Friday, January 28, 2011

take me down to the country, honey

I miss animals.  I miss the country.  I miss the desert.  I miss my family. I miss good Mexican food.  I feel like I'm torn between two worlds.  I love London and all of the art, the libraries, the beautiful old buildings, the museums, the history and the culture, the myriad of languages and accents I hear chattered outside my window, but half of me is in Utah.  As much as I love Utah, however, I was never satisfied there; I never felt at ease.  I was always anxious, always ready to leave, to travel or move far far away.  I was always anxious about friends too.  If I didn't spend quality time with an array of people throughout my week I felt lonely and miserable.  In London I'm alone 80% of my time, and I don't notice it.  I don't feel lonely and miserable.  I may miss everything I left behind, but I'm finally at ease.  Surprisingly, I feel most calm on the Tube. Shoved into a crowded Piccadilly train headed to church or to a museum, I know that all is right in the world and that I am where I want to be.  Odd, I know.

my little sister Lindy with some puppies. the North Hills are behind her
I love being in cities, and I love being in the country.  My earliest, most formative years were spent in the country, surrounded by beauty and sadness, life and death.  Living in the country can be as busy, beautiful and tragic as living in the city.

Some of our doggies. the border collie in the middle was my puppy Bobbie.  I loved her more than anything.

We lived even outside the small town, and I'm grateful for that.  There's a distinct difference between small town life and proper country life.  I'm pretty sure I blogged about it before, but outside of small towns you live a little more distanced from the local politics and gossips.  I rarely played with neighbor children, just my sisters and my dogs, and I think it gave me a spirit of independence I wouldn't have got in the small town nearby.  I had 20 acres to explore.  I was the luckiest girl in the world, and I know that that is what made me who I am today.  Like Wordsworth above Tintern Abbey,
                               Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

As cheesy as it may sound, that's what nature is for me: the anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse, guide and guardian of my heart, soul and moral being.  And yet, here I am in London.  Is that strange?  Will I ever be able to go back to the country and feel as satisfied there as I do here?  I hope so.  I'd like to bookend my life with the country, with animals and gardens, fields and mountains, and hard physical work keeping it all from falling apart.  If I have a family I'd like them to benefit from life in the country like I did.

yeah, we played in the mud
mom liked to dress us up and take pictures of us in the garden
Tomorrow I'm going to the London LDS Temple and it will be nice to get out of the city and enjoy a bit of the countryside.  I'm looking forward to some peace and quiet.  I think they also have some geese and ducks by the temple, and I just love ducks!  

P.S. My post title is a reference to a T. Rex song I like.  I love T. Rex. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

i love London: the British Library

My life is changing.  I'm becoming one of those people who spends all day, hours on end, in the library, eagerly and frantically reading and taking notes because there simply is not enough time to learn everything.  I never understood before how people could do it every day.  I only ever did it at the end of terms when final papers were soon due, but never without anything impending.

And yet, here I am in the library, reading page after page without break, because there's something I must uncover, and I'm not sure yet what it is.  There's no time for a break, but I'm at the point where the words I read don't actually go into my brain, so I thought maybe that means it's time I start pouring out some of the extra words so I can start filling it up again.

I had a bit of a crisis this weekend.  I was supposed to go to Oxford to visit a friend, and since last week had been a little awful, I wasn't feeling so great.  The stress was building and then I found out that I might not get all the loan money I need this term and I just snapped.  I started crying in a puddle on the floor and ended up missing my train to Oxford.  It was dumb, and I was very mad at myself.   But, it pushed me to start working on finding a job so I spent the whole day looking.  I applied for 3 jobs on Sunday night, which I was proud of myself for doing, but I haven't heard back from them yet. I desperately need an income, so I'm really hoping something will work out.

Moving on the important part of my post...  I love London.  And I love the British Library.  It's really not the most charming of buildings, especially squatting next to what I like to call the Gothic Monster (St. Pancras train station).

