Revision, or My Brain’s Sabbatical

March 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

It’s spring!! No, really, this time! It’s absolutely gorgeous in these fine cities of mine. You know how they say smell is the most powerful trigger of memory? I think weather conditions are equally powerful. The weather often inspires me to think about the last day that felt the same or maybe a particularly noteworthy day that felt the same. It’s not that every day I walk out of my apartment building and am hit with a tidal wave of memories of days that had the same atmospheric conditions (although there are certainly days where it feels like I’m wading through a hip-deep sea of memory), but quite frequently I am reminded of a similar season from some past year.  Lately I’ve mostly been reminded of my first year living in Cambridge.

Everything was so foreign to me. I was a pedestrian for the first time in my life, which actually worried me.  How backwards and screwy is that? What could I possibly rely on more than my own body? A hunk of machinery? Yeah, right. But I guess back then I really didn’t rely on my body for much. I mean, other than basic life functions, my world revolved around intellectual activity, not physical activity. A year and a half later, that couldn’t be less true.  It’s surely no coincidence that the least intellectually stimulating years of my life have coincided with my long-overdue attention to physical health.  It’s certainly been a gradual change.  At first it was just the matter-of-fact lifestyle change of moving to a city and walking everywhere rather than driving. Quite obviously, that meant I was more physically active in a really basic, everyday way. But that change in behavior, although minor, was the start of a sea change in my life. As my graduate studies progressed and I was forced to accept that my program is just not intellectual (practical and useful, but not remotely intellectual), I really began to need something more.  At some point last spring, I made the conscious decision that if I wasn’t getting what I wanted from school, I had better be making every effort to get what I wanted from the other areas of my life.  The results: traveling to Europe, first of all, and finally embracing a healthy lifestyle. And perhaps also worthy of making this list is my decision to let new people into my life.

So, I’ve written more than enough (or have I?) about my trip to Europe; I don’t need to rehash it all right now. But it was easily and by far the most liberating, empowering, thrilling, terrifying, wonderful, exhausting, and brilliant thing I’ve ever done. No contest. It will probably always be winner of some of those superlatives (at least “liberating” and “empowering,” although the others I am by no means done with trying to reuse). Only wait, maybe getting my own body within my control (acknowledged: it always has been, even if I didn’t know it) is even more empowering and liberating than that. (Mind = blown.)

Decisiveness not being my strong suit, I’ll leave the assignment of superlatives for another day. But my point still stands. Without intellectual stimulation, I had to find something else to focus my considerable will power on. Hello, new body, it’s great to see you.

But that really wasn’t what I wanted to write about today. But what was? I’m not totally certain, although I think I wanted to write about my birthday. Which sounds really obnoxious and self-serving, but … wait, that’s what a blog is! Obnoxious and self-serving! So yes, that. But with a few deep and meaningful observations about life thrown in (and upon further reflection, maybe the above paragraphs were what I wanted to write about, but just somehow out of order).

So, about two weeks ago I turned 25. Big milestone! And one that represents about 1,000 other big milestones for me.  In a two month span, I will have both turned 25 and graduated from my graduate program. This also means that I’m currently seeking full-time employment (I’m a great archivist, hey!), which brings with it a slew of anxiety-inducing question marks.  For instance, who the heck is going to pay my rent and student loans payments? Because I’m sure as hell not equipped to take those on. Ok, I guess with a “real” job I might be able to, but those are pretty dang hard to come by these days. Here’s another example: where exactly am I going to live? Where I’d like to live is obvious (Cambridge, please and thank you), but where I can find work and where I want to live are two vastly and painfully different things. So where am I looking for work? Quite literally everywhere in the country (with the exception of Nebraska and North Dakota) and even a few international locations. The upshot of all of this is that my 25-year-iversary seemed like a death sentence as it loomed ever nearer. I was paralyzed with fear. Of age, of adulthood, of change. But then I remembered some stuff.

1. The things that scare you are always (always, always) the things you grow the most from doing. Lucky for me, you can’t opt out of aging, so I couldn’t hit the panic button and get out of this one.

