Monday, October 31, 2005

Something smells...

And apparently, it's me!

It poured all day today, but I didn't have class until 2:00. Trust me, this is not a cause for elation; it's hard enough to attend class at all when your PhD flatmates never have to be anywhere for anything (what, exactly, do they do over here?) -- it's worse when you have to sit in class until 5 at night. Wednesdays are my really fun days: 10 to 4, straight classes with no breaks! Woo-hoo!

Sidetracks aside, by the time I left, a considerable amount of standing water had accumulated on the streets. Shivering students were sloshing past on their bikes, pants soaked through, hair matted to their heads, helmets...er, well, no one wears helmets here except we Americans, so never mind.

I grinned and deftly donned my Seattle bike gear: neon yellow jacket screaming "Don't you dare hit me!!", rainproof ski pants (the lightweight shell kind), REI full-finger gloves, reflector leg straps and -- coolest of all -- waterproof helmet cover that doubles as a reflector. Finally, I added my prize, a symbol of all my dorkiness that will forever mark me here: my waterproof backpack cover. God, I love that thing. I can bike for miles and nothing inside my pack ever feels the rain. Sure, it's a giant, flat gray and uglier than a garbage bag, but it is the Best Invention of All Time. This makes Velcro look like a first grade science project.

It's true that I stand out a bit, as most Cambridge students seem to prefer the "I'm going to die on this bike anyway, so I might as well look good doing it" statement. You see girls in miniskirts, guys in long, dangerously flapping trenchcoats, old ladies in long, sweeping dresses...I've lost count of the number of women who navigate their bikes in stilettos -- I tried boots once and promptly caught a heel in my pedal, then pulled the whole contraption on top of myself trying to yank it out before the light turned green. Between that and the mad determination of most cyclists to cause substantial pile-ups because they're too lazy to steer in a straight line, I prefer to be as obnoxiously visible as possible. I'd rather stay dry and unsplatted than be fashionably soaked and pretty on the pavement.

So I sped down the hill and arrived at the tech building bone-dry, despite the vicious downpour. Now, the only difficult part of my wardrobe is that I have to remove all of it before I enter a classroom -- teachers don't seem to appreciate it when I drip-dry on their floors. It consequently takes me a few moments to get ready: peel off the gloves, shrug off the jacket, pry off the helmet, unwrap the leg bands and take off the pants. Gotta love the looks that last one receives: "Hey! Is that girl taking her pants off in public?"

Yes, yes I am. Alas, they always lose interest when they see the real pair underneath the shell.

Anyway, I was in the process of disrobing when a couple of my friends walked past on their way to the same lecture. One checked out my things, which immediately sent me into a pointless exposition about the merits of waterproof backpack covers. Midway through my drivel, she cut me off and said:

"You know, you just reek of Seattle." Then she patted my arm as I turned crimson. "It's okay," she assured me. "It's a good thing."

It's never a good thing to hear the words "you" and "reek" in the same sentence. I should probably just start wearing Gortex and Birkenstocks while munching granola and be done with it.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

How NOT to get a haircut

1. Do not look for the cheapest available option, even though the average price of a trim here is $60.
2. Do not settle for the 7 pound (aka $14) "trainee" option.
3. Avoid booking one two hours before your afternoon class, since it takes an average of over two hours for the trainee to comprehend the intricacies of your style.
4. Don't think you can leave in your piercings. Every time she snags them brutally with her comb, she'll apologize, but then -- somehow -- she'll manage to do it again.
5. Watch out for the supervisor who comes over to give the trainee some "getting started" tips, but who subsequently stares quizzically at your hair and says, "Well, I think you want to cut like this..." then pantomimes cutting empty air, stops, stares at her air cut, and says, "Yeah...I think that's right."
6. Bring magazines, books, your dissertation -- you'll have plenty of time to get through it all. Plus, it beats the excrutiating experience of watching the trainee painstakingly cut a whole 1/16th of an inch at a time around your entire head.
7. When she finishes and the sides are completely different, insist that she have her instructor come take a look. Should the trainee attempt to fix it herself, pry the scissors from her all-too-helpful hands, grab the nearest razor, and just start shaving.
8. NEVER go into a salon where not a razor can be found. Or where "texturize" isn't a phrase they've heard.
9. On second thought, just don't have short hair in England. No one else does, thereby making it impossible for British hairdressers to learn how to cut and style anyone who doesn't have a shoulder-length mane.
10. Just shell out the damn $60 and figure that saving yourself long-term psychological damage is worth the cash.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Time flies

