On Tuesday Dave lent me David Foster Wallace's "Brief Interviews With Hideous Men," a collection of short stories and essays and general DFW musings. I've read it before, but it's been a little while and I forgot how lovely it is. This happens with books for me, which is quite nice. I love being able to get excited about books, to gasp audibly when something happens even when it's a book that I've loved forever and ever. I get excited and nervous every time I read "The Silver Chair" or "The Subtle Knife," the books I grew up with. I can read "The Bone People" over and over and still be absolutely astonished at the incredible quality of the writing (Keri Hulme, I love you).
Do you re-read books? Do they still make you happy and excited and scared?
(Picture drawn by the incredible Julianna Swaney of Oh My Cavalier!)
It's interesting getting used to Portland in the fall. A work in progress, definitely: yesterday the rain threw me for a bit of a loop, to be honest.
But I love autumn the best - I love the trees changing and the way it smells like snow and apple cider (hot or cold) and the way the wind bites through your jacket. And I love studying biology and gossiping with my girlfriends and eating popcorn and drinking hot chocolate until midnight (which may or may not have been exactly what happened last night).
What is your favourite season?
(photo from here)
My lovely friend Anna made me a biology study guide the other day (it's incredible), but she also does other super-incredible things.
One of those things is her webcomic, Attendance, which you should all go read.
I'm serious. It's beautiful. Thank you, Anna!
This weekend at Reed it's the centennial, so my school's been around for 100 years! That's exciting, no? Today there'll be concerts and tomorrow there will be explosions courtesy of the chemistry department and - well, it's sure to be amazing, is all.
Tomorrow my boy and I are going on a breakfast picnic down in the canyon and then watching Doctor Who... what are you doing this weekend?
(flowers make me kind of happy. From here.)
Today I finished “Consider the Lobster,” a collection of essays and articles by David Foster Wallace, and I have mixed feelings about it. Finishing it, I mean.
Today is a good day for me to finish it on one hand. I like symmetry and balance and literary elegance in reality, and this fits that bill to an extent. The boy who leant it to me (who has appeared here once or twice as D, I think) leant it to me exactly a week ago, and to give it back to him after (or before) a cappella, in some ways a reminder of who we were a week ago, is nice. And the stories were excellent: grammar and the 2000 McCain campaign and Dostoyevsky and the rise of talk radio were all thrilling and engaging and my friends got quite sick of me carrying the book everywhere and strong-arming them into talking about it with me, even though they hadn’t read it. And I like the feeling of completing something, of accomplishment and reflection that finishing a book incites for me. I like that I will be able to go back to Dave (I think it’ll be okay if I use his actual name here) and tell him how much I loved the stories, how unbelievably grateful I am to him for lending it to me. I am excited to talk about the book as a whole and not just do what we’ve been doing, talking about each story one at a time, because although they were published at different times and in different things, seeing the anthology as a whole book is really nice.
You may recall some blog posts on Infinite Jest. I remember picking it up in Shakespeare & Company and reading it on my April holiday, being totally engrossed in the world of the Entertainment and tennis and the AA program while sitting in Paris and Morocco, unable to tear myself away from the book. I remember practically begging Mike to read it (sorry, Mike) and being slightly disappointed (again, sorry, Mike) when he got stuck some two hundred pages in with footnotes and the need for the OED and stopped. I love Infinite Jest. I love how DFW somehow pulled me into this alternate Massachusetts, where suddenly bits of home were recognizable and others weren’t, where a bit of French was hugely helpful to understanding what was going on, and for the first time in my life a footnote made me cry. I remember finishing Infinite Jest and feeling so full, so glad that I had read the book, but also empty. That book was done, there wasn’t going to be another first time for me to read it, and I had devoured one of the finite DFW tomes out there.
For those of you who don’t know, David Foster Wallace killed himself in 2008. He has written some short stories and two finished novels and some essays in different anthologies, and one huge unfinished novel. But that’s it. After I’m done with those, there is no more David Foster Wallace for the first time, no diving into encyclopaedic tomes that are almost too heavy to hold up for a while, no more excitement of finding that next book. At some point, I will have read all of them, and it will be over.
