My dad and I have been in Durham for two nights and about two days.  It’s lovely to be back in such a picturesque and historical city, though the scholarship is causing a few hiccups.  I’ve met with the reception in the college, put my ginormous suitcases and recent bedding purchases in my room, and met with one of the professors and IMRS participants who championed my acceptance and reception of the scholarship.  All seems well, and the sun is shining brilliantly outside over the cathedral!

However, now that these little things are cleared up, or at least on their ways to being cleared up, I have some big decisions ahead of me.  I have to choose modules (American “classes” or “courses”).  After having experience at the Cambridge summer school and at the University of Washington, I have so many modules I want to take!  First, there are the languages.  I want to have at least some basic understanding of Old English, Middle English (1 term already), Old French, modern French, and Latin (3 years already).  I want to be able to teach classes on Shakespeare, medieval literature (with a focus on later poetry, Arthur, epic, and romance), composition (hooray for my Texas TAAS standardized teaching prep actually coming in handy!), manuscript tradition, and the classical tradition’s progression from its early inception in Greece through the beginning of the Renaissance in Europe.  Whew, that’s a lot!  Plus, a good background in the history of the Middle Ages is something I feel I need, and I’ve gotten some excellent education on that.

The modules I’m looking at are Narrative Transformations (classical antiquity to Renaissance), Roland to Orlando (epic), Paleography (reading manuscripts), Codicology (formation of manuscripts and early print), Old English, and romance (focusing on Arthur).  I know I want to take Narrative Transformations, but so much looks so good!  Is it good or bad to want to know everything about literature in the later Middle Ages?  For the master’s program, perhaps it is.  Perhaps it isn’t and it’ll allow me to fine-tune my specialty.  I want to have a specialty in epic literature and antiquity’s influence on medieval literature.  For me, epic includes things like Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (a traditional romance), and folklore legends that become epic, like Robin Hood and the entire Matters of Britain and France and Rome/Vulgate Cycle/Arthurian romance.

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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…

I’ve been doing shopping research on everything from cameras to boots to bags lately, so it’s unsurprising in this age that some of the top Google and Bing results are blogs and YouTube videos. At first I ignored them, as I was looking to actually see reviews and prices for things, but as I was getting anxious about finding a bag, I got desperate and clicked. What I found surprised me. There are grad students here in the US and in the UK that have, gasp, time for making regular videos and for updating amazing blogs about fashion and style and organization.  There is life beyond academia, despite what some of my professors seem to think (admittedly, the two I’m thinking about do lack, well, people skills, and don’t seem particularly keen on breaking out of that professorial shell).

As I’ve been preparing for Durham, I’ve been considering how to be the “grown up” I’ve envisioned.  For the most part, my uniform of choice at Gustavus consisted of layered tees and sweatshirts or fleece, jeans, and sturdy Minnesota-winter-suited boots.  It was rare that I would actually take time to put on makeup (except perhaps, if I was lucky, on some wayward pimple), and incredibly unlikely to do my hair.  At UW, I tried to break out of that by at least doing makeup everyday and by trying to keep my t-shirts for home use.  Lots of cardigans and sweaters became my most-used items of clothing, and my regular jeans were replaced by two much-loved pairs of trouser jeans (lots of washing!).  I even began incorporating dresses, tights, and leggings, and found ways to wear my flourishing scarf collection.  Facing my new life, I want to do more of that, though I am aware a bit more creative layering is needed, as the nighttime temperatures now are in the 40s…  Hooray, cold weather!

I think my biggest inspiration is my friend, Alicia, who is currently a grad student in history.  She’s a real style model, and looks amazing!  She’s proof that a busy schedule (filled with work, studying, puppy parenting, and a wonderful husband) doesn’t have to detract from looking professional, put-together, pretty, and, yes, adult.

Photos of Matching Nerd Glasses (Via: bruunsbazaar, thefashionisto)

In the virtual world I discovered during these searches, I’ve found three inspiring blogs/YouTubers:

The Glamourous Grad Student This is perhaps my favorite blog thus far.  The writer is in Ireland, so lots of the things she talks about are helping me to figure out what’s available in the UK.  Her posts are funny, well written, and informative, and lots of her style posts ask questions that are helping me to pin down who I want to portray in my clothing. This is the post I originally pulled up on Google.

