notes from 0th week (ht)

I realised last term that my old blog system wasn’t suited to my needs any more. I’ve adapted the morning pages system to suit my needs, so below is an edited set of excerpts from my daily entries from the last week. It’s a very different kind of writing from my Finals posts, as it’s stream of consciousness in many ways, with run-on sentences and a bathetic combination of general thought and everyday minutiae. I’m not writing for any particular audience, just for myself, and editing out the portions that are meant to remain unseen. 

monday

The days seem so very long, but it’s these same days that are slipping, faster than we know it, like beads from a cherished string. Interminable, indistinguishable colourless days, sacrificed on the altar of […] the flickering promise of a neon future. I know I should take the time to truly live each of these unobtrusive grey days, before I’m looking back at them from an empty flat, the August sun burnishing the cardboard moving boxes, my office empty. It’s difficult, though, when you’re drawing up your calendar and are confronted with this long grey stretch of time, in which you know a mythically great quantity of work needs to get done, but you’re as yet unsure of just how that will happen. Hilary is the longest, greyest term – Michaelmas is the burnt orange of crackling leaves and the fresh paper smell of a new beginning; Trinity is the rich blue sky over the river studded with paint-pot punts, garden parties, croquet and summer balls, but Hilary is the firm grey of hard but reluctant graft, of waiting on emails and papers and on the rest of our lives to begin. But it’s also the term of simple normality, the routine and rhythm that we miss the most when everything is over, everyone has flown away and nothing is as it was. When nothing is as it was, the things I will miss the most are not the balls or formals, it’s the happy normality of peacefully working across from P. in the office, the bus journeys in and out each day, meeting E. for tea at half an hour’s notice. It is always the little things that we miss the most, although we ignore them at the time.

tuesday

I don’t know why there isn’t a Spotify playlist for “Sunny Day in Oxford”, because there certainly should be. It’s its own special kind of feeling, whether it’s the first, tentative day of a premature spring, just another in the seemingly-endless but in reality all too short-lived balmy days of a Trinity summer, or the pretty crisp autumn days that make October not a time of decay or regret, but one of childlike optimism and warm hope.

In any case, a beautiful day, and I walked through college on a fruitless quest to check my pidge (not that I failed to check it, but it was – as usual – empty). I normally avoid college for a variety of reasons – primarily because I have little to do there – but today, in the sunlight, with the scent of an approaching spring, it was a pleasure to see the dear old place, with my friends the deer an unexpected delight.

Then to the English Library, for the first time. It’s a nice place – contradicting its rather Plattenbauesque exterior […] Walked from the EFL to Ertegun. Was glad of the fresh air – I always wonder at the complacency with which “sea air” is prescribed for various ailments in Victorian novels. Evidently we don’t have “sea air” on hand here, and there are a variety of illnesses for which it would have no effect, but perhaps they weren’t too far wrong. This place really can be so very lovely.

[…]

The Damrosch book has given me a great many ideas on how to frame the R.P. – which is good, considering it’s due in 10 days. Feel a little more positive about it anyhow. It’s so good to feel like myself again, even if breathing smoothly is a struggle.

The sun is setting and an unusually large moon looms above the houses on St. Giles. I’m grateful for this little space and the protection it gives me from the cold and from the fear of not knowing enough, itself as cold and sharp as the buffeting winds outside.

wednesday

Another truly beautiful day. I didn’t get much sleep at all – struggled to fall asleep and then woke up early […] Nonetheless, it was a lovely sunrise and it was really pleasant to have a slow, leisurely morning rather than a mad, guilt-driven rush, which is what usually happens.

[…]

Was the first one in today and hung out of the window gazing down at St Giles like a regular mujer ventanera. […] Time to get on with the day – I wonder what this one will hold.

thursday

Questions: if Maison Blanc on Woodstock Road is closed, why are there still pastries in baskets in the windows? Are they even real? Do the Big Issue sellers around here make enough to live on, considering there are so many of them? Do the monks of the Capuchin order display any kind of fondness for cappuccino? Will I ever be rid of this wretched head cold?

I’m still not better – had to admit defeat yesterday and go home early […] realising in the process that I’ve been spelling “anti-climactic” wrong my entire life. […] Some of the Erties are seeing “Silence” today. I wasn’t sure I’d heard of it, so Googled […] and of course it’s a film about 17th century Jesuits facing persecution in Japan, because what else would they be seeing a film about? […] If I never have to hear about 17th century Jesuits again after this conference, I’ll be happy.

[…] The House is filling up again, which is lovely. […] I forget, as I see undergrads being unloaded from their parents’ cars, that people don’t live here full-time. It’s strange when the place that is your year-round home is only half-inhabited for much of the year.

