Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Last night, I was sitting in at home in the living room on the couch, watching a rerun of "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" on BBC America. It was about 11pm. My company was comprised of between 3 and 5 cats, the variance in number due to an uneasy "cat peace" momentarily reigning between opposing feline factions. After games of "Superheroes" and "Party Quirks," I suddenly had this feeling that I wanted to pack everything up and go to Washington DC--just like that. I could only liken the sensation to moments during my graduate school research and writing when I was suddenly compelled to throw necessities into a carry-on and hop the next train to who-knows-where in England. However, there was one striking difference. Previously, I needed a few days' respite from the monotony of a research-oriented lifestyle. This time, I wasn't looking for a momentary reminder that there was a "rest of the world" out there. Instead, I wanted to go somewhere I really wanted to set myself down for a longer haul. I wanted to find a job, an apartment--generally, a life.

Several years ago, I graduated from college and there was this looming emptiness before me. Some call it "possibility" whereas at the time, I saw it as a huge black void of time without the structure that education previously, and comfortably, imposed. I have thought a lot about that experience, and more specifically, how very naieve I was. I was convinced that I would find myself suitable employment as a BA with no professional job experience. Well, I can't fault myself for that completely--the year I graduated was the first year the economy registered recession in the form of net job loss, and after years of the booming 1990's market, no one, much less the college careers center, was prepared for hoards of qualified applicants pressing for a handful of entry-level positions. I'll never forget my first real push for a job I truly wanted--and the utter failure all of my efforts ultimately gained. An onslaught of rejection letters from jobs I applied to followed over the summer. The result was my consideration of unpaid work that would earn me the experience that could possibly make the difference for me if I had it.

The one significant difference between then and now, even though I am sitting on the tail end of an academic experience in the same fashion I was in 2002, is my view of where the next step ultimately was meant to lead. Even if I had earned gainful employment right out of college, I would not have viewed that as part of a permanent state. I was aware of a desire to feel around a little, take a position maybe but without the obligation of long term commitment, pick and choose between living spaces, etc. However, the sensations differ now. Although I am realistic and I do know that any acquisition of a job may or may not be something that will last a while should have some relationship with what I may be ultimately aiming at doing, even if that concept only falls in the category of "type of work" rather than in the form of a specific job. I am more drawn to identifying a place I would like to be for a longer span of time than one year (which has been the average tenancy of any of my previous places of residence) and to activities that require a more considerable commitment on my part. This may just be due to the passage of time, but I think it more has to do with what my experience in England ultimately symbolized to me. I took off and conquered what was for me the greatest challenge--moving in and successfully living a long distance away from what it is that I know and have known. The result is my feeling more comfortable in my own skin--not completely comfortable, mind you, but there is a detectable improvement--and now, the next challenge falls into a new category.

I don't think I ever thought finding a life would ever be the challenge in the scheme of things that it has ultimately become. However, I do know that it comes at the right point--my taking it on at this time at least ensures that there won't be any "what ifs," and had I done it sooner, I can guarantee that would not be the case.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Continuing Progress...

Progress Thus Far: 8 hours, 66 pages, 275 footnotes.

Why so many hours?: There is a fine line between perfectionism and insanity.

Accomplished Today: A trip to the Library in town, upon arrival discovering I was without my library card. I have the detergent to wash my clothes, but no coinage with which to do so, and I have officially given up my beloved futon chair.

Current Viewing: Since my TV went with the chair today, I officially watched my last round of English daytime viewing. I will certianly miss the antics of "Bargain Hunt," the candor of the BBC afternoon news, gameshows such as "Countdown" and "Deal or No Deal," and the rounds of entertaining, late-night documentaries. However, my handy, plane-ride ready portable DVD player has been busy with three of Michael Moore's documentaries, "What Lies Beneath" just for the hell of it, and disc two in the Jackass series.

What Next?: Perfectionism tomorrow, and a possible hand-in either tomorrow afternoon or Wednesday morning.

