Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My first sort-of-assignment-don’t-really-know-if-i-have-to-turn-this-in-or-not thing.

A lot of my writer friends have wanted to be writers their entire lives. They wrote stories when they were little and always dreamed of selling their first novel and going on book tours. That was not me. The first job I ever remember wanting was to be a glassblower. I think I must have seen a demonstration about it at some Civil War something or other back when I was little and got the idea stuck in my head that it would be a suitable career path. My parents just smiled and nodded and let it go, probably hoping I'd forget all about it at some point and pick a more fruitful calling. They were right about the first part, I did forget about it. If I've found a prosperous future for myself is yet to be seen. It certainly is fun anyway.

I've loved to read as long as I've been able. From the moment those squiggly lines became letters and those letters turned to words and those words bloomed into stories, I've been in love. I used to get in trouble in math class for reading a book under my desk instead of paying attention.

"Maria," scolded Mr. Math Teacher, "this is math class, you shouldn't be reading."

"But you have to be able to read to do math," my younger self reasoned innocently, thinking of all those insufferable word problems my brain had no patience for.

"That's not the point, put the book away."

I took, "put the book away," to mean "hide the book better," and kept reading. At this same time I was also writing. I wrote silly little stories about my favorite Star Wars characters and my 13 year old attempt at original science fiction, but never gave writing much thought. In high school I started to travel. I always kept a journal when I traveled overseas and wrote in it every day, recording the day's events and trying (usually unsuccessfully) to record at least a little of how I felt. I was terrified of forgetting. But still, I never gave writing any thought. It's just something everyone does, right? Everyone records the day's observations on little scraps of paper or on the pages of the millions of blank notebooks they have yet keep buying, right? Scout, in To Kill A Mockingbird, explains the exact way I felt about writing in her own regard to reading. "Until I feared I'd lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."

Then I went to college, majored in English, and was instantly lonely. When you've had the same best friends since elementary school, a time before self esteem issues and shyness sets in, making friends out in the real world is hard. So I wrote about it. I wrote a silly little story with my best friends from home as main characters, imagining what we would all be daydreaming about if we were all together, bored in class. I finished it, let a few of said friends read it, then put it away and forgot about it until the next year.

Sophomore year I joined my school's chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honor Society, giving in completely to the fact that I was indeed a huge nerd. I wanted to submit something creative to the annual convention the Society had every year. All I had was the daydream story, so that's what I sent in. To my great surprise it was accepted. I went to Pittsburgh, read my story in front of a room full of people (not my cup of tea) and was astonished to find that people laughed where I meant to be funny and were silent during the serious bits. Even more astonishing was that people actually like my story.

Now I can't imagine a life for myself where I was not making up stories in my head and collecting names for future characters. My focus has been all over fiction and non-fiction and everywhere in between, but more recently I've found a comfortable little place in Young Adult fiction. I'd say that, as far as an answer to the question of why I write, it would be a tie between 'to entertain' and 'personal satisfaction.' There is nothing like the feeling you get when someone reads your work and enjoy it. I like to make people laugh and am still working on making them cry. However somewhere up there, 'to educate' would also be a reason to write. I have never wanted to be a teacher, I don't have the incredible patience or intelligent insight to teach others, but that's not necessarily what it means to educate.

A few years ago I heard Neil Gaiman speak at one of those nerdy Sigma Tau Delta conventions I was talking about. He said that the books we read before the age of twelve shape the rest of our lives as far as what we read and who we become. I wholeheartedly agree with this which is why I feel that writing Young Adult literature is not only lots of fun, but a great responsibility. I don't know about you, but I don't want any children I may or may not end up having growing up idolizing Edward and Bella from Twilight. I want them to grow up with Harry, Ron and Hermione like I did and explore the halls of Hogwarts in their innermost imaginations. I want them to go to Neverland when they close their eyes at night and dream of a world where they never have to grow up. I want them to read about strong characters that are so life-like that they love them as if they were real and cry when they die. These are the sorts of stories and characters that shaped me, and these are the stories I want to write.