2. Even if some of my life circumstances change, there is absolutely no reason that I won’t enjoy my life.

3. The worst thing that happens is that I work two part-time jobs for a while with continued aid from my family. Holy shit, could I be any more spoiled? (Well, actually yes. See future blog posts.) Seriously, what the fuck am I worried about? Chipping a nail?

Sometime around 24 hours after I turned 25 and the world didn’t end, I realized that I’ve been being a big baby (say that three times fast). Everything is going to be just fine. And if 25 isn’t the best age to be unemployed, what is? So, my job applications go on, and so does life. And isn’t 25 the perfect age to reflect on how far I’ve come? Why, yes, I believe it is! But I think I already did that earlier in this post. Suffice to say that I’m virtually unrecognizable when compared to myself of three years ago (or even two), both literally and figuratively. Year one: mental revision. Year two: world view revision. Year three: physical revision.

The nice thing about revision is that you’re never really done.

What will the next adventure be?

July 13, 2011 § 2 Comments

I was just on Facebook (shock! surprise!) and happened across a friends’ summer photo album full of pictures of the beach, et cetera.  I found myself thinking “man, I don’t have any awesome summertime photos!”  And then I was forced to give myself a mental b****slap because YES I DO.  I may not have pictures at the beach, but I’ve got better than that; I’ve got pictures from Europe!  How quickly adventures fade into distant memories.

As you may have gathered, I’m back in the states, happily trotting about dear old Beantown USA.  I do love Boston, but I still miss London.  At the moment, what I pine after most is the weather.  It’s pretty darn hot and humid here in Boston, and I can’t help but think wistfully of the cool London summer.  My last night in the city I was comfortably wearing a jacket.  A jacket!!!

Along with being miserably hot, I’ve begun to feel rather guilty for hardly posting at all in quite some time.  I’ve abandoned some excellent adventures to the land of the partially forgotten, it would seem.  I’ll do my best to recreate them.

In my delight over Richard III, I seem to have forgotten all about the other adventures I had over the last two weeks of my trip.  Wednesday of the first week (June 22) my class took a day trip to Oxford to visit Oxford University Press to learn about their Oxford English Dictionary Online and Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Online.  OUP is an interesting and very historically rich place; one highlight of the visit was viewing a brief film made in the 1920s (is that possible? I think that is correct…) about how books were produced at the time.  It was a great relic of an age gone by and a real pleasure to watch.  Although I embrace e-books and throw-away-quality paperbacks, there is something really wonderful about a nicely bound book.

We also got the chance to wander around Oxford a bit, and we had lunch at the Turf Tavern.  I guess in the past the class has gone to a pub where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to chill, but we were in a rush and needed faster service than they could accommodate for such a large party. Besides, the Turf Tavern is where Bill Clinton famously “didn’t inhale.”  Oh, Americans.

somewhere in Oxford

After lunch, our professor took us around the university and to New College.  All of Oxford is rich with old buildings and beautiful architecture, so it was lovely to walk around and explore.  We also got the chance to meet a current Oxford graduate student from the US who told us a bit about the differences between American educational systems and British (or at least Oxford-ian).  Most notably, in the US most people’s educations are less subject specific than are those at Oxford.  This means that US people have a broader base of general knowledge but far less subject specific knowledge.  Interesting, and for once I’m actually leaning toward the US’s method on this.  Maybe I’m biased from my own experiences, but I place huge value on interdisciplinarity (and making up words).

New College at Oxford University

On Monday, June 27th, we took another class trip to Cambridge where we visited ProQuest.  ProQuest is working on a project that I think is super cool: Early European Books Online (EEBO).  They’re digitizing every book they can get their hands on that was published in Europe from the beginning of printing (c. 1455) to 1700.  By “every book they can get their hands on” I mean books that are held in the national libraries in England, Denmark, Italy, and… somewhere else that I’ve forgotten, as those are the libraries that have agreed to participate.  Of course, funding is limited (as is always true about everything, ever), so the number of libraries involved is still quite small.  They’re approaching more libraries, however, and with access to their collections the project should continue to grow.  Unfortunately it is a subscription-only service available to institutions, so I’ll just have to find a library that has access.   In Cambridge, we also visited Cambridge University (the alma mater of our Fearless Leader) and visited the library at Pembroke College, a tiny but beautiful space.

