Liv in Oxford

Visiting Student at St. Edmund Hall for the 2013-2014 school year, via NYU. Studying English.

Went to a Christmas party at C.S. Lewis’s home - The Kilns - tonight. I’m involved in the C.S. Lewis Society and one of my favorite people in Oxford is the president; she was really kind and sweet to me when I was going through my breakup and I follow her around like a younger sister. 
It’s late here so I won’t write much, but I’ll put down things that I want to take away and keep forever from the evening:
Mulled wine (I’d never had it before. It was steaming. Hot alcohol seemed like such a contradiction. But it was good and I was sleepy by the time the short poetry readings started, and I sat in one of the armchairs in the picture and closed my eyes to listen. No one was claiming the chair, and everyone kept eyeing it and then raising their eyebrows at the older people in the room and asking if they wanted to sit. It was funny to watch and finally I sat down because the talk had started and no one else was coming forward. 
Hearing an unpublished short story about Christmas cards, which Lewis apparently loathed. It was the perfect mix of sentimental/funny/deep - to be expected. 
Also listening to Walter Hooper, who knew Jack (CSL) very well at the very end of his life. He’s the one in the photo above. He lived in the Kilns for several months and told us stories until we had to catch the bus back. I sat near him to record him on a fellow society member’s iPhone. It was ostensibly a tour, but ended up being him sitting in an armchair just talking. Which was what everyone wanted, anyway. That felt surreal, to sit at the foot of someone who knew Lewis and had been in our position 50 years ago. A lot of the night felt surreal. 
One funny story is this: The first time that Hooper met Jack upon arriving in Oxford from America, the two drank tea in the study. Hooper naturally had to go to the bathroom, and asked where it was. Lewis gladly took him to a small room with just a tub, laying out several towels and containers of soap and asked him if they’d be sufficient. Hooper stood there for a while after Lewis left and realized that he hadn’t meant “bathroom” in the way the English do. I empathize, except that I still can’t bring myself to ask where the “toilet” is. Too literal. 
^ This was an example of Lewis’s kindness and unquestioning generosity, which Hooper told me he didn’t expect before meeting him. I’ve heard this from other people and can tell from Narnia that he would be a very kind person. But I’m sure I would have had a more stuffy impression if I’d read only his apologetic works.
another story: C.S. Lewis had received a letter from a woman in the States re: a book she found called A Grief Observed by N.W. Clerk (This was Lewis’s pseudonym: Anglo-Saxon for “I know not whom” and “clerk” because he was a scholar.) The woman was upset because she had never met anyone as good a writer as Lewis, and she was upset to find someone else on his level. Hooper wrote her back after Lewis’s death — he never actually got the letter, though would have loved it — and cleared up the matter.
Met scholar-in-residence, swooned over the opportunity to be one.
It was so lovely. I felt such a happy, blooming feeling in my chest as I walked back into the cold. In less than three months I’ve visited the houses of two of my heroes - Lewis and Emily Dickinson. Hers is much more bare. Both residences were neglected after the deaths of their famous residents, and restored by foundations. Apparently American volunteers came in droves to do this for The Kilns. Lewis is very popular among them; a lot of Society members are American visiting students, like me. Apparently his rise paralleled that of evangelism in the States.
This is such a badly composed post but at least I got it down. Haven’t written on here lately. I need to learn how to divide my attention better between my blogs. (Usually not something I wish for in any other aspect of life, because I do it quite well…) Am still planning on catching up on the past few weeks. 
Really feeling more comfortable here and this is a good last week. I’m so glad I’m staying for the rest of the year. I’m already excited to come back and build upon the foundation I’ve fortunately made. I love the people and this place. 

Went to a Christmas party at C.S. Lewis’s home - The Kilns - tonight. I’m involved in the C.S. Lewis Society and one of my favorite people in Oxford is the president; she was really kind and sweet to me when I was going through my breakup and I follow her around like a younger sister. 

It’s late here so I won’t write much, but I’ll put down things that I want to take away and keep forever from the evening:

It was so lovely. I felt such a happy, blooming feeling in my chest as I walked back into the cold. In less than three months I’ve visited the houses of two of my heroes - Lewis and Emily Dickinson. Hers is much more bare. Both residences were neglected after the deaths of their famous residents, and restored by foundations. Apparently American volunteers came in droves to do this for The Kilns. Lewis is very popular among them; a lot of Society members are American visiting students, like me. Apparently his rise paralleled that of evangelism in the States.