Advice from my Calendar: Make a space in your life for the glorious things you deserve.

I'll save this page and transpose it onto the 20th or the 21st because the prescription is a little premature.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


Dissertation progress: 12 Hours, Part III, Page 48, Footnote 195.

Viewing: Seasons 1 and 2 of "Felicity" (which is quite enough, I'll tell you--nostalgia is one thing, a waste of time is entirely another) and "The Big One" by Michael Moore.

Listening: Medieval Music, hoping that will get me in the mood.

Agenda for Tomorrow: Get one last source the dissertation "can't go without," send my second to last package home, get coffee, move out half of my stuff, finish my last two parts of this dissertation and bibliography, keep my sanity.

My Horoscope: Today is not a great day for major moves. Try to avoid finalizing any commitments.

Sorry, I'm going to avoid that advice, for the sake of my personal sanity.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Next Question

When I was living in Bridgewater, I used to get the usual barrage of catalogues in the mail that I never sent away for nor purchased a thing from. My recycle bin, which I carried to the curb once every two weeks, was always littered with them. Every once in a while, one would catch my eye and I would flip through it. One of them was a book catalogue. I was never one for being "told" by a publication bent upon selling sub-standard writing to the masses what I should be reading. However, one ad did catch my eye. A woman had published the first in a three part series retelling the Pride and Prejudice story from the perspective of Mr. Darcy. I was intrigued, so I purchased it. When it arrived in the mail, I was eager to indulge myself in one of my favorite stories yet again, but I stopped short of that. The other two books in the series would not be published for another year, maybe longer given what "writing" does to your time management skills. Instead I put it away, and kept my eyes peeled for the next two books. Gradually, they did come out, and I did acquire copies of them right away. I haven't gotten the chance to read them yet because the last one came out when I started my MA here in England, but I have all three now and I will be able to read them.

Just recently, I fired off an e-mail to a former college professor of mine. He didn't teach my discipline--he was in the Religious Studies department, and at a Catholic College, he was the person to consult on eastern religions like Hinduism and Islam. I have always really liked him--I think I had a natural affinity for him because both he and I started our separate "tenures" at Holy Cross at the same time. When I finished the letter, I couldn't help but to mention just how long it had been since that beginning. That got me thinking about what that was like back then--who I was, who I am now, of course that figured in. I also thought about how it felt when I was a freshman in college for the first time, travelling a ways from home to attend a school without any students I knew. I thought about the classes I took, the environment I was in. I remember the people I met--some of whom I still know and speak to today. I remember the late nights before due dates or upcoming tests and watching the sun mercilessly rise in the morning out of one of the wall-sized window panels in the study rooms on the first floor of the dorm. I remember my room--what side I was on, how I set it up, and then, the mammoth effort my roommate and I made about mid-way through the year to rearrange it just for the sake of change. I remember the beginning of the long, complicated relationship I had throughout college that to this day I still wonder whether it should or should not have happened. I knew that feeling was somehow unique then, and that I would never have it again--and at least thus far, I was right. However, I am not sure what that feeling was or why I felt it.

When I started going to Holy Cross, the TV show "Felicity" debuted, too. I never became an avid viewer, and that is probably because I have never been one to sit in front of the set on a certain day at a certain time. Regardless, somehow I knew that because of that corellation of time, there would be something about it that drew me to it, and even more so because it was about a girl who was doing the same thing I was at the same time. Like the Pride and Prejudice novels, though, my immediate instinct was not to watch it than to become a regular viewer. Instead, I didn't want to be left hanging from episode to episode, so I waited on purpose, knowing one day I would pick up the series and watch it, but only after it had run its course and I could see it all at once rather than once a week.

