A weekend

Full moon over the North Sea

This weekend almost doesn’t fit in one post. Saturday, we had Thanksgiving at the Sharpes’. My mother brought corn meal all the way from Texas in order to make corn bread, to the enjoyment of several Southern and Western American ex-pats. We had quite a spread. In addition to the turkey, polenta, cornbread, mashed potatoes, stuffing, turnip-something, two types of cranberry sauce, two types of gravy, pecan/cheese biscuits, sweet potatoes, and waldorf salad, we had three types of pie (pecan, pumpkin, fudge walnut) and apple crumble and ice cream. And we watched the Peanuts Thanksgiving, and, of course, had an overall great time.

As you may have noticed, my NaNoWriMo badge has changed from “participant” to “Winner!” and my word count widget has remained stationary at a triumphant 50,194 words. I finished The Faerie King on Sunday, 29 November, a full day early. According to the first response from my most faithful reader, I have succeeded in writing not only a fun story, but a fantasy one, and a funny one at that. And before I can say, ‘Now what do I do?’ I remind myself that I have Bede to edit. But hey, a month ago, I didn’t have a novel. Now I do.

The Cathedral

Oh, and then on Monday I graduated. I knelt before the university chancellor in front of an auditorium of people, and the chancellor said, ‘Et super te’, tapped me on the head with a three hundred-year-old cap (rumoured to be made out of John Knox’s breeches), and I was made Master of Letters. Most of the ceremony was in Latin. When the University Court processed out of the hall, the graduates followed them and we walked down North Street to Sallie’s Quad. For me, the most magical moment was walking beneath the double arches of Sallies—it truly felt like Harry Potter.

Monday was also St Andrew’s Day. My mom and I went to the castle, because it had free admission. The town piping band led a procession down South Street and Castle Street. Some people carried torches and there was this sense of camaraderie as we marched alongside other townspeople under the bright full moon; this deep sense of doing something old, something that people in this town have done for hundreds of years. The procession led to a stage of some sort set up on the Scores where there was a modern music and dance performance of a story of Cuchulainn, but I couldn’t quite follow it. But there was fire, and that is always exciting.

Cuchulain awaiting battle.

Anyway, I would say that this was a very full, but good, weekend. Now it is already nearly half way through an already busy week—and, what? December already? Oh my!

Moving again

This time I’m not moving to another country, but in some ways I might as well be. Next week I move house to live with two Scots instead of half a dozen Chinese. Despite my attempts at friendliness a year ago, the situation here quickly became one of me versus them and it has been quite unpleasant. I can’t wait to move, actually, and I am curious to see how my new living situation will affect my general health and happiness. An actual house instead of a Soviet-era dorm, and with two cats and a dog. Even though I’ll only be moving one mile, from the north side of town to the south, I expect it to be very different.

It is quite odd to be finishing my master’s program just as everyone I know in the States is beginning a new school year. Sarah started yesterday and Kelly starts on Thursday. I feel like I should be buying school supplies and preparing for classes—instead, I am looking at turning in my dissertation, moving and having a full month off before returning to work in October. How strange.

Apocalypses

Upon the completion of my third and final chapter of the Devlish Dissertation I realised that I have thus survived seven (7) Apocalypses in the past fortnight: The Name of the Rose, Good Omens, four Last Judgement plays (Chester, N-Town, Towneley and York), and the composition of my chapter on the Judgement of Sin. Despite the amount of sulphur I must have been breathing, it was the London air that did me in, though today I have felt somewhat better. No longer coughing every five minutes at least. London has the tendency to make me ill. It’s quite annoying really.

The Third Chapter was finished in time for Felicity’s and my holiday northward, though it looks like our hopes of tramping around the woods will be foiled by nonstop rain. Regardless, I have decided to bring no work with me. It was a hard decision, but yes, there will be no article reading, chapter revising or conclusion outlining done over the next 72-hours. I need a break.

Southbound

phd072409s

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.

.

* 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.

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.

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.

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.”

Monday ramblings

After spending the entire day reading in Middle English, it’s no wonder that when I come home from the office I blast Benny Goodman or the Andrews Sisters and collapse on my bed for a few minutes before going to make dinner and watch an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. No, right now I don’t really care if my neighbors don’t like jazz. Yes, I’m aware that the Parson would say my sin is pride.

I finished The Cloud of Unknowing today. Cloud is a work of medieval apophatic theology, or negative theology, meaning that you gain understanding of God through negation. That’s the easiest way to explain it, even if it’s not entirely accurate. The goal is to clear your mind completely, to separate yourself from everything else in the world, to separate body from spirit. Between you and God will always exist a cloud of darkness, the cloud of unknowing, but by separating yourself from everything else with the cloud of forgetting you are as close to God as you can get whilst living on this earth. There’s also a whole lot on how to get to that state, and how to fend off distractions when you’re in that state, and digressions on the various aspects of the active and the contemplative lives. ‘Fascinating,’ as Spock would say.

Ian said reading Cloud would change my life. Honestly, I think I was too annoyed by a variety of factors to really enjoy it as much as I wanted to. The idea of approaching God with a clear mind and centering one’s meditation on a single word (ie, ‘love’ or ‘God’) is a practice I am already familiar with. Actually, I was intrigued by how much the Cloud author sounded like some Zen writings I’ve read.

I want to reread Cloud sometime this summer, perhaps in a modern translation or a different edition if I can find one. It seems like something I would enjoy if I were in the right frame of mind. There is much to be learned from this book, if only from this line:

It is not what you are nor what you have been that God sees with his all-merciful eyes, but what you desire to be.

In other news, I have been rereading The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. More once I’ve finished it. For now, just know that I love Le Guin, I love The Dispossessed, and that reading it has been helping “Masterpiece” tremendously. Amazing how much temporal physics has in common with classical piano.

On a similar note: I may or may not have a tab open in Firefox to the Creative Writing PhD at the University. My supervisor wants me to answer, “Why is studying vernacular theology in medieval drama important?” and trying to answer that has me terrified. I don’t think my supervisors will like the idea that I’m doing academia as a day job so that I can write science fiction and fantasy, so the creative part of me says, “So why can’t I be the day job?” I most likely will feel less terrified once I have a better idea of where this dissertation is going. Finding alternatives is one of my ways of coping… I just don’t know if they approve of genre writing.

Going to Oxford in a few weeks. Getting out of Town will do me a load of good.

I’m going to go read about an anarchist temporal physicist now.