Monday, November 30, 2009

The Magic Formula

I had trouble concentrating all day.  I sat in the English Faculty Library for most of it, taking notes on esoteric postcolonial theory and willing my eyes to stay open just a few minutes more.

I took an hour-long nap this afternoon, which is short for me.  With dinner, I drank a Diet Coke, and I bought one an hour or so later in the JCR bar.

The combination has been something fierce.

It is ten 'til five in the morning.  I have yet to go to bed.  I am alert, high-functioning, and feeling more productive than I have in several weeks.  Why waste the energy?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ballin'


Where has the term gone?  I’m inexplicably heading into 8th week… and then I’m off to Italy for a week, and then I’m home for Christmas!  Didn’t I just get here?  I’m definitely looking forward to a break, but I’m so glad I get to come back to this place afterwards.

This past week was an absolute whirlwind, mostly revolving around the RAG ball on Thursday night.  I spent my days reading Hamlet and King Lear furiously, trying to get my work done ahead of time so it wouldn’t be hanging over my head during the ball.  I also spent too much time looking for a new dress, and decided in the end to wear the one I brought with me.  So in the end, I only paid £11.50 to get my dress cleaned and to buy new tights, a headband, and a bracelet.  Much better decision.

Thursday itself was a great day, even through all the stress of essay-writing.  Since our rowing outing got canceled, we had a little team breakfast in the JCR, comprised only of CRUMPETS.  Crumpets are a British phenomenon, whose closest American comparison would be an English muffin.  Rosie and Fran were kind enough to buy them and toast them and teach us how to drench them in butter and smear them with jam… glorious.  Perfect start to the day.
Thursday night the Americans gathered for Thanksgiving dinner at the Spencer House, where the Columbus State kids live.  FOOD. EVERYWHERE.  I haven’t eaten that much since… well, probably last Thanksgiving.  Everything was so delicious—even the corn casserole Megan and I concocted.  We had a Paula Deen recipe, but creamed corn and cornbread mix don’t exist in the UK, so we had to improvise.  We used all regular corn and something called Rock Cake mix and some interesting kind of cheese and an oven that has its temperatures listed in Celsius.  In spite of all this, Liz, the corn casserole aficionado, gave us an A+.
After stuffing myself, I had to get myself into my dress, put on some makeup, and Julia and I went down to the Town Hall for the RAG ball.  RAG stands for Raise and Give—they’re an Oxford organization that raises and distributes money to different charities, and the ball was one of their big fundraisers.  There were a TON of Regent’s kids there, and everybody looked gorgeous—girls in pretty dresses, boys in tuxedos.
As we walked up the giant staircase, a female a capella group called In the Pink serenaded us, and as we entered the Hall, we were greeted with a free glass of champagne.  There were jugglers, musicians, ballroom dancers, and free food as far as the eye could see—Krispy Kremes, cookies, G&D’s ice cream, waiters circulating trays of sausages and quiche.  Sadly, I was SO FULL that I couldn’t eat ANY of it!  I was so disappointed, but I really felt like curling in the fetal position in the corner as it was.
A University jazz group played, and they were fantastic—definitely the highlight of the night.  Two other bands played later in the night—the first was okay, the second I only stayed for a couple of songs, but they were good.
Here's the album for the night.

