Twenty-four

It has been quite a birthday weekend! Morley’s birthday is on the 30th, so there was a small party for him on Friday (yes, the 29th). Then the weather kept up for a beautiful day yesterday, so I went out for a nice lunch and ice cream from Janetta’s, where I began reading Finding Nouf by Zoë Ferrraris, and then went to the Cathedral to read some more before coming back to watch Star Trek: Wrath of Khan. I had watched TOS: “Space Seed” on Friday, and it seemed logical to follow it up with Kirk’s next encounter with Khan Noonian Singh. I had forgotten that the movie opens with Kirk’s birthday, so I was pleased at the coincidence, even if the ending made me sad because I love Spock. (And because Scotty played the bagpipes. I do live in Scotland, you know.) I intend to watch Star Trek: The Search for Spock tonight to rest assured in Spock’s return.

Today is Pentecost, as well, which in church this morning was called the church’s birthday. There was a short skit for the children’s sermon, during which the rector, wearing the Amazing Holy Spirit Hat, brought forth a cake. The cake had magic candles that were supposed to signify how the Holy Spirit is always with us. But when he brought it out, the woman leading the skit announced, “Not only did the Holy Spirit bring fire, he brought cake!”

And, of course, today is my birthday! I went on a picnic with the lovely Sharpes after church, and we also had cake, and it was wonderful and nice and I was very happy indeed. Morley was very excited about another birthday. 🙂 The weather is still gorgeous, so I sat beneath a tree in front of Sallies Hall and read some more before talking with Sarah on Skype. My family is still in church now so I’ll talk with them later this evening. Overall it’s been a very good day. Thank you, everyone, who has helped make it so!

Yes, today I am twenty-four (24). I commented to Kelly earlier this month that 24 is such a divisible number. I tend to prefer prime numbers, and have thus been very happy being 23. But 24, it’s so even. Divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, and 24. A very stable number, a common number. 24 hours in the day, 24 elders around the throne, 24 books of the Iliad. Even the combination of 2 and 4 is stable: the smallest even unit 2 goes into the next even unit 4 two times. It is progressive, going from the smaller 2 to the greater 4. A very symmetrical number. The next few numbers are stable as well: 25, 26. I’ll be 27 when I finish my PhD, so I guess that it is fitting that my transition years are prime numbers. It is a good omen that the next few years, which I will hopefully be spending in the same place working on the same project(s), will be stable numbers. I think I can handle being 24. It’s more of an abstract idea anyway; I tend to not think of ages. I am frequently mistaken for an undergraduate, yet most of my friends here are a few years older than me. I’m somewhere in the middle. I am myself.

Me and myself are going to eat some cake and watch more Star Trek. Because that’s totally what twenty-four year old’s do.

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Compass Rose

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It’s all about contributing to the metanarrative of humanity! Ahem.

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CompassRoseWhen I’m busy with school and don’t have time to invest in reading a novel, or when I’m between novels, I read short stories. The past few months I’ve been working through the twenty-story collection in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Compass Rose: Stories. These stories are unrelated and grouped arbitrarily into the cardinal points of the compass rose. This is the third anthology I’ve read by Le Guin thus far, and I still hold to the belief that The Wind’s Twelve Quarters is her best, but that is not to say that The Compass Rose is without its gems. The collection opens with “The Author of the Acacia Seeds, and other extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics,” a delightful mock academic journal from sometime in the future when we have begun to understand the languages of the animals around us. Another linguistic exercise is in “Mazes,” as a lab mouse attempts to communicate with its human captor. “The Pathways of Desire” takes us to the familiar universe of the Ekumen, but as the scientists wonder at the simplistic human society in the seemingly perfect paradise they’ve come across, they discover that they may be closer to Earth than they thought. “The Wife’s Story” is a werewolf story with a twist and “Some Approaches to the Problem of the Shortage of Time” is another faux-academic exercise. “The New Atlantis” and “The Diary of the Rose” are glimpses into dystopias that leave the reader puzzled, in a good way. For fans of Orsinia, “Two Delays on the Northern Line” is another story set in that fictional country, and “The Eye Altering” and “Gwilan’s Harp” may be two other stories set in the Ekumen universe, though I admit, the Ekumen has undefined edges, and these stories may be unrelated to it entirely.

I have four more of Le Guin’s anthologies to read (that I know of), but my next short story collection is going to be The Ladies of Grace Adieu: and other stories by Susanna Clarke. But, er, in the meantime, I’ll be working on Bede.

Predawn light

predawn castleWhoever said ‘it is darkest before dawn’ hasn’t waited for the sunrise in the northern latitudes. It is incredibly bright for at least an hour before the actual sunrise. After finally falling asleep sometime after 1 AM, I was woken up at 3:22 AM. While fumbling around to find a clock I happened to look out the window and saw the slim crescent moon hovering over the horizon, rising just before the sun. Since I was up, I decided to see if I could take a picture of it. It was surreal being outside at 3:30 AM to watch the moon and sunrise. And of course, the entire time I was thinking, ‘Why didn’t I do this when the sun rose at 9 AM?’ The clouds quickly hid the moon, and while I waited for them to part, I walked up and down the Scores taking more pictures.