Now, eight years after I was a freshman in college, I am watching the series. It brings a lot of little things back that I had completely forgotten, even though I never watched the series while it aired so there was never the creation of association in the formal sense--I wasn't watching a certain episode at a certain time when X happened, for example. In a lot of ways, it is juvenile, but I had no expectations beyond that. There is no particular reason why now is the time as opposed to a year ago or a year from now, either. It just somehow struck me one day in the recent past to use the time I have now in that way. I don't think any epiphanies are going to come from it. Instead, because I am about to move on from my most recent "change of life and place", it seemed only fitting to revisit the first real example of that in my life.

I remember wondering where I would be four years after college ended. Now I know the answer, and maybe it's time for me to come up with another question. Maybe this time it shouldn't be about time. Time matters, but not as much as I originally thought then. Maybe I shouldn't come up with a question at all. Or maybe it's just nice to have things like that to fall back on because they become our own personal time capsules--reminding us of where we were then and then forcing us to acknowledge not just where we are now, but where that may be going in the face of how much our expectations have changed.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Simple Pleasures

Whenever I think about going back to the US, I find myself focusing on the little things in every day life rather than huge themes or expectations. Here are some of the things I am looking forward to upon touchdown on the runway in the United States in two weeks:

Hair: First, I will be able to cut my hair again. Upon observing the masses and their choices of style and dye-job here in the UK, I promised myself never to trust any British barber wielding a pair of silver shears. Now, for all my British friends out there--no worries, your horrific hair creations will indeed hit the US in another two years, however, in the ensuing time, I can confidently step into a shop and say "Long layers and highlights" without coming out with half of my hair blonde and the other half sierra brown, pink streaks in odd places, and a mullet. I can also curl my hair again, which is a waste of time here given the humidity kills it within twenty minutes of my exiting a climate-controlled environment.

Dunkin' Donuts: The only reason this gets its own category is because I had a dream that somehow I was in the US, and my first instinct was to peel through the nearest drive through for an iced coffee.

Hours: In order to eliminate the possibility of jet lag, I keep very odd hours here in the UK. I get up in the late morning/early afternoon and go to bed really late at night. Essentially, if I transfer those hours minus five for the east coast of the US, they become "normal" again. Morning will once again become a tangible reality rather than an "in theory" occurance while I am still sleeping.

A House: To be honest, this would have been more useful to me here than back in the US because of the theory of the "separation of spaces." I have spent my graduate school career in one room with a bathroom, and in this room, I rested, ate, relaxed, and studied. What I realized was that there were too many associations to be had with only one space. And, of course, the predominant ones were: abject fear that I will not finish this dissertation followed by obsessive worry. Doesn't exactly make for a stress-free, TV watching night if I can see "Chapter 3" staring at me from my laptop out of the corner of my eye. It was harder for me coming from a larger, separated environment and going into this than it may have been for others more used to "college accomodation." Yes, when you're old, you do indeed need more room.

I also am not going to complain about moving off of a hallway in the college equivalent of Chinatown with groups of people who may create some amazing Chinese food, but to do so, leave raw chicken on the counter for three days marinading and wash raw meat in the sink next to my clean dishes (which, as you can imagine, quickly changes them back to "unclean" with the added "unsanitary" element to boot).

Work: I go back to work when I return home. I'll be busier, yes, and I'll probably look back on these idyllic days of working at my own pace in my home environment wistfully within a week. However, I'll go to work for eight hours, come home, and then have nothing left to worry about for the day. Your dissertation can always use more work. No matter what you do, in a five-day-a-week job, you don't go past 5pm. That is peace of mind.

The Fall: I missed most of New England's fall last year, and it wasn't until I moved here that I realized just how unique the season is there. I had lived in New England all my life to that point, and naturally, I thought at least some of the foliage change would also be present here, but trees don't lose too many leaves here because it doesn't get as cold as it does at home. I am also finding apples lacking. My ideal day off from my job will be watching my favorite fall movies baking a pie.

