Ahem.

Where my loyalties lie:

And then Buffy staked Edward. The End.

Oxfordia

The Town was swathed in fog when I left last Wednesday to go South, and it is still cloudy and gray now that I have returned. On Wednesday, I stood in six train stations and rode six trains to go down first to Oxford, then to Stratford, to see Julius Caesar with Chris. I had seen the RSP perform Julius Caesar four years ago, but only remembered it being very modernized and very weird. This time, however, it was set in period. The use of projector screens to create a hall-of-mirrors effect was spectacular; live music combined with synthetic sounds, confetti, and further projections did only the very best to create a suspenseful atmosphere. It was a very dark play, very bloody. I was struck by the complete lack of comedic relief. Brutus (Sam Troughton) and Cassius were both brilliant. Apparently Chris and I both forgot that Caesar dies before the end of Act III, and kept trading glances as the suspense built up and as he died before intermission. The play is almost more about Brutus than it is about Julius Caesar. I loved the costuming. I still don’t know where the wolf children at the beginning were hiding the fake blood.

Kat and I stayed in the Vines in Headington. The kitchen has been remodeled, but the poster of Noah’s daughters-in-law holding the dove that Sarah and I left behind has been framed and is hanging in a doorway. Thursday, I walked into town alone, taking the Marston cycle path, curious whether my feet could remember the way. Memory is such a funny thing. The three days I spent in Oxford I didn’t get lost once, and my sense of timing between places was accurate. I spent most of my time with Chris, or Kat when she wasn’t at the Perelandra conference, or alone. We heard evensong at Christ Church Cathedral and had lunch in Christ Church meadow. We went to exhibitions with free admission. We sat in Balliol college. We heard the opera adaptation of Perelandra. We ate at the Eagle and Child, twice. I happily had lunch from G&Ds, the Cornish Pasty shop and the Oxford Sandwich Co. I saw a book that Elizabeth I translated and bound, embroidering the cover herself, as a gift for her stepmother Katherine Parr. I saw the blackboard on which Einstein wrote out the proof for the expansion of the universe. Chris and I did not go punting or play croquet, but we continued our ADD conversations at breakneck pace, and we fed ducks in University Parks. I had tea with Jill and the happy little bundle of energy that calls herself Annie. I saw a couple OBU students staying in Crick for OSP. I read The Scarlet Pimpernel and The Blue Sword in Christ Church meadow, Keble College, a couple cafés, and the back garden of the Vines. It was a good trip.

This morning we got on the train, and during the course of four train stations and four trains, we saw the low rolling hills of southern England transform themselves into the Borders and then the rocky crags of Scotland. Here are buildings made of earth and stone, though not drab, not with the brightly coloured doors, blooming rosebushes and brilliant green of living things. I saw a swan with cygnets and heard the cry of seagulls.

I love Oxford. I miss Oxford. I hope I get to go back soon. But I also like Scotland, so being here is good, too. I don’t think my holiday was quite long enough to want to come back so soon, but I am here now, and it is back to work in earnest tomorrow.

A proposal:

Universities should develop postgraduate relaxation centres.

Reasons:
It has been well documented that postgraduates are the present and future of academia. Their rigorous research loads are often well beyond the capacity of the average person; indeed, many postgraduates sacrifice the greatest years of their youth in the pursuit of knowledge and truth. Often the demands exacted upon even the most admirable of postgraduates wear their toll, resulting in burnout and apathy. Therefore, for the sake of academia, of culture and society both, the continued well-being of postgraduates should be among the University’s highest priorities.

Context:
Most universities already have some form of Student Support Services in place, including a student support hotline designed to reach out to the especially depressed student. Most universities also have a fitness centre where students may ostensibly work out the tired and tense muscles caused by poor posture and long hours in the office or laboratory. However, neither of these services truly offer the support that postgraduates need: rest and relaxation. Postgraduates do not need someone else to complain to, and 87.3 percent of postgraduates admit to an aversion of physical exercise. Therefore, a new relaxation scheme must be introduced to ensure the continued productivity of Scotland’s postgraduates.

Structure:
The postgraduate relaxation centre will combine elements of the health spa and bed and breakfast. Postgraduates suffer most from research-induced stress, resulting in tight muscles that can cause discomfort and even migraines. To remedy the harmful effects of tense muscles, the relaxation centre should employ full-time masseuses in proportion to the university’s postgraduate population. The centre should also include hot baths and steam rooms to ensure maximum relaxation. In addition, for the most strenuously overworked, the centre would also include a host of guest rooms, each soundproofed and fully equipped with the most comfortable, soft beds imaginable, as well with a full breakfast service available in the morning. These rooms may be reserved for a maximum of 72-hours, allowing the postgraduate to sleep off whatever stresses have harried them in the outside world and to recuperate their mental powers to resume work once their period within the centre has completed. The spa services would be available to the students throughout each term, including the summer months, and the guest rooms may be reserved no more than twice per term. Additionally, spouses of postgraduates may also have access to the relaxation centre, as well as unmarried significant others, providing that the latter may adequately prove that their loved one’s research has caused them undue stress. Once this scheme is in place, universities may see that their postgraduates not only produce both higher output and higher quality of work, but also a general improvement in the well-being and happiness of their most precious academic resource.

[453 words, excluding headings.]

