy and Peter Pan and The Princess and the Goblin. As well as some very nicely done Irish histories and an illustrated copy of The Informer (for you Dad). And on that note, I almost wish I had just finished school instead of just starting, because the Rambert Dance Company (very very famous) is looking for an archivist for their extensive dance archives....

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I'm off....finally...a quick hello...

Portland is wonderful. For innumerable reasons. For the moment, my top reason is free wifi. Everywhere you go. Specfically, in the airport :).

I'm waiting for my first flight to Vancouver, and from there to London. Funny how many times I've done this, never really thinking much about leaving. This time was much harder, and I'm not entirely sure why. I suppoe I don't really know when I'll be coming back again for more than a few weeks. It could be next year, might be the year after, but I'm not really sure and it's bothering me a little bit. Also in part because this summer ended up being so much fun, with everyone home and lots of good Portland things to keep me busy. And Mom was crying, and even my grandpa started to tear up a little.

At risk of sounding to reluctant, however, I should emphasise the crazy amounts of excitement that are flying around in me....SO EXCITED!!!! For Oxford, and the twenty million books I will be reading, and London, and DEAN :).