Monthly Archives: May 2015

25/5/15 – No Average Days in Oxford

Oop, slightly late post this time. Last night I went to Port & Policy and then watched Poltergeist in 3D… and was surprisingly not scared at all? So that was cool.¬†It’s the second horror movie I’ve watched in as many nights! Who knew I would come out of Oxford such a changed person? ūüėõ

But actually, the reason I didn’t write anything last night was because I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about. This morning¬†I realized that my friend from home, Callan (just finished studying in Philly!¬†, had a great idea: A Day in the Life.¬†So, I started writing one out, and then I realized that each day is so different it’s hard to describe an average day! I wake up anywhere between 7:30am and 11:30am (depending on whether or not I have a tutorial, and how much work I have gotten done), I go to bed any time between midnight and 3 or 4am, and in between– well, I eat my meals different places, with different groups of people, I switch up where I study, and I almost always have some unexpected event. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve had¬†a single day here where everything has gone according to plan. But here’s a taste of what an average, non-tutorial day might look like!

10-10:30: wake up, check phone (ug I never used to do this, it’s only recently become a habit… ah well)

10:30-11:15: go for a run in the gorgeous University Parks, listening to my running playlist, which includes “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons, “Shake It Off” by Florence and the Machine, “Get Luck” by Daft Punk, and a bunch of other good pump-up songs (recently realized that what I thought was a 1-mile lap around the parks is actually 2 miles, so I’ve been running about twice as far as I thought I was!)

11:15-12:00: cool down, do core strengthening exercises, stretch, shower, eat some yogurt/a banana/small bowl of cereal

12:00-12:45: make a plan for the day, if I haven’t already; respond to emails, take care of any chores that need to get done

12:45-13:15: eat lunch in Hall with other visiting students and sometimes a few British students

13:15-16:15: study in the comfy chairs in Caf√© Nero at Blackwell’s (my favorite study spot ever); order a Hot Chocolate Milano (mmmmm),¬†read ~60 pages of Ulysses, brainstorm and research for Creative Writing

16:15-17:00: go for a walk with one of my friends, discuss our plans for the future, analyze personality differences, share stories of our past, take in the beauty of Oxford

17:00-19:00: another study session; look up articles and books for next paper, read through and take notes, outline my paper and collect important quotes and bibliographical information

19:00-20:00: eat formal dinner in Hall

20:00-22:00: more studying; catch up on whatever I haven’t finished, try to get ahead on my reading; goal by the end of the day:¬†write 500-1000 words combined for¬†the papers/writing pieces for each of my¬†tutorials

22:00-23:00: meet up in the JCR (Junior Common Room) for drinks and a break

23:00-24:00: watch Game of Thrones with the group of people who follow the show

24:00-1:00: head back to my room, check in with my roommate and decompress/talk about our days, work through thoughts that have been bothering us

1:00-1:30: get ready for bed; listen to some music, do some reading, maybe write out some thoughts on the day

1:30-2:00: set alarm for the next day, draw the curtain between my section of the room and my roommate’s, fall asleep in my cozy bed ūüôā

It sounds so chill when I write it out like that! It feels like there is much more happening– and I think often there is (and I do have to spend quite a few hours each day working, and always several days a week in libraries rather than caf√©s so that I can check out books for research). I just love the flexibility of it all– as long as I make sure I have time for work, the rest of the day is up to me! And there are so many amazing things to do. In the next few weeks, I’m looking forward to more circus and figure drawing, a trip to Manchester to go to a barbecue festival and see The Heavy (alt rock band), an outing to London to watch As You Like It at The Globe theatre,¬†hearing a cello concerto and the 1812 Overture in concert, annnnd about 800 pages more of Ulysses and¬†several dozen pages of writing. It’s gonna be great.

17/5/15- Falling Faintly, Faintly Falling

Wow. So… #1 thing that is rough about studying abroad at Oxford: when literally everyone else on the planet (by which I mean students at most U.S. colleges) finish up in May, and¬†in Oxford you still have… a good month left of heavy reading and essay writing. XP Once this week is up, I will be starting on Ulysses, and my work load will be increasing significantly, so… that is going to be fun.