Friday morning came way too early, and I still had an essay to finish for my tutorial at noon.  I have yet to write a paper I’m satisfied with, and this week was no exception.  My tutor is absolutely fantastic, though, and we spent our hour working through a close reading of Hamlet, so I could get more of an idea of the approach I should be taking in my papers.  Hopefully this week will be better.
Friday afternoon we had a tank session with our delightful rowing coach, and get this—it was almost enjoyable.  It was surprisingly helpful, and we even got a compliment!  After rowing for a bit, he said, “Easy there.  Hm.  That was actually pretty good.”  Then the world ended.  I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of it, and the season is over.  Figures.
Last night the Regent’s Park gospel choir, of which I am a member, sang at Formal Hall and it was SO MUCH FUN.  We sang two African spirituals from the balcony, and then after the starter we sang “Down to the River to Pray” and “Salve Regina” from Sister Act.
Once I got my food, I had to scarf it down, because we had Cuppers!  It’s a theater festival featuring thirty-minute performances from all the colleges.  It’s been going on since Tuesday, and ours was the last to perform.  It went so well, and we had a packed house of Regent’s supporters.  It was fantastic.
Saturday was so low-key.  Slept til noon and felt like a new woman, then went to the Ashmolean Museum with Megan and Annie, and after two hours we hadn’t even seen half of it.  I’m excited to go back eventually.  Italy planning followed the museum, and we have almost all of the details nailed down!  I can’t believe this is my life.  I’ll be in ROME in a WEEK!
Today I cleaned, and as I left my house for our football game, I got a text saying it was canceled due to a waterlogged pitch.  We rescheduled for a kickabout in the parks, and we ended up playing four-on-four in the mud and rain.  It was awesome.  My trainers are absolutely disgusting, and I spent my fair share of time sliding to the ground.  Oh, vocabulary lesson time!  Forget sweatpants—they’re called tracky-bums.  The spelling is questionable.  But work that into your next conversation.
After we played, we went to the Turf Tavern for lunch, since they agreed to sponsor us!  They’re donating a bunch of money to help fund warm-up suits and the like.  And they hinted that if we hold enough socials there, they’ll start giving us details.
By the time I got home, I was in the throes of hypothermia.  I was soaking wet and freezing cold, and only a hot shower saved my life.  I went to college for tea time, intending to do work, and instead watched Love Actually, which was fabulous, and ate pizza and sat around.
I’ve done ZERO work this weekend… and I have two essays still ahead.  Oh dear.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Think you don't know Shakespeare?

Thanks to Wikipedia, I just learned that The Lion King is basically Hamlet with some hyenas, meerkats, and wart hogs thrown in.

But if I remember correctly, Nala doesn't die... Simba doesn't die... Timon and Pumba don't die...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The continued adventures...

Rather than attempt to give you a chronological breakdown of the past two weeks, I’m just going to give it to you by categories.  Per usual, it's long-winded, so the fun begins after the jump.


