Southbound

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I have been lied to. I was supposed to have Internet on the train for the six hours it took me to come south, but did I? Alas, I did not. But, no bother. I spent the time writing finishing Chapter 10 of Bede and reading articles for my dissertation. In the month of July I wrote two chapters of my dissertation and a chapter of a novel to a grand total of at least 12,000 words. Hooray!

I also sat with an American couple from New Mexico. They were both retired and were on vacation. As expected, they asked what I was studying. “I’m a PhD student in medieval literature.” (blank stare) “So what will that prepare you for?” “Well I’ll have a PhD” “So you’re going to teach?” (A little part of me died inside.) “Yes,” I answered.

Then, before the woman would let me alone to continue working on Bede, she asked, “Do you know the capital of Indonesia?” She was working on a crossword puzzle. “Jakarta.”

Later on she asked, “Are you from Edinburgh? Or London?” She was surprised to hear I’m from Texas. I don’t think my accent has changed that much. Practically the entire School of English is American. My neighbors are all Chinese. You get the picture.

She later told her husband that Rick Steves said to be very careful of pickpockets in London—“wear your fanny pack”—I’ve never really thought about London being dangerous. I guess perhaps on the Tube. But if you don’t make yourself stand out, if you stay aware of your surroundings, you should be fine. Tourists who stand out as tourists are the most at risk. I must admit, I derived some pleasure today out of going from Kings Cross station to Paddington station via the Underground without giving it much second thought. However, I did not like that when I bought a sandwich, the clerk waved my Scottish note at her manager in confusion and then smiled at me, “You’re from Scotland?” Yes, and I’m tired of my money being suspect whenever I come south, thankyouverymuch.

I do not intend to sound critical of my train companions, they merely baffled me. They reminded me of how friendly Americans can be, even if somewhat exasperating. In the woman’s favor, however, she did ask about the details of what I was studying, and I was able to spread knowledge about medieval cycle dramas. When she asked me what Doomsday was, I answered “Judgement Day. It’s when Jesus comes back to judge the living and the dead”—and immediately realized that I answered with the Creed. Oh well.

(Also, Harry Potter’s birthday is today. Happy 29th!)

After being on the move for literally ten hours, I finally sat down in Christ Church meadow to be still while at least three clocktowers tolled 6 o’clock. Tomorrow I shall dive back into the books and articles and revise in earnest, but for now, I have paid for my Internet with a pot of peppermint tea, and now I’m going to enjoy it.

Progress Report

Chapter One: 100% completed
Chapter Two: 75% completed
Total Status: ~50% complete

I had my Second Meeting with the supervisor today, during which I apprised him of my progress and he gave feedback about the excerpt I gave him last week. His enthusiasm for my very clear writing style has me slightly baffled, as my opinion of the excerpt was that it was very much a draft, but perhaps the sheer amount of writing I do is actually paying off. My writing this week has slowed down due to a double ear infection (it’s more the itching than anything else), so if I seem slightly spastic it’s because my. darn. ears. won’t. stop. itching. But otherwise, progressing happily along. Apparently I am self-disciplined after all. Among others, my Old Testament and New Testament* playlists have been quite helpful.

In celebration of a good meeting I shall spend this evening working on Bede. I need to prepare for the battle, but first I need to nurse my character back to health as Kelly left her half-dead at the end of the last chapter.

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* Same drill: 1. Download and unzip; 2. Drag songs into iTunes; 3. File -> Library -> Import Playlist, and select the appropriate .txt file.

Oh, synchronizers!

The more ADD I get the more I think in parentheses. No really. Or with excessive amounts of commas. It is probably, no doubt, partially related to the quantities of caffeine consumed this week, not aided in the least by the gift of Dove Dark Chocolates (behavioural conditioning! a piece of chocolate for a chapter read! for 500 400 300 200 100 words written!) included in the package from my mother. It is, however, more likely my brain’s method of informing me, quite obstinately, that twenty-four (24) hours was not enough, thankyouverymuch, to take off between the compositions of the First Chapter and the Second. These two facts compounded with the fact that the dissertation is being disobedient — a consequence I should have foreseen, considering the subject matter, similar to how God should have foreseen that forgetting to change the locks to Paradise after expelling Satan was a bad idea, and then they ate the apples he was saving for pie, and Cain misunderstood the term ‘sibling rivalry’, but I digress — have led to me being slightly behind schedule. (No, I am not being sacrilegious. If one cannot approach one’s subject with some degree of levity, one might very well go mad.)