Ugh. Sorry for failing to write. The week's been busy, but it also passed before I knew it was here. I will resume my normal posting tomorrow - tonight, I have to make myself sleep.

Monday, October 24, 2005

How to irritate your international roommates

Point at a can of vegetables. Ask, "How do you say the word for the material in that can?" Cackle until you lose your breath when the Scotswoman glares and mutters, "Alyewmineeum."

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Playing the fool

I woke up this morning and couldn't roll out of bed. Sitting up was out of the question, but I thought I might be able to accomplish rolling if I could just ease myself onto my side, then let gravity handle the rest. Unfortunately, the muscles wouldn't comply.

Yesterday, I clambered a-horseback after being away from lessons for years. I've joined the university riding club, and, based on my experience, I've been placed into the intermediate/advanced class. Based on my muscles, I should probably be at the primordial "ought to stick with admiring pretty horses from afar" level.

My horse, Suete (pronounced "Sweaty," which is just a lovely image to conjure up), is a cantankerous 20 year-old Arab/Lusitano cross. Most 20 year-old horses are gentle, stately geriatrics, perfect for riders in less-than-ideal dressage physique. However, anyone who's ever ridden an Arab can attest to the fact that it's the closest thing to riding a wild zebra; if you finish without losing any digits or limbs, you've done well. Suete began the day by taking a well-aimed snap at me when I tightened his girth -- although I don't really blame him, since it's the equivalent of having someone position your belt so your pants don't budge, even if you jump up and down stairs for an hour. As any member of the equine species is able to do, Suete instantly determined that I was a rusty old rider; as soon as I hit the saddle, he proceeded to skitter sideways across the yard while I tried to rein him in with one hand and find my bloody stirrups with the other.

Two hours later, I felt like I'd been put inside a large burlap sack and hammered vigorously with a meat mallet. Most of the lesson went like this:

Experienced British Dressage Instructor: "LEG YIELD FROM 'K' TO THE CENTER LINE."
Except, of course, between the brisk wind and her thick accent, it sounded more like:
"LEYEELDFROKTOCELINE."
Me: "What? What the hell was that? Something about moving left?"
Suete: "Get this bloody sack of cement off my arthritic back before I brush her off on the nearest low-hanging tree branch."
Consequently, I tried to follow the rider in front of me. This proved difficult, as Suete had been nominated for Slowest Plodding Farm Animal of the Year and was trying valiantly to win.

In dressage, you're expected to have the horse perform incredibly complex moves (counter-canter, flying lead changes, performing somersaults while fixing a cup of tea) without so much as twitching a finger. Instead, your legs and seat are supposed to do the work; weight shifts and muscle pressure should urge the horse forward "on the bit" until you and your animal are one with the energy of the universe.

Alas, someone forgot to inform my inner thighs that they were to have tranformed into steel cables the night before my lesson. The leg yield we practiced entails trotting the horse diagonally across the arena while keeping his head straight forward. The reins should be firm against the horse's neck, but all of the motion should be propelled by the steady pulse of your outside leg against its flank. Or, in my case, your hands are bloody all over the place as your horse snorts and tries to canter straight, and your outside leg is futilely walloping his side like wet spaghetti. In the meantime, your "firm but steady" inside leg has worked loose of its stirrup, and your efforts to pick it back up merely drive the poor horse back the wrong way. So desperate are you to get him to move before the instructor notices the runaway train that is your "leg yield" that you get right on the tail of the lead horse, hoping their similar colors will cause the instructor to think the first one's merely grown a few spare legs.