I think the thing that has defined me as a reader, writer and overall person the most is my incurable Peter Pan syndrome. I had a happy childhood and wanted for nothing, have a supportive family and great friends (all reasons I'll never sell one non-fiction book. Who wants to read about a happy childhood anyway?). Growing up in such a stable and loving environment meant I never had to abandon my childlike sensibilities, something I'll be forever grateful. The child within me is my Muse, and man is she crazy. She can't sit still for more than five seconds which is probably the reason I tend to write so sporadically. I write at random times of day depending on what is going on and where I am. Sometimes I write nonstop for months, other times not touching pen to paper for weeks on end. I hope this year to not tame that crazy kid by any means, but maybe try and get her into more of a routine. And get her to stop eating so much chocolate. She'll rot my teeth out.

I would describe myself as an artist with reclusive tendencies, striving to gain social networking skills. I'm not talking about facebook here, I mean real, live social networking with real people. I am far too comfortable with shutting myself up in my room for hours on end with music playing and a word document on my computer screen. One of my goals for the year is to meet as many people as I can and make some connections. Even if that only means finding a few new writing buddies I'll count it a success. But first and foremost, I want to come out of this year a better writer. I want my Masters Degree to mean something, to mean that I spent a year in Oxford dedicating myself to being a better writer, and actually became one.

In the long run, I want to write books. In my wildest money-is-miraculously-not-an-issue dreams I see myself traveling around the world and writing books. I'm crossing my fingers, and so is my grubby, chocolate covered Muse. What a brat.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Blushing and stuttering and Kung-Fu Fighting.

We could have been in a murder mystery. The room we found ourselves in was at the very top of the building. To one side were views of trees whose leaves were just starting to change colors, construction to the other. Rain pounded the huge slanted windows on either side of the room to the point that they had to be shut as not to drench one side of the semi circle. Behind me was access to a tiny balcony. The glass door was cracked and the autumn air breezed in and made me shiver. We all waited, chatting quietly, waiting to hear our fate and talk about the one thing the 20 of us, all different ages and from all different places, had in common.

There has been lot written about the pros and cons of MFA and MAs in Creative Writing. A LOT. The whole debate basically comes down to this: you do not need a Masters degree in writing to write. Many, if not most of the greats never went to school for writing and probably never even considered it or regretted not going. By no stretch of the imagination does it say anywhere that your chances of being published will greatly increase if you have a Masters degree. So why do people get them?

I'll tell you why I'm getting mine. I want to be better. Look at that first paragraph. I spent a good ten minutes trying to think of a way to describe the room where I met my professors, thinking of any way to describe the room without starting with, 'the room.' That first paragraph could be a lot better. There are infinite ways to describe a room, and all of those ways are better than the way I chose to do it. That's just the way it is, someone is always better. There is always a more creative way, always something more you can learn about what you are doing. That goes for everything in life actually, every single thing. I bet Ray Bradbury could describe the room without even using the word 'room.' I don't bet, I know.

When I went to my first session, I was excited. More excited than I can put into words, which is exactly why I'm taking this course. There is always a way to describe something in words, and I want to figure it out. I sat in the semi circle and listened to my new professors talk about the books we were going to read and the things we were going to write and I honestly felt like I was going to cry. If you know me, you know that this is weird. I don't cry, at least not when I'm happy. I make fun of my mother for doing that all the time (sorry!).

The head of the department, Jim, talked to us at length about why we were there and how we should feel. He told us we should be applauded for being there at all, because by applying and getting into the MA course we have proved that we take writing seriously. We are not just undergrads, sparknoteing our way through an English major just to have a college degree. We are all here because we all believe that we have something to learn about writing and we take our craft seriously. He kept saying that, using the word 'seriously,' which I liked. He said that being in that room proved that we are all committed to being writers and we want further help and instruction to do so. I like this guy a lot. He said all of this extremely fast with the biggest smile on his face. He said, "It's so fucking simple," in reference to doing what we want. As long as we know what we want to say and how we want to say it, it's just a matter of putting it down on paper. I love this guy. I'm not apologizing for the curse word. I know I've always tried keeping this blog to a PG rating, but I'm a grad student now. All bets are off.