Fashionable Academics This was the post that popped up in my search, about a green (!!!) bag.  This blog is written by several contributors, and it tends to have more affordable fashion and pieces.  There are styles and outfits from women of every shape, style, height, and coloring, and I could look at the pages of this site forever.  FA gives me ideas to try and encourages me to try new things with my own wardrobe.

apeelingaustin‘s YouTube  This video gave me insight into what a grad student carries around all day, and what I could (and should) expect.  Plus, she’s in history as well, and so I can relate to her field and need for notes, places for handouts, etc.  It was amusing to see her pull out her old reading material from one previous class, and I have some ideas thanks to her for my bag basics.  I never thought of keeping a folding/rolling bag in my daily bag…  Good idea!  She also has some makeup “haul” videos, which I haven’t had time to look at yet.

Nerdy Chic from shopstyle.com

After looking at these, I’ve determined that I’m nerdy chic with a soft spot for big, yet simple, jewelry and scarves.  I really do like patent Oxfords, wool pencil skirts, bold glasses frames, and blouses layered under sweaters.  I like to be able to wear one pair of shoes on my commute and in class, and so favor flats and boots.  I like wearing neutrals which I dress up with a bright scarf or pair of shoes.  I feel more confident when I have cinched my waist, put something pretty on my feet, straightened my hair, spritzed some happy perfume, and applied makeup.  Just because I want to look cute doesn’t mean that I want to in reality be killing my feet or go overboard with obsession about clothing.  I like things I can mix and match and that last forever.  I love Kate Winslet’s style of simple hair and makeup and clean lines with bold colors and/or textures.  Hopefully, this ideal style will work its way into my wardrobe and I can look like a grown up while kicking butt in the academic arena.

In my preparation for leaving, I need to put away all the things I brought home from Washington and college.  To do that, I have to have room in my room for those things.  (Sorry about the repetitiveness; oy!  My excuse will be that it’s late and I’m tired…  Yes.)  Unfortunately, that means cleaning my room from top to bottom and decluttering.  Nothing is getting past me!  Every piece of clothing, each paper, and anything my mom has tossed onto my dresser is being inspected, albeit quickly, and put into a pile for laundry, donation, closet, back room / library, or trash.  So far, I’ve gotten through most of my room, not including my bookshelf and under my bed.  That was a huge accomplishment, as I had some “cushioning” shots in both knees today, which is not the most, erm, comfortable experience ever…

Anyway, among the treasures I’ve so far found are my Swarovski earrings and ring from senior year P-Ball, my stuffed golden retriever from my Dad on my 9th birthday, and letters from my dormmates and friends from 2004, the year of my partial freshman year at Gustavus.  I’ve always had weak knees, and the night before my first college exam, my friend and I were walking back from the biology tutor’s when my knees buckled.  I found out later that it wasn’t torn ligaments or cartilage, but two poor knee joints which are prone to allowing the kneecap to pop out, much like a dislocated shoulder.  I had to pull out of classes and go home for physical therapy.  I was frustrated and angry that my own body would do something like this to me, but in the end, I think it was for the best.  I believe God has a plan, and his entailed me graduating with the class of 2009 as a classics major.  If I had stayed on, I think I would have stuck to my original plan and majored in biology or another science-y discipline, like psychology.  I’ve had so many wonderful experiences because of my major and graduating class, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

I had completely forgotten about those cards and letters, and I was truly touched when I read over them again.  One of them was from a current close, sister-like friend, Ann.  She called me “mi paco” and wrote that I was “spifftacular.”  It definitely put a smile on my face and brightened my day, as I’m sure it did then.  The girls who wrote the other letters or signed the floor’s card are mostly friendly acquaintances now and we’re friends on Facebook.  They are amazing people, and even though we’re mostly out of touch, I think they’re wonderful girls.