Thus progressed my first lesson. Thankfully, I salvaged the entire thing by accomplishing the walk-to-canter transition without a hitch...except, of course, that I reversed my leg cues and Suete counter-cantered instead, sort of the equivalent travesty of driving on the left side of the road in the States.

I've spent this afternoon hobbling around, because if I stay seated for more than 15 minutes, my legs lock in place and I have to unbend myself with the nearest tool available. On Sunday, I do it all again! Ah well, at least this provides ample incentives for me to keep weight training during school...assuming I can ever move my legs more than a few inches forward or backward again...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Screw the displaced - where's my supper?

This is unbelievable. Apparently, according to a Friday article in the Seattle Times, our illustrious former FEMA director couldn't act on the Superdome situation because he hadn't finished his dinner.

"As Katrina's outer bands began drenching the city Aug. 28, Bahamonde [New England's regional director of FEMA, sent to New Orleans to assess the situation] sent an e-mail to Deborah Wing, a FEMA response specialist. He wrote: 'Everyone is soaked. This is going to get ugly real fast.'

"Subsequent e-mails told of an increasingly desperate situation at the New Orleans Superdome, where tens of thousands of evacuees were staying. Bahamonde spent two nights there with the evacuees.

"On Aug. 31, Bahamonde e-mailed Brown to tell him that thousands of evacuees were gathering in the streets with no food or water and that 'estimates are many will die within hours.'

"'Sir, I know that you know the situation is past critical,' Bahamonde wrote. 'The sooner we can get the medical patients out, the sooner we can get them out.'

"A short time later, Brown's press secretary, Sharon Worthy, wrote to colleagues, in an e-mail containing numerous misspellings, to complain that the FEMA director needed more time to eat dinner at a Baton Rouge restaurant that evening. 'He needs much more that 20 or 30 minutes,' Worthy wrote.

"'Restaurants are getting busy," she said. 'We now have traffic to encounter to get to and from a location of his choise, followed by wait service from the restaurant staff, eating, etc. Thank you.'

"'OH MY GOD!!!!!!!" Bahamonde messaged a co-worker. "I just ate an MRE [military rations] and crapped in the hallway of the Superdome along with 30,000 other close friends so I understand her concern about busy restaurants.'"

Could the privleged and the powerful be further out of touch with life in the other America? News flash: we're not better or worse than anyone else. We have serious problems, and none of them will be resolved if we can't even acknowledge that something's gone wrong. Our nation was founded as an experiment; experiments fail every day. There's no reason that ours has to, unless we're hellbent on sabatoging the results...sure seems like it...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Take me home

I miss my city. I miss the shimmering glazed goldleaf surface of Lake Union at sunset. The lofty, joint-swollen chestnut trees that line Fremont Avenue and hail down spiney seed cases onto my helmet as I slog uphill. The peaks and crags floating between every hilltop home, tinging the urban corridors with wildness, lingering in the dreams of residents who cannot settle for driving but restless walk and hike and climb and paddle to retain the memory of the mountains. I think about it every day. Whether it's raining. Whether the waves on the Sound are choppy. What the trees look like this year as the leaves drop. Who's sitting in my old chair at the coffeehouse on NE 50th Street. God, I miss it so much. Never in my life have I felt a physical yearning for a place, let alone this persistent ache.

The odd thing is that I truly enjoy living abroad – school may not be what I expected, but the people, places and experiences make it so worthwhile…but part of me is still amidst the mountains, and even the high Palouse plateaus. I even miss its flaws: Seattle’s politically na├»ve ideologues, the inept public transit system (or lack thereof), its uneasy soul-searching about what it wants to become. It’s strange, because we’re losing the sea-worn fishing boats and the dingy bowling alleys that I love – and yet, I still want to go home.

