A bit of Silliness

astonishing-the-godsLast night I read Ben Okri’s Astonishing the Gods while I was stood up waiting to Skype with Kelly. He won the Booker prize with The Famished Road, which I have not read, but Astonishing the Gods was delightfully… different. The unnamed narrator sets off from his home after he discovers that he, and all his people, are invisible, in order to discover the secret of visibility. After seven years he arrives at an enchanted island, of which all of its inhabitants are in fact invisible. His exploration of the city is a journey that tests and stretches one’s understanding of creativity and nothingness, a philosophy expounded by color and impossibilities. It is a utopia not unlike Sir Thomas More’s, except incredibly different, beyond the bounds of imagination, more of an ambiguous utopia than Le Guin’s ever was. Because I read it all in one great gulp, I’m sure some of its meaning has been lost to me: even with my imagination, I can only invert my sense of color and walk on air for so long. But with each chapter consisting of only one or two pages, it was easy to race ahead instead of pausing long enough to consider the ponderous paradoxes.

‘And sometimes—very rarely—but sometimes nonetheless, our highest creative arts, our highest playfulness, our self-overcoming, our purest art, our ascending songs, by some mysterious grace transcend so many boundaries and enter so many realms that we occasionally astonish even the gods.’

Today, in my continued denial break, Felicity and I browsed through the DVDs in the library and found several that were Region 1 or Region 0 (meaning that we can play them on our American computers). We watched Knights of the Round Table, which claimed to be based on Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, and King Arthur, which didn’t. As amusing as it was, Knights of the Round Table was about as based on Malory’s Le Morte as any Arthurian movie is, and I much prefer the latter to the former, even if King Arthur has very little basis in medieval legend. I also found yet another film soundtrack that I would like…

Between movies, I ran over to the chip shop to get fish & chips for dinner. It was amazing to go out without a coat at 7 PM and still have it be bright outside. The chip shop was busy, and a local woman struck up a conversation with me while we waited for our food. Once I established that I was a postgrad, we complained about the undergraduates and holiday makers and exchanged April Fool’s stories. She told me one that the BBC did (she forgot to mention it was in 1957!) about the bumper Spaghetti tree harvest in Switzerland.

March went out like a lamb, and I wish you all a ridiculous April 1st. Have some oranges.

At Random

The roasted potato recipe that I made last year for Passover was one of the best discoveries I’ve made. I’ve tweaked it a little bit, but basically, you halve new potatoes, roll them around in olive oil and garlic salt, and pop them in the oven for 20-30 minutes. Basically any meal including roasted potatoes will make me happy. I’m really enjoying my dinner right now: rosemary chicken, broccoli, and a double helping of roasted potatoes, mm…

beginning_placeI read The Beginning Place by Ursula K. Le Guin on Thursday. I have read nine novels and two short story anthologies by Le Guin so far, and The Beginning Place is the first that I can say I disliked overall. There is usually something I can complain about in her shorter novels (the main complaint being that she could have developed the cultures further, instead of just using them as a backdrop), but usually I can point to a sentence that is just absolutely perfect, that resonates, an image of beauty, that would redeem the work. Not so with The Beginning Place. The premise was really promising, but I recommend it only to avid Le Guin fans. The only thing that did not disappoint me was that it followed her pattern of the public, then solitary journey. Perhaps I will appreciate it better after a reread in the somewhat-distant future. I am currently working my way through another anthology of hers, The Compass Rose: Stories, in which her genius continues to astound me.

Otherwise, the first few days of Spring Break have been spent sleeping. The quasi-cold/sinusitis monster is gradually subsiding after three nights of 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep. In my waking hours I have cleaned, organized, resumed work on Bede (I have an outline! Some sense of direction! And am nearly half-done with the chapter already), and have been watching the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. The second movie was better than I remembered it being, especially since this time I know there’s a 3rd movie. I haven’t seen the third one yet, and so I’m going to do that tonight.

