Tag Archives: thoughts

In which I climb on the proverbial soapbox

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Or…in which I vent my academic status-related frustrations.

Dear (fictional) Mr Nimrod,

I am sick and tired of you pointing out the impracticality of my area of study. Yes, I am aware of the lack of readily-available, entry-level jobs. Yes, I know that it will very likely take years of underpaid overtime to establish myself professionally. Yes, I understand that your concern is my comfort and financial independence. I am certain you are completely altruistic in your constant belittling of my study choices. My answer to you well-meant barbs? WAKE UP NIMROD! Not everyone is cut for the -undeniably cutthroat- world of marketing/economics/business/whatever-well-established-career-path-you-suggest. I do not consider Humanities superior to any other discipline, why do I need to constantly defend it’s use to society? I mean, say what you will about Renaissance and Enlightenment era gender politics, but at least they got one thing right: every discipline that can be studied is important and ought to be studied. Heck! We’d probably be in less of a mess right now if people were not pushed/guilt-tripped into professions they are not suited for.

Admittedly this is written from my undeniably privileged point of view and I understand that sometimes making ends meet is more important. I completely understand. What I don’t understand is this trend of looking down on Humanities and Liberal Arts in favor of the more numerically-inclined degrees. Some tension between schools will be inevitably, much like any conversation with my brothers will inevitably lead to a boys vs girls debate. But I shouldn’t have to defend my preference for further studying over finding a job as soon as I get my BA. I shouldn’t have to explain why the subject(s) I love are worth my time and effort. I don’t call Math students “detached from reality” for enjoying the flow of equations, why should I be called so? And yes, I have been called so, as well as been told that my area of specialization had no practical applications.Well, guess what? If nobody bothered with those musty, dusty, old manuscripts I nerd about our understanding of history, past societies and what led to the formation of the modern world would be sorely lacking. Science doesn’t hold the answers to everything, nor should it.

Leonardo da Vinci was considered such a great scholar because of his wide field. Granted, the man was a genious, but, even by genious standards, his range of interests was insane! He was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. And that’s just from a Wikipedia gloss, so there’s probably more. Why can’t societies be more like that? Why can’t it be accepted that everything has its merit and ought to be cherished and studied (and hopefully understood)? It’s just that, you see. I shouldn’t feel like I have to defend myself and my choices, and yet I do. Why? Why can’t we just agree to disagree? Why can’t people get off their high horses long enough to admit that just because they don’t understand or don’t have interest in something that doesn’t mean that no one ought to be interested in it.

In which I consider portraits

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I’ve been told by several people that I am a relatively calm, organised person and to a certain extent they are right. I try to remain calm and I certainly try to make my life easier by being organised. Unfortunately this means to any time I allow my inner panic to show, it’s not taken seriously. Truth is… I am not a calm person. I just internalise a lot, partly because I don’t like people asking me too many questions, partly because I feel the people around me have enough problems on their own, without me adding to them. Frankly, if people could hear my internal monologue (dialogue/full scale argument) at times, they’d be sure to back away…real fast. I like to blame the fact that I was born slap-bang in the heart of summer for my temper. Everything comes to boil faster when it’s hot.

It used not to bother me that people would assume I’m the accommodating one, the “mother” of any group I find myself in. I mean, I don’t mind taking care of people and I certainly enjoy the adrenalin rush of trying to coordinate multiple things at the same time. (Pre-performance and backstage work were the parts I enjoyed most when I was on my school’s theatre group.) Lately, however, I find my goodwill rapidly diminishing and what little patience I had is following swiftly. I’m so tired all the time. It’s not physical tiredness, it’s more of that soul-crashing sensation of knowing you can’t expect more from someone and yet hoping to be pleasantly surprised. And the worst part is that I know it’s all in my head.

I’ve always had trouble reading people in real life (not in stories, which is why I tend to prefer the company of a book). I make assumptions about motives and opinions and I struggle to combine my perception of a person (and the inevitable expectations that come along) with who they actually are, or at least who they perceive themselves to be. For a very long time I simply did not make the effort, after all what’s the point of getting to know people when you know for a fact that after a few years you will not see them again. (Schoolyard friendships, my left foot…) Sadly as I grew older I discovered that people can be as intriguing as books (and that came as quite the shock, let me tell you). I tried and still try to figure them out. The results are mixed at best. I’m stubborn though, so I hope eventually I’ll manage it.

