there and back again

August 19, 2008, 6:25 pm
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I don’t really have all that much to say about life right now.  It’s always hard to find that your existence has become dull and mundane without you ever noticing.  Exams usually have that effect.  I’m behind in my work (as always) and struggling to bring myself to care about the results of this summer program.  I know I’ll be upset and disappointed with myself if I do poorly but of course right now I can’t imagine ever really caring about the results.  I just want more sleep, a chance to go on really long walks again, or go book shopping.  Soon, when I get that week at home, but not here and not yet.

Since at the moment I don’t have a lot going on, go off and read this brilliant essay on poverty by Heather Ryan over at instead.  It’s heartbreakingly simple and honest.  Good stuff.


Shameless materialism.
July 19, 2008, 11:20 am
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So I’m not doing a whole lot of shopping in Cambridge, for two main reasons.  Reason number one is that the exchange rate is just killing me dead.  Getting a drink out with dinner sets me back six dollars.  I went to H&M a week ago looking for a dress (we have these fancy formal dinners every few weeks and I wanted a new dress) and I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything because all of a sudden that forty dollar dress that I might have bought in New York was actually forty pounds and that’s like eighty dollars and this is H&M were talking about.  Nothing from that store is worth eighty dollars.

Reason number two is that when I sit down and start to analyze my shopping habits I start to get really worried.  I am not one of those super annoying people who goes shopping all the time and always has to have a new outfit.  I’ve been wearing a plaid button down shirt all week that used to belong to my brother!  So I would generally say that I safely avoid being labeled as really materialistic.  But I really like clothes.  I don’t really like trends but I can very easily fall in love with fantastically pretty dresses and winter coats (mmm, winter coats).  So I feel like I constantly have to be restraining myself from indulging my tendency towards materialism.  It’s a battle, really.

But books!  I let myself buy books like television characters buy shoes!  I can never get mad at myself for buying books.  They’re pretty and they expand my mind and decorate my room and I reread books like crazy so I always feel like I’m getting my money’s worth.  I also tend to research the books I buy so very rarely do I ever go out and buy a book that I end up hating.  I love all my books.  I could really be happy if one day I owned a apartment filled with nothing but books, as long as I have a bed and also a super cute winer coat.

But the buying of books presents yet another moral dilemma.  For where should one buy books?  From your local neighborhood independently owed bookstore, right?  You should always support the little guy and also it makes me feel super literary to buy books from a tiny little shop staffed by mean old people and cats.  Buying books from independent books stores gives you serious cachet.  But here’s the problem with independent bookstores.  They’re small.  They are also cute and quirky and smell like books which is a major plus but they lack the overwhelming variety of Barnes & Noble.  
The one thing I gave myself permission to buy in Cambridge was books.  I’m not entirely sure how I’m getting them home right now, but that doesn’t really matter.  I got free rein from the parents to go book-buying crazy and so I did.  But I wanted to buy books from Cambridge bookstores.  There is a Borders here, but buying books from Borders in Cambridge is lame.  I wanted to find the old fashioned bookstores that have been around for a billion years and sold books to Newton and Darwin and people like that.  I also wanted to perhaps spend a little more and buy some older editions of favorite books or perhaps ones with nice illustrations—super pretentious but hey, I’m a snob.  This is surprisingly hard to do.  But I went to Heffer’s, which is one of the old and famous bookstores in Cambridge, and poked around the fiction section, feeling like I was at least making an effort as Heffer’s is a chain but originated in Cambridge and feels very literary.  A little too literary it turns out as Heffer’s had a really great selection of classic British literature (figures) but nothing particularly modern or unusual.  It was bizarre.  They had five different Bukowski novels, but nothing by Salman Rushdie.  So then I had to go to Borders, where the dude at the register noticed my Heffer’s shopping bag and totally made a dick remark.  And then I finally stumbled into this tiny bookstore specializing in illustrated books and children’s books from the 19th and 20th century, The Haunted Bookshop, and it was really cramped and sort of musty and staffed by an old lady.  Wonderful!  Except that I’d spent lots of money on books already and I wasn’t entirely sure what I was looking for and the old lady was totally giving me dirty looks because I had bags from Heffer’s and Borders!  