After discussing all the important things about our course, we had a visit from Phillip Pullman. I'm going to try and not use a million exclamation points to describe this, because I have to stop being so star struck when I run into him at things. I am going to see a lot of him this year, so I need to start looking at him as a person and not a celebrity. So anyhow, he came into the room and talked to us about, again, why we were all there and what we wanted to get out of the year. He talked to us about how we must learn to write even when we are not inspired, and how he does not believe in writers block. He talked to us of the importance of writing everyday (something I need to work on) and how we need to have a place that we write and a time that we write and stick to it. If we write at different times every day in different places, it will be hard to get into a routine and concentrate. He said, "If you are in the same place every day, the Muse will know where to find you." (!!!) I could have listened to him talk all day.
After his talk, the whole class made our way through the M.C. Escher esc building that is Tong, the English Department, and to another room to hear Marilynne Robinson read and talk about writing. Ironically, Marilynne Robinson wrote a book called Housekeeping, which is the book my Southern Literature teacher, Gail Adams, gave me to read for fun after I took her class sophomore year of college. That is the teacher who encouraged me to start taking Creative Writing classes in the first place. My life has come full circle . So there I was, sitting in the very front row which was reserved for the new MA Creative Writing students. Marilynne Robinson was directly in front of me, Phillip Pullman was sitting directly behind me and for a time, Jim Hawes (my new professor and tutor) was to the left of me. I sat there and thought to myself, "am I really here? Is this really my life?" It is, it is my life and I am loving it.

So this was my first day of class. Well, not really. This week will be my first day of actual class. I have homework and everything, it's amazing. Stay tuned for, well, for whatever happens next. I can only imagine.

~major7th (!!!)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Enriching the tourist experience, one country at a time.

If you don't know me, or my friend Nicole, this paragraph is for you. If you know us, then feel free to skim. I feel the need to preface this blog about what Nicole and I did when she came back to Oxford with me with a little explanation about the sorts of things we like to do for fun. It's simple really; we play dress up. You heard me right. Two 23 year old graduate students with bright futures, college debt and semi-professional lives enjoy dressing up as fictional characters and parading around in public. Two Halloweens ago we took to Central Park in New York City as Giselle and Princess Leia. The semester after that we did an extensive Alice in Wonderland photo shoot in the Arboretum at WVU, complete with a few friends who played along
as cards. The last time we hung out in the States before I left, we dressed up and took fan pictures with Jackson Pearce's new book Sisters Red. So, what would you imagine to happen when Nicole visits Maria in Oxford, England, the exact place where Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland and where the real Alice, Alice Liddell, lived and played? You guessed it.

We did a lot of random sightseeing while Nicole was here in Oxford. I loved being back here, showing her around and actually knowing where I was and how to get around. I showed her all my favorite buildings and places, like Blackwells, the Radcliffe Camera and Exeter College (where Tolkien studied). It was great having someone to wander around with who still thinks this place is amazing. All the people I know here are over the fairytale feeling of being in Oxford since they have lived here for a while. I don't think I'll ever get over it. However the most noteworthy thing we did in Oxford by far was our adventure in Wonderland.

I'll admit, I was a little apprehensive. I knew this was going to happen for months. Ever since Nicole bought the ticket to come here, I knew we were going to go to Chrsitchurch College in costume. There was no way it was not happening. The entire week we had been talking about it, planning the best way to go about bringing our dresses to the city and where to change. It was Nicole's last full day that we found the time. I was getting cold feet, but seeing as the trip was all about Nicole, I couldn't back down.