But in all sobriety, the dissertation is actually skipping along quite well, especially when one considers that several MLitts I know of haven’t even begun writing. ‘Slightly’, in this case, means… a day. Perhaps a day and a  half, but nothing a Saturday can’t solve. (Astonishingly apt considering that Saturn is the god of ‘human time’.) However, I haven’t the slightest clue when I will write my penultimate chapter of Bede. I would work on it tonight, but in my present state of mind, this is probably not a good idea. (Fear not, Eliot, if all else fails I shall write it on the train.) Anyhow, as I have gotten ahead of schedule with reading The Name of the Rose, I shall spend this evening watching ST:TOS, and hopefully none of the episodes will have traces of medievalism.

In Noctem

This morning I was listening to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on Spotify (it’s like iTunes but online; you can’t keep any of the music but you can listen online for free. No, it does not work in the U.S.). While it seems I’m one of the only people to like this soundtrack by Nicholas Hooper, I think we can all agree that “In Noctem” is simply stunning. I’ve been listening to it on repeat while I track down the lyrics from a spattering of online forums. This is the best I can get:

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That Time

A year ago today Kelly and I were driving down Route 66, listening to Regina Spektor. We stopped at the Red Barn and a watermelon patch, ignoring a sign warning ‘BRIDGE OUT’ because there wasn’t any bridge to begin with, and were laughing too hard about the shaking of the corn to stop at the Blue Whale. Has it really only been a year?

Yesterday, in one fell swoop, my mother increased my library here by 16%. I shall be occupied for quite some time. They’re good books too. Thank you. It’s been raining nonstop since the afternoon and I have much enjoyed putting my new rain boots to good use. I can walk in the rain and through puddles and my feet stay dry and warm. It’s amazing. How did I manage to live in Scotland for ten months without rain boots? I guess I just had wet feet.

The cinema in Dundee is a real cinema. Meaning it has more than three screens. There was even an escalator and previews before the movie began. It is, however, apparently a UK thing to leave the lights on, ever so dimly, during the film. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was definitely worth waking up at 6:30 am to go see. We are going to see it again on Sunday. I am still incredulous that Brittn saw the film two hours before I did even though she is in the Pacific NW.

A certain boy wizard

Dear Blog,

I regret to inform you that there are NO cinemas in Scotland giving a midnight showing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceNone. The earliest I can see it is 10:00 AM tomorrow and that’s even going to another town. Now, I have done the maths and have realized that every American fortunate enough to go to a midnight showing of HP6 will see the movie before any of us in Scotland get to. Yes. Even those of you on the west coast. (Midnight in California is 8:00 AM here. Seriously.)

So it is my request that if you do see it at midnight, please keep your Scottish brethren in mind if you are going to post about it immediately upon returning home. Please do not write me about it until after 6:00 AM Central Standard Time. I know, I’ve read the book several times, but it’s actually been a while since I’ve been in the Harry Potter universe and I don’t want anything to be spoiled. Thanks!

All best,

The Author

Crazy talk

Bullet points, because I haven’t used them in a while:

  • I actually started writing my dissertation this week. I’ve discovered that this time around it helps to write it out drafty thoughts in green ink in my Moleskine—a good thing, because I have only (only!) used 60 pages of the 240 thus far. Anyhow, I have approximately 13,000 words left to write, if we are to follow the 10-percent rule.
  • I’ve spent way too much time editing my Amazon wishlists. This evening I culled and prioritized the Non-Fiction list. Yes, the top items deal with science and political philosophy. I want to read them now and it is an effort of will to wait until 2010 when I can officially begin Orion research. Well, not too much effort: I have so much else to read before then.
  • I probably spend more time thinking about fiction than my thesis. This may be to my detriment. I hope it isn’t. I’m already planning for NaNoWriMo, trying to decide if I can write a short story before then, and, of course, trying to calm the overexcited children that are the Orion characters. Boy are they starved for attention. “No, Anna, I can’t read saints’ lives yet, I have to get the government down first,” “No Peter, I really don’t think I need to read about rocket engines,” “No, Andrew, I’m not going to invent your entire language.” Geez! Don’t even get me started on Jenai. You guys only think I’m being an overachiever perfectionist crazy renaissance woman, but really I’m just trying to keep the crew of Artemis at bay. Seriously. Because that’s not crazy talk at all.
    • Listening to the TGN soundtrack does not help. Especially not “The General” by Dispatch.

And that’s it really. Images dance into my head and I write them down and eventually it’ll be something worth looking at.

