Monday, April 21, 2003

Okay, so anyway. More stuff in Wales. Mostly we went and did more sightseeing, which was pretty neat. Visited a castle, but nobody seemed to want to pay the 3 pounds to go in, so we just snapped a few pictures of the outside instead. Oh yeah, and then we went to the beach. Ah, the beach! It was so coooool! I hadn't been to a beach in aaaages! Actually, it reminded me an awful lot of the Oregon coast. In fact, it was almost exactly like being at the Oregon coast, except that the shells were different. Well, I had a pretty amazing time. I shed my shoes almost as soon as I stepped on the sand, and made a beeline for the water. It was freezing, of course, so I did little more than give my tootsies a little dip, but it was still lovely. Grabbed a few shells, went running up and down sand dunes...great stuff. Then we got back in the car and went...somewhere, I don't quite remember. I'm terrible with chronologies. [Sighs] Well, I think that about covers most of the stuff we did in Wales anyway, except for the one night we went out...during which I wound up getting a little tipsy. Okay, tipsy. Now, I've heard an awful lot about tipsiness, how much fun it is, etc., but from my limited drinking experiences to date I was of the strong suspicion that I wouldn't really enjoy it that much, and I was right. It made for an interesting night, I must say, but not interesting in the ways I would have liked it to be. Like we were at this club, on the dance floor, and I looked up at the lights, and what with my time-sense being all faulty...well, it was a whole different experience. 'Wow,' I thought. 'Now I understand the appeal of strobe lights--if you're drunk, or high I suppose, they make things look really freaky!' But I just found it disorienting in some way I don't know if I can put words to but I'll try. Like...my perceptions, particularly those relating to time and space, were all out of whack, so when the lights flashed off, I couldn't tell where people were going to be when they flashed back on; it really was like they'd vanished. And when the lights flashed back on in a different color, it took me a second to be completely sure it was still the same people they were lighting up. It was like people had no solid visual existence. Scary! And then of course I wasn't completely steady on my feet--my legs kept doing things I couldn't recall telling them to do, and at times I didn't expect them to do them, so I didn't know exactly where I was going to wind up at any given time either...and of course I was sober enough that I was completely aware of all of this, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to about it, other than just deal with it and wait for my liver, bless it, to sort things out. This is the weird thing about drunkenness and clubbing, though. I really just don't understand. You hear people all the time saying, 'Yeah, we're gonna get really drunk and then go clubbing!' The reasoning being that club drinks are expensive, so you save yourself money by getting drunk BEFORE you go out. But I really don't understand how the two go together. I mean, clubbing is about loud music and flashing lights and funfunfun sensationsensationsensation--music and dancing and being in close proximity (sometimes much closer than you'd like) to lots of other people, above all members of the opposite sex, and pouring drinks down your gullet. And hanging out with your friends and having a good time being sociable and stuff. And it can be a lot of fun, I started out not liking it (sensory overload!) but I've had a couple of pretty good nights. But if you pour drinks down your gullet, you wind up in a state where you're completely cut off from all that--you lose track of the music; you can barely walk straight let alone dance; you often can't understand what anyone's saying, and your response to it doesn't mean much either, even you aren't quite sure where it came from sometimes; and just generally you have only a very vague idea of what's going on at any given moment. I just don't get it. Certainly it doesn't improve my experience. Alcohol, I've discovered, has three effects on me: (1) sleepiness and dulled thought capacity; (2) withdrawal into Charis-land, which, though immensely entertaining at times, is also easily achieved sober and anyway rather defeats the purpose of social drinking--and when I'm on my own I don't drink; and (3) the urge to go and sit in a bathroom stall clutching the walls, waiting for sobriety to reassert itself and stop the world from being so wobbly. I dunno. I just don't understand the appeal, I guess--I like my thoughts clear and my world more or less stable! Apparently I'm pretty good at covering up tipsiness, though--Michelle seemed quite surprised when I confessed it later. Or maybe people just put it down to my inherent goofiness--I say and do some pretty strange things stone cold sober. So anyway: drinking and me? Go together sometimes, but in moderation--drunkenness I just find unsettling. And drunkenness and clubbing? Still an utter mystery. I really just don't understand. Oh well. I've rambled on quite a while, I think I'll take a break.
Well. It's been a nice long time since I've posted...this time I'm going to employ the excuse that for the last 3 weeks I've been travelling around. --Not constantly, so I suppose I COULD have put something up, but that all would have required quite a bit of prefacing ('Hey, so I just got back from Llandudno and Wirral and York and Edinburgh and Berwick-on-Tweed and Durham!'), and now there's so much to write I'll never get it done. O well, I'll give it a shot. --Is Easter break here, and since that lasts a month, I've been taking the opportunity to explore Britain a bit. Man. It's a pretty small island--I mean, it's not small as islands go, but compared to the US it's tiny--but there's absolutely no way you can see even a tiny portion of what there is to see in just a month. It's surprising how tiring it all can be, too. I'm not trying as hard as I could be, or doing as much travelling as I could be, for precisely that reason. --Much school work looms in the coming weeks, and I can't afford to start out the next term tired. Which is why I'm writing this now--I am back in Bristol at the moment, taking the day to kick back, write a bit, read some of the stuff that's due next week. Maybe later I'll bake some cookies. I slept forever. It was great. And tomorrow I'm going to Stonehenge and surrounding areas, where I will walk my legs off. After that I'm going to Stratford. But let me backtrack a bit.

