On the tenth anniversary of one of the most shocking and terrible events in American history, I am trying to focus on the good that has come out of such tragedy.  Heroes rose amid the anger and grief, and for the first time that I can remember America was united.  Democrats, Republicans, caucasians, minorities, men, women, and children simply identified as “American” for a time after the attacks.  While I have cried today in remembrance of the horror and in sadness, I am focusing on this poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox called “Optimism”:

I’m no reformer; for I see more light
Than darkness in the world; mine eyes are quick
To catch the first dim radiance of the dawn,
And slow to note the cloud that threatens storm.
The fragrance and the beauty of the rose
Delight me so, slight thought I give its thorn;
And the sweet music of the lark’s clear song
Stays longer with me than the night hawk’s cry.
And e’en in this great throe of pain called Life,
I find a rapture linked with each despair,
Well worth the price of Anguish. I detect
More good than evil in humanity.
Love lights more fires than hate extinguishes,
And men grow better as the world grows old.

Works Cited: platial.typepad.com

We’ve finally begun our Issues module lectures on the Renaissance.  As I read dense, boring, and often ill-written articles in preparation for Monday’s class, I was struck by the eloquence of Paula Findlen’s article, “Possessing the Past,” in which she discusses the material collection obsession of Renaissance patricians.  To illustrate her point about books and the preservation of knowledge, she included a quote from Petrarch:

And I perhaps own more of them than I ought; but just as in certain other things, so does it happen with books; success in earning money is a stimulus to greed.  There is indeed something peculiar about books.  Gold, silver, precious stones, beautiful clothing, marbled homes, cultivated fields, painted canvases, decorated horses and other similar things, possess silent and superficial pleasure.  Books please the core of one’s mind; they speak with us, advise us and unite us with a certain living and penetrating intimacy.

92, adapted from Petrarch, Rerum familiarium libri I-VIII, 157 (Fam. III, 18)

Petrarch believes to truly possess a book, one must read it, understand it, and contemplate it.  It has to feed one’s mind and soul and not just his or her pride and vanity.  It’s a lovely thought.

Works Cited: language.uoregon.edu

No, I haven’t joined Match.com or anything, but I have discovered a wonderful blog concerning all things university, and in particular, all things British university.

The University Blog

I found a link to this blog by clicking my way from The Glamourous Grad Student (see previous post) to one of her posted “Weekend Reads,” and then stumbled upon this post, “10 Great Ways to Push Past Uncertainty.”  TUB has covered the brand spanking new Harry Potter course at Durham as well as getting rid of writer’s block and frustration.  It’s a great place for academics to look for both entertainment and inspiration, and even though I’ve only read about 8 posts, I’m hooked.

I find myself looking for reassurance anywhere I can, and the internet happens to be the best place at the moment because of its worldwide collection of authors and contributors.  The UK Student Room forums are giving me insight into the collegiate lifestyle in Durham and allowing me to get to know some of my fellow MA students online, albeit in a fairly superficial way (which is one terrible drawback of online forums like the UKSR or Yahoo!).

I think even though it is the web (and we can totally trust everything on the ‘net, right?), these little tips written by complete strangers help me to get a grasp on just how lucky I am to be able to fund almost all of my own tuition and accommodation through pure hard work and how normal my doubting and anxiety is.  I need to focus on the positive more than ever; hey, I walked onto one of the largest campuses in America and did a pretty good job, if I say so myself, with commuting, paying rent, and staying on top of full course loads.  I made great connections with professors and peers and jumped into classes I would have presumed to be too over my head a year ago.  (Funnily enough, even though I love history, I really stink at remembering dates and details.  Especially with ancient and medieval history, in which there are so many Philips, caesars, popes, and Edwards, not to mention fairly unpronounceable names, I struggle.  However, I jumped into early medieval history and well my first quarter, proving that my fear of the details is conquerable.)  I should remember this.

I know it’s silly, but at this juncture in my life when everything is so uncertain, these little reminders of potential and the strength of the human spirit and mind help me put everything in perspective.  You won’t find me posting any Hallmarky cards up on my wall anytime soon, but I think we all can use a bit of inspiration now and then.

And hey, if nothing else, this blog makes a darn good read when procrastination sets in…