Rowing
Last Monday was just the crème de la crème of my rowing experiences.  It rained on us all the way down to the boat house, and the river was pretty angry-looking.  It was also the first time the group of us novices were to brave the river on our own—no experienced rower to tell us what to do.  As we stood at the door to the boathouse, in the pitch black morning, watching other crews struggle to get their boats in the water, we felt paralyzed.  Someone else’s coach approached us and asked if we had a spare light.  We said we didn’t, and then asked if the flag had been changed.  If there had been a blue flag over the river, we wouldn’t be allowed to go out with a novice cox.  This coach, though, told us they don’t usually change the flag until 8am.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “It doesn’t look like novice conditions to me.  Be careful.”
We got the boat out and got it into the water.  It was still pouring.  The amount of money I paid for my Marmot shell was completely and utterly worth it—even if that morning had been the only time I would ever wear it.
We climbed in the boat and grabbed onto the raft; Beth, our cox, strapped on her mic and got in her seat.  At this point, the heavens unleash the downpour becomes torrential.  We are instinctively huddled over in our seats, fighting to keep our hands from slipping off the raft.  “Okay,” Beth says.  “If anyone’s uncomfortable with this, speak now.”  No one said anything.  “Right then,” she said.  “Push off.”  As soon as we let go, the boat started shooting away, faster than we’d ever felt it before.  “Hold it!” Beth yelled.  “I can’t do this.  I do not feel comfortable coxing in this weather.  Let’s bring it in.”  We pulled on the raft to bring ourselves forward, and that’s when our darling coach decided to chime in from the opposite bank.
“What are you doing?” he yelled.
“Bringing it in!” Beth yelled back.  “I don’t feel comfortable going out in this weather!”
“I don’t see any other crews having trouble!” he said, as the river raged around us.  “This is nothing!”  He really is a charming fellow.
Beth took a deep breath. “Fine,” she said.  “Let’s push off.”
We did, and fought with all of our might to stay in some semblance of rhythm until we could get to the turnaround point.  After we spun, we pulled next to the bank so our enchanting coach could inspire us with his supremely motivational oration.
“What the hell was the hold-up this morning?” he asked.
One girl raised her hand and apologized for being late.  And Beth said, “We didn’t know if the flags had changed.  We didn’t know if we were allowed out.”
“You all are a bunch of pansies,” coach replied.  “This is lovely weather.  I don’t know what you were thinking.”
“Well, this is our first outing as all novices,” Beth said.
“So?” he replied.  I’ll spare you the rest of his rant, but a lot of it was about us not wasting time in the morning.  Note the irony of his long-winded speech in this context.
As we kept rowing, the rain eventually stopped, and we eventually started sweating.
We had to come into the dock before ours, and we ran sock-footed in the sloshy grass to fetch our shoes.  When we rocked the boat up out of the water and over our heads, all the rain that had been accumulating inside flowed right down the back of my neck.
By now, the sky was beginning to clear.  And we were absolutely giddy.  While it was the worst morning we had ever experienced, we experienced it together.  It was exhilarating.  We laughed all the way down the path, and as we crossed the bridge we were rewarded with this:




Even the uplifting words of our coach (“You’re going to get laughed at at the Regatta when everybody sees you can’t row.”) couldn’t destroy the warm joy that had mysteriously planted itself underneath our drenched clothing.  A few of us stopped at Starbucks on the way back up, and somehow it turned out to be a perfect start to the day.
Since then, we’ve had two outings get canceled due to weather and a race.  And whether or not we’re competing in the Christ Church regatta this week is still questionable.  Stay tuned.


Tutorials
Shakespeare is still kicking my butt.  I really enjoy reading the plays, but I can never quite get a grasp on anything intelligent to write.  This past week I had Richard III, which I really liked, and Richard II, which was the most boring thing I’ve ever read in my life.  I would have preferred sandpaper to my eyeballs.
Postcolonial was fantastic this week.  I read Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I would recommend it to everyone—specifically if you like African literature.  Adichie is a Nigerian woman, and Purple Hibiscus is an incredible first novel.  I felt like some secret had been unlocked, like I somehow held a critic’s key that allowed me to open up the text and take out everything I found.  I was up late writing my essay, but only because I had so much to say.  I cut myself off at 2700 words so I could go to bed.  But during our discussion, I got to bring up other things I had intended on writing, and she seemed to offer encouragement.  Specifically, she said, “I like that imagery,” but that’s the most affirmation I’ve received from her.  This book, though, makes me want to work on a paper for Colloquium Day senior year or do a senior research project.  I don’t know what it is about postcolonial literature that I love so much, but I’m going to be considering a Master’s in it.

The Weather
It rains. So much.  I expected it, that being the England stereotype and all, but it’s ridiculous.  Thankfully, though, I’m not having the adverse emotional reaction I had been anticipating.  Days of sunshine are few and far between, and I actually feel unsettled when they happen—like I should be out lying in the sun instead of staring at it through the window.  I’ve also given up on trying to battle the weather.  I can never be prepared.  For starters, I somehow made it to the UK without an umbrella.  My Marmot has a hood, which is helpful, but I don’t always wear it.  Usually I’m wearing my Eddie Bauer fleece, which is water repellant, and my head and feet just get soaking wet.  That’s just the way it’s going to be.