I spent the first week of vacation staying with flatmates and hanging out with friends, first in one of the towns near Llandudno, Wales, and then in a town in the Wirral, near Liverpool. Wales was amazing--gorgeous and hilly, with entirely too many amazing views for its own good. We went and saw Conwy Castle, which was quite cool--spent the afternoon clambering up into towers and snapping pictures and just generally being giddily excited...which I felt slightly guilty about since of course the only reason the castle was there in the first place was to oppress and control people and scare them and organize horrible things against them, so in one respect it felt kind of like gleefully clambering around in Auschwitz. Ahem. So anyway, having thus created an awkward pause in my own narration...after that we went driving around in the countryside for a bit, which was lovely...wound up in some rugged hilly bits, where we pulled off at one point to go and look for sheep. Gosh it was nice up there. There was like a walking trail that ran away from the road, and after a couple minutes it rounded a bend and it was like the modern world just vanished. Except for us, of course, tramping around making lots of noise in the gravel and grass. It was incredible how much noise. But in the fractions of seconds between one step and the next, in the millisecond pauses between words...such quiet! It wasn't silence, exactly, because there were always the background sounds of bleating sheep. But sound did behave in strange ways up there. Like there was this other group of people that passed us at one point, and for about five minutes as they approached us you could hear them talking--and I mean, you could hear every word. But a moment or two after they'd passed...nothing. No crunch of gravel or rustle of grass, no drifting voices, nothing. It wasn't just like they had vanished tracelessly into the unknown yonder. It was like they'd never been there at all. At the time I was apparently craving solitude, though I hadn't realized it until we got up there. As we walked back to the car, I lingered on a bit, waited for the sounds of the others to dissipate, stood for a few seconds alone before following. I could have spent hours there (well, maybe not in exactly the spot we were in, but somewhere around there), sitting in silence, watching, listening, enjoying the sun...just being, really. There was something a little unsettling about the quiet up there, too, though. Isolating. You could be sitting right next to someone and still be alone. It could swallow you up.

Well, anyway. Next day we went and climbed the Great Orm, which is this big hilly thing in Llandudno. First we rode the tobbogan ride there, though, which was pretty cool except we broke it by getting one of the tobbogans jammed the first time round. It happened at the top of the big hill you go up to start, so there were all these people behind us being slowly hauled up the hill, except there was a bottleneck, so we (well, I) pushed the button that stops the ride to keep things from backing up too badly. It was alright in the end--a problem easily fixed--but this poor ride attendant had to hike all the way up the hill, and then all the way back down again, to get things going again. That hitch aside, it was all great fun. (Hell, even the hitch was great fun, in spite of guilty-feelings for the poor attendant.) And after that we climbed to the top (or top ish, anyway--I don't think we climbed to the actual summit), where we all gasped at the gorgeous views. I mean, my god. They're cheating somehow. It was amazing.