Driving: Although good for the health, I must say that I can do without the long, unpredictable wait for the local bus and the long walk around town for errands. The busses exist, which certainly one-ups the US, but they come at odd intervals and you could be sitting at a stop for anywhere between 5 to 25 minutes before one comes by. I am also limited by what I can carry when I do buy things. For larger items or larger quantities, I have to call Tesco to deliver, however, there are certain things that the superstore won't deliver. For example, I have a pile of boxes that have to be sent home to the US. My problem is that without a car, I have to pick one up and carry it to the post office, which is half a mile away, and therefore, I can only send one at a time. How much I will enjoy no longer being limited by my lack of upper body strength.

Law and Order: There is nothing like sitting down after a long day of work with a glass of white wine and a Law and Order marathon on TNT. NOTHING.

Not, of course, to forget, that in coming here, I left some very important and special people behind, and I will be very happy to be able to see them again.

Ok, time for my long walk for my Starbucks coffee. Let's hope the exodus is worth it.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Safety Say What?

Some recent moments:

It's about 1am in England, and finally, it isn't raining or immediately threatening to do so, so I decide to tackle the ever present and ever increasing pile of laundry in the basket on the far end of my room. The laundry fascilities are actually quite a distance away across a few parking lots, so I hoist the basket over my shoulder and begin the Exodus-like march to the one-story, brick building with the Halifax College coat of arms on the front. As soon as I get there and unload the heavy basket with a huff to the floor, I notice the prices on the washing machines and driers have changed--and of course, this isn't a reduction in price, either. I no longer have enough change on me to wash my clothes, so I have to walk all the way back to my room and count out more from my store of "useable" British coins (which does not include 5, 2 or 1 pence pieces). On my way back out the door, I see a middle-aged guy that I do not recognize on his way around the corner of the path, and apparently, about to enter my portion of the building. I give him an odd, contemplative look, and I let the door shut behind me on purpose. This meets with a gruff "thanks for holding the door" from him as he is forced to bring out his key card and open the door himself.

Another occasion--it's morning. Since I had been up late the previous night putting together a chapter for my dissertation in order to hand it in to my supervisor, it is about 1o am, and I'm still sleeping. Then, an unexpected knock comes on my door. I manage a "hello?" from my lying on the bed. The unknown individual either was not daunted or did not hear me, and proceeded to try and open the door with one of the universal room keys the college loans out to personnel. This prompted an immediate and far more adament response from me, which came in the form of, "WHO is it?!" I finally receive a response, but it isn't an offer of any form of personal identification. Instead, I hear an equally adament reply from a man, "Open the door." Excuse me? I was annoyed to no end. My reply was "WHO are you? I'm not just opening this door." I couldn't believe I had to spell that out to anyone with a functioning brain. Finally, the man insisted that he was simply coming through the hallway to limescale the bathrooms. I get up and open the door myself--no way is he going to barge in on his own time. I look at him, myself covered in a blanket. He seems to have this sudden revelation about why I wasn't thrilled by his address. I open the door and tell him that I will wait in the kitchen until he is done, and then return to my room.

So, what do these random snapshots have in common? It's a simple question of personal safety.

Years ago, I took a course in 18th Century Literature with a woman professor who also taught courses in Feminist Literary Theory. In class one day, she told us about a scenario she put forth to the other class, which had both guy and girl pupils in it. She asked if anyone had ever felt intimidated in any environment they had been in for no apparent reason--like they may have been in the dark, for example, but clearly without anyone around. The guys responded by proposing situations where they had been intimidated, but there was always a reason--the immediate presence of someone nearby who was unknown to them, for example. The girls were different--they described experiences where there were no immediate threats, but they still felt intimidated by what may be lurking behind a corner, for example. The point is that the latter experience is very much a part of a woman's consciousness, and it is something that men do not seem to be able to comprehend--there has to be a reason for them, while for women, a "bad feeling" is enough.