Football
You may remember from my last post that I joined the football (ahem, soccer) team.  I was looking for a team sport that was about having fun, with a little competition thrown in.  We had a game today, in the rain, and even though we lost 7-0 we played so well and had so much fun.  I miss my cleats; it’s always muddy and I feel like I’m running in slo-mo just because I can’t keep my footing in trainers.  And I played midfield today, which is a lifetime first in any sport, so I had lots of muddy running and sliding.  The girls on the team are so encouraging for each other, and it’s fun to witness the types of things Brits yell from the sidelines.  I yelled “Good D!” today and got some funny looks.  Anyways, it’s brilliant fun.

The Internet
Please recall that I arrived on September 29th.  Also please recall that Internet was supposed to get installed this past summer, while no one was living in the flat.  After weeks of being the squeaky wheels, we finally got some grease—the men were scheduled to come install the line this past Tuesday.  They told IT Bob they’d be by between 8 and 1.  I woke up at 7:30, sat in my living room until 12:45, and they did not show.
That evening, Megan stopped me and said she had spoken with the other woman now in charge of our situation, and apparently the men did show at 2:30.  They called IT Bob, he arrived, and they informed him that they wouldn’t be able to install the line that day after all.  They didn’t realize how big of a job it was supposed to be—apparently, they were going to have to blast up pavement, which would require permits from the city council, which would require a land survey… basically, we’re not getting Internet until next term.
I was livid.
Thankfully, I have awesome parents who have been itching to get involved, and I finally opened the gate for my dad to send a strongly worded letter.  That seemed to have some kind of an effect, for our neighbor is graciously allowing us his password for the wireless as a temporary solution.  It’s not fair that they still have a bill to pay and we’re having to piggyback on them.
But, I am on the Internet while sitting on my own couch… a phenomenon I never thought possible.
And I am able to look back and say that being forced to go to college for Internet made me more present, which meant I made friends quickly instead of sitting in my bed on Skype all the time.

Other Fun Stuff
-I did a psychiatric study that paid ten pounds an hour, plus travel expenses—meaning I finally rode an Oxford bus!  The researcher was a woman named Louisa, and she was really sweet.  I had three sessions—the first was just a basic mental health screening.  The second was a three-hour MEG scan.  I put on pajamas, sat in a comfy chair in a dark room, and had my head up a huge white scanner.  I had a clicker button in my right hand, and I had to do different exercises on the screen in front of me.  It was hard, and I was exhausted, and I had so much trouble staying awake.  During the break time, Louisa made me a cup of tea and I vented to her about rowing.  So after the final section of the scan, she sat down on the floor and gave me pointers!  So helpful, and it didn’t involve the stupid squatting our dumb coach does all the time.  Anyways, the third session of the study was an MRI, and I had trouble staying awake during that as well.  All in all, fun experience, and I’m getting money soon!

-This was the week of birthday extravaganzas.  Tuesday was Stacy’s birthday; Wednesday was Oli’s, David’s, and Charles’s; Thursday was Megan’s; Friday was Corey’s; Saturday was Fran’s and Perry’s.  NUTS.  Wednesday night Oli had a group go to the Gourmet Burger Kitchen for dinner, and then we went to the King’s Arms afterwards.  GBK was unbelievable.  One of the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life.  The King’s Arms was cool too; we just sat around and talked.  On Saturday, we went to a place called Brown’s for brunch for Fran’s and Perry’s birthday.  I missed my chance to experience a traditional English breakfast… I have no idea what I was thinking.  My bacon sandwich was delicious, though.

-I’m doing a one-act play for the Cuppers competition this Friday.  Only first-years and visiting students can be in it, and our one-act is written and directed by one of our own, Marchella!  She’s a sweet girl, and the show is awesome.  Well-written, funny, apt, etc.