OK, well, I need to go and get some food before my stomach does something horrid to the rest of me, but I swear a solemn oath that I will finish this barely-begun account of my travels--and soon! None of this waiting a month before posting again business!

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

O man--just listened to Bush's address...so utterly depressing! I don't want us to be doing this, we're going about it all wrong, it's not necessary and there are other, better ways to do it anyway...and we're being so totally hypocritical, and nobody in charge seems to be paying any attention to the other side. I mean, okay. I'm not opposed to military action under any circumstances. People like, say, Hitler need to be stopped, and really the only way to do it is militarily. And military pressure can be a useful tool, used right. And Saddam is a bad man, and I wouldn't be sorry to see him go. But on this whole Iraq thing, we are SO WRONG! Like...over here there are articles all over the place about how Haliburton, Cheney's company, has won the contracts to manage Iraqi oil after this whole 'war' thing is over...horrible! How can they even pretend this isn't about money when American companies (and ONLY American companies) are already dividing up the spoils of war? Okay, sure, military threat, etc. But I noticed oil was like the first thing Bush mentioned--'DON'T BURN YOUR OIL WELLS! Oh, and also please don't launch biological weapons or anything.' And so much of the logic is so wrong--we will not be blackmailed, we will not be issued ultimatums, but if WE start issuing ultimatums, oh, well, we're allowed, you see. And of course we're allowed to have chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, but we get to say who else is. And the administration has alienated itself from pretty much everybody in the WORLD--and they don't care one little bit. I mean, I'm not opposed to military action against Iraq under any circumstances, but...these circumstances are wrong in just SO many ways... It makes me so sad/depressed/angry/ashamed. I don't want to be ashamed of my country, geez! But on this I am, muchly so. I mean...I just can't get over how little the administration cares about international affairs, and how little it cares about and respects other countries and other peoples. And how much damage it has done! I mean, if they were cunning-evil, I'd at least respect them. But this is just utter stupidity/willful ignorance/pigheadedness. And it's costing SO MUCH! How could such stupid policies cause so much damage? I mean...we're talking at least 50 years of carefully laid diplomatic policies and hard-won alliances and stuff completely undone in just two years, not by some devious, cunning evil mastermind who's been carefully plotting all this for years, but by a small group of very short-sighted people who just don't care. They don't care about the international community, they don't care about what has come before them, they don't seem to care much about what will come after...they don't care about the economy, or the poor, or the unemployment rate, or the deficit, or the environment, or...anything, really, so long as they can do what they like, never mind what anybody else--at home or abroad--thinks. I can't get over it, I can't stand it, I can't do anything about it. I mean, I can (and will) vote when the time comes, and can, like, write letters to the editor and stuff, but...nobody in charge seems to be listening. It sucks, man.

On a slightly different note, I think this whole thing has brought out some big weaknesses in the UN that need to be changed somehow if it's going to survive long-term. Like the whole veto power thing--you can't have, like, international unity if you've got these huge unchanging power blocks who can basically do whatever they want. And there's really no mechanism by which UN resolutions can be enforced--from my Model UN days, I remember an awful lot of our efforts to write resolutions that didn't violate national sovereignty ended in 'inspections' and 'investigative committees' and stuff, with really no plans of action to take after further investigations had been made--because investigating things was really all we could DO. Well, that and like negotiating and stuff...and we came up with all sorts of agreements, but there was really no way to see that any of the concerned parties abided by them. And that's a pretty big problem.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Rrrr, I am teeeething! Stupid wisdom teeth, argh. I am chewing gum like mad. Unfortunately, I have exhausted my supply, so I'll have to pick more up tomorrow.

Other than that, everything's great--had a fantastic week last week, had a fun weekend, goodstuff. Last week one of my flatmates had a birthday, which we celebrated twice because she had a friend over that weekend. --She got two cakes, the lucky thing! We went out clubbing and stuff that weekend, and I actually enjoyed it, much to my surprise. Then Tuesday was Pancake Day (kinda like Mardi Gras, but with pancakes instead of drunkenness, and no happy beads or cool masks.) Strange things, British pancakes--they're so flat! And big as a plate, so they roll stuff up in them and eat them like burritos. I had a chocolate one and a banana and ice cream one--tasty tasty! And this weekend was all quiet and relaxed--we went to the science center and ran around gleefully pushing buttons, then watched movies and played pool till 3 am. And last night more of the same. Funstuff. I am muchly looking forward to spring break, which is in...two weeks, I guess. Wow. So soon!