At Holy Cross, since the college was not in a city well-known for its personal safety rating, there were "call boxes" everywhere on campus. You could find one simply by looking for the poles with the blue lights on them. As soon as you picked up the phone, you didn't even have to touch a button--you were immediately transfered to Public Safety on the line. Public safety also did regular rounds through the campus by car and on foot, the officer on duty required to go around the school entirely once an hour. There were similar call boxes on every door to every building on campus. If you wanted to enter the campus through the front gate, you had to stop at a booth and explain your business to an officer there. Of course this system wasn't perfect and there were mishaps on campus like there are on any other in any situation. However, safety was present in an immediate sense.

I cannot give as high a rating to the University of York in this category--in fact, the score isn't even close. Here, there is a "porter's lodge" at every "college" in the university, but they aren't staffed 24 hours a day save one or two. There is no clear extension to call the closest lodge to you posted anywhere, and if you do wish to call them, you have to, not only look up the number online, but you may also have to "dial out" of the college network phone system to reach them given the U of York has so obviously sold out to the Dog N Bone phone service. If I said the term "call box" to the security officers on campus, it would be more than simply a dissent between English and American forms of the spoken language that would produce a questioning look. Given this country is against any forms of "anti-social" behavior, even if it comes in the form of something that may assist me in protecting myself, I cannot carry mace on me, and the solution that has been suggested to me is some kind of loud beacon I can buy, and if I am in trouble, I can set it off (Ok, people, DUMB idea--first, that requires someone come and find the beacon, and as you know from listening to endless car alarms go off with no one in sight reacting to them, that doesn't exactly bring about the correct response. In addition, unless I am deaf, the loud sound meant to distract and incapacitate my attacker would do the same to me, limiting my ability to get away--brilliant plan). So, I am already "on my own" technically before we start.

Although public safety leaves much to be desired here (and the porters are very nice people who do their jobs well, so it isn't their fault the system they work for is deficeint), the biggest problem is the creation of situations that may end up compromising. How do I know that the guy on the other side of the door is really a University employee, or just some random guy who managed to get a hold of a U of York polo shirt and a room key if no one has notified me otherwise? That isn't the first time that scenario has occured, either. Any one of them could have taken advantage of a vulnerable situation. I am usually caught-off guard, and even if I insist otherwise, their keys let them in my room regardless of my protests. It would take one situation one time with one less-than-admirable person for someone to possibly be hurt or compromised.

I have lived on my own fairly often throughout my life, and I have prided myself on identifying and avoiding compromising situations for myself. However, what makes me nervous is the idea that I am being placed in potentially compromising situations that I have no control over. It has actually made me more nervous than before--every morning at about the same time, I almost anticipate that knock on my door that save on three or four occasions, has never come. Regardless, I have to be honest and say that it upsets me that I have spent such a long time doing everything I can to ensure my own safety that it angers me that it hasn't been acknowledged that this could change that in a wrong place, wrong time scenario. All it is going to take is one time, and then this University will be forced to reassess the situation, and God forbid, spend some money to fix it. I just don't want to be that one person who makes the sacrifice to enlighten an establishment that prides itself on enlighening others.

Back to my exciting Friday night programming, and Chapter 2 of this ridiculous dissertation...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Details as Part of Present Living

I don't have a very exciting life of late. I've been working on my dissertation to complete my MA, so most of my Friday and Saturday--not to mention, say all of the rest of the days of the week--nights have been spent here in my room reading, writing, and editting. I talked to my brother on the phone yesterday, and regardless of the fact that he tripped over his own shoes in his apartment and wacked his ribs on his coffee table on his way to the floor, he still told me that I don't have a life. For me, it was more of a "stating the obvious" moment than my being subjected to a round of insults from a younger sibling.

So, let's discuss some more interesting things.