Tomorrow I hope to conquer that bookcase and scary area under the bed, as well as my bathroom and closet.  Then it’s onward to the alcove with my desk and then (cue dramatic chord) the putting away and PACKING!  Ugh, September 19th is so close, and yet I can’t wait to be there!  So much to do…

The Berenstain Bears' messy room, looking much like mine at the moment! (Minus the Tiddlywinks!)

On the whole school front, I still don’t have much information on the scholarship.  Snail mail hasn’t produced anything official-looking in a long while (uh, hooray for catalogues?), and vague emails are trickling in.  I’ve gotten two “don’t panic” type messages thus far!

On another side note, I am mourning the death of the click-wheeled Apple iPod Nano design which has been replaced by a Touch-type interface and screen.  Being the old-fashioned kind, I’m trying to locate a new Nano to put away before they’re gone, as Apple has already replaced my beloved old design with the new one in the online store.

I haven’t been terribly scholarly since I’ve been home, which is fine and allows me to read modern novels instead of thousand-year-old poetry, and so listen to more distracting modern music instead of studious symphonic tracks, but it’s putting me off my blogging goal.  I apologize if my much more personal musings aren’t quite as interesting and neutral as the venting or rambling I tend to do…  I do recommend The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, the prequel to the amazing, fantastic, shout-it-from-the-rooftops-good The Shadow of the Wind.  Also, I recently got The Lais of Marie de France after studying Lanval (Arthurian legend) and Bisclavret (about a werewolf whose wife betrays him).

As for preparations thus far for my trip, I’ve gotten some important pieces for grad school life recently, and am planning on buying black rain boots and glasses, as well.

First, my grown up bookbag:

by TheLeatherStore, Etsy

I got the black one, which is a large, zippered bag with a long, crossbody strap and two handles.  It’s large enough for my laptop and some books, and the seller assured me that it would be large enough for everything I need.  She uses this bag, herself, and tosses in books, lunch, makeup, and her computer!

Secondly, my pride and joy splurge:

Coach Julia Wallet

My searching for a good zippered wallet was not going well, and I happened to just check out a Coach wallet on sale at Dillard’s.  The shape and details were exactly what I was looking for, but I wasn’t really into a wallet that was A) covered in the signature Coach “C” pattern or B) so bloody expensive!  I bought it, and then went to Macy’s to look for a bag like I ultimately found on Etsy (see above).  There, at the Coach display, was the same wallet I had just bought in a beautiful silver with a lavender interior.  I loved it, and wound up taking the first patterned wallet back the next day in order to buy the plain silver one.  So, waiting in its wrapping is my first Coach piece.  It’s my extravagant purchase for the move, and money did come out of savings, but I love it and am reassured by their lifetime warranty!

The pieces I’m getting for school are all things that need replacing (bookbag–my lovely college backpack’s straps began to fall apart while at UW) or that I haven’t had the need for as a resident of fairly warm climates.  Minnesota’s winters got pretty cold (!!!), but I was lucky to live a maximum 15 minutes from any place I needed to go.  Plus, snow can be brushed off, whereas rain is a bit more of a soaking issue.  As I’m truly minimizing my belongings now, both that I will pack for the UK and keep in my room, I want pieces that define me.  I’m cleaning out everything in order to make room for a new beginning, and this change begins with my everyday pieces.

So, I’m pretty set on accepting this Hild Bede Scholarship.  I am still incredibly waffly (is that a real word?) about this, as I have no idea what the College of St Hild and St Bede’s postgraduate community will be like.  It’s apparently the largest college (Good?  Bad?  I don’t know; more people but pretty gardens and a library), and most of my tuition and accommodation will be paid by the university.

I know it’s so silly that I even considered turning it down.  I suppose it’s because on online forums and through my communication with a MA Med/Ren student from last year I felt like I know what to expect from Ustinov.  I don’t really know anything about Hild Bede, as I was supposed to be prepared for this and notified by the college by now (and, really, about the scholarship about 6 weeks ago, ha…).  It’s a very queasy feeling.  Do I take what I know or take the money and bet my living arrangements, hoping with three weeks to go I’ll have everything arranged?