Friday, March 07, 2003

Today (well, yesterday, now) I sat down in the library to read in between classes. I went with a friend of mine from Medieval History after we got out of our lecture, so we found desks that were situated next to each other and settled in to read...and after she left to go to her next lecture, I noticed that there was a big stack of books on her desk (left by somebody else before we got there). Being a generally curious person, I investigated...and they turned out to be all about Judaism and history. Well, one of the essay topics for my Medieval History class is something about Judaism, and I'd been kind of toying with the idea of doing it...so I picked up one of the books and started reading. ...Aaaand within about the first two paragraphs, as my brain attempted to gather what it knew about the subject to provide some context, I realized that I had very little knowledge to draw on. --I mean, I've got a little bit of sort of prechristian/time of Christ stuff, but between that and the Holocaust my knowledge can be neatly summed up as "they were moneylenders, yo." So, in short...I must learn more of this! --And also, like, the eastern church and stuff--in talking to my cypriot flatmate, I have come to realize I know little about that, too. Hearing about it from her has been quite interesting...the cypriot dialect of Greek is apparently the closest one to ancient Greek, so they still have their sermons and everything in ancient Greek, and read the Bible in that language, too. She is completely baffled by the Reformation and the whole Protestantism thing, and seems to assume that most people here are united in one religion (though of course lots don't practice).

Heh...nothing could be farther from the truth, really. It's really bizarre in some ways, living here after having spent the last 10 years of my life in the South. Most people here just seem to assume religion is either (1) outdated, or (2) distasteful. So bizarre. I keep finding myself in English lectures where the prof says, "I wonder what it would be like to have faith," and then saying something that's so obviously...hmm. I mean, it's just immediately obvious from the way he (and this was true of my last English prof, as well) speculates about what it's like to Have Faith that he hasn't spent much time around people who actually do. And it's really strange being in those classes, cos whereas I'm used to an environment where most people take this God stuff really seriously and the atheists and the agnostics mostly keep a low profile, here it's quite the opposite, and it's the religious who are guarded and careful about what they say. --There's always the one timid hand that goes up, followed by a very nervous-sounding 'Well, actually...' and a baffled silence as the rest of the class mulls it over. And my flatmates! --Well, one is Greek Orthodox and seems fairly devout, and a couple went to Sunday school when younger, but...every time anything comes on the TV that even looks like it might possibly be of a religious nature, they immediately recoil in distaste and scramble for the remote--too soon to actually see what the show really is. Once it turned out to be a popular awards show that happened to feature one vaguely gospel-style performance...they were convinced it was televangelism at work, and quickly changed channels. Since it was like 8:30pm on a Thursday, I was skeptical, and as there was nothing else on we eventually turned back... --It's just all so weird!

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

[Sighs] Well, so much for my vow to start posting every day or two again...I just keep signing on, finding that I have nothing much to say, really, and then signing off again. I dunno. Life's pretty good, I'm doing about the same...not much exciting going on, just school stuff and lots of reading. At the moment I'm finishing up The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson. Many years ago my mom passed her copy along to me, and I read it, and really quite liked it. I was only about 8 at the time, though, so...and then yesterday I found this pocket copy in a thrift store for just over a pound, so I picked it up out of nostalgia and curiosity as to what it would be like in the rereading. Still a pretty good read, though I don't remember the hero having been quite so astonishingly stupid the last time around...I do remember being frustrated at Our Heroine's frequent spinelessness, however.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Here's one of the rambles that I mentioned that I imagined having posted. It's pretty recent--from some time last week, after my jaunt to Oxford on Sunday. (Fun, but bad call on the Sunday thing--many shops were closed! I'll have to go back soon, was pretty cool.)