Trinity College Library

Cambridge was swelteringly hot, so toward the end of the day we all enjoyed pints on the river before heading back home.  Perhaps one of my favorite traits of our professor is that he is always urging us to drink.  It’s not that I feel that drinking all day is appropriate or necessary, but I do appreciate that he recognizes that 18 American students visiting London for two weeks will probably drink whether he condones it or not.

somewhere in Cambridge

On Wednesday, June 29th, we had a “cultural day.”  The planned day included visits to the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern with a boat ride up the Thames in between the two.  I dutifully arrived at the Tate Britain as expected, but a pal of mine and I decided it wasn’t our scene that day.  We struck off for Westminster Abbey instead in an effort to redeem our wasted Saturday that consisted of walking to but not inside a great number of destinations (we were foiled by timing, price, and hugely long lines that we just couldn’t stomach); our one stroke of luck was excellent timing at the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace.

the changing of the guards

Lucky for us, the line at Westminster Abbey was about a 10th what it had been on Saturday, so we happily bumbled inside and procured audio tours for ourselves.  Who was our audio guide, you ask?  Jeremy Irons, that’s who!  The tour began with: “Hello.  This is Jeremy Irons.”  To which I responded, “Hi, Jeremy Irons!” and waved at the audio device.  We can’t ALL be sane.

Mr. Irons provided excellent commentary for the incredible site.  There is something completely awing about standing in the same place, walking the same paths, touching the same stones as a thousand years of English monarchs (OK, just shy of 1000… Westminster was built in 1066).  All but two of the monarchs since 1066 have been crowned there, and a great many of the monarchs and other important historical figures are buried there.  Can you imagine that I was standing next to the tomb of Elizabeth I?  The actual tomb in which her body was sealed?  I have no concept of decomposition, but for the sake of increasing the romance of the whole thing I like to think that her remains were right there, just an arm’s length away behind stone.  In all seriousness, though, imagine the history there!  Imagine what those surfaces have witnessed!  There are just layers upon layers of history, of life!, in that building.  In places, the stones of the floor are worn down into cups and pits and arches.  My friend and I carefully stepped upon the most worn of the spots, I guess maybe to make our little contribution to history in some perverse way.  Or maybe I was hoping some of the history would rub off on me.

We spent a solid two hours inside Westminster, although I was so completely engrossed and enthralled that I believed we’d been there for about 30 minutes when, in fact, we’d hit the hour and a half mark.  It was a wonderful two hours.  From Westminster we went in search of food and found ourselves at Wagamama on the south bank of the Thames.  We got veritable troughs of noodles and took them to a park overlooking the Thames.  We lounged in the sun for a couple of hours, eating and chatting and observing the other tourists.

Our view during lunch... not too shabby!

Eventually we made our way over to the Tower of London.  We only had about an hour inside, but we glided past the crown jewels and climbed up into the Bloody Tower, site of the incarceration and murder of Richard III’s two nephews.  A fitting visit, as I was still riding the Richard III high of the weekend.  We got the chance to wander along the walls for a few minutes before a kindly man in a funny outfit ushered us out.  I didn’t know before visiting that there are people who actually live at the Tower of London.  How way cool!  So, when I move to London, I’ll be moving in there.

part of the wall at the Tower of London

At the end of our Tower excursion, we met up with another friend from the program and went on a Jack the Ripper walking tour.  Our guide was scruffy and gruff and wearing a long, dark jacket which I’m quite sure he loved letting flap ominously around him as he walked.  The tour was creepy and gross and wonderful, just as you’d expect.

I guess I have London to blame for the plethora of reading material that seems to have magically appeared on my Kindle and on my bookshelves, including, but not limited to, a book about Jack the Ripper (will I ever actually want to read that gruesome and gory tale?), two books about the English monarchy, Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island, a history of London, and a Shakespeare biography.  I’d best get reading.  And, I suppose, I should probably get to work on my assignments for that UCL course…

Our last night as a group was spent eating and drinking in a pasta restaurant near UCL.  We comandeered an entire floor of the place and spent the evening being loud, rowdy, and raucous.  One of our Fearless Leaders even sang us a bawdy song about “the Bold Librarian.”  It was a delightful evening.  I only wish we could have stayed twice as long.

most of the UCL group on our last night together

Everything is better here.