There’s a great Marc Broussard song, “Home,” which I burned as part of my Seattle Mix. It’s the best soul-funk song that I’ve ever heard about coming home after a long absence; every time it plays, I growl and howl along with the lyrics, which pick you up with a storm’s force. I guarantee you I’ll be singing it on the plane that finally brings me back for good…so, as I work tonight…

This Greyhound is delta bound, mama
Baby boy done finally found
I said this Greyhound is delta bound, mama
Baby boy done finally found his way home
Said take me home…
Straight from the water
Straight from the water, child
You don’t know nothin’ about this
Take me home
Take me home
Take me home

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bad girl

This week's a little crazy, but I promise to update tomorrow. Meanwhile, I've discovered that no one in Cambridge has heard of kale -- but they've all tried (and loved) deep fried Mars Bars. They chew such lovely holes through your stomach lining. Seriously, people. You were a global superpower for centuries, and you never discovered how to cook??

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Scenes from last night's boat trip along the Thames


The Tower Bridge at dusk.

Tower Bridge at night



The Tower Bridge leads to the Tower of London, where several heads of state lost their heads.

The London Eye


When we visited in January, we picked the one month where the London Eye closed for annual maintenance. This time, they wouldn't let me off the boat to take a ride. Instead, I holed up in the hull with a small cadre of fellow sufferers who were forced to listen to Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson bleat their horrendous renditions of formerly tolerable country songs. If the Thames weren't so cold, I would have opted for a long swim home.

The Thames at night



I'm still working out the kinks on this camera -- I miss my 35mm, but it's a pain to carry on short trips. Consequently, the photo is a bit blurry.

Fear the hamster

Apparently, the Dutch have spent a few too many years behind sea walls. Meet the Korenwolf, a small, indigenous hamster who feeds on grain in breweries. So admired (or feared?) is the Korenwolf that he has been granted his own beer label. Just look at him, clutching the wheat between his pernicious paws. Clearly, the Dutch have bigger things to worry about than the sea swamping their country.

Ndugu wants to know why the hell we haven't given him a brand yet, let alone a cool foreign name.

The Balliol Bop


Last week, I attended my first "bop" at Oxford, the Beta Omega Phi bop (ha ha, get it?)...a bop is basically yet another excuse for the good students of England's finest universities to guzzle far more alcohol than anyone should physically be capable of consuming. Coincidentally, this week's Cambridge student paper ran an article describing the latest antics of their inebriated freshers: one fine young man stopped up his sink with a wad of towels, turned on the faucet, and promptly passed out in a chair. Awhile later, when water from the room began seeping beneath the door and pouring down the stairwell, another intoxicated student stumbled in to find him oblivious and ankle-deep in water.

These are the people who run much of the Western world. If I were you, I'd be very frightened.

The theme of the evening was "Back to School," which meant that every British girl showed up in her public school uniform. Being culturally oblivious Americans, Coalescent Boy and I decided to go with the "dropout/frat boy" theme; I donned my finest punk threads, he found his most obnoxious hat (which, of course, I did not purchase or suggest wearing). Here we are, surrounded by sloshed blokes in ties and shattered girls in plaid miniskirts and stilettos. Can you see the panic in our eyes? We are way out of our league here.

Why do they hate us?

Because.

Only an American would have the chutzpah/sheer, indomitable stupidity to try this at a party full of stuffy Englishmen.

Secretly, I admire him. Publically, I say I'm Canadian.

The world is a sadistic place

Yeah. So Bright Eyes and Death Cab, my favorite new discovery and favorite old friend, are touring Seattle next month.

I'm so tempted to use our "discretionary allowance" to fly in for a few nights of music. Stupid residency requirements.