 But I still love it.  I love the big terraced courtyard, and when it gets warmer it will probably be a nice place to read a book in the sunshine.  I also love the inside.  I love all of the natural lighting and the tall ceilings.

It's really a beautiful space.  I couldn't take pictures of the readings rooms, but they're similar.  Large, open, with vaulted ceilings and lots of natural light.  They also have large desk space and big comfy chairs to sit in.  I love the reading rooms.  Here's another view of the main entrance.

I forgot to take a picture of it, but there's a painting on the wall by the entrance that is just the word YES over and over and over again.  I love it.  It's very affirming.  

So this is where I've been spending most of my time lately.  One of the other perks is that it is literally a 2 minute walk from where I live, so I can come home for lunch very easily, and it's only 4 train stops from where I plan on living in the summer.  I'm so glad I get to spend so much time in this building.  I love it.  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

you are not my typewriter, but you could be my demon moving forward through the flaming doors

I've found that when I title posts with lines from songs I can trick the people who are looking up lyrics to read my blog.  So, if you're here looking for lyrics to Wilco's "War on War" you're still in luck!  They're at the end of the post, along with a nice video from youtube.  I hope that means if you're a Wilco fan you'll love me and start following my blog.  

Anyway, I thought of this particular song because, as you'll see, I mention a book in this post called Krieg dem Krieg, which translates into War on War.  It's a hard book to look at, so I don't recommend looking it up, but it's basically a propaganda book published by a pacifist to show the horrors of war.  It's very gruesome and unpleasant, but I think he drives his point home well enough.  Anyway, on with the post. 

I went to see the doctor today.  It was my first experience with national healthcare and I have to say that it so far really hasn't been that much different from my experience with privatized healthcare.  I did have to wait for twenty minutes, but I can't remember ever being directly ushered into an examine room in the States.  The appointment was for only 10 minutes, which is quite short, but I felt that it made it far more pleasant for me. The doctor was kind and efficient, he listened to me and referred me for blood tests and then I left.  The best part was that I left without having to settle a bill.  

Did you know that the NHS was established in 1948 so that healthcare could "meet the needs of everyone, be free at the point of delivery, and be based on clinical need, not ability to pay"? Such insanely radical, communist, ideas that can undo the entire economic and social system of a once great, and soon to be fallen nation.  oh.  wait.  The NHS was started in 1948? And it's 2011? Where are all the death panels? Am I missing something?

Also, why is it that in the US we rarely hear about national healthcare and its successes?  I didn't even know that the UK had national healthcare for so long.  I know the system is far from perfect, but it seems to be functioning.  I wish I'd known more about it during the healthcare debates last year. 

Anyway, I'm blogging now during my lunch break because I've decided that I need to compartmentalize my time a little bit more, and after lunch I must focus on researching at the library.  I've realized last night that if I want to stay in London to finish this PhD I must work much harder than I have been.  I need to submit papers to conferences and journals and I need to show that I'm using my time very wisely on my thesis research.  I have to give a presentation in a couple of weeks on my research and I want to blow their socks off.  

I've shifted the focus of my topic and I feel a lot less anxious and restrained now.  I'll keep talking about World War One and the body depicted in art from the time, but I've decided to expand the view into other wars and at the same time narrow down the kind of bodies I'm interested in looking at.  The type of body is the grotesque male and female body, and I'll look at stuff from Walt Whitman, to Goya, to the war poets, to Dix, to the Dada movement, to Catch 22.  I'll look at these depictions of the grotesque body often as a type of anti-war protest and also as means of healing and transcendence. That sounds nice, yeah?  Yeah, I thought so.  Here are some images I am considering: 

Dix, "Stormtroops advancing under a gas attack" from Der Krieg, Intaglio etching, drypoint

Goya, This is worse 1812-15 Etching and wash, 157 x 207 mm
Janco, Mask, 1919
Wounded Soldier from Krieg dem Krieg (War on War) 1924
I know that these aren't the easiest things to look at, and I apologize for that, but I think they are extremely compelling and necessary for us to be aware of. Also, I personally love what this artist has done with the idea of facial reconstruction, and I will definitely discuss him.  So now I'm off to the British Library to do some nice reading about the body in wars.  My goal is to spend the next 4 hours in there and come out with some great ideas.   