-Last Friday we had a toga party in the JCR after Formal Hall, and the Cambridge kids were here for the weekend!  Claire and Ally came to the party, which was fantastic, and then they spent the night.  So great.  Saturday night the Stanley Road kids hosted a bonfire, which turned out to be a gigantic fire on the grill, but it was a blast.  We educated everyone in s'mores, but we had to compromise with pink marshmallows and chocolate Digestives.  Graham crackers don't exist here.  Still, they were delicious.

-I’ve been volunteering at St Aldates Church on Wednesday mornings to play with babies while their mums are in Bible study.  They are adorable.  One little boy told me he was going to play with blocks, and I asked him if he was going to build a house.  “No!” he said.  “I’m going to build a cottage!”
Last week, I played with a little girl named Magdalene all morning.  She was so precious, and really bright for her age.  During snack time, I noticed that someone smelled a little interesting, but I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from.  Just then, Magdalene shot out of her chair and went running across the room.  I chased her, and picked her up and hugged her, carrying her back to her chair.  When I set her down, the special smell was even stronger.  That’s when I saw the brown streak on my shirt.  Instinctively, I smelled the spot, and tried not to retch on the spot.  I knelt down and felt Magdalene’s bum.  Sure enough, her poo had squished through her nappy, through her tights, through her skirt… onto my favorite yellow and white striped shirt. I didn’t have time to go home, so I tried to wash my shirt in the sink with apple and pomegranate hand soap. What a brilliant way to start the day.

-Tonight was another fantastic cultural experience.  At Regent’s Park, there are three third-years named Sam Evans, Dan Evans, and Sarah Evans.  They’re not related, but they’re best friends and they live together.  Tonight they invited Adrienne and me to come to dinner, and we watched the third and fourth episodes of the BBC 1988 miniseries version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  It was hilarious.  Let’s just say that the new versions definitely spoil us.  After that we ate spaghetti and a chocolate tart and had great conversation.  Lovely evening all around.

-Last week Megan, Corey, and I ventured to the top of St. Mary the Virgin’s tower, which provides a breathtaking 360-degree view of Oxford.  Who knew the city was surrounded by hills?  We paid our three pounds, hiked the million stairs to the top… and my camera died.  I got one shot, and that was that.  Story of my life.




-I bought new shoes.  My favorite yellow Nikes were falling apart and I was turning into a cripple.  I got purple/lime green/pink Onitsuka Tigers.  Sweeeet.

-I’m (hopefully) going to a ball on Thursday night!  It’s the RAG ball, and the ticket sales all go to charity.  I just have to find a dress that fits and that I can afford.  Which leads me to the Debenham’s story.  It’s a department store, and they had a massive sale on yesterday.  I tried on nine dresses… and NONE fit!  The sizes are different here, and I’m pretty sure British girls must not have butts.  I tried on a 16 and it was huge, so I tried on a 14 and it was sooo tight across my bum.  Every single dress was that way, and I’m pretty sure I’m not really that out of proportion.  Not sure what I’m going to do… I don’t even know where to look!


I’m sure I forgot loads… my brain is just jam-packed these days.  I also take requests.
As always, here's the photo album link.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mania

The next two weeks are going to be incredibly busy, but I'm going to write more as soon as I can.

Things you can look forward to:

1) Rowing update
2) A psychiatric study
3) Baby poop

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Overheard

As I roamed the second quad of Balliol College last night, looking for footie girls and pizza, I caught a snippet of conversation that made me weak in the knees.  Two handsome young blokes were walking toward me, one looking pensive and the other quizzical.

"Yeah," the first one said. "But do you even like her?"
"Enormously," the other replied.  "Enormously."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Breakthrough


The week got off to a sleepy start, and it was an arduous fight to keep my head above water the whole week long.

Monday morning my alarm went off at 5:30, only four hours after I’d crawled into bed after Skyping in college.  I got up and put my sweats on over my long underwear, and Megan and I were out the door by 5:45.  We walked the forty-five minutes to the boathouse, getting there just as the sun was starting to peep over the horizon and illuminate the scattered clouds.