Today I flew back to Washington from Oklahoma, with a connection in Denver.  The trip was fairly uneventful (as opposed to the trip in May), except for several minutes’ delay on both flights.  I sat next to a nice, if very talkative and, erm, open woman on the way to Denver.  She was going to visit her best friend who lives in Denver and who has a house in Las Vegas and who was her best friend since they were 12 (she’s 57) because it’s a short trip and her husband is on a transplant list and so can’t travel but who does support her going back to school and who had gone to Oahu and Cancun with her.  (Yes, this is what the plane ride was like.  Now back to your regularly scheduled grammar rules.  But, really, I could have had someone like this.)  I felt sorry for several people on the second flight who had been on standby.  They were seated and ready to go, but the plane was refueled, meaning it was overweight.  So the United staffers pulled these standby passengers off the plane.  I can’t even imagine that.  I think I’ve been on standby once, and I was a mess.  I went around tracking down another flight because my initial one had been oversold.  How cruel to yank someone out of a plane they’d already settled into!  Is there really that big of a weight difference between a mostly full flight and an actually full flight?  Jonah Hill was on Leno the other night, and pointed out that he can’t see the difference between a slightly inclined seat and an upright seat or between having an iPod on and having it off.  He’s right; would one of these minor changes really make a difference?  If they do, we have a larger problem to worry about if iPods can bring down the plane.  (Video of this coming potentially soon.  Or whenever I can find it on YouTube.)

The real highlight of my trip was probably the Sketch to Screen exhibit at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.  I went with my friend, Grace.  It was an amazing collection of movie memorabilia.  The green dress, the green dress from Atonement, the flying dress and dinner dress from Titanic, Maximus’ armor from Gladiator, Queen Elizabeth’s purple gown from Elizabeth: The Golden Age, the drapes dress from Gone with the Wind, Atticus Finch’s glasses and briefcase from To Kill a Mockingbird, and Wolverine’s outfit from X-Men, among others.  I loved the dress from Queen Christine (must rent that, for the Swede in me) and those Titanic dresses.  Titanic was the film that made me fall in love with films.  I think it was the first movie to be covered in depth by the press when I was old enough to appreciate it.  I remember thick articles about filming in Newsweek and Time, along with my girlie magazine of choice at the time, Seventeen.

"I saw it in the window, and I just had to have it."

I may not have the talent to design gowns or to paint pictures, but I think I have an appreciation for art and workmanship.  Costumes help to create the mise-en-scene for a film, especially a period film, and say so much about each character.  In Shakespeare in Love, for example, Viola wears several amazing costumes for each type of occasion: wedding, Greenwich, church, ball, and everyday, not to mention her cross-dressing outfit for Thomas Kent.  Shakespeare has one deep teal outfit for the duration of the film, with one change when he plays Romeo.

This exhibit reminded me why I love films, and especially why I love period films.  Seeing firsthand how and why something was made for a particular film, actor, and scene enhances my awe for the industry.  For a good article on the best film costumes, check out Time here.

Now to bed.  I’ve gotten into two novels, and I’d like to finish at least The History of Love before classes resume on Monday.  Woo-hoo…  5AM wake-ups!  Or something.

Several things are probably apparent about me on this blog.  I love books.  I love reading.  I love learning.  I am a nerd, and am proud of it.  I also have an actual plan for the future, which I didn’t have a year ago.  About a week ago, I stopped into my history professor’s office to chat about my paper.  My research led to talking about graduate school and my future studies in Durham, as well as jobs in the future.  I loved talking with this professor, because I think she’s a lot like me, and instead of simply being blunt and saying my career path is wrong (like a couple of professors have done because they’ve had a hard time finding jobs), she talked through what I want to do and why and how I want to go about it.  She asked tough questions, was honest about her experiences, and took time to listen to the reasons why I want to be in an interdisciplinary program.  She listened to me, instead of scoffing (like Professor X did when I said I wanted to study both classical literature and medieval literature), or saying I seemed anxious in class, even though I was one of the few who didn’t complain about the course load (again, Professor X), or offering unwanted and unneeded advice when the Professor hadn’t had me in class (Professor Z).  This professor listened and encouraged me to fight for my dreams.

I told her that classics was so attractive to me because I could study language, literature, history, and art in a time period instead of placing emphasis on one area of study.  Yes, literature is my favorite, but I don’t think I get much out of the literature if the history and social conventions aren’t explained.  A literature class can be amazing without any historical context, but my knowledge lacks depth.  In addition, just studying something in translation fails at truly demonstrating the genius behind a particular text, and some of the magic is lost.  I believe to understand art, one must know the history behind it and the artist’s contemporaries.  To understand texts, one must appreciate the original language and the political and societal friction surrounding the construction of that text.  I want my specialty to be in literature, but I don’t think I will understand the material to the best of my ability or be able to teach that material without a solid foundation in other subjects concerning the medieval time period.  Likewise, I wouldn’t appreciate Chaucer or Dante without a strong background in the ancient classics and antiquity.

In addition to being buoyed by her advise and experiences, I’ve been finding an abnormally high amount of inspirational pictures, mostly thank to that time sucker called Stumble Upon.  I’ve picked up the habit of saving photos I love after seeing them online in my iPhoto library so that I can share them later.  These images serve several purposes for me: they inspire me and remind me why I’m slaving over a paper or pulling all nighters after I’ve graduated and am non-matriculated.  They make me happy and represent some aspect of my personality and my life.  They remind me of my friends, and in posting them, I hope to inspire them and let them know I miss, love, and appreciate them.