We in the UK have finally sprung forward into British Summer Time. Whereas a few months ago I was complaining that the sun was rising at 9 AM, now I’m going to complain that it doesn’t set until nearly 8 PM. I’m already having to readjust my mental “dinnertime” paradigm to include daylight hours.

Time lag

At long last, classes are done and the blissful fortnight of peace and tranquility has arrived, bringing with it relief from long days of toil, the promise of adventure, and freedom from late nights and early mornings. Ah, spring break! Never hath a fortnight been so welcome.

[It may be of some interest that the University attempts to maintain the three-term system in two semesters: much to the confusion of all, the spring semester is divided into two terms.]

This Monday past I had my last Old English class and the final exam, of which I am well pleased of my performance, and expect a favourable result. In the subsequent scramble to finish The Bruce and prepare for the presentation on Tuesday, I was grateful that my section was not actually required of me, and yet was still capable of adding to the discussion at various points. Immediately after resumed my adventures in Inglode, or Logres, the realm of Camelot, where time and space are as ambiguous as characters’ motives and origins, with the intent of seeing King Arthur dead by Thursday. It is Thursday. Arthur is dead. All hail the most courteous of lords, the Once and Future King.

As evidence that friends can still influence each other when 4483.193 miles apart, as the crow flies, I wish to read To Say Nothing of the Dog. Though in honor of the Sigma Tau Delta convention, perhaps I should read Neverwhere. Mesemeth I should read Le Guin, and call it even.

I realized yesterday that it may actually have been possible for me to attend this year’s Sigma Tau Delta convention in Minneapolis. I could have seen Neil Gaiman. Granted, it would have been a hasty visit to the home country, a fortnight at best, and the probability of completing the ever important research proposal would have been slim. Nevertheless: Neil Gaiman. I shall live vicariously through Sarah and eagerly await my signed copy of The Graveyard Book.

Hunger calls, food beckons, and Felicity awaits. I must away, er hunger doth me sle.

Of apes & angels:

Bildad in Job 26 likens humans to maggots and worms. The wretched extent of the depravity of the human soul is one of the primary themes in Job, and I’ve encountered it elsewhere recently, too. It strikes a wrong chord with me.

Despite the Fall, the consequences of which are original sin and a universe in entropy, human beings are made in the image of God. Only in a spirit of repentance and contrition would I consider using terms like maggot or worm—figuratively. But in reality, the body is a gift, in divine image. The soul is a gift, eternal. The mind and heart are gifts, the ability to reason and think and feel beyond the capabilities of animals.

No, we are not perfect. No, we are not righteous by our own means. But we are human. We are not maggots or worms in God’s sight. There are those who by their choices have let their souls rot in their selfishness and pride. There are those who do vile and evil things. Does this mean that every human being has a heart as black as theirs? No. We are varying shades of gray, each with the potential to do good and evil.

I recognize that the Book of Job is pre-Abrahamic and definitely pre-Christ. I also recognize that I am a humanist influenced by the 18th century Enlightenment. What concerns me is that this line of thought is still very extant in Christian circles. Yes, humans are imperfect, but I am unwilling to agree with the belief that we are wretched, totally depraved, less than dirt maggots, especially as a believing Christian who has been and continues to be made righteous in the sight of God. Christian or not, such a debased view of the human condition shows ingratitude to God for the body, soul, mind, life, and world he has given us. Moreover, as a Christian, such a view is ungrateful for the salvation we have received and the life we now have.

Some sunlight

How morbid is it to sit in a graveyard and read? The cathedral cemetery is one of the nicest places to sit and relax: it’s green, quiet, and sheltered from the wind. Now that it’s starting to get warm again, Felicity and I have visited the little alcove we like to go to, paying our respects to Normand MacLeod, Esquire and the unnamed twin daughters, across from James Ellis who died at 17. I hope it isn’t too disrespectful. I remind myself of the 19th century when people went to cemeteries as parks, especially on Sunday afternoons.