War on War 
by Wilco 

It's a war on war
It's a war on war
It's a war on war
It's a war on war
It's a war on war
It's a war on war
It's a war on war
There's a war on

You're gonna lose
You have to lose
You have to learn how to die

Just watching the miles flying by
Just watching the miles flying by
You are not my typewriter
But you could be my demon
moving forward through the flaming doors

You have to lose
You have to learn how to die
if you want to want to be alive, okay?

You have to lose
You have to lose
You have to learn how to die
if you want to want to be alive

You have to die
You have to die
You have to learn how to die
if you want to want to be alive, okay? 

Monday, January 17, 2011

living with a painting, day one

I was thinking the other day about how much I hate museums. I think I hate going to museums the same way I hate reading books: I get overwhelmed by the content and the time it takes for me to get through it all.  I hate that you have to "get through it all" at a museum, like there's a time limit.  You have to see everything in a couple of hours.  I personally can't be in a museum for longer than a couple of hours. I go mad and get angry and want to run away.  There's just too much stuff.  I hate how I can only give each painting a quick glance or, at most, five or seven minutes contemplating its lines and colors and textures and context and subject so superficially that I might as well not even look at it.  I forget it the moment I leave, unless I find a postcard of it in the gift shop, but the postcard is merely a reminder of its existence, a reminder that will probably find its way to the bottom of a pile of postcards, or tacked to a wall with fifty other reminders.

A museum is no way to view art.  Art should be lived with. How can I possibly understand a piece of art if I only glance at it, if it's not there with me to return to when I'm not thinking of anything in particular? It's funny how I thought of this and then when I started reading a book by Stephen Fry called The Ode Less Traveled about writing poetry, he says: Poems, "as with a good painting are not there to be greedily taken in at once, they are to be lived and endlessly revisited. The eye can go back and back and back, investigating new corners, new incidents and the new shapes that seem to emerge."  Clearly I need to live with a painting.

I've had this idea before but have never taken the time to see it through.  So I decided now was the perfect opportunity.  I would go to a local museum, find a painting and visit it every day for at least a week. I would spend at least an hour in its presence, not necessarily staring at it for an hour--I would write, listen to music, read, and the moments when I pause or get distracted I would look at the painting, and allow my eye to slip across it, lingering on a particularly lovely line or shading, sweeping through its figures and focusing on a bit of color I hadn't seen before.  This is how I want to experience art, not rushing through a museum so that I can say I've seen it all.

So today I went to the Tate Britain to meet my painting.  My criteria for choosing a painting were pretty arbitrary: 1) it had to be something I'd consider putting on my wall at home, a painting I wouldn't object living with, and 2) there had to be a soft seat near by.  That's all.  There were some early 20th century paintings I quite liked but not a soft chair in the room, so I moved on to another room  Finally I chose this painting:
It's called Theseus and the Minotaure (Interior at Minos) by Keith Vaughan finished in 1950.  I don't particularly love the painting, but that's one of the reasons I chose it.  It's like when you meet someone at school or church, and you get along fine but they're not your favorite person, and then you get to know them and sometimes you become pretty good friends, or at least you understand them better and can appreciate who they are.  That's kind of what I'm hoping will come of this experience.  

One interesting thing I noticed about the painting is that I counted 78 crescents in it.  That's a lot of crescents. That's pretty much what I got from it today, but I have a whole week to acquaint myself with it and think more about it.  Today was just the initial meeting.  I think this is going to be a fun experience. 

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Remember when...

I made this dress for Halloween...

and my lovely friend and brilliant artist Brock used it for a fashion show and this great photo was taken?