I keep running into more and more books on Blackwells' and Waterstone's 'Recommended Reading' lists that have blurbs on the back similar to this one:

'This book is a timely reminder that (we must hope) George Bush didn't know what he was talking about when he uttered the infamous "c" word after September 11. For the crusades were among the most disgusting blots on the human record, the men who embarked on them doing so in the name of their god, also known as the Prince of Peace; and they, too, thought they were defending the only civilisation on earth.' --Geoffrey Moorhouse, Guardian.

And this on a book about Saladin and Richard Lionheart! I mean, the crusades thing is valid, sure, but...man, they're just tacking those things on wherever they can! I agree with them on the anti-war thing, but...I also can't help thinking, 'Wow, what a treasure-trove this will be to some future historian! Ah, the joy of back covers!' Maybe it's just because I sporadically collect blurbs from back covers, or maybe it's because I've been steeped in history lately. (Over break, I bought a book on the Cathar Heresy--for pleasure reading. I took it with me on the train to Oxford today, and could at various points be spotted scribbling furiously in the margins.) But I can't help but think that someday, to somebody, these little things will be fascinating. I mean, even if all the editorials in the world don't survive, if the cover to this book survives, people will have a big clue as to mainstream opinion on this issue. (I bought the book, partly to see if it was as irate as the reviewer's blurb sounded. --I can understand his anger, but...this is history, dude. Personal judgements are alright, but you've gotta at least make some attempt to separate them from the account you give.)
Goodlord! It really has been forever since I've posted! Like a month! I hadn't realized it'd been quite so long, because I keep typing bloggish things to myself...I guess I've just been imagining that I've posted some of them. Hmm, well, let's see, what's going on here? Well, the new teaching block has started, and I've got a couple of new classes: Writing and History, and Austrian History in Film. Both seem like they're gonna be pretty neat. I've been doing mad reading...much more for Medieval History and Writing and History than the Austrian film class (which is in German), I must acknowledge. But then there's not as much work for that class generally as the others--I have something like five to seven pages of things in German to read before my lecture tomorrow. Not too bad. In terms of other reading, at the moment I'm working on polishing off the poetry of T.S. Eliot, Dante's Inferno (moving on to the rest of the Divine Comedy after that), and various books on the Crusades.

So I'm most of the way through the Inferno, and I still don't really get it. OKOK he's on this big poetic journey with Virgil, whom he calls 'my author'; and, being an exile, he sees all these parallels between his life and the Aeneid, which in turn parallels the Odyssey. But unless I just skipped the part where it tells why all this is happening to him...I really just don't get it. Why should he be singled out for this little tour of heaven, hell, and purgatory? What makes him so special? And it all seems very convenient, doesn't it, that almost all the condemned souls he runs into were, in life, his political enemies? I dunno. I guess part of it is my own personal beliefs clashing with what he's trying to do. Like...well, apart from sort of vague feelings that 'there must be something more' I'm not sure if I believe in a life after death. Whether I believe it or not, though, I don't think it's something that it is possible to know beforehand. You can believe or not, sure. But that's a completely independent thing. Certainly you can't say, `oh, well, there are going to be pearly gates and angels dressed in white gowns with shimmering wings, and this will happen and that will happen.' Assuming that our souls do continue to exist after death, I think that at some level it is impossible for a living person to comprehend that existence. So anyway, getting back to Dante, my thoughts on the matter mean that I have serious problems suspending my own disbelief long enough to follow the story he's tellin'. It's somehow different from reading about, like, dragons and elves and things--that's easy, I don't have a problem with that. Not sure quite what the problem is, disbelief-suspension-wise. Maybe part of it's that it's far too...structured and compartmentalized. I find it pretty hard to imagine an afterlife as compartmentalized as Dante's, I guess. The whole thing reads like an account of a foreign investor's grand tour of a factory, or something. Surely people don't fit so neatly into categories! Also...well, I just don't think we can know, and I certainly don't think Dante does, so I tend to be highly suspicious of his motives in putting this sin in the second circle and that one in the eighth. Particularly when he takes every opportunity to condemn (quite literally!) his political enemies.