I should note that I may be the only Death Cab fan who's followed them since their first album came out but who has yet to see them in concert. Every damn time, there's been a final exam, a trip or an ocean separating me from Ben and the gang. Damn it, guys! Can you say "World Tour???"

Grrrrr. Back to reading about Latin American water policy. Be still, my beating heart.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The head, it's a little fuzzy

Augh! AUGH!

How is it 10am already??? Why is my pile of papers still untouched? Why are clothes strewn all over my couch? What on earth possessed me to agree that it would be wise to attend a "Formal Hall" exchange at another college?

Formal Hall exchanges are not diplomatic events between wise peers who sip port and politely debate world economics. They are a mad frenzy, an excuse to dress up, visit someone else's dining hall (typically an ancient, cathedral-like cavern filled with large portraits of long-dead college presidents), and make a complete arse of yourself because no one knows you anyway.

This explains why my group engaged in highly inappropriate conversation, imbibed a bit too much wine and subsequently stole a bottle of port (why, why, why do the British like port so bloody much? It's like drinking straight cough syrup!). It may not justify the actions, but it explains them.

The refined, well-groomed, bespectacled graduate students next to us turned their chairs away halfway through a rather unpalatable meal, in which the vegetarian "Tower of Mushrooms" was more like a small, wilted cowpie of tinned mini-mushrooms. Apparently, our loud chatter about the merits of the Onion and the Sun offended their dignified sensibilities. It probably didn't help when the college dean stood up to welcome guests, misidentified our college, and was publically castigated by a raucous chorus of "We're not from bloody X college! We're from Y!"

In hindsight, we should have viewed his misstep as a gift, because at least then our behavior could have been attributed to someone else's college, and they could have been banned for all life. Fortunately, within half an hour, the rest of the guests caught up with us and were guzzling their own pilfered port while the blue-bloods quailed with horror.

I really don't know how graduate students here manage to be drunk at least half the nights of the week -- and you should see the undergraduates! I think the British must slip their babies flasks as soon as they can walk. Regardless, we Americans just can't keep up. Instead, we gamely stagger behind and waste time drunk-texting innocent friends. (Yes, "text" is a verb here...and we're supposed to be the backwards part of the former Empire.)

Alas, I have a bit of catching-up to do, and another mandatory "social function" tonight (no, really, this one is required). Apparently, we scholarship kids are taking a boat ride around London in the dark, with free beverages sponsored by some consulting group eager to snap us up after we've obtained our incredibly useful degrees in geography and English. If I'm not back on the blog in a few days, it's probably safe to assume that I was lost on the Thames, and that I'm drifting out to sea with nothing but a bottle of that accursed port. 'Ta for now.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Only the Lonely

The booklist grew exponentially today (if you count journal articles, we're at well over 100, and I might as well just consign my soul to the vendors of highlighting pens and post-it flags). What this means is that I ought to be studying as if the very justification of my existence depended on the amount of puffed-up, hypertheoretical jargon I could digest in an evening. Instead, here's what I've done:

1. Read comics online
2. Fixed dinner
3. Snarfled pasta while reading the NYT online
4. Attended portion of Geography Department pub crawl (terrible attendance, possibly due to the fact that its students have managed to pick one of the most demanding degrees known to man at this rather demanding institution -- why is that always my lot in life??)
5. Roved between Geog pub crawl and regular weekly pub night for recipients of my funding source
6. Called CB
7. Fixed tea and warmed up embarrassingly addicting cup o' rice pudding
8. Contemplated reading list (duration: about 37 seconds)
9. Wrote this blog

All in all, I think I've become highly skilled at graduate student procrastination.

Since I've already demolished this once-promising evening, I might as well spend even more time blogging. In my month here, I've encountered numerous people toiling through the excrutiating torture of serious, long-distance relationships. Two things have helped me cope: Vodaphone's "talk for a ridiculously long time after 7 if you sign an 800 year contract" plan, and depressing music.