July 1, 2011 § 2 Comments

Even the produce!  I’ve had the best strawberries of my life (repeatedly, and they are truly incredible) as well as mountains of other wonderful fruits.  Even their carrots are more delicious (and I don’t even like carrots)!  I swear, I’m not imagining this.  Maybe I’m just here at  the perfect time for produce, or maybe England is just better.  Also, why does the US not embrace hard cider more?  It’s ubiquitous here, and I love it.  Get on it, America!

Not to mention that history is 1000 times better.  Better, in this context, meaning “longer, more interesting, more present.”

The one complaint I put any stock into is that there isn’t a great deal of sun.  I have no problem with the frequent rain, overcast skies, or chilliness, but I do worry about my ability to stay sane and well adjusted if I don’t get regular amounts of sunlight in my life.  So far, no issues, but in the winter there are only 8 hours of sunlight in a day (right now, about 16, which is incredible, people, incredible).  Yikes.  But, I’m accustomed to 9 hour winter days in New Hampshire, so I suspect I could handle it.

Sometimes life gets in the way…

June 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

of blogging, that is.

I’ve had a busy week or so since last I blogged.  I think it’s probably hopeless for me to try to recap all of it in any amount of detail, but I’ll try to at least get the highlights.

On Sunday, I saw Shakespeare’s Richard III performed at the Old Vic.  Kevin Spacey was Richard III, and many of the other cast members were well known names in theater and some from film and television, too, although no one that I had much familiarity with (I blame my relative utter lack of knowledge of theater).  One such person is Gemma Jones, known best to me as Madam Pomfrey in the Harry Potter movies. :P  Do you suppose she hates being known for that small role when she’s a talented actress who has performed much more meaningful roles?

The show was fantastic!  Kevin Spacey is a top notch actor, which we all already knew, of course.  He delivered as expected, pulling off yet another role where he plays someone with physical deformity (okay, so, maybe his role in The Usual Suspects doesn’t actually technically count… but you know what I mean).  He really did a great job, although I thought his hump was rather fake looking.  Why don’t they use something Spanx like?  As in, a spandex t-shirt with a hump on the shoulder/back?  It would be smoother, I’m sure.  I suspect that, since no effect was spared, the hump’s fakeness may possibly have been intentional.  Or at least that it was supposed to be exaggerated… that would, after all, make a bit of sense.

Of good effects there were plenty: a man got convincingly drowned in a tub of water, there was some sort of screen onto which they projected various messages (typically the subject or location of the new scene), live accompaniment by musicians off stage, and live drumming by nearly the entire cast which was really stunning, and the list goes on.  Every major role was superbly executed (not intended as a pun, but alas, it is one anyway), and perhaps the most goosebump-inducing moment was when they hauled dead Richard III’s body (live Kevin Spacey’s body) into the air by the ankles.  He hung there for a whole scene, and his face didn’t even turn purple.  This may be a miracle of modern science, but you’ll have to ask Kevin Spacey.

Or ask Sam Mendes, the director, who is a genius.  He’s the director of American Beauty, Jarhead, Road to Perdition, and Revolutionary Road, all of which are amazing films.  He also directed Away We Go, which I have not yet seen but will soon.  It’s incredible that he pulls off such incredible work over and over again.  While all the performances in this production were great, the real impact of the show was the full effect, the execution of the scenes, which can only be attributed as a whole to him.  It really was an incredible experience.

I bought my ticket at the last minute and got a pretty crappy seat in the second gallery over fairly far to the right and in the back row; I could only see the left-hand half of the stage.  As soon as the lights went down, however, the couple next to me moved down a few seats to a spot that no one had claimed, and, thinking they were absolutely brilliant, I took the seat they’d vacated farthest to my left.  From there, I could see the whole stage nearly perfectly (there was a metal bar/railing that cut through my line of sight, but that’s the kind of thing that you stop noticing after about 30 seconds), with the exception of one tiny corner (which was only used once for anything vital), and by leaning a bit I could see that too.  It was such a stroke of good luck!  I had a wonderful view of the whole, fantastic production.