I haven’t given up; I’m going back to The Haunted Bookshop and I’ve heard that G. David is good, too.  But who knew buying books was going to get so political?

Sunday night blues.
July 13, 2008, 4:29 pm
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Please note that although I’m going to be whining about various aspects of life in Cambridge, I am fully aware that my woes could be avoided by not being so fucking lazy.  It’s okay, guys.  I’m not oblivious, I just like complaining.  Let’s continue.

So.  Life in Cambridge.  Most of the time it’s pretty great.  I go to class and dinner in a beautiful neo-Gothic building; across the lawn is the Chapel which dates to the 1400s.  My Bloomsbury professor lives in the apartment that also housed John Maynard Keynes; I’ve got a friend living across the street from Darwin’s old dorm room.  I haven’t yet had a drink in the pub where Crick and Watson took drinking breaks into between discovering the structure of DNA and not giving fair credit to Rosalind Franklin (I kid, I kid.) but it’s only a matter of time!  And money.  I’m basically surrounded by history and freak out approximately every two days to discover yet another plaque commemorating yet another epic moment in history that occurred right next to my grocery store.  It’s generally really awesome. 

Except on the weekend.  Because on the weekend, all the tourists arrive.  They walk in the streets or stand (totally immobile!) on the sidewalks.  They congregate in huge numbers outside the gatehouse at King’s and make the porters really grumpy and mean.  They don’t understand the deal with the grass—  

And here I’ll even pause a moment and commiserate.  I don’t understand the whole grass thing either.  You can’t walk on any of the grass in college.  You can’t stand on it, you can’t touch it, you can’t sit on it.  If you are a senior fellow of the College (A fellow is a faculty member who is a member of the governing body of the College; what a “senior” fellow is I may never know.) you may walk sedately across the grass.  If you are accompanied by a senior fellow of the College you may walk across the grass provided you look suitably awed.  I think it’s stupid, fellow plebeians.  The grass looks beautiful.  But you can’t walk on it.  There are signs informing you of this rule.  They tell you in six different languages.  Unless you only speak Spanish, you’re going to get yelled at.  And so while I always cringe to hear yet another person being ordered off the grass, my sympathy is short lived.  It’s unfair and makes me want to start a revolution of some sort, but to that guy looking all wide-eyed with your camera and map—don’t act all surprised when you get yelled at.  You should have read the sign, dude.   

For reals, yo.  Don’t touch it.

But yes.  Truly tourists are a lower form of life.  Like the pigeon and the rat, the tourist gets in my way, does not apologize for inconveniencing and terrorizing me, and appears in such large numbers that I often cringe in fear in my room, afraid to leave and brave the crowds.  But I had to today because I missed lunch.  Because I was sleeping.  I know.  I am lazy as fuck but I still get to hate tourists.  And now I’m hungry because I ate lunch at a weird hour but dinner is over and I can’t get Indian take away because it’s Sunday night and everything is closed.  I blame you, tourists.  Surely the good business owners of Cambridge could be convinced to stay open just a little later on Sunday nights if you, stupid tourists, didn’t make us all so damn tired during the day. 

And now it’s really time to do a little homework.

“Turn into the whole wide world I made up”
July 11, 2008, 8:10 am
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I’m not much of a photographer, but I can’t stop looking at the sky in Cambridge.  I’ve never seen clouds and light behave so oddly, and what’s more, it’s strangely not time specific.  This is how the sky looks at eight in the morning, or six in the afternoon, or at nine just as it’s getting dark.  I’ve started to walk around here with my head constantly tilted up.

More stuff I’m doing with my first day free from classes: reading To The Lighthouse, catching up on my email, not getting dressed, maybe going shopping later.  I discovered this awesome song by Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) in a commercial.  Okay, it’s a pretty good commercial—it’s Spike Jones for Adidas—but still!  I’ve upset the natural order of things; aren’t I supposed to love the song, see the commercial, and then bitch to my friends about selling out?  I can’t really, the song is too pretty and I’m so glad I found it. 

Adidas Commercial by Spike Jones.  Music by Karen O.

July 8, 2008, 2:40 pm
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This is not an entirely original post.  I’m plagiarizing myself a little here (in as much as part of this post used to exist in the livejournal universe which I left long ago) but if I don’t get to cheat with my own blog, when do I?  Exactly.