So today in the library, after I had read all of the bio stuff for our exam on Tuesday, I finished “Consider the Lobster” and just sat there for a while. It feels empty to have finished this book and to know that there aren’t a million more out there, a million more that he’s writing right now. I think, though, that it’s probably the right day for me to finish these. I’ve had them for a week, and enjoyed them hugely, devoured them at dinners with friends and breakfasts alone with tea before everyone else is awake and in my room when I should be doing my French homework. These stories, these essays and articles and reviews are done, and that’s okay.
"It's weird," one of my dormies said, "that you refer to Chittick as home now." And I do. When we're eating in Commons, I ask if my friends are ready to go home. I refer to the common room as "the living room," to the strange paved space in front of our dorm as "the terrace." And I love my dorm, the people in it, the living room and terrace and balconies.
But mostly I love my room. I love my wall of pictures and my armchair (everyone loves the armchair) and my tea things. I adore my plants and the soft grey shag carpet. I love the duvet cover from Paris.
A lot of people ask me why I fix up my room, and tell me how it doesn't even look like a dorm room anymore. I know it doesn't; I don't want it to. Mainly, it feels a bit more real when my room isn't transient anymore. I work better and think better and live better when I love a space, and, my god, I love my room.
I will post photos at some point, promise!
Guys! The excellent Dylan Meconis is back from her summer writing break with brand new Family Man comics! I am so so excited it's hard to believe....
Happy first day of fall!
(gorgeous picture by Ms Meconis, from here)
... Always get me down. Not really. But it was a song... okay, I know, I'm being silly. But happy Monday, everyone!
Really, I love Mondays. I love Humanities lecture (Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays) and I love my Humanities conference, and I'm... okay with French. I don't think I absolutely love the class yet, but that will come in time. I do love speaking the language, though. I've also got a French "examen" today, which might be why I'm less excited for that class. There is also a cappella rehearsal on Mondays, and I love a cappella. I forgot how much I loved singing with people over my gap year, how much I love warm-ups and a whole bunch of voices combining. I remember going back to my high school for their Christmas concert and singing with the chorus and chamber choir (they needed more voices) and enjoying it, but also being a little gratified that the chamber choir used to do harder stuff when I was actually in it. But that one night of singing with a whole bunch of people - that was lovely, and now I get to do that twice a week.
Do you sing at all? In a group?
Today is my mother's birthday. It's also the first birthday for any of the family when I haven't been there, and that's scary and sad. From what I understand, the family went up to Halibut Point in Rockport (one of my absolute favourite places - if you get a chance, go) for a birthday picnic and then will skype me once they're home.
I miss my family on days like this, on Sunday mornings where it rains in Portland (soft, pin-prick raindrops on the roof) and I can imagine my family making breakfast and then fruit salad and picnic stuff for lunch, gardening, doing the crossword, listening to music. And I imagine them here, in the Pacific Northwest where they might light the woodstove on cold rainy mornings and play music while my father makes french toast. I was so excited about the rain - it's starting to finally feel like I live here - and I almost wanted to call them with how excited I was. "Guess what, guys, it's raining! Check it out!"
But birthdays are hard to miss. I want to sit with them in the living room and open presents (my mother has no choice but to open mine last, as it's not in the post until tomorrow) and have cake. I want to picnic at Halibut Point and sit on the chalky rocks to watch the waves. And I really, really want to be there to hug my mother in the morning and sing her happy birthday as we bring in breakfast in bed and to be able to wish her a happy birthday in person.
Happy birthday, Mummy! I miss you!
So yesterday we had a cappella practice, which is quickly becoming one of my favourite things to do in the week. I now literally look forward to Monday and Thursday nights, when at nine I run down to Prexy (the music building at my college) to sing with a group of twenty-four pretty incredible people.