The intermission took place 2 hours into the show, and when the lights came up it felt as though about half an hour had passed.  I was so completely engrossed that I couldn’t believe I’d been sitting staring raptly for two full hours.  The production of Macbeth that I saw in Stratford-upon-Avon was also incredible, but I was much more aware of my surroundings there.  With this production, I repeatedly forgot that I was in a theater watching a show live; it wasn’t just that it was so flawless that I thought I might be watching a film or something like that; it was that it sincerely felt like it was all happening right in front of me.  When the lights went up at intermission and suddenly I was sitting in a theater, I was mildly surprised.

The only thing that marred my otherwise total delight with the show was the audience.  Of all the productions (big or little, professional or community, etc.) that I’ve ever seen, this audience was the rudest by far.  For those who are unfamiliar with theater, here is a helpful list of things that do not belong:

bags of groceries/souvenirs that you refuse to move when people try to walk by
food of any kind, particularly in noisy wrappers
Tic Tacs
bottles of soda
persistent and constant coughs (seriously, stay home if you’re that sick!)
conversation
cell phone use

Really, it was the most foul audience in the world.

I am also astounded (and this was true in Stratford, too) by the number of people who think they need to laugh loudly at every witticism in Shakespeare.  Yes, letting out an inappropriate guffaw does prove to the rest of the audience that you “get” Shakespeare… but honestly, not one of us cares if you get it or not.  The fact that you need to publicize it at every opportunity makes you way more of a tool than you’d be if you quietly wiled away the hours in confusion.  I’m not saying that audience members shouldn’t laugh when the play is funny, but when a witty insult is thrown in a serious, meaningful scene, please do not disrupt and distract by chortling loudly; it’s really not appropriate.  Thank you.  Additionally, shouting “go, Kevin!” while clapping does not convince anyone that you know him (if you did, you wouldn’t be in the second gallery, let’s face it) and only makes you sound like an overly familiar idiot.

Whew.  Glad I got that off my chest.  Now I can happily revel in the magic that is Sam Mendes’ work.  Seriously, that man is a creative genius.  I’m not throwing the term around lightly; he has earned it a thousand times over.  New life goal: see every live production directed by Sam Mendes, and every film, too.

I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to discover that I adore theater, but now that I’ve seen some really top notch performances I think I’ve caught the bug.  I’m increasingly happy that I live in a city (even if it is a tiny, provincial city like Boston, har har) and might stand a chance of seeing more on a regular (although perhaps not frequent) basis.  I’ve seen a number of shows of various sorts in Boston (the Lion King, Wicked, and the Nutcracker), but nothing has quite caught me like the performances I’ve seen here have.  Maybe it’s the difference between musical theater (or ballet or orchestral performances) and, um, non-musical theater (man, I’m really astounding you with my expertise, right?).  And maybe it’s the difference between local and small productions and big, professional productions.  Regardless, I’m obsessed.  Other new life goal: see every Shakespeare play performed at least once by a seriously excellent theater group.  I’d love to see non-Shakespeare, too, but it is just such an absolute pleasure to have his work come to life right before your eyes; it gives it so much more depth than reading it to yourself off a page ever could.  Reading a play is like listening to a film without visuals, or like listening to only one instrument in an orchestra.  It’s virtually meaningless.

In other news, I still love London.  I explored a bit of Soho today, and although I still have seen very little of London, each new bit that I discover, I love.  I am endlessly surprised with myself, as I never imagined I’d really like a giant city like this, but I absolutely do.

I can’t help but grin when I think of myself a year ago, a scared little country bumpkin, terrified of moving to Big Bad Cambridge and going to school in Bigger Badder Boston.  I was petrified of the city, not for any particular safety reasons or really for any particular reason at all; I was just convinced I would hate it and be uncomfortable.  I certainly was uncomfortable at first, but that’s to be expected (of me, anyway) of anywhere new that you move; you need some time to learn your way around, develop habits, find a way to be comfortable in new surroundings.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I fell into the rhythm of the city pretty quickly and easily.