What’s really making it hard to focus, though, is that I feel like my social group here has had all of the drama that would happen over an entire four years at school at home, shoved into 2 short terms. Particularly in the last couple days, a lot has happened, and I am struggling to know how best to support my friends, to take care of myself, to continue to build my relationships with everyone, to balance it all…

And I’m realizing how little I understand loss.

One of my friends here is going through an incredible loss at the moment, and I’m watching everyone try to support her, telling her there is a reason for everything and it will make sense at some point, that she’ll bounce back like she always does… and I don’t know. I can’t tell her that there’s a reason for everything; I don’t know that. I am… left without words. Trying to communicate in gestures: a hug, a gift, a gaze.

It’s odd, I think,¬†to relate a situation so personal to what I’m studying¬†in my tutorial, but it’s also something I can’t quite avoid doing. I’ve been speaking a lot with my tutor about how Joyce, especially in Dubliners, communicates almost entirely through underlying feelings, created by patterns of repetition and webs of association; the words alone aren’t enough to say what he is trying to say. I struggled with Joyce quite a bit when I first read him in high school; this time around seems vastly different. He is a master of using words to communicate something that cannot be communicated in words. I am trying to bring that into my own writing as I work on short stories this term, but it’s so hard. I’m trying to bring that into my interactions with others, and that is an equal if not greater challenge.

I read “The Dead” this week– or rather, reread it, as I’d read it once before in high school, and thought it overrated– and the ending nearly brought me to tears. I couldn’t say exactly what it was; the distance between each of the characters, maybe, the way that they continually missed each other, missed the signs each was trying to send, found themselves feeling the right thing at the wrong time. And that last line: “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.” Damn. Just the sound– read it aloud and the sound of it (saying nothing for the literal meaning of the words), the repetition of those “s” and “f” sounds creating a background of “fffssss,” like snow falling, holds its feeling.

For my essay, I’m tying “The Dead” back to the work I did with Heidegger and phenomenology last term: the idea of “death” or “demise” as not a literal death, but rather

‚Äúthe experience of existential world collapse that occurs when we confront the ineliminable anxiety that… emerges from the uncanny fact that there is nothing about the structure of the self that can tell us what specifically to do with our lives‚ÄĚ (Iain Thompson, “Death and Demise in Being and Time”).

That is a lot of words, but basically it’s the¬†idea that¬†being is inherently tied to non-being;¬†we live in a world of possibilities, and the fulfillment of one possibility (by choice or otherwise) is necessarily the nullification of the others (multiverse theory might beg to differ, but I’m not going to go there). To recognize this, and to recognize that there may be no reason for one possibility over the others, is for Heidegger a sort of “death.” Yet it is this “death” which he believes allows one to live authentically, to be in touch with oneself and one’s place among the world, among others.

I really don’t have a great way to end this post. Funnily enough, we’ve laughed a lot today– more than I’ve laughed in a long time. I think maybe laughter is one of the parts of loss that I didn’t really understand. At least not in words.

So I’m going to end, as I often do, with a song. This one starts with laughter, and (like “The Dead”) isn’t quite the kind of “Death” you think it will be:

“What’s the difference between my love or scheme?¬†The difference in¬†what you say or¬†mean? What do you mean you don’t really know?”

Full lyrics:

10/5/15 – Port, Policy, and… Potties?

Mmmkay so I might have had a few glasses of port before writing this, so here’s to happy, rambly¬†Lizzy! (literally when I was walking back¬†to Catz my friend asked me about my trip to Barcelona, and I somehow started ranting about modern dance? I am not sure how that connection was made in my brain. Prepare for a fun blog post)

Tonight we finally went to the Oxford University Conservative Association’s Port & Policy event, a weekly meeting at which attendees are offered unlimited port as they listen to members debate a variety of political issues. This week, given the fact that UK elections just happened (Conservative David Cameron remains Prime Minister), the debates centered around what led to the results of the elections.