I have never really done a cappella before. In high school, I sang in chorus and in chamber choir, and that was amazing - especially chamber choir. As the one person who stuck with chamber choir all four years, occasionally I got to choose music, and the eight or so of us (it was a very small group) would sing "Sicut Cervus," this gorgeous motet by Palestrina, or "O Magnum Mysterium," or "And He Shall Purify" when the bigger choir was working on the Messiah. I love singing that stuff - I love the intricacy of motets and the soaring harmonies of madrigals. I love singing early music, but I haven't since more than a year ago, and that's something I miss. Here at Reed there's a group called Collegium Musicum that I assume does that kind of stuff (like an idiot I missed the audition sign-ups) but I am doing a cappella this year instead.
A cappella does not do that kind of stuff. We are singing "Build Me Up Buttercup" which is so incredibly fun it's hard to believe, and last night we started working on Toto's "Africa." In my opinion we've got a pretty awful arrangement of the song (the sopranos do nothing; I'm a soprano), but we'll sort that out with time. What's important is that I'm singing again, and it's fun.
And it's so much fun. It's not the same kind of fun as chamber choir is - In chamber choir I am humbled by the sound we make. It puts me in mind of dark incense-y churches and something gorgeous that transcends history. But singing a cappella is a different fun, an easier fun, a fun where you're supposed to dance along to the music. My friend D, who is a bass, sings so expressively and excitedly that you have to smile and almost laugh and dance, which makes the music sound better - look at us, we are having fun! Have fun with us!
Did you ever sing a cappella? What did you think?
(Also. Our a cappella group is called the Herodotones - like Herodotus, just a bit nerdier. How cool is that?!)
One of the things that I specifically asked my father to bring me when he came to visit last week was a teapot. I now drink about six cups of tea a day! It's just one of those things that I grew up doing - and tea is helpful for when you're studying or hanging out with your friends. I miss drinking tea with my family, though....
Are you a coffee or a tea person?
This has to be little because I need to be at bio lecture in ten minutes (there will be a longer one after class! I promise), but have you ever had things that you love that you used to save for emergencies? I have. We talked about the Bone People long, long ago, and I recently joked to a friend that it lived in a drawer with a bar of dark chocolate labeled "For Emergencies." Who am I kidding - I haven't got enough space in my tiny dorm room for an emergency drawer - but in part I was serious. That's the only book I don't let anyone borrow, and from experience (a friend was having a bad day yesterday), tea makes you feel better, too.
What are the things that you turn to when life feels rough?
... and I could not be more pleased about it. Yesterday was the first real chilly day we had in Portland, and I'm looking forward to wearing sweaters (quite possibly my favourite article of clothing) and jeans and boots to my humanities conferences. Fall is quite possibly my favourite season - I love the bite in the air, and I love hiking in the Presidential Mountains over Columbus Day Weekend and seeing the New Hampshire forests on fire. I love apple-picking, and I love apple cider and cold morning when my father lights the fire in the woodstove in our kitchen. This fall, I'm not sure I'll get to do or experience any of those things - here in the Pacific Northwest, fall through spring is the rainy season, and it's mainly an experience of wet, cold air, of hot coffee and hot-water bottles in bed. I'm looking forward to this just as much: I'll go home for a week in October, so hopefully I'll get my fall in New England fix, and I'm excited to find out what fall is like here!
Anyone who has lived in the Pacific Northwest have any suggestions?
(something about this photo seemed so sweet. From here.)
Yesterday I donated blood. There was a blood drive at school, and I skipped lunch to donate. It's pretty incredible to make somewhat of a difference by just lying down for half an hour - however, if you're the type who feels faint for the rest of the day (like me), don't do it. They probably don't want your blood anyways, and there are other things you can do to help. And it will result in your lovely dormies doing things like carrying you home (this is very embarrassing; don't let it happen) if you do in fact donate.
Have you given blood before? Did you faint?
My armchair and ottoman. The book on the arm of the chair is the pocket Oxford French-English dictionary and in no way could fit into a pocket.
Everyone has their people at college. For my parents, it was their group of friends at Foley House (and some guy named Omar? Mum and Daddy, am I getting this right?) and for my darling Kuzu, it's her customs group. For me, almost two weeks in, it's my dormies.