I think this was the most publicly nerdy thing we've ever done. Usually we are in a rather unpopulated areas (like the Arboretum or Nicole's back yard), or it's Halloween and we have a concrete reason to be dressed up even if no one else is. This time we were just two random girls, dressed like Alice in Wonderland and a deck of cards, wandering around for no reason. And don't think there were not that many people around. I'm talking Oxford on a Saturday morning. This place is usually packed with tourists, much more on a gorgeous Saturday like the one we chose.

Our plan was simple: have breakfast at Café Loco which is directly across the street from Christchurch, quickly change in the bathroom, then dash across the street and go take a million pictures. The only reason we picked that café was because of its proximity to the college. Our first hint that the day was going to be a nerdy good time/success was right there while we ate croissants and drank orange juice. Café Loco was a Mad Hatter themed café with huge prints of original Mad Hatter artwork on the walls. It wasn't called Café Loco for nothing.

We changed in the bathroom, a tiny cramped space we both barely fit into. Once our bows were tied and tights in place we made a run for the door, managing to get only a few funny looks on our way out. Then the neatest thing happened.

The moment we were on the street, in the middle of Oxford, surrounded by tourists, my apprehension melted away. I suspect Nicole was never actually nervous about it; she lives for stuff like this. She was instantly in character, and I was instantly making fun of her and saying 'come on Alice! Cross the street already! Stop being a brat!' Once the dresses were on, we were on, and it was all uphill from there.

I was the head photographer for the shoot, so I carried the gear and had my big camera around my neck the entire time, instructing Nicole to 'spin!' here or 'look at me!' there. We made our way to the entrance and waited in line behind a huge tour group. When we went to the desk to buy our tickets (less than a week after that day, I got my Brookes ID. Now I can get in for free. Drat!) the one guy nudged his partner behind the desk. He looked up and said, nonchalantly as if he said it ever day, 'oh hello Alice.' Once inside the halls and on our way to the Tom Quad we followed behind the tour group, snapping pictures and smiling. That's when the questions started.

"Can I take your picture?" one older man asked Nicole, "my daughter loves Alice in Wonderland!" With a curtsey Nicole said "of course," held out her skirt and smiled for the camera. He was not the only one. Every place we stopped to take our own pictures, someone was asking to take hers. It was awesome. We truly felt we were enriching the tourist experience for everyone who happened to be touring Christchurch College that day. How often do you get to actually see Alice wandering around Wonderland? Two teen age girls we kept running into kept taking pictures of Nicole and giggling together. They looked so happy, like their birthday had come early or something. One older woman said to us, "OH my granddaughter's name is Alice and she thinks she is Alice in Wonderland! I have to take your picture for her."

People kept asking us why we were dressed up. What we were promoting or what we were selling. We had given this a lot of thought before we set out that day as to what to tell people when they asked. We had lots of answers. School project, art project (which is true, that's what Catfish is after all), complicated storybook characters come to life photo shoot, all sorts of reasons. At first we would just say it was a project, but by the end of the day we resorted to the truth. When we were circling back to Christchurch on Rose Lane we passed a big tour group. The tour guide shouted at us from the middle of the group, asking why we were dressed up. At the same time Nicole and I both said, "for fun." Everyone smiled and said "good for you," and took our picture. What's the moral of the story? Honesty is the best policy, even if it does make you look a little crazy.

I mentioned before that going to Christchurch in costume was the highlight of Nicole's time in Oxford. Well, our highlight has a highlight too. When we were in the cathedral, we were stopped by an adorable old woman who worked there. She asked why we were dressed up, and at that point we were still sticking with the art project answer. Then she asked something we were not expecting. "Have you seen where Alice really lived?" Our eyes got wide as we breathlessly said "no!" She smiled real big and turned around. Behind her was a tall red curtain attached to the wall that we had previously walked right by. She pulled back the curtain to reveal a big wooden door. Taking a huge key out of her pocket, she unlocked the door and opened it wide for us to look through. It was the door to Wonderland.