I realize this sounds counterintuitive, but nothing's better for the long-distance blues than indulging in truly soul-shriveling music. Hence, my song compilation, "Songs of Despair and Depression." However, since some of the lyrics in that mix could cause suicidal thoughts in small furry animals, I'm going to post my second list: "Missing (Insert Name of Love Object Here)":

1. David Gray, "Flame Turns Blue"
If I lost you, I don't know what I'd do
Burn forever where the flame turns blue

2. Flogging Molly, "If I Ever Leave This World Alive"
If I ever leave this world alive,
I'll come back down and sit beside your feet tonight
Wherever I am, you'll always be
More than just a memory

3. Snow Patrol, "Run"
Light up, light up
As if you had a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice,
I'll be right beside you, dear

4. Blink 182, "Miss You" (technically a break-up song, but it still works for me)
Will you come home and stop this pain tonight?

5. Sarah McLaughlin, "Push"
You're all the things that I desire, you save me, you complete me
You're the one true thing I know I can believe in

6. Death Cab for Cutie, "I'll Follow You Into the Dark"
Disclaimer: this is the best song ever written. Yes, I worship the band anyway and always have, but I'm serious. Nothing can touch this, no one can rival its beautiful, poignant images. It's the only song that actually makes me cry every time I hear it, and the only one that epitomizes everything I've never been able to verbalize about the depth of my love. I get goosebumps just reading the lyrics. Breathtakingly gorgeous.
If heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied
Illuminate the no's on their vacancy signs
If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks
Then I'll follow you into the dark

I'll add to it as I find those perfect LDR songs, but so far this encompasses all the ones I need when I'm inside on a solitary, rainy night.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Master'scard

Number of books on my reading list as of this afternoon: 67

Number of papers for which I must submit titles in November, even though they aren't due until April and the classes upon which they're based don't start until January: 3

Number of words in my soon-to-be-conceived thesis: 20,000

Having the chance to obsess about all this over a glass of sherry in a dining hall older than Shakespeare? Priceless.

Camford: it's everywhere you want to be. And a few places you don't. (Oh, wait, that's the other credit card ditty, isn't it?)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Ahhh, the culture gap

One of my favorite things about being here is the international character of Oxbridge and Camford. In my flat alone, we have people from Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, Nigeria, China and the United States. Our graduate group at my college includes students from Belarus, Canada, South Africa, Australia and Malaysia.

This diversity can lead to unforgettable encounters -- although not always the kind you anticipate. The candid, straightforward mannerisms of Germans can be difficult to process, particularly in a matter-of-fact conversation like the one Coalescent Boy and I had last night:

Hans: So, you want to study in South America?

Me: Yep. (Launch into brief explanation of planned work)

Hans: I was in Bolivia last year. And, ja, my friends and I bought some cocaine, you know? But I did not realize they don't like that at home; I guess it's illegal to bring it back. And the customs, ja, they were really angry.

Ja, you don't say?? I'm trying to picture Hans in the customs line declaring his imports: a handmade rug, a few paintings and an ounce of cocaine. They must have been so stymied that they didn't know what to do with him -- or he's really, really good at getting out of sticky situations and I should hire him immediately to help me out at Cambridge.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Bartender! Give this man a drink!

Somehow, when I moved here, I hoped that all of the embarrassing things our country manages to do might miraculously cease. Perhaps I could have harnessed the negative energy around the capitol and dragged it over here, where the biggest issue on people's minds seems to be whether Prince William's going to do anything about his bald spot.

But no. Our Fearless Leader seems hell-bent on one-upping himself every time he steps out in public -- which, thanks to the frenzied maneuvers of his press secretary, seems to occur less and less often.

Here's today's little gem:

Some critics, [Bush] said, had claimed "that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals." But, he continued, "I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001, and Al Qaeda attacked us anyway."