So what do I do in the meantime? Especially on the days when the effort is just too much? I’ve tried different things, from long (loooooong) solitary walks to forcing myself to stay around people in a social setting and I think I may have managed to find a middle ground: I take whichever book I’m reading at the time, walk to town and sit in a cafe. That way I can be around people and get the human contact I need and at the same time I don’t actually have to pretend anything. I’ll just get a tea or a mocha or whatever tickles my fancy (which requires a mercifully small amount of words being spoken), sit back and read/people watch for a few hours. You should try it. It’s amazing how much it clears the head to take a step back and look at any given situation from the outside.

D is for Drama

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Ah…drama. The inevitable result of combination of family reunions, overeating and disappointing presents. What do I speak of? Boxing Day! You know, when the high from the partying and Christmas cheer are over and you are left to clean the house, store away the atrocious sweater that great-aunt you’ve never seen before gave you and nit-pick everything that you heard in the past two days, all the while nursing a hangover. Charming.

 

Personally, I’ve always imagined family reunions as miniatures of a United Nations conference. Add the word dinner and it’s practically a convention (complete with souvenirs)! You have the people you are glad to see again, those that are just meh, the new-arrivals (new babies or cousins visiting from out of town) and of course the once you dread to face. And face them you will. Armed with only a plate of nibbles and a glass of wine, you’ll have to fix a smile and answer politely to their comments, all the while trying not to look like you’re looking for the nearest exit.  It’s not even that they mean to annoy you. No, that’s what makes it worse! They are genially interested, but when it is the nth time you have to explain what you’re studying, what sort of job can you even find with your degree or –my personal favourite- is there someone special in your life and when exactly are you planning on settling down… -rage quit-

 

Let us all be thankful that the alcohol is monitored in this sort of gathering (what with kids zapping around everywhere) or the responses to those questions would no doubt be far less diplomatic and far, far more honest. No, I’m not a Grinch. No, I don’t despise family functions (although if anyone asks me again what high-paying job I can get with a Lit degree I will not be held responsible for my actions). Heck, I don’t even complain for getting socks as a Christmas gift! Good socks are more expensive than you’d assume. So what’s with the title?

 

Well, think about it: a special time/place setting, a specific cast of characters whom we like to various degrees, the exchange of rehearsed lines and actions. As good ol’Will said: “All the worlds a stage.”

 

Give me an audience and I will deliver.

In which I contemplate literature degrees

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Sorry guys. Looks like picking up speed for my uni assignments has left my creativity rather low. So I really don’t know what to talk about today. I suppose I could speak about my “aha!” moment. What is an “aha!” moment? It’s when you find yourself in a situation that you feel is absolutely perfect. Like all the tiny little cogs of the universe are -for once- oiled and you are perfectly in sync with them. I had a moment like that during my Chaucer seminar today. We were talking about the Monk’s Tale (which is a collection of paragraph-long, super-depressing stories) and suddenly it was like somebody had flicked a switch. The conversation went from lukewarm to brilliantly blazing and were jumping from linguistics, to theory of tragedy to theology to philosophy to classics like there was not tomorrow. And in the midst of (loudly) arguing the difference between hamartia and hybris I found myself thinking: This is why I picked this course. This is what I love doing. Finding all the little nuances in a text and analysing them, trying to see behind to what the author was thinking, what his time was like, how people think. It was beautiful. I wish I had more moments like that more often, but sadly studying something is not synonymous with being passionate about something and I’ve had my fair share of awkward silences in seminar groups because most people picked the module to fulfill a credit requirement and went bumped down to their second choice or whatever. And I’m not exempt from that. There have been books I was entirely unwilling to talk about because I disliked them so much I could not be asked to even slam them (I’m looking at you, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man). I don’t expect people to like everything. Frankly, I would not be able to take seriously a literature student that claims to have “just loved, becauseohmygoshitwassooooolush*” every reading they were given ever. Critical thinking people. It’s not just a mode of dreaded assignments. It’s also a very healthy approach to books. Use it!

So yeah, not much else to say. I’ll probably be going on a rant on the subject of literature degrees at some point in the future, but for now I’m gonna make some tea and start with my next Chaucer reading. See ya soon!

 

*honest-to-goodness reaction of a fellow student regarding compulsory reading. I made sure not to bump on them in the library. The gleam in their eyes was too scary even by my -admittedly skewed- standards.