My main motivation is for my parents.  They’ve been so wonderful, and I know that grad school, especially in another country, is pricey.  This scholarship means that airfare, other travel and paperwork, and a bit of the tuition as a non-EU student is all we’d pay for out-of-pocket.  One of my wisest friends, Heather, said that she knew how I felt about community and the social aspect because, let’s face it, I am rely on my friends and connections.  They’re my life.

Another decision I’m coping with is what to take with me.  I know that there are things I need to buy… and quickly:

  • bookbag or backpack of some variety, probably leather for a “grown up” lifestyle
  • day trip tote/purse for camera, wallet, books, and various smaller necessities
  • coin purse (Damn you, coinage!  How dare you scatter all over the bottom of my bag!)
  • boots, waterproofed
  • coat, waterproof, warmer than my raincoat
  • camera, larger than a pocket-sized, but not $800 like some photo shops would have me buy

And then there are the things I want, and think would be practical, if not necessary:

  • printed photos
  • books (Oh, the agony of whittling down my bookshelf!  ARGH!)
  • DVDs, iPod, computer with its new international ports
  • little reminders of home
  • maps and guidebooks I’ve picked up along the way

Plus the absolutely necessary: clothing, setting up a bank account, passport with completed visa (ta-da!!!), transcripts and related academic stuff, toiletries, etc.

I need to buy a lamp, bookshelf, sheets, etc. there, which will be a pain.  I definitely smell a trip to Newcastle and a large order on Amazon.co.uk.

Amazon reminds me of my time yesterday at Half Price Books, a dangerous, dangerous place for me.  I have read several of Marie de France’s lais while at UW, including Lanval (knight of King Arthur’s court) and the wonderful Bisclavret (werewolf, based some on Petronius’ Satyricon, hooray!).  Not one person in the store had heard of it, but I did get one amazing anthropologist staffer intrigued!  I think before bed I’ll order the book, which will make happy reading.  I also picked up J. C. Holt’s book on Robin Hood, the Old French Tristan saga (translated!), an anthology of women poets from antiquity to modern times, and a good resource book on Arthur, including the research and theories about the legends beginning with Malory, Wace, and Laȝamon.  Good stuff.  Very bad.

I’m reading the second book by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, which is a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind.  It’s called The Angel’s Game and am loving it!  I also recently read my first book by Isabella Allende, Inés of My Soul, which was completely appropriate with its just post-Inquisition Spain/Peru/Chile setting following my Late Middle Ages’ lecture on the Reformation, the Reconquista, and the Inquisition.  Mmmmmm…  So many books, so little time!

It’s no secret that I believe in the power of an excellent faculty at a university or college.  At Gustavus, the faculty made the school and community.  I met them in the local co-op, saw them at midnight showings of new movies, and had dinner at their homes.  The faculty were a large part in my life at college and created an encouraging learning environment.  I quickly conquered my fear of calling my superiors by their first names, and appreciated being able to know them on both academic and personal levels.  While I realize St. Peter is much different from, say, Seattle with its small college, small community, and Midwestern mentality, I believe that some of this comfort with faculty can be achieved by hiring good teachers.

Rarely are good teachers closed-off or secluded people.  While at the U of Washington, my best experiences have been with faculty who add personal experiences to lecture (personal travel photos, comments about a new sunburn, new films they’ve seen, etc.) and who are open to emails and office visits from students.  That being said, it seems like half of the professors I’ve loved are actually not technically employed by the school!  My Chaucer professor retired after this past spring term, and they are not adding another tenure track position.  And a permanent position for a medievalist in English or history?  Forget it.

I cannot understand the resistance of schools to hire quality faculty.  They are the life and breath of the institution!  Why would anyone fight adding an excellent and well-liked teacher to their university?  In my recent experience at a large university (and in friends’ experiences in graduate school), some tenured professors are employed because they bring a certain prestige to the institution.  They seem to not care about the quality of their classes or student interest, and in fact, some shirk their duties to their advisees.  Is prestige really worth the unsatisfactory student experience?  These students will become faculty and probable funders of the university.