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I went back to my room at 4:30, so I didn’t see the actual sunrise, but I was tired and cold. I sort-of slept, and I’ve been exhausted all day, but I guess the cool pictures I got made the disturbed sleep worth it. I’ll post the rest of my pictures on Facebook eventually.

Yesterday I got two very large packages in the mail, from Kelly and Sarah. I was gong to wait to open them until my actual birthday, but I heard suspicious rattling in one of the boxes, and, afraid for a repeat of the Japanese Tea Set Misfortune, decided to open them early while I skyped with both gift-givers to pre-empt possible disappointment, and, well, to celebrate early. And, I just have to say, I have the two bestest friends ever. 😀

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IMG_8351A tea mug, loose leaf Jasmine tea, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman from Sarah (as well as a cookie recipe book which foretells all sorts of baked delights in the near future). Now, a word about The Graveyard Book. I mentioned some time ago that Neil Gaiman was the keynote speaker at the Sigma Tau Delta convention, which Sarah went to. I knew she was going to get the book for me and have it signed, but, neither of us were prepared for the signature. If I didn’t already love Neil Gaiman, I would now, if only for the amazing, awesome signature and drawing he did in my book after three hours of signing books. Yeah I’m pretty sure this is one of the best signatures I’ve gotten in a book. Thank you Sarah!

IMG_8353The other three books, including the Kelly-Approved Edition™ of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, which may very well be the Smartest book I ever read, are from Kelly; along with a copper medallion of a unicorn, map bookplates, an SCA publication, and approximately one and one-half New Yorker’s that I can reassemble if I so choose. The short-story anthology comes with good timing as I am about to finish The Compass Rose by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Midnight Never Come will supplement my dwindling unread-fantasy collection, and, well, The Name of the Rose speaks for itself. Or it should. Yay books! Thank you Kelly!

I am quickly losing coherency, so I think I’m going to veg and watch movies until I’m able to actually fall asleep. Hopefully I’ll sleep uninterrupted tonight. I shall leave you with another one of my favorite pictures from this morning:

I found a bug.

I found a bug.

The color blue

Last night Jesse & Casey asked if I could watch the boys so they could go to a friend’s farewell party. Morley and Dashiell were already asleep when I came over, so I got to sit in a real living room and read for a couple hours. I was struck by how quiet their flat is. It’s on the outskirts of town (a couple blocks away from where I’ll be living next year), and most of their neighbors are pensioners. In my little room in Gannochy, I have the background noise of 80 other souls: doors opening and slamming, footsteps going up and down the stairwell, blow dryers or vacuums running at all hours of the day or night, toilets flushing and the one toilet that takes five minutes to refill its tank, glass bottles being dropped into the recycle bins in the courtyard, banging and clamoring in the kitchen down the hall, and a near-constant stream of Chinese. Not to mention the permanent flocks of seagulls, traffic noise from North Street and the Scores, the musicians practicing in Younger Hall or the occasional dance held there, and the undergraduates coming to and from Sallies Hall after a night at a pub or the Union. To actually sit in a living room that was quiet save for the occasional songbird and the rain was very relaxing. Thanks Casey and Jesse! 🙂

remainsofthedayI read The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, winner of the Booker Prize in 1989. Set in 1959, Mr Stevens takes a drive from Darlington Hall in Oxfordshire to the West Country hoping to recruit a former housekeeper. During his six-day drive he ruminates upon several episodes during his career as a butler for Lord Darlington and on his relationship with Miss Kenton, now Mrs Benn. I admit that I may be missing something because I seem to be the only person to feel so, but I was somewhat disappointed in this book. Obviously it won the Booker prize, and it is also listed by the Sunday Times as one of the 100 greatest novels. The novel is stream of consciousness, 258 pages of it, and more often than not I found myself bored. Considering that I occasionally find my own stream of consciousness tedious, this does not surprise me. Upon finishing the book, one of my first thoughts was, ‘If I had wanted to read a stream of consciousness novel set in the interwar period, I would have read Mrs Dalloway‘ and it is precisely my aversion to stream of consciousness that I have avoided Virginia Woolf’s novel. The ending, also, left me dissatisfied. The tone, which had been spot on the entire time, suddenly changed three pages from the end. Such a shift seemed far too sudden and not in-character, especially when by the last sentence it became evident that Mr Stevens hadn’t had a revelation after all. I wouldn’t go so far to say that ‘nothing happens,’ but nearly so. Though perhaps that is the point of a stream of consciousness novel. Perhaps it is my own prejudice that colors my reaction to this book; otherwise it was very well written and well researched. Mr Stevens was the quintessential butler; compared to him, Jeeves is merely a valet. Regardless, I probably would see the film adaptation (mainly because it stars Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson) but would also be more discerning when recommending this book. I hope that Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go will be more enjoyable.

lapis_ringToday I took a rather long walk down West Sands. The tide was out, offering a wide expanse of sand. Walking on West Sands always feels a little bit like escaping: the town is behind you and the beach goes on seemingly forever. Each time I’m tempted to see how far I can go. Today it was windy and bright, a western wind blowing both clouds and sand into the sea. The clouds looked close enough that if I climbed up St Rule’s tower I could have touched them. When I looked up, I saw the color of Ibelyn: a bold, dark blue, arrogant and royal. Like Afghan lapis lazuli. Those who think ‘sky blue’ is pale need to look up and stare into the depth of the sky.