I spent most of today reading The Bruce. The good thing about reading in a cemetery is that you’re discouraged from falling asleep, no matter how tired you might be. However, I did fall asleep once we relocated to Felicity’s room. I haven’t been nearly as tired today as I have other days. Insomnia and quasi-allergies/sinus blah aren’t fun. It’d help if the seagulls and song birds didn’t cry or sing all night long, but I digress.

In other news, Christine (a housemate when we lived in Oxford, who is now studying in Sweden) and I have bought our plane tickets for Spring Break: we’re going to Lisbon, Portugal, to visit the lovely Caroline, a classmate from OBU. We Northern Europeans can’t wait for the sun! Now, the question is, which books do I take with me for the flights? I have ~15 hours of travel time to fill. I have to be careful, though, for KLM’s hand baggage guidelines say: “…including a coat/blanket, umbrella/walking stick, purse, camera bag and a reasonable amount of reading material” (emphasis added).

Sea, and green

I should have said so on Sunday, but I forgot. I’ve lived in Scotland for six months and one day. No wonder I’m starting to feel like I’m getting the hang of things. Mostly.

The Renaissance Group sang in St Monan’s parish church for St Patrick’s Day. It was pointed out that we were singing English songs on an Irish holiday in a Scottish church, with half of the French department singing in the choir. St Monan’s really is a quaint little church. It’s the closest to the sea of any church in Scotland. It was really fascinating to drive up, walk across the cemetery, turn the corner and there was the sea. You could hear the waves crashing. The church had blue doors, and the second doors had portholes. Two wooden ships hang from the ceiling. The acoustics are fantastic. The choir had twice as many people as were in the audience, but that didn’t matter. It was one of those times where I worshiped as I performed. I hope those listening were as encouraged as I was.

I learned a new hymn (as what usually happens; all the hymns here are new to me) by St Patrick: “St Patrick’s Breastplate.” The link has a horrible midi playing, but at least you get to hear the tune. All of the lyrics are good but I loved the third verse:

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

The poetry is incredibly vivid now that I live on the edge of the North Sea. I had a clear image in mind as I sang. On a similar note, I’ve been reading The Bruce, in which the Bishop of St Andrews is a primary character. The text suddenly becomes alive as I read how the Bishop hosted James Douglas in his castle when sitting literally less than 100 meters away from the castle ruins.

Only Americans wore green today. I was amused that half my Latin class wore green the day before St Patrick’s Day, and then none of us wore green today. Well, my sweater had green stripes. Happy St Patrick’s Day!

(I’m incredibly tired, and thus apologize for a not very eloquent post. Ah well. Sleep beckons.)

Resting & Feasting

kingofattoliaaug05After class on Thursday, I realized that I only have two classes meeting this week. I decided to start my sabbath early and spent the rest of the day reading King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. I hadn’t laughed quite so well in a long time. It is perhaps one of the most excellent of books, but first you must read The Thief and Queen of Attolia. I’ve decided that it is probably for the betterment of my mental health to take a dose of Eugenides every couple months or so. As I said to Felicity, words cannot express my love for Eugenides.

UpattheVillaI began working on my PhD application on Friday. I also attended a couple sessions of FlyCon 2009, the first online Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror convention. Last summer, I remember commenting on Sherwood Smith‘s blog about planning an online convention, and here it is. I didn’t realize how many authors, publishers, and agents would be taking part. The sessions are held in forums, which can be a bit overwhelming to follow so many threads at once. Archives of sessions will be available, and may be easier to read. I also read Up at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham. It isn’t as wide or as deep or as reaching as The Painted Veil (it’s also significantly shorter), but it did affirm that I would like to read more by “one of the most underrated writers of the last century” (Herald).

I spent most of Saturday sleeping. I’m trying not to get another sinus infection. Bleh. I am, however, feeling better today. Felicity and I went to have dinner with Jesse & Casey, and I finally taught them Squabble. The dispersion of the game continues…

Today is Sunday, which is a feast day, and Jesse made the point of making feast days truly celebratory. I rediscovered Supertones while I cooked a large brunch and might go out for ice cream later. 🙂 For now, however, it’s back to the spirit of industry.