Last night, I watched a UK "IQ Test" on TV called "Test the Nation." I recall similar, although less technical or useful, shows in the US. It was actually kind of interesting. They broadcasted all 70 questions and a variety of people participated. People at home could access (and can still access) the test online or with their TV systems to play. In the studio, there was a group of English "celebrities" also playing along. In addition, the studio had amassed groups of people who all fell in a number of prescribed categories. For example, there were vegitarians and butchers, state school students and public school students, footballer's wives (who the hell cares about them?) and estate agents. The highest score was attributed to an older woman among the vegetarians. At one point in the show, the host spoke to her. Apparently, the most interesting event that happened to her of late was her having purchased a plant, cared for it painstakingly, only to discover no less than six months later that it was made out of synthetic materials. I have officially lost faith in the superior intelligence of the British nation.

I was dismayed to discover that "The Friday Night Project"--another entertaining show--has left off the airwaves until January. It seemed ad hoc, but that may have been the technique of the presentation of the show. The hosts were good at responding quickly to their guests and providing a good dose of ridiculousness in addition to that in the form of games and sketches. They also chose more laid back, eager to participate guests, which created a different dynamic each show but also contributed to its entertainment value.

"The Friday Night Project" was replaced by the I'm-trying-too-hard version of the same thing in the form of the Charlotte Church show. Yes, a talented young lady for certain--in the singing department, and that only. In the comedic realm, she comes off as very affected and she appears to be a little diva who thinks that she is automatically able to successfully participate in all forms of entertainment. Unfortunately, she is a poor substitute for her predecessors. From her big entrance with the poorly written and sadly dull "This is my theme tune", you just knew that nothing was going to save it. Too bad my boring Friday nights are now officially shot. Time to start renting again.

In the music world, I have recently been trying to amass the better parts of new British artists that I will be missing out on in the US. Ray Lamontagne is on the top of the list--his music is soulful but without pushing that element too far. James Morrison is also good, although the songs that have been "released" are truly the best of the best--the rest of the CD, although very much together as a unit, just doesn't have the same power over the listener. Orson is good fun, but not much more. Korin Baley Rae (and I apologize if that spelling is poor) is rather happy-go-lucky with a simple message and not much feeling behind it. Any suggestions from the masses are more than welcome.

Fortunately, the Indigo Girls will be coming out with a new CD right in time for my return home at the end of September called "Despite Our Differences." Their most recent release came in form of a compellation CD called "Rarities" that featured recordings of some previously released and some unreleased music, and overall, it was a great listen, but something was missing that only comes from a recording that is produced to be a whole. All of the songs on "Rarities" were recorded in different places at different times, so as the songs were good on their own, they did not have the unity that a CD like "All That We Let In" had. I am looking forward to experiencing that again with their newest recording.

Yes, simple things in life, granted. However, these simple things are significant because they are the little details of life as I know it right now. In a very short time, I will be leaving off this life, and the things we tend to forget first are details like that--the shows we watched, the food we ate, the music we heard--what it was like taking a shower in the bathroom in our room or using the furniture and belongings we had. In this case, for me, I can't take much of this life with me. I have to sell or distribute most of my belongings I have here with people who will be staying. If I wish to come back here and see the city again, I will have to book a long, expensive plane ride and stay in a hotel room. The people who know me here will probably remember me for a little while, and the people I see only in passing will forget quickly if they haven't already. It's all part of life, and as this will happen soon, it has happened before and will happen again in the unforseen future.

I'm looking forward to the change again, but that is a difference. In the past, change wasn't so welcome. For example, when I was at Holy Cross and a student, I remember counting down the days between my arrival and becoming comfortable and when the whole experience would abruptly end when we graduated four years later. My anticipation of change in this case has no bearing on how I have perceived my experience here. It is more that I can pick up and be ready for adjustment without lurking fear in the back of my head.

So from what is a present, and about to become a past, self to a future, and about to become a present, self, you know how it will all turn out in the end. You'll read this one day and say "oh, yeah....I remember that..." and it will probably lead to recollection of other details that I didn't bother to write down. Some will certainly be lost as soon as I walk out of the door here for the last time, but I'd like to hope, and perhaps ensure to some degree, that none of those are the important ones.