And I forgot he was going to use it and when it came down the runway I gasped?  One of the best moments of my life.  Check it out on the photographer's website here

Saturday, January 15, 2011

papers, travel and melancholia

This week has been a good week.  The paper got done, with an hour to spare, and even though I hate it, it was accepted to be presented at the Popular Culture Association/ American Culture Association National Conference this April in San Antonio.  On Wednesday I registered for the conference and booked a nice, inexpensive hotel room in San Antonio and found some really cheap plane tickets that will take me from London to Utah, Utah to Texas and Texas back to London for only $980.  Incredible.  I also applied for funding with my school for the conference, and I should hear back about that in about 3 weeks.

So that's pretty much set to go.  I'll be leaving for Utah on March 31 and I'll be back in London just in time for the Royal Wedding and research juries.  I haven't bought the tickets yet because I am a little worried about taking that much time off before the juries, which will decide whether or not I can be upgraded from the MPhil to a PhD.  But this is where I am extremely grateful for that wedding because it sounds like the juries will have to be pushed back, hopefully more than a week.  

This week I also started classes. One is a research methods class, and I found out that I have to give a presentation on my somewhat non-existent research on February 8th.  My other class is about melancholy, how it shows up and what it means in culture.  We had a somewhat interesting discussion on this etching by Albrect Durer called "Melancholia I" (no one has ever found "Melancholia II" or "Melancholia III", but it's supposed that this might have been part of a series originally)

The image is of a very heavy, weighed down angel, solemnly musing with a darkened face and curious bits lying around it.  Apparently some German art historians spent decades trying to figure out what it all means. I think the satisfying conclusion is basically that melancholy is not a useless state of being, but a noble state, especially for the scholar and philosopher.  It's a balanced paradoxical state, as evidenced by many of the images in the etching:  the angel with wings who is too heavy to fly, the unringing bell, the hourglass with equal amounts of sand in each half (time that has stopped), the starved dog at rest (the dog was often a symbol of lust, apparently, which was also associated with melancholy, and yet here he is docile and conquered).  It is an image of paradoxical movement and stasis, and I guess that's what melancholy is.  I don't know, that's basically what I got out of the hour long lecture.  I'm excited for next week because we'll be talking about the Gothic, which is kind of my thing. 

I'm really struggling right now with my own research.  The idea I had originally is not proving very fruitful, and I keep discovering book that have done all the things I thought to do.  I'm stuck and I'm falling into that overwhelmed state where I'd rather sit and stare at a wall than spend a day reading a book that might end up being useless to me.  I'm scared of wasting time when I'm doing the research, so I'd rather do nothing.  Plus I might not be as interested in the topic as I thought I was.  I'd rather be doing anything than reading WWI history.  It might be time for a refocus, but it might also be too late for one. 

On a final note, Stephen Fry has been making a documentary and tweeting his locations, which for the last week have been in my neighborhood. Alas, all of my attempts to find him, including a sprint to the British Museum this morning, have been fruitless.  Maybe I'll get lucky this week.  I've been listening to his The Ode Less Traveled, a book about writing poetry.  He has exercises in the book that have been very challenging and fun, and I'm hoping it will help me think more creatively.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

overcoming the long dark teatime of the soul

I typically hate Sundays. They're always the worst days of the week for me, days when I feel the most tired, the most lonely, the most bored. Maybe it's because I have high expectations for them, or maybe it's more psychological and goes back to the times when I worked Saturday nights until 6 AM and still managed to get up by 11 to go to church. I usually managed church ok, but Sunday evenings just killed me. I don't think I ever really shook that feeling. Also, I often got frustrated, years after I quit that job, when I would want to hang out with people on Sundays and they would all be napping in the afternoon when I never could nap. Maybe that made me bitter.

I'm sure most of you have heard me complain about Sundays before, and I'm sure many of you have heard this quote, which is one of my favorite quotes of all time. It's from Douglas Adams' Life, the Universe and Everything and it describes my Sunday afternoons perfectly:

In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn't cope with, and that terrible listlessness that starts to set in about 2:55, when you know you’ve taken all the baths that you can usefully take that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the newspaper you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o’clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.
I remember the day I read this. It was a Sunday, believe it or not, and I had just taken a bath (the second of the day) and decided that maybe I would just read to try to pass away the rest of the afternoon. I almost fell out of my chair when I came across this passage.