I also can’t help smiling when I imagine what my reaction would have been a year or two ago if anyone had predicted that I’d pick up and go on a solo adventure around Europe and fall in love with London.  I’d say it’s like something out of my wildest dreams, but I honestly never dreamed it.  I’ve always dreamed of seeing the world, but the idea of traveling alone was more like a nightmare.  Now I never want to stop.  Sure, I miss my bed, I miss the rest of my clothing (8 shirts and 3 pants for 6 weeks gets old fast), I miss the familiarity of my own apartment, and I miss my people, but hell, it’s a small price to pay for the life I’m living at this moment.  A part of me wishes I’d discovered this self of mine sooner, but the rest of me knows this version of me didn’t exist before now.  I wondered completely sincerely earlier today, who am I becoming?  And “wonder” is really the only word for it; a tiny piece of my mind is sitting at the back watching the rest of me parade around boisterously and fearlessly and wondering how it happened (and then laughing with delight).

I’ll return to Boston on Saturday, half happy to get back into some semblance of a normal (read: boring) routine and half disappointed that this ever has to end.  At least I have the promise of celebrating the USA’s independence from Britain (wait, do I want to celebrate that? har har) with a good friend and fireworks followed closely by a visit with my family to look forward to.  But really, next year I hope I’m working on July 4th, completely firework free, and anticipating a visit from my family from across the pond. :)

402 days… a prophetic countdown?

June 21, 2011 § 2 Comments

Today was the second day of the course I’m taking.  I won’t rehash the details here, as I’ve already done so once on the blog I have to keep for the course.  In other news, I still love London.

I just looked out my window and noticed that, scrolling around the outside of a round tower on giant television screens, there is the following proclamation: “402 days to London 2o12.”  My understanding is that London 2012 is a huge, city-wide celebration of, you guessed it, London.  I did the intense math and realized that in actual reality, I could live here then (I will graduate in just under one year). :D  Anyone who has known me for more than 20 minutes knows that I change my life plan at the drop of a hat; there is no saying at this point whether this scheme to move to London (or another part of England) will develop into an actual course of action or if I’ll be sidetracked by something else before it comes to fruition (and I certainly will be the last to figure it out), but for the moment, plotting my future London life is highly appealing.

This is only day 1?

June 20, 2011 § 2 Comments

Today was the first day of my two week intensive about e-publishing.  The course is held at University College London, and students from three different Library Science schools in the states are participating.  I had assumed before arriving that there would also be UCL students participating in the course, but it turns out just to be 18 Americans.  The course it taught mainly by one UCL professor, with another UCL professor assisting and acting as administrator, and the dean and assistant to the dean of Pratt Institute are participating, too.

15 of the 18 students are from Pratt Institute in NYC.  1 is from University of Illinois Urbana Champagne, and 2 are from Simmons College (1 from the satellite campus hosted at Mt. Holyoke College and 1 from the Boston campus – that’s me!).  We’re discussing e-publishing and the impact it has on libraries as well as the impact libraries have on the e-publishing world.  The required product for the course is a website (blogs are acceptable – yes!) that includes a journal with an entry for each day of the course, a literature review of 5 sources, and a paper (not a research paper) about a theme or idea that strikes us as particularly interesting.  I am forced to admit that this might be the easiest course I ever take, ever.

It’s wonderful, though, when you don’t feel pressure to meet certain rigid assignments because you get to explore what interests you the most and experience genuine learning that isn’t motivated by grades or rules.  I’m excited for the course to develop, and I won’t pretend that I’m not also pleased to have a fairly easy workload (one journal entry a day for homework? sold.).  My understanding is that the literature review and paper are both due three weeks after the course ends in London.

Yesterday afternoon we were offered an optional tour of the Bloomsbury area conducted by a UCL graduate student in the Library Studies program.  Only six of the students made it to the tour, but the six of us chatted and tried to get to know each other while also trying to understand our Bloomsbury geography (I failed at the latter).  After an hour, our tour ended and the six of us went to a local pub to get a drink.  The UCL faculty had arranged reservations at this pub for us, so over the course of the next hour and half (we were early for the reservation), most of the other students trickled in.  Eventually 12 of us went out for Indian food for dinner, which was very good and a fun evening.  We might have had more fun, however, if we weren’t all exhausted from traveling and/or jet lag.  We made it an early night and found our respective ways back to our many different hotels and hostels.  Although we were able to get campus housing for most of our time here, we were not able to check in until today, so we all had to find another place to stay last night.