I dunno. I'm still trying to figure out what this thing is, like, on the metaphoric level or whatever. I mean, it's not an exploration of his psyche, because he (so far) is spending most of his time getting literary revenge on his enemies. And passing judgement! Okok, forget the question, I'm totally going off on a tangent. My blog, I'm allowed to be disorganized. Anyway, judgement. Yeah! I mean, that's totally one of the things that's been bothering me about this thing! Wow. Like...Dante says he's travelling through Hell, right? And everybody in Hell is there because God judged they should go there. But the journey is only metaphoric, Dante didn't really go there, so it's not God who has passed judgement on these people and sent them to Hell, but Dante! The whole thing is one huge judgefest! Haha, Mr. Alighieri, I have you now! --Andandand there's even one bit I just read earlier today where Virgil actually scolds Dante for feeling sorry for some of the condemned, and for doubting God's judgement in putting them there. --But God didn't! Dante did! O you crafty man! Sneaksy.

Ok, well, that still doesn't help with figuring out what he's doing on this journey in the first place. And I'm only 1/3 of the way through! I don't know if I can bear to read the rest, though...rrr. Stupid Dante. Stupid Divine Comedy. I will vanquish you!

[Sighs] But for now, alas, I must tackle other things...time for a shower, then German, then bed.

Saturday, January 11, 2003

Well, it's official: I am back in Bristol, and I am jetlagged. This is a terrible blow to my ego, this jetlaggedness--in past I had prided myself on my resilience to that muddler of thinking and disrupter of cicadian rhythms. At any rate, I didn't have any trouble with it when I first came to Bristol in October, or when I went home for the holidays, though my mother kept trying to convince me otherwise. This time, however, I have thoroughly succumbed.

Yeah, so my night last night went...rather oddly, to say the least. Since I was planning to spend the day today reading up for various papers, I had resolved to turn in early. I therefore tucked myself in at about 11:15, and quickly drifted off to sleep. And about two hours later I woke up again, rested, refreshed, and ready for the new day. Hell's bells, I thought, this will never do, and rolled over and tried going back to sleep. It didn't work of course, so I got up and turned on my computer. By and by I started getting hungry. I had no food to speak of, and started wondering exactly what you could make with nothing much but flour and water. Well, one thing led to another, and the result was when Liam returned home from a late night at work and whatever else to find me in the kitchen cheerfully making tortilla shells. "At 4 in the morning?!?" he asked, incredulous. "Yes, at 4 in the morning," I told him, a little defensively; "I'm jetlagged!" He stared at me for a moment, shook his head, told me I was "properly mad," and went to bed. My plan for tonight is to stay up until like 4 and aim for about 5 or 6 hours' sleep. Then at least tomorrow I'll start getting tired again at about the right time.

Must get food--more in a bit.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

So I was in this toy store a few days back, looking around for a present for my brother, and some kid's mom and dad came over, and the mom was showing the dad what their kid had asked for--some Micro Machines, as it turned out. She was absolutely furious about it--"Just look at them!" she shrieked, half-histerically. "They're absolute rubbish! They don't do ANYTHING!!!" "What a complete waste of money!" her husband concurred, less animatedly but with the same level of outrage and disdain. Dude, what's with that? Okay, so the things were pretty overpriced--like 6 or 7 quid for a handful of tiny cars. And they don't have flashing lights or do fancy robotics or anything...the doors don't even open. But since when were kids' imaginations so limited that they couldn't deal with toys that don't need batteries? I mean, these things do what toy cars are supposed to do--they roll. And they're tiny and look cool. --I felt so sorry for the poor kid, with such snobbish parents, obviously so much into conspicuous consumption (flashing lights! cool sounds! make the neighbors' kids jealous, yeah!) that they were completely ignoring what their kid really wanted. Okay, so I wouldn't have shelled out for the things either--they are very overpriced--but I wouldn't be mad at my kid for wanting such a simple toy instead of something flashier. Actually I'd probably be thrilled, and suggest some similar but less expensive alternative. Your basic toy car tends to have a much longer life expectancy (we're probably talkin' months to years versus weeks--or days even, depending on the toy) than your average electronic toy in the hands of a small boy. And you can get more of them for the same cash. And you don't have to keep shelling out for batteries, or be annoyed by incessant flashing lights and electronic noises.

Anyhoo, gotta go and run some errands before heading off to the train station. Merry Christmas!