Yeah? Well, that's because Al Qaeda wasn't based in Iraq at the time of the attack, you imbecilic monkey puppet!! (Sorry. I've sworn to refrain from vulgarity on this blog except when absolutely necessary, so some creative semi-curses must come into play.)

I mean, are you really this stupid? Do you really think that's why people are upset?? Does it disturb anyone else that the president thinks our collective IQ is about as big as the amount of evidence that proves creationism?

It gets better, though - now he's learning how to improvise!!

He said that the United States and its partners had disrupted at least 10 serious Al Qaeda plots in recent years - including three in the United States - and had blocked five attempts to case targets or infiltrate the country.

Press Secretary McClellan later said that "off the top of his head," he could name two of the 10. The others, it seems, are probably classified. Or they don't freaking exist and we're so desperate to maintain this state of fear that we need to create little snaggle-toothed monsters who just want to infiltrate our country and bomb it into the stone age. And eat small American children who don't go to bed on time.

"Against such an enemy, there's only one effective response," Mr. Bush said, in an apparent riposte to critics seeking an immediate withdrawal of American forces. "We never back down, never give in and never accept anything less than complete victory...It is courage that liberated more than 50 million people. It is courage that keeps an untiring vigil against the enemies of a rising democracy, and it is courage in the cause of freedom that once again will destroy the enemies of freedom. "

To summarize: "Enemy, enemy, victory, evil evil, freedom, courage, victory, evil, freedom, freedom, freedom."

It's funny, because over here I just keep reading stories about how the truly courageous -- Iraqi citizens caught in the daily crossfire between Islamic militants and American soldiers -- are being driven out of their own country. How they thought we were going to help them, but we only manged to create the perfect environment for religious fundamentalists to fill the nation's power vacuum. How they're afraid to help us because we lack both the man-and-firepower to protect them when irate neighbors attack their homes.

Seriously, Mr. President? Can you do us all a favor and shut the hell up? In fact, why not do something useful with your term and really try to make that record vacation streak untouchable? Just take the next three years off. Please. I'm sure there's a bar in Crawford that would be thrilled to have you back in town.

Blogalicious

Ladies and...well, ladies, since I only know one or two men who actually read this blog...let me introduce you to my newest idol, She Who Must Be Emulated, Worshipped and Waited Upon:

Shakespeare's Sister

Just makes little, liberal me all misty-eyed.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

And sometimes, you can't make it on your own

It will behoove me to refrain from writing everything I'd like to about the things going on here. Suffice it to say that all is not well, that I've been introduced swiftly to the downside of being a graduate student, that every day I spend without the husband proves harder than the last.

I know sometimes it's hard to distinguish between the regular cycles of being abroad and actual depression; I think I'm really just hovering somewhere in between right now. Fortunately, these things tend to clear up quickly -- at this point, just finding a satisfying, cheap vegetarian meal made my evening brighter.

It helps to have friends outside the strange, inexplicably convoluted University that currently controls my right to existence. I've also taken great pleasure in gathering with other graduate students in my college for wine, wine, cocktails and eardrum-bursting rounds of karaoke. They understand me, anyway.

I'm trying to maintain a sense of humor about this whole thing, because what else am I going to do? I will NOT let this consume my life, at least not to the point where I can no longer remember what life's like outside the university (a problem, alarmingly, for many students who've grown up in this insular system). Still, it's been one of the most trying weeks I've ever endured -- I'm behind on sleep, emotionally ragged and feeling less and less sure about my place here. I miss my city, my Seattle. Part of me keeps fantasizing about purchasing a one-way to Oxford and hopping on the bus with my suitcases haphazardly packed. Subsequently, the rest of me looks around and sees this ragtag community of frazzled grad students, and it loves the way we bond over sickly sweet port and tales of academic woe. I don't know what I'm going to do, but I guess this is the part of grad school I neglected to consider: it's so much more than just going back to school.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Hold on, hold on to yourself

Hold on, hold on to yourself
'Cause this is gonna hurt like hell...

