Bonus photo

F.’s Thesis, finished:

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Submitted in multiple copy at 4.15PM, 28th June 2013. Huzzah!

It’s been graduation week here, and as I see newly minted PhDs walk with the procession down the street in their blue gowns, I’ve been thinking: Next year, this will be me. (And this will be F., in November!)

Solstice Wood

Opening line: ‘Gram called at five in the morning. She never remembered the time difference.’

Solstice WoodSylvia Lynn moved to West Coast the first chance she could, and has refused her grandmother’s requests to come home to East Coast for seven years. Until her grandfather dies, and Sylvia flies back for his funeral. Once back in her childhood home, again the old mysteries resurface, and the wood behind Lynn Hall is full of secrets. Intermixed in this family drama are stories of magic, dreams, and impossibilities. Are there fairies in the wood? And what do they want? And who was Sylvia’s father, after all?

Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip is unlike her other fantasy novels. Instead of being set in a magical, fictional other world, Solstice Wood bring magic into our own world. McKillip’s prose was less lyrical in this novel and more down to earth, probably due to its setting. The book never says which states they’re in, but you can guess that Sylvia probably moved to Los Angeles and her family is somewhere in the Appalachians (though Wikipedia says New York). Even so, I found it difficult to believe that fairies would exist in America; I kept wanting to make Sylvia’s hometown be in England, and she had moved to the U.S., but that wouldn’t fit with the four hour time difference mentioned in the novel. To me, fairies are a very European, if not insular, tradition, and as someone who studies fairies in literature I found it difficult to transpose them to the New World. The story is good anyway, and all other aspects of the fairies felt true to tradition.

The novel is told from several points of view: Sylvia, her grandmother Iris, her cousin Tyler, and a family friend, Owen. Each adds their own perspective and shows how the family secrets affect far more than just the Lynn family. Each character also has their own distinct voice; even though this novel may be less poetic than McKillip’s other novels, it certainly isn’t lacking craftsmanship in the storytelling. Apparently Solstice Wood serves as a sequel to Winter Rose. I haven’t read Winter Rose, but now I’m curious to.

Favourite things

Swinging:

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That swing set is over 60-years old, and it’s been standing in my back garden seat-less for who knows how long. That is, until F. made a seat for it for my birthday. Since then I’ve enjoyed swinging in my very own back garden whenever I want.

The Creature in the Case

Opening line: ‘I am going back to the Old Kingdom, Uncle,’ said Nicholas Sayre.

The Creature in the CaseSix months later, Nicholas Sayre is still recovering from the strange event at Forwin Mill. Something to do with magic and the Old Kingdom, with the Abhorsen, King Touchstone, and the Disreputable Dog. Nicholas thought he could stay in Ancelstierre and try to forget those unusual events he got mixed up in, but he was wrong. He just didn’t know how wrong he was — that is, until he went to a house party and found an unusual creature in a case. The Free Magic creature was waking up… with no Charter Mage or Abhorsen nearby to help him.

I read the Abhorsen trilogy two years ago, and was crestfallen when I finished reading it. Imagine my excitement when I saw that the used bookstore had The Creature in the Case by Garth Nix. The Creature in the Case is a novella set six months after the end of Abhorsen, the last book in the Abhorsen triology. You do need to have read the trilogy to read this book. Nicholas was never my favourite character, but I did enjoy seeing more of Ancelstierre in this book. I’m also pleased to discover that Nix has another novella set in the Old Kingdom series, To Hold the Bridge, and also that he has another novel coming out in 2014. Now, where to find the novella in the meantime…?

Numbers

I just realised that even though I tend to get into the office around 10.00AM (though I’m always happier when I get in at 9.30 or 9.00AM), I stay until 6.30-7.00PM. That means I’m working a 33-hour work week Tuesday-Friday, with 13-hour work weekends at MUSA.

That’s roughly a 45-49-hour work week, folks.

And that’s not even taking into account choir rehearsals and PGCF and I don’t even remember what else during term time.

No wonder I’m exhausted.

Some honest thoughts about doing a PhD

Today is my day off.

I am a full-time PhD student, I work a part-time job at a museum, and I work a 6-day work week. I’ve been taking advantage of the longer summer days to work late in my office, not getting home until 7 or 7.30. My housemate moved out last week and the new one isn’t due to move in until September, which means the full load of housework is mine, too. It’s easy for my day off to start to look something like this:

To Do:

  • Clean bathroom
  • Laundry
  • Swimming
  • Pay membership at Botanic Garden
  • Grocery shopping
  • Hoover floors

…and so on. But it’s my day off, and I’m exhausted. Back in March I posted about Postgraditis, and though I wrote it satirically, it does have an element of truth. Being a PhD student is hard. It might not look like much most of the time: I go to my office and read, think, take notes, read some more, and maybe write a little. I make endless trips to the library and can spend an entire afternoon looking up articles on online databases. But the life of the mind is hard work. It can be so exhausting that housework falls by the wayside, laundry is only done when you desperately need clothes to wear, and grocery shopping done when you’ve finally run out of milk or anything else in the fridge. And the garden? It’s gone to weeds. I care, but not enough to muster what energy I have to weed my meagre flower patch when I just want to sleep.

So my day off today is more likely going to look like this:

  • update blog
  • laundry
  • buy milk
  • sleep
  • watch The Hour

And since I opened the buttermilk to add some to my porridge (I was out of milk, okay?), I guess I might finally bake some rhubarb muffins, since I bought the buttermilk to make those but haven’t yet.

Honestly, I don’t know how PhD students with families manage it. My boyfriend and I both are channeling most of our energies into our respective PhD theses, with just enough left to function somewhat in the outside world.

If you know a PhD student (well, you know me, so that’s one), be kind to them. Take them out for a meal and let them take home leftovers. Be forgiving if they forget to call or email or otherwise communicate. Know that the closer they get to finishing, the more help they will need. Writing a PhD thesis is no easy thing.

The Night Circus

THE-NIGHT-CIRCUSOpening line: ‘The circus arrives without warning.’

Two magicians. A long-standing rivalry. A game, a challenge: two contestants. The venue: a circus. But not just any circus, a circus only open at night, Le Cirque des Rêves: The Circus of Dreams. Step inside and defy your imagination. Lose yourself in wonder and awe. Around you is the stuff of the game, two magicians battling for love, for life, for freedom. Who wins? Who loses? Who else is caught up in their game?

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been a huge fan of the circus. Something about Le Cirque des Rêves has converted me, however: the complexity bound in simplicity, the elegance, the mystery. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a delight to read. The prose is beautiful. The story is compelling. How to tell you any more without giving even the slightest away? Let me say, then, that if ever I hear of a circus appearing without warning, in a field of black and white striped tents, then I will queue up early, wearing my best black dress and a red scarf around my neck. Reading The Night Circus has made me a rêveur, a dreamer, whose heart longs for the circus.