This is such a badly composed post but at least I got it down. Haven’t written on here lately. I need to learn how to divide my attention better between my blogs. (Usually not something I wish for in any other aspect of life, because I do it quite well…) Am still planning on catching up on the past few weeks. 

Really feeling more comfortable here and this is a good last week. I’m so glad I’m staying for the rest of the year. I’m already excited to come back and build upon the foundation I’ve fortunately made. I love the people and this place. 

This book basically encompasses everything that intrigues me about life/literature, and what I’ve been searching for in my studies. In my junior year of high school, I became obsessed with death after a classmate of mine died, and the “feminine body as the superlative site of alterity” was definitely a factor, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I was comforted by Emily Dickinson, who also lost her friends to death and wrote extensively about her reactions and her wish to join them.
I’m going to incorporate ED and Charlotte Bronte and Christina Rossetti in the paper, which excites me more than any other has this term. 
Here are some quotes from the book I copied out and thought I’d put on here:

"Dying is a move beyond communication yet also functions as these women’s one effective communicative act." 
"Feminine suicide can serve as trope, self-defeating as this seems, for a feminine writing strategy within the constraints of patriarchal culture." 
"The woman destroys the cultural construction of the feminine as ‘dead’ image ruled and violated by others in order to construct an autonomous self-image." 

This book basically encompasses everything that intrigues me about life/literature, and what I’ve been searching for in my studies. In my junior year of high school, I became obsessed with death after a classmate of mine died, and the “feminine body as the superlative site of alterity” was definitely a factor, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I was comforted by Emily Dickinson, who also lost her friends to death and wrote extensively about her reactions and her wish to join them.

I’m going to incorporate ED and Charlotte Bronte and Christina Rossetti in the paper, which excites me more than any other has this term. 

Here are some quotes from the book I copied out and thought I’d put on here:

"Dying is a move beyond communication yet also functions as these women’s one effective communicative act." 

"Feminine suicide can serve as trope, self-defeating as this seems, for a feminine writing strategy within the constraints of patriarchal culture." 

"The woman destroys the cultural construction of the feminine as ‘dead’ image ruled and violated by others in order to construct an autonomous self-image." 

It’s November 16, which means it’s the Feast Day of St. Edmund, the namesake of the College (or, ‘Hall’ - they’re snobby about the distinction). 

So in honor we had a free, formal dinner; the only catch was signing up before spots were gone. I didn’t start my essay beforehand and left a little early to get it done. The feast was so, so good and we had fun taking pictures beforehand; we had to wear gowns, which means a black robe-y thing draped over our shoulders. It was the first legit time I’ve worn the gown, since the first was for matriculation and for visiting students that was just ceremonial, because we don’t matriculate. 

I sat with the other Visiting Students and talked about college, the admissions process in the U.S., loans and grad school (and if Oxford was a possibility for any of us). I said I didn’t think I’d go to to grad school unless I got a scholarship or it was free. But I’d researched Oxford earlier that day, since one of my new friends is a Master’s student at Exeter College and I loved it when I visited this past week. She’s the president of the C.S. Lewis Society, which I may be the secretary of next term since they’re in need of people. But I’m just grateful to have met Myriam. We had a lunch of baked potatoes and chili at the Nosebag on Friday. We talked about religion and books and she just has such a great, sweet perspective on everything. We sign our emails “Love” to each other, following a tearful breakdown I had at the society meeting on Tuesday night and heart-to-heart with her on a sofa. 

Whenever I have an essay to finish I get anxious about doing anything else, and once I’ve finished the essay I’m at a loss for stuff to do - even though I was craving anything besides work twenty minutes earlier. I’m excited we’re studying ma girl Emily Dickinson this week. And Emily Bronte, and Christina Rossetti, whom I was introduced to recently and I’m excited to actually sit down and encounter. I think I’ll do my paper on the poems instead of the novels (Tess of the d’Ubervilles, The Scarlet Letter, Jane Eyre) this week. 