My day started at 6:30 when I got up to get ready and finish packing up all of my stuff.  It is incredible how much I can fit into my suitcase, and it is even more astonishing how fast it all gets piled around a hotel room.  I fear what will happen when I try to pack the Friday after next.  In some ways, July 1st seems like it’s just around the corner; two weeks isn’t a very long time, especially when I want to cram as much sightseeing into these two weeks as possible.  But on the other hand, knowing that we have almost the entire course left ahead of us makes it seem like an age.  It will fly by, I am certain (if my other two 2-week stints are any example), and in no time I’ll be mourning the end of this adventure.  Hell, I’m already mourning the fact that it has to end at all.  I’m completely in love with London.  I might “lose” my passport and just not be able to come back.  Or, I might just transfer to UCL.  At the very least, I’ve vowed a thousand times over that I’ll be returning, either for my Ph.D. or for work (or both).  I am in love, plain and simple.

I left my hotel at 7:30 and hauled 1,000 pounds of laundry and souvenirs to the dorm where I’ll be staying; my trek was in the company of another resident of the same dorm who happened to be staying in a hotel around the corner from mine last night.  Arriving just at 8:00, we dropped off our stuff and headed straight to the school.  Stopping for coffee along the way, we arrived around 8:20 and found that the 8:30 refreshments were already set up, and our administrator was happily waiting for the students to arrive.  You’ve never had refreshments until you’ve had fresh pastries that are still warm.

By 9, the real day began.  Our professor is a jolly man who claims to be the oldest active professor at UCL (he can’t say he’s the “oldest professor” because of professors emeritus who are older, but he’s the oldest who is still teaching).  He has a mop of mostly white hair and a long, curly white beard.  He reminds me hugely of my maternal grandfather, and I get a huge kick out of him.  He’s funny and a bit goofy, and he doesn’t seem to take anything too seriously, ever.

We spent the morning discussing course requirements, the plan for the course, information we need as newbies to London, and so on.  We also got a quick tour of the campus and got our student IDs.  My student ID picture is actually good.  It’s really remarkable.  I’m looking straight at the camera with a slightly bemused smile on my face.  If only every ID picture could be so flattering!

At the lunch break, my same friend from the dorm and I went to King of Falafel (a place I discovered while exploring yesterday).  I got a Lebanese falafel wrap, which was really delicious.  After lunch, we had a short session in which another member of the Department of Information Studies faculty spoke to us about user behavior in electronic environments.  His talk was very interesting, although we all agreed later that we were so tired by this afternoon that we were struggling to stay fully attentive.

We had a two hour break in which to recuperate which I used to check into my room and unpack a bit (and write my Stonehenge blog post – one has to have priorities!).  At 5:30, we were invited to an informal reception on campus where we had some snacky buffet foods for dinner (pork pies = not good, but smoked salmon sandwich = yum, and we won’t talk about the sushi) accompanied by plentiful wine.

After the reception, my dorm-y friend and I went to a nearby bookstore, Waterstone’s, which is absolutely ginormous.  It dwarfs any other bookstore I’ve ever been to, hands down.  It’s like heaven.  I had to resist buying too many books… but I did get myself an unfolding diagram of Shakespeare plots and family trees from all of his plays.  I’m embarrassed to admit to what degree I’m nerding out over Shakespeare lately… but it’s time I embrace it.

From the bookstore we headed back to our dorm, where I now sit typing this.  My room is okay, but I was spoiled as an undergrad by living in the newest, nicest dorms on campus.  This is no better or worse than most college dorms, however, with worn out but fully serviceable furniture and carpets.  The building has a very institutional feel about it, but we each get a single bedroom, and 5 bedrooms share two bathrooms (1 with a shower) and a kitchenette.  It’s a perfectly nice setup, especially for only two weeks.

There is no guarantee that the people you share the flat with are people in your program, though, and I’m quite sure no one in my flat is from my program.  I haven’t met my flatmates yet, but I have talked to everyone in the program about where they’re staying and as far as I know no one is in my flat.  There are at least two other people in the flat, however, and possibly a third.  The odd thing is that the dorm rooms are available just like hotel rooms in the summer, which means that I might have different flatmates every night, in theory.  It’s a little awkward, but everyone in the flat is in the same situation so there’s no point in being uncomfortable.