Much to do. Still no research proposal has been written (note the passive voice) and there’s about a week to go. Meeting with ONW today and all I have is a sliver of an idea, and very little reading done, and then the Comp Lit one tomorrow, for which I have yet to write my research summary or pick a seminar to present at. Today’s aims, then.

friday

[on genius] How? How to be around someone whose presence, absence, every word, every silence, hits like such a blow? How to live with the joy of the blessing to know him and be around him, but the curse of such a person? Is this what it was to know Goethe? As he is in Mann’s Lotte in Weimar? It must be. What must it be to be him, to have such a persona, one that hits everyone around you like a forcefield, galvanises them into (even grudging) admiration, but chastens them into ready admission of their inferiority? […] To keep quiet for fear of lacking anything of interest to say, […] wondering what one could possibly ever say that would be interesting enough, feeling as if pieces of information are offering to a mighty Jupiter with a proud face and steady brown eyes. Of course, women don’t get to possess genius, a magnetic charge so potent that a field of orbit opens around them – only if they are tremendously beautiful, so beautiful that strangers’ mouths fall open when they enter the room. What must it be to look around with the knowledge that everyone about you is so intensely, painfully taken up that they would go – joyfully, willingly – to the very ends of this earth for you? What must it be to live knowing your name is on everyone’s lips when you are absent, that everyone is concerned when you are gone and relieved when you return, happy in the conviction that they, and everyone else for that matter, can never once hope to ascend to anywhere near your height, to dare to share your section of the galaxy?

saturday

[…] Am in the office – or, more specifically, the House kitchen, eating dinner. I know – me? At work? On a Saturday night? I know. But this research proposal for Oxford still finds itself uncompleted, and I really can’t let it eat into 1st week – plus the app itself is due in 6 days’ time […] I could easily do it at home, or in a cafe, but I simply dislike the physical experience of working anywhere other than my office. And so here I am. A. has been remarkably good about the whole thing: I would not have thought it unreasonable if he had cribbed even a little, but nothing of the sort.

Why was it not done yesterday? A blip, a pothole, a battle verloren – the things that make sweet commenters gushingly trip over their patronising concern bzw. extrapolation to say “So sorry you’re having a tough time at the moment xx” and treat me with kid gloves for ever after, even as I surround the narration of that particular hour with pages and pages of evidence of all the wonderful things I have the liberty of enjoying, of everything going truly brilliantly manifestly right – it will still be taken as overarching proof that “Sorry to hear you’re struggling x” is surely the only appropriate reaction to reports of a week painted in every colour, for my shame! featuring a – humanly necessary if not always desired nor appreciated – corner of blue and grey. But – I digress. Nothing I feel deserves reporting except that crying in the office is never enjoyable and that P. stunned me with incredible support. Urgently necessary rant-cry […] which meant A. and I could spend the hours after that building solutions to each area of concern over tapas in Al-Andalus. It was incredibly productive and helpful and I felt a great deal better on waking up this morning. Recital was cancelled so spoke to Baby, then sped down to meet a Classics finalist applying for Ertegun and honestly, I was so inspired in a way I never have been when chatting to someone younger than me applying for things. She’s working on some incredibly cool stuff on Classical Reception and I honestly wanted to read all her work there and then. I’ve been trying to take a lead from S. and be more vocally positive about the people I meet and their work, and maybe it’s working. Then the rest of the afternoon with my beloved E. – the delight and gratification I feel when my science friends start talking about things like epistolary traditions is like seeing a baby unexpectedly say a new word. It’s delightful. I’ve foolishly been trying to work on this research proposal since about 6 – it’s now 10.30 – and all I have to show for it is 264 words and a headache. It’s been lovely spending this time with P. but has certainly reminded me of why I don’t work in evenings or at weekends. I’ll have to come in tomorrow (or something) to finally kill this thing off, but I’ll be damned if I make a habit of this.

sunday

God, I feel really rough after yesterday. I’m not sure why I thought that a) staying in the office until late and b) staying up until 1.30 would be a good idea. I feel incredibly cranky and can only hope the world realises its good fortune that I do not, in fact, drink and thereby suffer from hangovers, as I am quite sure I would be a total nightmare. […]

Have been added to this awesome little Early Modern Facebook study group and I am reminded – not that I needed reminding – of why I love Early Modernists. I’ve learnt so much through sharing an office with two E.M. historians that has really taught me to see beyond and challenge disciplinary boundaries, and question why they’re so rigid in Oxford in the first place. Just the other day P. was telling me about this E.M. historian of Spain who was apparently completely game-changing and I’d just never really heard of him before? Not to mention Greenblatt and his book and all this other stuff I’m just discovering. I found myself looking at the Early Modern Graduate Forum termcard wondering why […] Spanish is somehow completely separate […] – surely a multi-disciplinary Early Modern Research Seminar is of more use to me than a Spanish Research Forum with maybe one or two E.M. things a term?

[…] it’s actually sad to see the extent to which my languages have deteriorated. I attempted to speak Spanish when I bumped into Diana and, in fairness, it was just after a major draining nervous breakdown, but it was extremely painful for everyone concerned and more than a little embarrassing. At least I remembered that “conference” is “congreso”, though.

Ugh. Someone give me a shot of positivity/productivity. It’s so hard when it’s so grey outside, but I’m sure I’ll get there. Am ordering Feminist Fight Club from Amazon though to share with E., though, so that’ll certainly be something to look forward to.

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