Myriam described school as “being in a perpetual state of doing nothing but work but not actually studying,” which seems accurate.

Just got back from the St. Aldate’s (church) ball, which was so fun and really worth the 14 pounds I paid for dancing and three free drinks and lots of popcorn (!) at the end and “Starbucks” (they went out to Starbucks and came back with gingerbread lattes, somehow. With whipped cream! These are my people. It’s the first gingerbread latte I’ve had this season, and I think that PSLs (ugh, that acronym) are way overrated in comparison.
Then I wanted more of the buttered/salted popcorn, so I went to go ask for it, and the guy came back and really sweetly just gave us the rest of what was in the plastic bag. And my friends were like, “We would never have thought to do that!” ~Proud to be American and bossy~
The last song they played was Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” which I love because a) I’m from New York and b) it was what was playing in the bar/restaurant when Zach and I reunited last Christmas break. All my friends were like, “That’s your city!” and I felt like Hannah Horvath in Girls (“You are from New York; therefore you are inherently cool.”) Also, side note: I always love when people ask me suspiciously, “But which part of New York?” and I can tell them I grew up in Manhattan and returned to college there. 
The ball was 1920s themed (but when do I ever commit to themes?) so I just wore an Angela Moore dress that my mom got me when her boyfriend gave her a nice purse and she returned it for clothes instead. I guess by principle they had to play jazz music, but I enjoyed Nicki Minaj more. (Oops.) 
Met up with friends from church beforehand to cook dinner and go over, and then met with another group of friends from my college. I felt really “involved” and really happy with these friends, and the dynamic was natural, which is something that’s sometimes lacking in interactions with people abroad. One of my goals was to find a good faith group here and this seems perfect. 
Anyway, really good night.

Just got back from the St. Aldate’s (church) ball, which was so fun and really worth the 14 pounds I paid for dancing and three free drinks and lots of popcorn (!) at the end and “Starbucks” (they went out to Starbucks and came back with gingerbread lattes, somehow. With whipped cream! These are my people. It’s the first gingerbread latte I’ve had this season, and I think that PSLs (ugh, that acronym) are way overrated in comparison.

Then I wanted more of the buttered/salted popcorn, so I went to go ask for it, and the guy came back and really sweetly just gave us the rest of what was in the plastic bag. And my friends were like, “We would never have thought to do that!” ~Proud to be American and bossy~

The last song they played was Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” which I love because a) I’m from New York and b) it was what was playing in the bar/restaurant when Zach and I reunited last Christmas break. All my friends were like, “That’s your city!” and I felt like Hannah Horvath in Girls (“You are from New York; therefore you are inherently cool.”) Also, side note: I always love when people ask me suspiciously, “But which part of New York?” and I can tell them I grew up in Manhattan and returned to college there. 

The ball was 1920s themed (but when do I ever commit to themes?) so I just wore an Angela Moore dress that my mom got me when her boyfriend gave her a nice purse and she returned it for clothes instead. I guess by principle they had to play jazz music, but I enjoyed Nicki Minaj more. (Oops.) 

Met up with friends from church beforehand to cook dinner and go over, and then met with another group of friends from my college. I felt really “involved” and really happy with these friends, and the dynamic was natural, which is something that’s sometimes lacking in interactions with people abroad. One of my goals was to find a good faith group here and this seems perfect. 

Anyway, really good night.

OH

Don’t know how I neglected to mention Christian Union - just came back from my second meeting, and felt so in touch with everyone in the room (a small, cozy group) and with God while we were praying together. It’s a magical thing to pray out loud for someone else’s petition and hear someone else start up with the prayer you just related to the group, with as much thought as you would give it yourself. 

Walking over to Student Night tomorrow with someone in the group and going to the Guy Fawkes Day bonfire on Saturday after a “pancake party” at the head guy’s house. Then leaving a little early to babysit. And on Sunday, going “church-shopping.” 

Eeeee. I’m so glad I’ve finally found the Christian community I’ve been missing since boarding school. Those were my favorite memories of practicing my religion - being with a group of 15 people and offering our commentary on the sermon, circling the altar before communion and praying in the name of whatever saint we’d chosen that week. And being served the host and wine by upperclassmen leaders in the group, and smelling the incense that another student swung across the aisle as we filed in. I’ve been searching for it since. 