Book tasting

Sherwood Smith, author of Crown Duel, posted on her blog about the dangers of books reports. “How to Kill a Book — Ruminations without a Conclusion.”

At one point she asks, Who (except for teachers, and maybe some writers?) pulls out the rising action from any book? I suppose I fall into the “some writers” category, because most of the time I can, and I can do so, often, without losing my enjoyment of the story.

But what I found interesting was her assessment of people who work with books for a living:

And this can also be true of critics . . . and editors, who once loved books so much they chose to work with them for a living. But much as one adores creme brulee, a steady diet of it over years might make even the most passionate devotee dread the next bowl brought out. Or if not dread it, get extra picky about the texture, the sprinkling of cinnamon on top, the color of the bowl, the exact temperature of the custard, and how well it was flamed. The joy of eating it is gone.

I certainly do not think my joy of reading is gone — surely not! — but I do think I have become more discerning about what I read. I do not have patience for (what is, in my opinion) bad writing. Usually I can tell if a book is an author’s first novel. I know I am not a postmodernist because there are times when I do say, “No, you can’t do that in a novel,” so I do think there are some unsaid rules, trade secrets of the craft. But I do read for pleasure. Usually I read science fiction or young adult fantasy if I’m choosing a pleasure book. But because I also like to think about what I enjoy, because I am also a writer who reads in her genre, I prefer authors whose books are able to withstand both modes of reading: authors such as Megan Whalen Turner, Robin McKinley, Orson Scott Card, and so on.

So yes, I am a picky reader. I like my creme brulee done just so. I am also willing to try new authors, and if the custard isn’t the right temperature, at least I’ve given them a chance. And I am still a critical reader for Chera Approved™ authors. Ursula K. Le Guin may be my favorite author of all time, but she is not perfect (let us talk about Tehanu. Or Rocannon’s World. Or Planet of Exile). The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell isn’t perfect either, even if I can’t pinpoint why. Perhaps that is why it is my favorite.

…though, I started The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco this week. Another book about monks. Franciscans and Benedictines in the fourteenth century. If I’m not driven mad by reading sentence structure in modern English that I’m used to reading in Middle English, then… I’m just allowing for the possibility, is all I’m sayin’.

Changing planes

Sometimes I wonder if I would be better off staying at home with my Bible, a theology textbook, and a pot of tea than going to church. I would surely learn more. Anyhow, I know it’s time to change churches when I spend the entirety of the service thinking up metaphors for how agonizingly dull it is. (My favorite was the image of a sweater unraveling. Slowly. Loop by loop.)

Anyway, I’ve been going to this church for about six months, which, if we are to follow my pattern of church hopping in Oklahoma, it’s about time for me to move on. Sometimes I wonder if my standards are too high. Is it too much to wish to still learn something? To be in a congregation that actually seems happy to be there? What would happen if we were to actually pay attention to the words of the Creed and say them with joy? (Good heavens, at least sound happy when you sing.)

All this to say: time for something new. Of the ten (10) churches* in town, I have been to the Baptist and the Episcopal (low) churches. There are 3 Presbyterian, 1 Episcopal (high), 1 Catholic, 1 Quaker, 1 Free Church, and 1 unknown (nondenom?) churches left. Can you guess which order I’d go through them?

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* There’s even an Orthodox church, but it only meets every third Sunday. Poor Orthodox Townsians.

Blue veins

I’ve been listening to ‘Blue lips’ by Regina Spektor on repeat. Blue lips, blue veins, blue the color of our planet from far far away.

I don’t have anything to say. I read, I stare out the window, I read some more. I go home and do the same thing. My energy levels are manic: insomnia or narcolepsy, take your pick.

Ennui. Standing on the edge of the universe while it spins on the head of a pin. Angel choruses fill the pink pearl sky and dive into the rolling golden sea. My imagination invents impossibilities to escape the mundanity of daily life. The next few short stories I want to write are dark suspense, thus my prospective reading list includes The Golem, Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Phantom of the Opera. I don’t even know if I am going to write them ‘soon’, but better to read now and let the ideas germinate.

In other words, the days are progressing at their usual 60-seconds-to-a-minute pace and normality reigns supreme. (Until, that is, the Queen of Hearts returns from holiday.) Tomorrow is 4th of July. Americans, read the Declaration of Independence, and while you’re at it, the Consitution. Be good citizens. Meanwhile, we American ex-pats will see how we can stir up Scottish independence celebrate.