Oh yes; also on this Ides of March is my brother’s birthday. Happy birthday, David!

Into the grey

There were four big fishing boats out in the sea and a grey heron standing near the pool when I went down to Castle Sands this evening. I’ve been trying to put my finger on the greyness of the past week or so. There are lots of factors involved: I’m staying on top of my school work, doing some extra reading when I can, working on a short story and now working on Bede, squeezing in time to read for fun. At the same time, not getting enough sleep, and then sleeping through my alarm two days in a row, when usually I wake up before it goes off. Having phantom sinus issues, headaches. Have not yet found a quasi-Kelly/Sarah/whomever Scottish equivalent. Friends, yes, for which I am glad, but not quite the same. But such persons need to be developed as well as discovered, and both take time.

Remembering Castle Sands just now, how the darkening dusk blended the skyline into the sea, how I soon lost sight of the heron when he folded his wings into the grey distance, it struck me just how isolated the Town can be. In some ways, it is more a bubble than undergrad ever was. I am aware that the world exists outside the trinity of North, Market, and South Streets, but in an abstract sort of way. I read headlines, blogs, twitter; I ask the occasional question of those on the other shore, but they are words on a computer screen. What is real are the seagulls spiralling over Sallies Hall, the song of the flute on the wind, the next book to be read, and that I need to buy more peanut butter and apples from the store. Ibi pax in simplicitate est. The danger therein is if it is also isolating; this, too, is grey, unknown.

Swing on a Star

I walked to church this morning in the rain and the snow. Afterward, it was sunny and bright. 😛 Then I ran into CGW1 in Tesco and he congratulated me on my N&H essay. He reminds me of a Scottish Dr Sanders and I’m glad he’s one of my professors.

I tithed my pound coins this morning and afterward realized that I then didn’t have any laundry money. “You did not think this through!” exclaims the Cetian from The Word for World is Forest—which I still think he was also saying to Le Guin for her choice of that title.

It only took a week to finish Froissart’s Chronicles, but it felt like forever. I now know much more about the personages of the 14th century English and French courts than I thought I could. And according to Froissart’s depiction of Richard II, I wonder how it was that I felt sorry for him in Shakespeare’s Richard II. I was amused to find out more about Peter the Cruel, whom I first encountered in the DNB‘s entry on Chaucer regarding the latter’s covert intelligence activities2. (Also: Chaucer wrote a poem on the death of the Duke of Lancaster’s first wife; Lancaster’s second wife was Peter’s daughter; and his third wife3 was Chaucer’s sister-in-law. It was quite a scandal!)

Anyways, I’m listening to Nat King Cole and the Andrews Sisters while eating a very yummy dinner, and then the rest of the evening will be spent memorizing Old English vocabulary…

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1 Professors with mouth-full-of-a-name’s often are referred to by their initials.
2 Just one of the many reasons why Geoffrey Chaucer is awesome.
3 Reminds you of a certain queen we know, neh?

A Blah Cloudy Day

img_4716a

It’s one of those days where I just want to curl up on the couch with Kelly and Kali with some hot chocolate and cookies and watch Star Trek. Actually, it’s been one of those weeks. And it’s kind of sad that this is the best picture I have of the three of us. At least we’re in front of the Little Red House. And, apparently, I like to begin sentences with the letter A.

Not that anything is Wrong. The weather’s been cold and gray again, and I’ve been very disciplined with my schoolwork. As a result, I’ve gotten a lot done, but now there are so many names and facts in my head that I’m just tired. Disciplined, yet still haven’t worked on the PhD application: cue the feeling of under-accomplishment. My day off is tomorrow, but I have things to Do on it, so it already doesn’t feel like a day off. I should make it a rule that I’m not allowed to write anything in my planner on Fridays.