'extracurricular activities'

My semester is starting to shape up more in terms of what i’m doing outside of class. I signed up - as everyone does - for a ton of clubs at Freshers’ Fair, and then ignored 60% of the emails I got in reply. I originally wanted to do climbing, which I might still do, but the sport I’m going to devote myself to is, I think, archery. There are enough goalies on the soccer (football!) team and I didn’t love the three days a week I’d have to devote to it. 

I’m also talking to the C.S. Lewis Society about possibly being a secretary/treasurer, which non-matriculated students like me can’t usually do, but there’s a staff shortage I’m glad I’m in a place where people love Lewis as much as I do. And Harry Potter - I’m in the Harry Potter Society, and we had trivia and Sorting last week, which was fun if really competitive (the trivia part). I’m not sure how many events I’ll go to, but the Yule Ball is the day after Thanksgiving, so I’ll come back to Oxford from London, where I’m spending it with NYU friends; one’s mom and sister and boyfriend are coming into town. 

I sub-edit for the OxStu newspaper on Monday and Tuesday nights, which I love because it’s copy-editing, but at the same time I’m really frustrated that few of my edits make it into the paper, and we don’t see all of the paper. In high school and at NYU I was the final barrier for something going into print, and that made me feel secure. 

Also doing Jacari, which is once a week for an hour, and I’ll be tutoring a child in one of the surrounding areas. Excited about that and going to receive my match-up soon. In other kid-news, am going to babysit for the family I was talking about last night; the girls seem so, so sweet so I hope I can do that pretty often. 

And possibly volunteering at the volunteer-run bookshop across the street, but I still have to turn in my application. 

Before coming to Oxford I toyed with the idea of having a regular job; I have tutorials once or twice a week and so I envisioned myself having lots of free time, but it really fills up more than I’d expected. 

First Guy Fawkes Day in the UK

Remembered it was November 5th, went to interview with the family I’ll be babysitting for a bit this year and was told by a four-year-old what the celebration is about (“There are fireworks .. because it’s a special day.”) Then when her mother chipped in and the daughter learned what Catholics were, she said “us,” and her mother gently told her that she shouldn’t think of things in terms of “us” or “them” anymore.  

I could still hear the fireworks when I was crossing over Magdalen Bridge. Apparently it’s like July 4th in that, if the holiday is during the week, you celebrate on the weekend. And so nothing special really happened today.

In high school this one teacher who had lived in Britain for maybe a few years (and yet has retained the accent - miraculous!) would tell us proudly in morning assembly about Guy Fawkes Day. 

Also - just noticed that it’s “fifth of November” instead of “November 5th,” because the British like using prepositions in times/dates (“five to eight” instead of “7:55”). 

I did well on my essay (finally)!

I hadn’t done too well on my first two papers for Victorian Lit. With the first one I focused too much on criticism until I ran out of time and realized that poems could go on for a hundred pages and I should probably start with the core texts instead. And with the second I thought I did well, but I didn’t read two of the core texts and I guess that hurt me. 

Gerard Manley Hopkins was this week’s focus; he’s a 19th century poet and Jesuit priest, and was religiously strict to the point of neuroticism. (I identified a lot.) After I read my paper aloud - always a really nerve-wracking experience, since as you do it you realize what mistakes you made - my tutor said it was “well-done” and “the best so far” of mine, and that I’d done a good job in the introduction of inverting the question she was asking and leading the essay in a different direction. 

Then she asked me if I was a Christian, and I said yes, and she said she could “tell.” So that made me pleased. Sometimes I worry I over-identify/over-argue the Christian point in essays, if there is one to argue. (i.e. in this I said that being a priest and being a poet were not distinct identities, his poetry wouldn’t be what it is without his religion, etc.) 

It made me happy that I finally did well, because I’ve been intimidated for a few weeks by my classmate, a visiting student from Vassar. He makes these really great analyses and close-reading, and I fear I’m too broad, and that writing broadly is writing lazily.

(Confession: I didn’t even touch meter/rhythm/stressed and unstressed syllables/sprung rhythm in Hopkins, even though it’s such a big part of his work - he invented sprung rhythm. But she didn’t point that out.) 