Here are some of my favorites I’ve saved lately:


I much prefer talking over typing of any kind.  Verbal communication seems to have gone the way of the dinosaurs since texting, Facebook, Twitter, AIM, and e-mail has become so prevalent.  Instead of zapping a quick message, like “ur comin 2 teh coffe ship? i cn get u sumthin. wht do u lyk?” (but let’s be realistic; almost no text messages have more than one thought, let alone three) we should go back to the time when each communication was carefully thought out.  A message, like any in the Paston Letters, (see more on Paston and the “Valentine” letter here) had to travel more than a few seconds to reach the intended recipient and went through a chain of scribes, messengers, and relatives before actually getting to that recipient.  Like in Sense and Sensibility, a correspondence with a person of the opposite sex was a big deal, and demonstrated true affection and attachment.

The 'Valentine' Letter, Paston Letters

I’m not saying that we should all go back to a time where a select few could read and write or to a period when girls were scandalous if they dallied with men.  No.  I’m saying that we should mean what we write and focus on knowing the people we speak to.  That’s probably hypocritical coming from a blog, but I’m trying to veer my blogged thoughts into a more constructed, academic frame.  I save pictures, sites, and thoughts I love for later use and try to incorporate my academics into whatever I’m typing about (see Paston Letters, above).  I usually go through at least two drafts before I post something, because I want it to mean something to whomever reads it.  I want it to mean something to me when I look back on my thoughts years from now.

Also, whatever happened to stationary?  I hardly ever get notes in the mail that are written on honest-to-God stationary.  You know, the stuff you buy in boxes with matching paper and envelopes?  My mom keeps the tradition somewhat alive when she sends me a package with a handwritten note on top, but that’s about it.  After my insane 10 day race to the Spring Quarter Finish Line is over, I want to take the amazing stationary I’ve bought and take time to write.  My friends and family mean a great deal to me, and I think that’s why I spend money on quality cards for special occasions.  Plus, as I hope is apparent, I love to write.

You’re probably thinking, “So… what happened to talking?”  Yes, I do like to talk with people, but I know that isn’t always the best way to communicate.  I leu of talking face-to-face or on the telephone, I propose that we write more letters.  Letters are things we can preserve, like photographs, and each one can tell so much about the author and the recipient.  Handwritten letters are precious things, and I want to help make the practice a larger part of my life.

Okay, now to bring in the academic side of things.

Manuscripts were written by those in the church.  The scribes copied things down onto vellum that they thought were worth saving.  It’s a miracle that Beowulf survived, though it is probably due to the fact that he became a Christian warrior in the saga as opposed to an actual Anglo-Saxon warrior.  It’s interesting what ends up in manuscripts.  In my outlaws class, I learned that the tale of Gamelyn survived because it was found with the Canterbury Tales, and so was thought to be Chaucer’s work, a draft of the Yeoman’s Tale, or a source for that tale.  It was put into manuscripts and copied alongside actual Chaucer.

Materials were hard to come by, so an ordinary message was written on a wax tablet, which was encased in wooden coverings to protect the wax and the writing, so that it could be smoothed over to receive a reply.  Again and again and again.  No sentimentality here.  Vellum was expensive, so only the wealthy could commission books.  The material was so special that old manuscripts were used as the covering on the backs of the covers so that virgin vellum could be used for print people wanted to read at the time of production.

We’ve taken letters and writing for granted, and I, for my part, am going to steadily appreciate those things.

My Writing Manifesto:

  • No more abbreviations, unless they are correct and needed.
  • I will continue to use spelling and grammar correctly, and won’t skip either because I’m in a hurry or am “just texting back.”
  • I will reply to long e-mails and other letters with letters, unless the news inside is of an immediate nature.
  • I will use Facebook more as a tool for bits of information and for a long piece of news intended for many people.
  • I will write one letter a week, even if it’s rather short.
  • I will practice my cursive in these letters.

Okay, people.  The mailboxes are waiting…

Starry Night

As I get ready for bed, I always find myself thinking about the stars and the night sky.  The universe is a beautiful thing, and it’s extraordinary to ponder how small we really are in the grand scheme of things.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why I love older history so much.  I have studied the height of organized civilization, which is an almost alien way of life to us.  Marriage at 13?  Slaves?  A round trip across the Mediterranean taking 20 years?  No Facebook?!  Yep.  Crazy, I know.

I recently found an animated model of Ptolemy’s universe online.  You can zoom in (the best part is after you’ve zoomed in) and speed up the images.  It’s amazing how accurate it is, for the most part, after all this time.  Yeah, I know Greece isn’t, and never was, the center of the universe, but the orbits of the planets were revolutionary.  Do you remember playing the game in middle school in which different balls were the planets and they were placed however many steps apart to demonstrate their relative sizes and distance from one another?  (It was great!  That and the parachute are the things I remember the best.)  Well, this reminds me of that.

Ptolemy's Astronomy