In which I consider fanfiction

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Went to watch the Imitation Game last night with a few friends. While we were waiting for the movie to start we got talking about fanfiction and how there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground on it. You either love it or hate it. (Conversely, there is also only very good or very bad fanfiction.) I’m a fanfic writer myself, so I think it’s rather obvious with which side I’m marching but it got me thinking. Why is it that people hate fanfiction? A quick google search yielded this result.  Yes, I bookmarked it on my laptop. Yes, I will be printing it out and checking out at least some of the books mentioned if only for solidarity’s sake.

I suppose people look down at fanfiction because of its fantasy-fulfilment element. I mean, the concept at its most basic is: How do I get these characters I love and place them in a different scenario? What would happen? How would they react? Writing good fanfiction is hard. Sure you already have established characters and backstories and in-universe rules (unless you go down the AU rabbit hole). Looks like the only thing you need is an original plotline, right? WRONG! Trust me when I say there is nothing harder than twisting a pre-existing scenario to fit your own ideas. That is, assuming you have any respect for the source material. And I include AUs on this generalisation. The best AUs out there are the ones that manage to subtly reference the original. It doesn’t have to be a big, neon-bright sign. But it needs to be there.

Although it is probably incredibly narcissistic of me, I will use my own fanfic as an example. I started writing it when I was fifteen. Why? Because I had just finished watching Avatar: The Last Airbender and was raging about the end pairings. Not a noble motivation, I know. But it got me thinking. Was there a way to change that without completely disrupting the flow of the original storyline? I read a lot of fanfiction (some good, some bad, some atrocious), rewatched the episodes most of them seemed to focus on an insane amount of times and pulled the Literature card. What is the Literature card, you ask? I did what every Literature student has done at some point: took something that was not a piece of literature and analysed the living, breathing daylights out of it like it would be my main coursework assignment. you can read a revised version of the result every Monday.

I had never written anything that long before. There had been short stories and bad poetry (and a couple of attempts at novels). I didn’t know how to go about shifting character motivations without completely giving them a retcon. So I used a proxy, an OC character, someone who could interact with the canon characters from the point of view of an outsider (there’s a reason why she is older and not-mortal) but at the same time be bound by the same rules as them, thus being assimilated to the story. Did I succeed? I like to think, yes. It took a lot of work, a lot of scraped scenarios, dialog scenes, characters that might have been included but weren’t. I didn’t want a whole new Avatar story, that had nothing to do with the original. (That’s why we have this cinematic nightmare…) I just wanted a small change in the last couple of scenes. Why didn’t I write just those scenes differently? Because unless you want utter fluff or PWP (no judging, they’re good in their own right), then you need to provide backstory. Let’s be rational: the whole hero-gets-the-girl concept is not only tired, it’s also more often than not downright contrived.

Of course this doesn’t always work out quite the way you thought it would. For every good fanfic there will be three following a similar vein but being downright atrocious. And you know what? I’m okay with it. Yes, I will my eyes and skip them when I’m looking for something to read. But that’s the beauty of fanfiction: that anyone, anyone, who loves a story can make it their own, show their understanding of how that world works and what the characters motivations are. There always be flops, coughTwilightcough50ShadesofGreycough, but there will also be beautiful pieces of work like Wide Sargasso Sea, the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice (yes, I went THERE), Mists of Avalon and Euripides’ Helen.

So love it or hate, write it or read it, it’s up to you. Just please, for the love of all that you believe in, stay away from the Mary-Sues.

 

P.S. And go see the Imitation Game! It was AWESOME!

In which there are rites of passage

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In case it hasn’t been made obvious so far, I am a student. This means that most members of my social circle (that were born in the same decade I was…) can be roughly summed up in two categories: the ones that know how to drive but can’t afford a car and the ones that haven’t had the time/money/inclination to get a licence. And where does Yours Truly fit in this oversimplification? Well… I may have been playing hopscotch with Option B for the past few weeks. Part of me has been pointing out how FREAKING EXPENSIVE it is to actually learn how to drive but an equally nagging, different part of me has been very sensibly saying that sometime very soon I will find myself needing to drive. So I crossed the proverbial Rubicon and contacted a driving school in my city.