And yes, if you know me, you know that joining the Oxford University Conservative Association is one of the last things I could be expected to do, but this event seems so quintessentially Oxford that I had to give it a go (also, 5 pounds for unlimited port? Cheap student says yes please).

And in fact, it was really really interesting. It is basically a lot of very British and somewhat-to-very drunk students in a room shouting “SOUND” and “SHAME” (for support¬†and dissent, respectively) as one very brave student stands up and speaks either in favor of or opposition to whatever proposal is being considered. I appreciated the few brave Labour Party supporters who stood up and said their piece, and I was impressed by the fact that lots of the conversation revolved around being able to debate and discuss issues (albeit¬†without the clearest of mindsets) rather than setting one group as the clear right or wrong choice.

Video Sample Here: Port and Policy

Speaking of which (and the rambly Lizzy shows up, changing topic without any actual connection but simply because it is what her mind jumped to), I think I have learned almost as much about America as I have about Britain. Probably more, actually. Which is something I think Study Abroad people said, and I was like yeah yeah sure, just get me to England.

But actually, I have had the most amazing conversations with my American friends, who come from all over the country and bring very different perspectives from what I’m used to in my liberal West Coast bubble. For instance, once of my close friends here is from Kentucky (horse capital of the world), and man I never thought I’d learn so much about Kentucky, or moreover that learning so much about it would make me actually want to visit. Her entire lifestyle is so far from what I am used to, and yet in some ways we are so similar. We both decided to become vegetarian, we both ended up at high-achieving, high-pressure liberal arts schools, we both have a deep commitment to social issues, we are two of the most introverted members of our friend group here, as well as two of the most introspective. I feel so safe telling her things, because she listens without judging, and somehow we are able to connect despite our differences. I have been astounded again and again by how accepting my Kentuckian friend is of my radical views, despite how different her own are, and it has made me recognize many of the prejudices I hold.

You may recall, as I do, that in an earlier blog post I wrote that I was surprised by how liberal England is said to be, and how I found that to perhaps not be the case (at least in some of the areas I am, which, to be fair, are about as aristocratic as you can get). And I think I have learned a lot from this interaction with conservative views, both from back in the States and from England.

Speaking of things that continue to baffle me in England, have I mentioned toilets?

Yes, toilets.

I do not know how this came to be the case, but I am pretty sure that there is some sort of taboo against any toilet manufacturer in the UK producing the same toilet twice. No joke: every. single. toilet. is. unique.

Like, I remember when I was little and I used to read that picture book, The Princess and the Potty, about the princess who has to try out every single potty until she finds the one that is just right. And I swear, England is that princess. Some toilets are round, some are square, some are oval, some are strange elliptical shapes. And the flushing mechanisms! Who knew you could invent so many different flushing mechanisms! Chains, handles, automatic censors, buttons on the toilet, buttons on the wall– every single type of button imaginable, mind you, of all shapes, sizes, colors. Some even have double buttons, depending how how much you would like the toilet to flush (although I’ve found these never seem to work particularly well).

They seem to have a thing for buttons, as a matter of fact. Because they apparently prefer to press buttons instead of actually opening doors.

This is another thing that continues to baffle me. Now, maybe this is just specifically at Oxford, maybe there is some completely sensible security reason, but they seem to have an opposition to, well, literally just pushing/pulling open doors. Many of the doors in the college cannot be opened by application of manual force. Instead, you have to walk up to the door, and push a button next to it. Then you have to stand there and wait for the door to open itself.

I don’t see how this makes it more difficult for anyone to break in, because literally all you do is push the button instead of pushing the door.

Maybe they figure any intruders will just give up because it takes so freaking long for the door to open.

Ahem. Well I think that is enough rambling for now. I have stayed up really late for a couple nights in a row, and I need to actually get some work done tomorrow. English Faculty Library, here I come!