Reedies like to put "ies" on the end of everything. If you go to my school, you're a Reedie. If you're a prospective student, you're a prospie. If you live with me in Chittick, you're my dormie. Living in Chittick - a building that can apparently be taken apart with a screwdriver - is one of my favourite things about college. Here, my people are excellent. We live in the gourmet dorm and so last night M made tongue tacos and G made fresh bread and garlic oil and A made carbonated grapes (more on how to carbonate grapes later, I promise). I love eating meals with my dormies, I love talking on the balcony to E and T (I'm really not sure if they want their names on the Internet, so you'll have to bear with me on the whole alphabet soup thing), I love it when W comes into my bedroom and stretches out in the armchair and we talk about boys and French homework.
Really, I love the community that my dormies and I have made. They are kind and lovely people, who make dinner with you and quiz you on your French words and yell at people who are mean for you. It's kind of like a surrogate family - when A makes sourdough bread it's a strange crossover to when my father and I used to do that in our kitchen, and when N yells at someone for being a jerk I am immediately reminded of my darling brother. So thank you, my dormies, for making Reed a home away from Cambridge, and for helping me find a family on the other side of the country.
It is getting to the point in the year (already!) where it's kind of scary to go running by myself in the early early morning. At five-thirty the canyon is dark; even when I return the trees are gloomy with shadow and I find myself jumping and accelerating every time I hear a stick break or something that seems out of place.
The canyon is one of my favourite places on campus - truly, it's one of the most gorgeous places I've ever been, and to run in a wildlife reserve is a huge luxury that I don't have at home. I love going for walks in the canyon in the daytime, to wander through the light-dappled paths after French and sit and think or read the letters that my darling sister sends me. It is a haven from my lovely classmates and my schoolwork - and it's comforting to know that just up the rise is the library, or that I can see the blue bridge from quiet hollows where the solitude is breathtaking.
But running in the canyon when dark is fading to light is scary. The shadows are pretty dark - sometimes you are relying on what little you can make out in the half-light and your sense of hearing (hard to do while you're listening to music) and there are times when I just want to turn around and run back the other way, back to my dorm room where I can do sit-ups or read. Sometimes I do that, really...
Maybe this is just a sign that I have to start waiting until a little later in the morning now. Have a lovely Wednesday!
(photo from the Reed College website)
When I was on my Backpacking Odyssey, we got a talk about the Honor Principle and violations. The Honor Principle is different for everyone; your idea of what it means changes with how much time you've spent at Reed and what you do with your time, who you hang out with, etc.
One of our expedition leaders told us to think deeply about what the Honor Principle meant to us, for both the practical reason of if you're ever called upon to defend it you can, and also just so that you know what you want, who you are, what your morals are. I have been told time and again that Reed almost forces you to have a strong sense of self, an idea of who you are that you can explain and defend to your own questions. I don't have that yet, I don't think. Granted, this is the beginning of my second week of classes - I have time. But in between my Humanities paper and my Bio readings, I have been thinking deeply about who I am and what I want and how far I am willing to go. I figure this will be an ongoing internal conversation for basically the rest of my life.
Is this a normal college thing?
What are you guys up to this Labor Day weekend? Today was activities fair at Reed, which was super cool (they had a bouncy obstacle course thing!) and the end of my first week of college classes.
I have to admit, that what with all I'd heard about how Reedies do nothing but work, I'm pleasantly surprised at the workload. Don't get me wrong - I spend hours doing my homework each day - but I still have time to talk, and to sleep, and to just hang out. Apparently this changes in the following years, but right now Portland is gorgeous and my friends are lovely and college is this incredible community of people who talk about Agamemnon and girls and what we're making for dinner tonight (I'm in the foodie dorm).
Hooray, Reed! Hooray, September!
That's what they told us the first day of O-week. Love Reed. It's what they told us at Noise Parade when pots and pans were clanging and Homer was ringing in our ears. It's what they tell us (in different words, occasionally) every single day.
Yesterday I hung out with people I barely knew - this upperclassman kid A in my dorm and a couple of his friends - and they were so kind to me. I had barely met him, and then his friends were inquisitive and nice and we talked... well, about Agamemnon a bit (that's normal for Reed, trust me). Sitting there with older upperclassman strangers, talking about Agamemnon.... that's them saying Love Reed again. And again.
I chose a pretty great place to go to college.