This isn't the first time I've ranted about how much I hate Sundays and it probably won't be the last. However, today was one of those rare nice Sundays. It wasn't the best Sunday I ever had, but it also wasn't the typical Sunday where all I want to do is stab my eyes out because I'm so desperately bored. Since I had been so lazy yesterday, I decided to go for a walk this morning. The sun was shining and it was such a lovely day out. I walked around my neighborhood, which isn't the most interesting place in the world, but I found a few lovely spots to stand and enjoy the sun. When I got back home I felt good and I was actually excited to go to church.

Church went well; we talked about some wonderful principles, about faith and temples, and I felt renewed and ready for my week, and I even did
an uncharacteristic thing and stuck around after the meetings to chat with people. I found out that some were going over to St. Paul's to attend a service and since I had been thinking of doing just that thing earlier today I decided I would tag along. It was quite a nice service, and the church is just utterly amazing. Even the little sermon was quite nice and made me think of Christ and my relationship to God. I love learning and feeling the spirit in other churches; it helps me appreciate my own beliefs and religious practices.

Then I came home and talked with my family, watched a little Top Gear, and skyped with my best friend. And now it's nearly time for bed and I never once fell into that horrid long dark teatime of the soul.

I honestly think that the fact that I forced myself to be a little more laid back and take my time after church to talk to people really made all the difference. I think the thing I hate most about Sundays is being alone. I feel like Sundays are meant for people, to relax and talk and enjoy the company and good conversation of friends and family. I do believe they are sacred days, but when they are spent alone, watching telly, being bored, Sundays just awful. So, I hope that Sundays like today will be characteristic of my future Sundays, and I'm going to put a little more effort into making them special like I want them to be.

Friday, January 7, 2011

won't you please please help me?

Today is officially the last day of winter break. Although it never really felt like the end of a semester around here because it really wasn't. Right now the libraries are packed full of kids studying for their finals, because finals come after winter break. I have been staring at my computer all week trying to write a paper due on Tuesday. So that wonderful feeling of everything being done and being able to relax over the break never really happened for most of us.

I'm glad life is starting back up anyway. Next week will be busy and wonderful. I'll have turned this horrid paper in, classes and new projects will begin. Then it will feel like a new year.

Oh this paper. It really is killing me. I feel that it is rife with problems, that it is convoluted and uncertain of itself and I'm being stubborn and refuse to scrap it and start over. If I've learned anything from all the massive amounts of television I consume, starting over never worked in Project Runway, not this late in the game, and I have Tim Gunn in my head right now telling me to "make it work". I'm 1/4 way through my word count and I have 4 more days before it's due, so I think that's plenty of time to make it work.

One of the main problems is that I'm kind of not so much in to the topic as I thought I was at first. I tend to go with my gut on topics, and if something catches my interest and I think about it more than twice then that's what I go for. Typically that involves something with horror or gothic stories and movies, and that's what happened this time. We were talking about science in the nineteenth centuries and I kept thinking about Poe and his interest in science, and about Mary Shelley and H.P. Lovecraft and it just seemed to me that so much of the horror genre was born out of this anxiety with science that existed in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, and I wanted to explore how and why these authors used science as a theme in their horror novels.

I think one of my biggest problems is terminology. Even though they are so obviously connected it's hard to bring these three people into one 4000 word paper, mostly because of annoying differences in labels. I hate to have to categorize them all. Is Shelley a Romantic or a Gothic? Is Poe a Gothic? I don't think so, but everyone says he is. Lovecraft surely isn't Gothic, but he kind of is? Some people say they all wrote science fiction, while technically science fiction isn't supposed to be a genre until the 1920s. They certainly didn't write horror stories, right? Even though they are the predecessors to modern horror. They all come from very different social backgrounds and all have very different experiences with science, whatever category someone puts them in. I guess labels don't matter in the end. What matters is how I connect them and what conclusions I can draw from the connection. The connection I've chosen is the poles, meaning the arctic and antarctic poles. They all have moments of discovery in the poles. That's the key point I think.