The blogger community lost a tremendous presence this weekend. If you read "Mom's Cancer" when it was available online or followed her family as they worked to help her recover, I'm sorry to report that she passed away on Saturday.

Please visit the site and take a moment to remember her in whatever way you can - for anyone who ever knew a cancer survivor or was one themselves, this is an irreplaceable loss.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Getting my bearings

The irony, ask me: "Where have you been?"
I don't know, I don't know because I don't know where to begin

This Friday marked my second full week in England. For some reason, I'm finding it difficult to transcribe the thoughts running through my head or to describe the moments where I've really thought, "Yes, I've arrived." I think this has a lot to do with how fragmented my time is; on any given day, I have a series of events to attend that are put on by the college, the department, the university, my funding source and the graduate student union. I fly from one social function to another, launching myself into a blur of other fledgling graduates who are beating themselves against the windows trying to "get in" -- even if we aren't sure what getting in entails.

My school is extraordinarily international: in my graduate house alone, I have flatmates from Scotland, England, Nigeria, China and Northern Ireland. Consequently, many of us have lost our bearings completely. Oceans and time zones separate us from everything familiar, and we're all in a mad rush to find substitutes here.

Realistically, this breakneck pace won't last. I've been 100% social since the beginning of the week, and I've reached my limit. I'm not antisocial, but I do appreciate a little down time -- and after my 300th conversation about where I'm from and what I do, I've participated in enough small talk to last for years. So I skipped out on a barbeque today to catch up, chat with Bryan on the phone, file my nails, write this blog and read the news. Without television or a radio (very expensive here), I feel somewhat cut off from the outside world; if I can't get online for an hour to scan the headlines, I may not know anything about current events. This is highly disconcerting for a news junkie, but it's reality because I also have two countries to keep track of now. I want to be aware of politics and global affairs in England, but I still need to retain ties to the US and Seattle.

Being an American here, by the way, is a mixed bag. You're doomed from the moment you open your mouth -- although for some reason, several people think I'm Australian. You know, that Seattle-Australian dialect...erm...Everyone says, "Ahh, you're American," in a knowing way, with a narrowing of the eyes and a tilt to the head that makes you think, "My God, what does that mean?!?" What it means, of course, is a mixed bag: you're forever linked to a country whose global reputation is a bit shoddy right now, but you're also connected with a place that still holds tremendous interest for people. You feel special and embarrassed at the same time, like you should apologize for parts of yourself but still be proud of the whole package.

I start my departmental orientation tomorrow, which is a relief because I don't have the slightest clue about what I'm supposed to be doing. The only things I've learned here so far run as follows:

1. European cheese is really, really, really fantastic.

2. The whole 9-to-5 retail hour schedule, while quaint and ostensibly appealing, is incredibly annoying in practice. You can't buy anything if you're in school all day, and you certainly can't go to a doctor if you have a day job. I'll probably need to cut classes to purchase milk -- or, lord help me, join the throngs who saturate the city's streets on weekends, thereby rendering it impossible to purchase a few apples without waiting for half an hour.

3. Due perhaps to the relatively small size of their nation, English people have endearing ideas about distance. Everyone recoils in horror when they find out my college is "up on the hill! so far away!" In reality, the "hill" is a gentle slope of perhaps 100 yards, and the "far away" is a 10-minute walk into the town's center. The unfortunate problem is that no one will visit me because I am so blooming far from everything. I'm starting to really understand why the vast Great Plains terrified early settlers who confronted their unending stretches.

4. Every night is student night at the bars.

5. Taking advantage of this will render you impoverished and severely irritable.

6. Being from Seattle has its perks. I'm the only one who isn't complaining about the weather. Hell, it's sunny in October! Who cares if the wind is cold? It's SUNNY in OCTOBER! Bring on the ultimate frisbee and the flip-flops!

I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to post all the things I'd like to, but I'll do my best. Tomorrow should be interesting - more to come...