Anyway, so that’s good. I felt today finally “settled” now that I have a good essay under my belt, that I deserve to be here and don’t need to feel inferior to my classmate whenever we walk in to the tutorial or I open his email with his essay attached. Today she told him that he was going a bit too far with his close-reading, which showed me that even if an essay seems perfect doesn’t mean it is. (I get swayed by good writing and a confident voice, which he has.) 

My thesis is somewhere in here. 

2nd Week (which is technically the third week in the term, counting “0th”)

Don’t know why but I feel nauseous; might have something to do with the ‘Sex on the Beach’ and vodka ‘n’ Coke I had at the “bop,” which is the first one we’ve had at the college this year - it’s held in the dining hall and is reminiscent of middle/high school dances. (“Vodka and Coke” here is more popular here than my favorite, rum & Coke, which people have told me is an elementary choice because it has only two ingredients. But what kind of fancy drinks have more??). 

Thought I did well on my essay last week until my tutor paused three times during my classmate’s essay to say how “amazing” the last paragraph was, and asked me if I understood what he was doing. 

He was kind and told me afterwards she’d been too harsh/unprofessional, but maybe it’s a good thing she was honest because now I’ll try harder to not be criticized as much. 

Maybe I’m nauseous because I eat a lot of junk food here - not so much that I feel myself getting heavier, but enough to notice. I have at least one bag of potato chips (edit: crisps!! crisps!) a day and load up on dessert, because I don’t really like the “meal” part of the meals we have. 

Going to London tomorrow to meet my dad for lunch (he’s there on business), and feel pressured to come back the same day because there’s supposed to be a big storm tomorrow night and I don’t want to be stuck in the middle of it.

Not looking forward to the four-hour-total trip, though. (I take the bus, which is slightly slower, and it takes about two hours each way if you factor in transportation-to-the-transportation [‘tube’ —> bus]). 

Also missing my boyfriend, who just lost his job, and so I’m especially feeling for him. Loan money is finally coming through and so I finally feel like I can feel “settled” for real here; I tried to print out pictures to put up in my room (I have only two, and some posters/other framed things), but my iPhone didn’t work in the pharmacy’s machines. So I’m borrowing a USB on Monday. 

Got cut from the soccer/football team and then realized some of the goalies may have dropped out after I stopped, and so now I’m considering going back on because I feel like I could make the team now. But I’m also doing archery, and am mad because I emailed too late to be put on the novice squad. (I hate when it’s because of my laziness that I’ve missed out on something.) But I’m going to go to practices with the hopes that I can be put on it eventually. I’m just upset because that’s something I knew I wanted to do as soon as I got into Oxford, and I talked about it at the Freshers’ Fair but missed this one window. 

Other than that, doing Gerard Manley Hopkins this week and like his poems/his religiousness. Also, because it focuses on only one person, the essay seems manageable. And maybe I’ll feel proud enough about this essay to send it to my grandmother, who asked me to send her one. But I shouldn’t speak too soon.

Also, have been talking to Hunter about her coming to Teddy Hall next year, since they have a scholarship specifically for UNC students for a term, and I hope she does (she says she might come even if she doesn’t get the slot!). So strange that she’s looking at the one college where I am. Definitely feels like providence. (I wish she were here now!) I love the friends I’ve made but it’s also strange to realize that there’s no one here I knew before, or knew well. I was upset the other night and wanted to talk to someone, then had an unexpected realization that there’s no one in this city who knows me as well as my friends do back home. But I like that I came into the program this way. It’s just odd. I guess NYU was the same, but for some reason it didn’t feel like it. I guess because it’s on the same continent. 

(I was talking to Hester, a British friend I’ve made here who I’ve gotten close with, about: she said the other day someone had asked her if she knew of a classical musician, and she later thought about how anyone at home would know that about her already, that she loves classical music.) 

I actually used “Nightline,” which is a British phone hotline advertised in the universities (when I visited Lindsey and Lindsay in London, I saw it on a bathroom stall there too). I talked to a third-year at Exeter who sort of “hmm”ed a lot, and said goodbye when my therapist came on Skype chat.