With my rant over, I’d like to make a general plea to universities everywhere.  Good educators come in every field and are every age.  The end-of-term reviews should indicate to you how amazing or underwhelming professors are, and there is little point in constantly shuffling your faculty members because you have not kept tenured positions.  Please take a hard look at your popular classes and professors and fill those nonexistent and temporary positions with qualified and passionate teachers.  We, the students, appreciate it, as do those who donate.  Please help to nurture your university by giving quality education by qualified and interested professors.

Professors shouldn’t just teach or help students to get needed credits.  They can inspire true passion and interest and be life-changing.

Men exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then or bear with them.  –Marcus Aurelius

The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.  –Aristotle

Good faculty make living much easier and can turn that bitter root much sweeter.

Maybe you’ve seen Shakespeare in the news recently, with the whole “refudiate” situation and Sarah Palin.  While I did hear about that, the most important reference to Shakespeare is my new class on post-1603 Shakespeare.  I’m terrifically excited, and am in love with my new Bevington collected works.  It’s huge, and takes up 75% of my messenger bag, but it’s beautiful.

We’re reading Othello (and seeing an outside performance August 1), Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear.  The professor’s area of interest is in gender and sexuality studies, and so the overarching theme will be *drumroll* gender roles and sexuality!  I find that extremely interesting, as I take every opportunity to explore women’s roles in antiquity and the Middle Ages and am a proud feminist myself thanks to Gustavus.  (No, I wasn’t indoctrinated, or anything, but I experienced how my female friends and classmates view the world as professionals, independent people, gay, straight, bisexual, Christian, atheist, etc.  Plus, the red “This is what a Gustavus feminist looks like” didn’t hurt either…  I still have fond memories of a male poli sci professor speaking to the senior class wearing one of these under his robes and flashing it like Clark Kent becoming Superman.)

Anyway, it will be a nice change from SQB and an uninformed, interruptive instructor.

I’ve begun to read the first play for Monday, Othello.  It’s so beautiful, and the marriage between Othello and Desdemona begins better than any marriage I’ve read about recently (The Miller’s Tale, The Franklin’s Tale, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Lanval, etc.).  Those marriages begin either with the man in total domination over the woman, the woman in complete control over the man, or a marriage of “equals” to the depressed extreme as in the marriage between Averagus and Dorigen.  Othello and Desdemona love each other in the Christian way and in Venus’ way.  It’s true love mixed with passion.  Of course, Iago comes to stir those flames of passion, creating doubt and destruction by the end, but the beginning is good, right?  The issues of the Moor’s bestial qualities corrupting the pure, white, Venetian virtue of Desdemona is interesting.  (“Even now, now, very now, an old black ram / Is topping your white ewe.”  Othello, 1. 1)  Disturbing, but interesting.  Language is carefully used to convey meaning, and I think my maturity since last reading any Shakespeare, my viewing of several plays last summer, and the Bevington’s notes all make me very aware of language.

Chasseriau's Othello and Desdemona in Venice, 1850

And that brings me to a nice stopping point before I go on another lecture about the importance of the text and construction of language…  To sum up, the text is important.  The author uses it carefully as a whole work and in pieces, ultimately creating a text larger than the sum of its parts.  You should appreciate the text.  Please?

Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field,
Of hair-breadth ‘scapes i’ the imminent deadly breach,
Of being taken by the insolent foe
And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence
And portance in my travels’ history.

But words are words; I never yet did hear
That the bruised heart was pierced through the ear.
Othello, 1. 3 (both)

I understand a fury in your words,
But not the words.
Othello, 4. 2

Movie note: The Kenneth Bragnagh Othello is breathtaking, with Laurence Fishburne as Othello and Bragnagh as Iago.  Stage Beauty with Billy Crudup and Clair Danes focuses on the staging of Othello just as women were being allowed on the stage.  For a true and good version of Othello, pick of Bragnagh.  For a commentary on the gender roles of Renaissance England and the evolution of staging, Stage Beauty is entertaining.