Even as these lines are being written my stomach has been replaced by a merry-go-round and I am by turns appropriately horrified at putting my fellow humans at risk by driving (which I am told is standard reaction to newbies so no surprises here), excited(mainly my inner child for whom driving is a whole other kind of cool), anxious (because they said they’d come in contact with me within 24 hours and I still haven’t heard anything…21 hours and counting…) and well just plain out weird. I mean, come on! When you’re little driving is the cool and pretty damn convenient thing grown-ups do to get you from place to place. Then it becomes the cool thing you could be doing, a sign of independence (cue the teenage whines of “But muuuuuuuum! In America I would have a licence by now! Why can’t I take the car?”) Then comes the stage where you have the licence but no car to show it off on. And then, I’m told by such reliable sources as my parents -and pretty much every parental unit I’ve met-, comes the stage when you become everyone else’s taxi, either because your car is bigger or because your kids are too young to steal it. Wow! Kind of a letdown! Er, why do I have to get a licence again? Because in the long term it’s cheaper than getting to train to everywhere…. Right. Good point. Thank you snarky, conveniently italics-ised second voice. You’re welcome. Sucker. -ahem- Moving on.

But yeah, back to my title. Learning to drive is a rite of passage, I think. It’s one of those things like washing your own clothes and paying your own rent (with your parent’s money but never mind schematics) that mark you as an adult. I’m not gonna touch on the rather spiky subject of “whose money are you living off” as this is meant to be a half-serious post only but you get the message. Bit like a level-up in a video game, once achieved it unlocks a whole lot of new cool extras. Is that a reason to start classes as soon as it is legally possible? Personally, my answer is no. I’ve been in cars driven by new drivers and seen them speed past me as I cower on the pavement. I’m not saying young drivers or fresh licence holders are menaces of Dick Dastardly’s proportions. I just think that before you start something that you subconsciously categorise as “adult” you need to feel like an adult. And -myself included- I have yet to meet an 18-year old that I would comfortably describe as a mature, comfortable-with-taking-responsibilities adult.

In which I contemplate year three

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There’s something truly exciting about starting the last year of my undergrad course. It’s not even the modules (although there will be geeking about THAT later). No, this post is about feelings and sensations.

I don’t know about you, but for me September has always smelled like freshly bought books. School-oriented much, I know, but it is the start  of the school year. However, since I moved to Norwich, this smell has combined itself with that of cardboard boxes, new houses and freshly brewed tea. It’s really amazing how moving to a new place makes all change seem easy all of a sudden. Granted you will drop half the stuff you sign up for by the time the first wave of essays is due, but hey! What the hell? Acting like Speedy Gonzales (with or without the input of caffeine) is fun every now and then.

And what are my plans for this year you ask? Well other than classes, societies, and my dissertation, I will be (finally) taking driving lessons, setting up a proper schedule for my updating regime and working my way through a legitimate mountain of books I’ve bought and half-read (and seeing that among them are the major works of Pope and Tennyson, we’ll have a long way ahead)…

So, anyway, I was talking of new beginnings. Now my standard response would be to whine but even when my buses are late and my legs sore from carrying boxes of stuff up and down the stairs I find myself content. Not that there haven’t been any frustrations (and a minor breakdown, but hey I’m a woman and occasionally hormone-driven). I don’t know if it’s because I’m officially within my 20s and some sort of switch has been flipped or because I’m finally starting to figure out what I want from my life. I’ve learned not to question my instincts too much.

These last few weeks of September seem to be transitory for everything in my little universe. Not just the new house and new modules. Half the university campus is covered in scaffolding and getting a make-over. With less than a week till the semester starts I’m curious to see how they will pull this off. (The cynic currently sitting on my shoulder claims that there’s no chance, but I only listen to her when there’s money -specifically my money- involved in the issue.)

And I keep coming back to it but hey, new house! And a much better house than the hole in the wall I lived in last year…. It’s going to take me a bit longer to get a feel of the energy in this one (seeing that there’s three of us living here and until classes start we’re pretty much holed in) and I am slightly wary of the smoke alarm in my room as I love burning candles and incense, but I don’t doubt that by the time Halloween creeps by I’ll have it figured out.

I didn’t do much other than read and walk aimlessly over the summer so I suppose part of my all-around giddiness has to do with having things to do; short-term projects until the time comes to start working on the more long-term ones. I’m not very good at playing the long game and keeping up with schedules for an extended period of time but as I said, this feels like a transitory period. Time for me to leave this bad habit behind and work my way from there.