I hope it comes together and I can make it work. Part of me really doesn't like the fact that my life consists of me agonizing about a paper, but at the same time nothing is more satisfying than finishing a paper and feeling proud of the work I've done. I'm going to try to keep doing this, and maybe, just maybe, someone someday will pay me for it.

If they don't pay me to write papers, maybe they'll pay me to read them. My sister started an editing boutique recently and I've joined up. We're a two lady operation now and hoping beyond hope that we can get some fishies to bite. The thing is, I've been reading/editing/grading papers now for the last 7 years. I started grading papers before I even knew how to write papers. And after all of these years of writing/reading/editing/grading papers I think I've finally grasped the elusive beauty of the academic essay. I don't mean to boast, but it's basically the ONLY thing I am good at.

What we're doing is offering a whole range of editing options, from Global and Substantive Edits (content and rhetoric) to Copy Edits (grammar and punctuation) to Proofreading (cleaning up typos and making the format pretty). Anything any student or writer could need. And we both have years of experience and we are both really really smart people.

So, I'm asking all of my 3 readers to help me get the word out about our editing boutique. It's called Arch Editing, and you can find us on Twitter and Facebook under that name, and here is the lovely link to our lovely website:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

happy new time

It's a new year! And with new years comes new plans and new goals and a whole new feeling of life. Or it should, and it usually does for a few days. But it is now day 5 of the new year and it doesn't feel much different from the old year in many respects.

I spent the end of the old year in Germany with my best friend, traveling around in the frigid temperature, splurging on dinners and chocolate and spas, and I've returned with no money. It was a good time, except for the fact that I was ill throughout most of it. A cough turned into a cold half way through and I could hardly keep my itchy watery eyes open the three days we were in Munich. At the time I didn't think I was having much fun, but I miss it now. I miss being with my best friend who makes me laugh and smile and who loves me. I miss the expensive dinners and the chocolate too. I don't miss the cold however, and I think we probably could have had just as nice of a time in a warmer climate.

I was very happy to come back to London. The weather has been nice the last couple of days, and it's London for crying out loud. I always forget that I live here. There's still so much I haven't seen yet of this place, but I'm kind of holding out for warmer weather and a little more money in my pocket before I make too many excursions. I can't wait to see London
in the spring.

For now I'm trying to write a paper, and not doing a very good job of it. I'm not sure if I like my topic, and the research I'm doing isn't sparking any new and interesting insights. I am slightly worried because I submitted this paper topic for the Popular Culture Association conference in April, and it got accepted. Also I need to try to impress my professors so that they'll help me figure out a way to finance another 2 years so I can finish the PhD. I'm a little stressed out, and I haven't really written anything these three days. Tomorrow will be it though. Tomorrow will be the day of writing and I'll get 2000 words done. we'll see.

I've been reading blogs and people do such a good job of making their lives sound fun and interesting. How can I do that? I thought maybe I should just have a more fun and interesting life, but then I realized that it doesn't matter as long as I can make it look fun and interesting. Sort of like one my friends who always said that the pictures of our adventures made us look like such fun people, even though we didn't really feel that fun. Enthusiasm is the trick, you see. So my number one goal this year is to be more enthusiastic, and to blog enthusiastically about my boring life. Maybe if I do that I'll start seeing my life as not boring but totally awesome. I have an inkling that it actually is kind of cool.

Want some pictorial evidence? Here ya go:

That's me on Christmas day in Rothenburg, a beautiful little city in Germany. It was cold and snowy but very picturesque and lovely. That's neat, right?

Here I am eating lunch at the Schloss Nymphenburg palace. That was kind of cool. I ate venison that the waitress called Bambi (she forgot the English word). mmm Bambi.