Weightlessness

This week I have gotten a grand total of fifteen (15) hours of sleep, six (6) of those being in the last three (3) days. Insomnia, yes. The leading theories are that I am evolving into a higher organism, or that the extra-strength decongestant is wreaking havoc with my system. Experiments to ensue. I and everyone is amazed I haven’t disintegrated into a shaking puddle of tears and irrationality. However, despite sleep deprivation and adventures with Crazy Anachronistic Muslim Jews and the Amazing Oedipal-Mosaic Judas, some Things of Note have happened this week, namely:

  1. A positive meeting with The Rheumatologist. I have, it has been said, stunningly perfect toes.
  2. Officially accepting the Offer of a Place as a Ph.D student. I had the rare opportunity of delivering my letter in person.
  3. Cut off a good foot (12″/30 cm) of my hair. I had an audience when The Hairdresser snipped off the ponytail that will soon be sent to Locks of Love.

hairHastily edited, alas, but here is your “before and after.”

Despite my seeming coherency, I feel like tightwalking on a bar of music, and so it is probably a Good Thing that I have an appointment made to see a GP on Monday morning.

Fly me to the moon

dispossessedLast night I finished rereading my favorite book (beside The Sparrow) by my favorite author: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin.1 Kelly cited the Heresy of Paraphrase, and yet I may prove my inadequacy by trying to actually talk about this book. Here are two worlds, Urras and Anarres, each the other’s moon, and are quite literally worlds apart. Urras is like Earth: rich, plentiful, abundant, ruled by warring States and competing forms of captialism and socialism. Anarres is a desert, harsh; an anarchy. It is about a temporal physicist who must travel from world to the next, weaving in and out of time and philosophy with lyric grace. It is impossible to summarize The Dispossessed beyond this.

The idea, ideal, represented by Anarres appeals to me tremendously. Human brotherhood, solidarity, serving no master but being a member of a living social organism, willingly doing what is necessary to sustain that organism. It is difficult to explain. Granted, Anarres is able to exist because it exists in a vacuum. There are no other nations on Anarres; its two-million population must cooperate to ensure basic survival. There are no luxuries on Anarres. Nothing is owned, all is shared. The settlers came with nearly nothing. They created an entirely new language. All ties with the old world were severed. Anarres really is the great experiment.

Le Guin is not a Christian, but in many ways, these anarchists have more in common with the early church in Acts 2 than we do today. Community, sharing. It is reflected even in their speech: consider a three-year old saying, “You may share the hankerchief I use.” If not that, then the proverb “Excess is excrement” should challenge any Christian living in our materialistic world.

There are far too many passages I would want to quote, not to mention the abundance of perfect sentences, but I shall only quote one:

You write music! Music is a cooperative art, organic by definition, social. It may be the noblest form of social behavior we’re capable of. It’s certainly one of the noblest jobs an individual can undertake. And by its nature, by the nature of any art, it’s a sharing. The artist shares, it’s the essence of his act.

Nay, I shall quote two:

For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.

Finally, my friends in the States, you have Le Guin to thank that I shall not be an ex-pat forever. Twice now she has convinced me that

True voyage is return.2


1 Unfortunately the Perennial Classics edition is riddled with typographical errors. The Dispossessed is available online and appears to be a cleaner copy.

2 Some thoughts on “True voyage is return” after I read The Dispossessed a year ago.

(Im)perfection

Diptych with the Last Judgment and Coronation of the Virgin, ca. 1250–1270

Diptych with the Last Judgment and Coronation of the Virgin, ca. 1250–1270

I just moved my short story “Masterpiece” from the In Progress to the Finished folder. What a feeling of finality! But a good feeling, too. “Masterpiece” went through many transformations. As I was cleaning up my folders I found a few: the first manifestations not yet being a dystopia, and then the version that I read at the 2008 Sigma Tau Delta conference. I had thought Parts I and II had the exact same word count, but then I saw that they didn’t, and I’m not going to bother figuring out which is the longer or shorter. “Beauty is truth, not perfection.” Although the two parts can stand independently, they are best read together. The mental image I had in mind was that of a diptych. Each piece can be taken separately, but together they form a complete whole.

Of course, I must thank everyone who unwittingly allowed me the use of their names. I think there was only one name in “Masterpiece” that wasn’t from someone I knew.

I was going to go the Summer Fête today at church—mainly because they were going to have a jumble sale, and after reading To Say Nothing of the Dog I had to go see one—but right as I was getting ready to leave, there was a downpour. There was even thunder. No lightning though, that I could see. So I stayed inside and worked on “Masterpiece” until it was perfect. Or nearly so.

The next time I go to the library I’m going to check out Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Werewolves and Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories…

On beauty

And I want to add to the beauty
To tell a better story
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside

-“Add to the Beauty,” Sara Groves

I usually apply the chorus of “Add to the Beauty” to my desire to produce fiction, but today I heard another line: “It brings redemption to our lives and our work.” Since finishing the Parson’s Tale, I’ve been staring at my pile of books, changing tacks at least three or four times a day trying to get a handhold to tackle this mountain. The gears just haven’t clicked into place yet. Sarah reminded me that I have three months until the dissertation is due. More like 2.6 months, but I still have 84% of the summer left to go. I’m only 1.5 weeks into this thing, no need to panic now. “Beauty was truth. Truth transcended perfection and imperfection. It encompassed both, embracing both the ordered and disordered.” My dissertation need not be the best thing I ever write—if it were, then why continue writing afterward? A “master’s piece” indicates that you have achieved the skills necessary to be considered a master, not that you have reached the point of completion. Not even the PhD holds that distinction. Scholarship is lifelong; art is always evolving and growing.

The days have been gray, but shafts of sunlight break through the clouds. Their tears fall to water the ground below. The seed says to the earth, “I sleep but for a little while.”