Went to evensong tonight at King’s Chapel which was amazing.  I’ve been a fairly staunch atheist for a long time now; it’s got less to do with the impossibility of the existence of god and more to do with conflicts between my feminism and institutional religion, but there you go.  No religion for me, thanks.  But I cried when the choir sang.  I have a bad habit of crying whenever I hear or see anything particular beautiful; I get the tingling in my spine and the teary eyes every time.  Really I’m just a fucking sap, but what can you do really?  Better to cry at the truly beautiful things in life than to remain totally unmoved.

And speaking of the truly beautiful things in life, here are selections from Haiku U., From Aristotle to Zola, 100 Great Books in 17 Syllablesby David M. Bader

Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita

Lecherous linguist—
he lays low and is laid low
after laying Lo.

Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

“What have I become?”
Uncertain, Gregor Samsa
puts out some feelers.

Vatsayana’s Kama Sutra

Advice for those in
a difficult position.
First, be flexible.

Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo

Gallant avenger.
Egg-dipped cheese sandwich. Thy name
is Monte Cristo.

Hi lovely, oh so fickle.
July 2, 2008, 6:17 am
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I don’t think I would have ever guessed how much I love one of the courses I’m taking here at King’s.  The class focuses on Bloomsbury and oddly enough I can feel myself becoming obsessed despite my own attempts to stay rather detached.  All the people I ever met who were obsessed with the group were just identifying to a creepy degree with Virginia Woolf and while I can feel some part of that, I think it’s more the unraveling of a society, the way in which I can trace connections and dead ends, lovers and ideas and hangers on.  Right now, it’s fascinating me.  King’s library has a Bloomsbury archive in which I plan on immersing myself.  

I also need to immediately read all of Woolf’s big novels, right now.  I read A Room of One’s Own back in high school and fell in love.  Her advice to women writers is becoming very antiquated, which is a good thing really, but there’s something about her theory that rings true.  Even now, the best way for me to be a writer really would be to have totally financial independence and a quiet space.  I think for this reason, I was very intrigued by the Writers Room; I always like to imagine that when I graduate I’ll submit an application, get accepted, write my novel, and suddenly find I’ve made a career for myself.  But in reality, I’m terrified of writing really (strange for someone who majors in the subject) because I often feel that I lack the discipline to ever make something out of what I write.  

There’s a certain degree of necessary egotism that’s required to be a writer; you have to truly believe that you are adding something to the billions of pages already in the world, that what you have to say is worth spending time and emotion upon.  I’ve never let anyone I care about read my work.  Instead, of course, I post it here, on a fairly anonymous blog in the vast steppe of the internet. 

“Hold your insides ’cause you’re cold at night/Warm your heart now, ’cause you’re by my side”
July 1, 2008, 5:45 pm
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Well I was definitely right.  I will definitely not be updating every day anymore.  I’m in Cambridge and all I can think about is how much I want to be home.  How much I want to be at my friend Max’s house, curled up and happily drunk on the couch or in bed, sprawled out and elbowing the people I love and listening to music or watching truly stupid movies.  This place is lovely but this is not the summer to be here.  

I’ve been listening to Beach House lately; a bus took me from London to Cambridge on Sunday and all the while I watched the streets and churches and rivers and museums and houses go by while listening to this dream.  I tried at one point to switch the music, to listen to Beirut in fact.  Something that felt like Old World Europe, something that felt fantastic but grounded, earthy.  It didn’t work.  That isn’t what I need at all right now, I want nothing but fantasy.  I spend my days walking this beautiful city, with its cobblestone streets and history, with its fields and river and spires that are a burnished gold in the midday sun (and it’s always sunny here for now), and I narrate my life to those who are absent.  

There’s this place in my head right now, a sort of Baltimore/New York hybrid, where I walk around all day, alone and feeling safe and warm in my loneliness.  It feels good to be alone in this place, to be secure in my need for solitude, to be content in myself.  The streets aren’t as pretty as they are here, people are stranger, everything is the wrong type of old and the wrong type of new.  It feels nice to be there, this place where Beach House plays and I give myself permission to create fantasies for myself, waiting for me, when I slip into bed at night. 

The climb to my room in Cambridge.

The trip to the Telectroscope.

Where I am versus where I want to be right now.