Everyone in the program seems friendly and nice.  No one has set him or herself apart as being aloof or snobby, although I think a couple of cliques are starting to emerge.  It’s hard to tell, since we’re still in day one (with yesterday being day zero, I guess), but it seems as though we’re likely to have a pleasant 2 weeks.  It’s a nice sensation to be sitting in a room of 22 people and feel happily comfortable with every one of them.  It’s not as though we’re all suddenly best friends, but we’re all friendly.

Oddly, however, today was only the second time during this whole trip that I’ve had any pangs of homesickness (or maybe it was loneliness, hard to distinguish).  Maybe it’s because in Spain I had the comfort of being with family and the past two weeks I’ve had the ease of being alone, but now that I’m in the getting-to-know-people stage, it makes it very noticeable that I don’t really know anyone.  It’s not a strong feeling, but just sort of the nagging recognition that I’m not actually close with anyone in the program.  It’s magnified by exhaustion, I am positive, and far outweighing that feeling is my excitement for the course and for the various adventures we have planned.  It may also either have been magnified or eased (or, perhaps in some way both) by talking to my sister for a while earlier (happy birthday!).  Like I said before, I’m sure two weeks will fly by and I’ll soon be horribly sad to leave.  In the mean time, I’m looking forward to sleeping for almost a full night.  I can promise you that no matter how sad I am to leave, I will most definitely enjoy being back in my own bed again.  Six weeks is a long time!

Stonehenge and ravens

June 20, 2011 § 1 Comment

Saturday morning I managed to catch the first bus from Salisbury to Stonehenge.  Once at Stonehenge, I was a little dismayed to find that the whole visit is very orchestrated.  You pick up an audio guide when you enter, which you then listen to as you view the stones.  You are made to walk around Stonehenge in a horseshoe shaped area, and as you progress there are numbered markers.  You punch that number into your audio tour device, and it spits out some bit of “tour” for you.

The audio tour is pretty revolting.  It’s watered down history that is intended to be palatable for anyone from about the age of 7 and up… which means that in reality it’s palatable for 7-10 year olds and anyone with the intelligence of a 7-10 year old.  Needless to say, I don’t believe I fall into that category.

I do find the history behind Stonehenge (and the various theories, as no one really knows for sure exactly how it was created, the exact original formation, or the exact use) fascinating, and the stones themselves do still have a distinct presence… but all of that was so overshadowed by the tourism of the place that it was almost obscured.  I couldn’t quite find the value and meaning in the experience.

I left feeling a bit let down, although glad that I’d seen it and experienced it for myself even if it wasn’t the most enlightening experience of my life.  As I was sitting on a bench waiting for the next bus back, a raven (ok, may have been a big crow, but raven sounds better, right?) flapped down and landed on the back of the bench within arms reach of me.  It turned it’s enormous head slightly in my direction, eyeing me with it’s beady, flashing black eye.  My attention was focused on its long, sharp beak, glossy feathers, and the aura of power it gave off.  I’ve always loved crows even though I know many people dislike them.  I’ve also heard that one crow is good luck (while group of crows – a murder of them, to be correct – is bad luck).  As I was sitting exchanging looks with this crow, I felt like I was being tested.  Would I look it in the eye? Stay steadily where I was and show no fear?  Or would I jump, flap my hands, flinch, look away?  I held it’s gaze with a keen awareness of it’s ability to injure me (its beak a stark reminder) mingled with a sense of excitement and the distinct need to pass this test, and after a long moment it flapped away.  It wasn’t there for long, but long enough so at least one other person noticed our proximity and watched our exchange.

I got the impression that perhaps I should have showed more respect to Stonehenge.  Or that the message was: “don’t take us lightly, human.”  “Us” being some greater body than crows.

Although the touristic crap of the place was irritating, on the whole I’m immensely glad I went.  After the visit, I returned to Salisbury to fetch my luggage, and I stopped for a moment to take some pictures of Salisbury Cathedral.  From there, I returned to London to prepare for the third portion of my adventure: a two week intensive course about e-publishing hosted at UCL.

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