Reboot

Well, if you haven’t guessed, I finished my essay, turned it in, and am now free as a bird (until I begin the dissertation in earnest, that is). The weather the past few days has been in my favour: windy, wet, and cold. I have been enjoying a few days of well-earned relaxation. Other than watching The Mummy and episodes of Firefly and The Big Bang Theory, I have done the following:

Thursday night Felicity and I watched The Hunt for Gollum as a last hurrah before she left to visit the States for a month. I didn’t come to it with very high expectations—it being made by fans for fans on a low budget—and it was pretty good. It wasn’t bad, but, because we already know that Aragorn catches Gollum, the film was lacking in suspense. However, I would recommend it if you have 40 minutes to spare and want a dose of Middle Earth without committing three hours to watching one of the official films.

NeverwhereIt had been three weeks since I read a book cover-to-cover, the last being The Princess and the Hound. Today I finished rereading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. It is a story about doors, London Above and London Below, and the people who fall through the cracks from world into the other. There are Black Friars, an earl and his court, a bridge made of night, and an angel at Islington. To say Neil Gaiman is a brilliant storyteller is to understate the obvious. The marquis de Carabas is by far my favourite character, ‘because he is made of awesome,’ and he is.

Today, he thought, I’ve survived walking the plank, the kiss of death, and a lecture on inflicting pain. Right now, I’m on my way through a labyrinth with […] I am so far out of my depth that… Metaphors failed him, then. He had gone beyond the world of metaphor and simile into the place of things that are, and it was changing him.

I recommend Neverwhere to everyone, but especially to those who have been to London at least once. Read Neverwhere before you go back. The Underground will never be the same. Oh, and please mind the gap.

Last night I saw Star Trek. All I can say is: Dude, Star Trek. Wow. I loved it. Spock, both young and old, stole the show. And Karl Urban as Bones McCoy, well, he was Bones, manic and panicked as ever. I’m not going to say much else to avoid the risk of spoilers, but, this is Star Trek rebooted. In a good way. My inner nerd is very pleased indeed—especially at the somewhat real possibility that there will be a sequel(s). Go see it.

Now… what to read next?

Useful, indeed

UPDATE: Apparently Gerard has been given the opportunity to fight for his position in the comic. See it here. I’m glad, even if the comic still represents condescending attitudes toward humanities students. No, the possibility for social commentary has not escaped me. I am, perhaps, more upset at the overall treatment of Gerard. A casual look at the PHD forums and other blogs that mention Gerard from PHD will show that his treatment has touched a raw nerve for humanities students.


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Gerard was introduced in August 2007. He’s only been in four comics of PHD (Piled Higher and Deeper), this latest one being the last, apparently. It took some digging to find them but reading over them I’m a bit upset with PHD. Most of the time I still get their jokes because of being a DATA alum and because I have several friends who are engineers and scientists. For a while their one bone to the humanities was in Tajel’s character, an anthropologist, who I also enjoyed because of my anthropology minor. When they added Gerard, a medievalist!, I was even happier. Then they didn’t do anything with him. If anything, the few comics he’s been in have shown that the writers of PHD don’t have much respect toward literature grad students.

Gerard’s comics: Humanities (8/31/2007); Humanities vs. Social Sciences (9/3/2007); Post Avant-Garde Limericks (1/18/2008); Budget Cuts (5/8/2009).

Granted, perhaps these are supposed to be funny. Every literature student I know has encountered “What are you going to do with that?” more than once. I’ve even been demanded “Why?“, also on more than one occasion. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of us have inferiority complexes of some degree. Obviously I have the tendency to get defensive. Surely Jorge Cham could have thought of something else that was, perhaps, actually funny for the people for whom he apparently had made the character.*

What am I going to do as a medievalist? I’m going to study and learn where we came from, to better understand where we are now, and where we are going. I’m going to learn how people are the same throughout history, and how we are different, how our worldviews change, and what changes them. I’m learning how to learn so that I can do this my entire life. I’m going to research and write so I can share what I learn. I’m going to write and teach so that I can help shape the generation that follows me to be sensitive to all people, tolerant of cultures, to think critically and approach the world with curiosity. Above, all, I’m going to enjoy myself, because this is what I love to do. People who study literature and history stand in the proud tradition of continuing and shaping civilisation as we know it. Without medieval Irish monasteries, we wouldn’t have copies of manuscripts that were destroyed during Viking attacks. Without Arabic commentators, we wouldn’t have known about Aristotle. What would the world be like without Shakespeare? Milton? Goethe? Dickens? Hawthorne? Hemingway? Eliot? Pound? I could go on and on. A world without literature is a world that does not know itself. A major that is useful, indeed!

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