Behind the door was a pictorial garden in a courtyard behind a few buildings of the college. It had a cute little path going through it with flowers on either side, leading to a green door in the far wall. "that building is where Alice used to live," said our new best friend, pointing to the building to our left, "and that one is where Lewis Carroll used to teach," she continued pointing straight ahead of us. "That green door is the one the white rabbit ran through, and the tree there is where the Cheshire Cat sat. This is the garden where Alice used to play." I didn't even know what to say. I was too shocked to come up with something intelligent to say, so I just asked "can I take a picture?" She said yes and I spazed out for a moment, taking a million of the same picture, trying to reach out and claim a part of Wonderland to keep forever. We would have never even known that garden was back there if we had chickened out and not gone to Christchurch in our dresses. That door was not usually open to the public. "I thought you girls deserved to see it," our new friend told us as she closed the door and locked it again, draping the red curtain back into place to hide Wonderland once more from prying eyes.

The rest of our day was relaxing. We put on pretty dresses and took some more pictures in the city and ate gigantic ice cream Sundays for lunch. That evening back in Headington we went into town wearing WVU jerseys in honor of the football game happening that day that we couldn't watch and got massive amounts of fish and chips to pregame. Then we watched episodes of The Wild Thornberrys on youtube.

The next day I took Nicole and her suitcase full of costumes to GloucesterGreen to catch her bus to Heathrow.

I wish she could have stayed forever.

The end.


More of these pictures HERE.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fishguard you could skip, but don’t miss Brecon.

The moment Nicole arrived in London last week our trip turned into a story book adventure, as most days spent with Nicole typically go. This is one of the many reasons we are friends, one of my favorite reasons. She makes things like waking up before the sun, not sleeping and getting lost fun, which is exactly what we did. Well, we actually didn't get lost all that much; Nicole mastered the Wales A to Z. The point is that we had fun. A lot of fun. I wish she could have stayed.

The first day she was here I meet her at Heathrow and we managed to haul her stuff to Jen's place on the opposite side of London, despite the massive tube closings that day for construction. We were off to Cardiff the next day, so I ran Nicole all over London, determined for her to get to see as much of the city as possible in a single day. We managed to hit all the major places; Kings Cross, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Westminster, The Eye, Kensington Gardens, The Tower of London and Tower Bridge. Looking back I can't believe we managed to hit all those places in a day, but we did. Just ask my foot; I still have a huge, man-eating blister on the bottom of my heel almost two full weeks later from that one day.

My two favorite things about the day besides seeing Nicole's reaction to everything and being able, for the most part, to find my way around the city without Jen: the Trafalgar Square lions and J.M. Berrie's house.

Anyone who's been to Trafalgar Square knows what I'm talking about. Those 4 lions, about a million times bigger than any real lion (besides maybe Aslan), guarding the gigantic obelisk topped with a statue of Lord Nelson. They are easily the most photographed statues in the entire city, constantly crawling with children and adults alike, all wanting their picture with the massive felines. They don't make it easy to get up there either. The bottom of the obelisk is just high enough that anyone of average height would either need a leg up or otherwise have difficulty getting on top. I've been to Trafalgar Square about a million times by now (and by that I mean maybe five times) and have only managed to get up on the lions once. Last summer I got up to them, but not in the front which is where you want to be for the best picture. The last time I got to the primo photo spot was in high school on my first overseas trip. But, I had a lot of help.

I don't know why when looking back on my one day in London with Nicole, climbing up to sit with the lions sticks out as a highlight, but it does nonetheless. I boosted Nicole up first, got some shots, then she helped me. It's like if you have sat with the Trafalgar Square Lions, you can do anything. The whole square is so immense, always full of multitudes of tourists from all over the world. When you are up sitting with the lions you have a great view of everyone and everything. You can see the hustle and bustle of local Londoners going about their day in the background of all the tourist activity, behind people saying 'squeeze in for a picture!' in a hundred different languages. Whether you are a tourist yourself, a local, or a weird I-live-here-but-will-always-feel-like-a-tourist sort of person like I am, sitting with the lions you just feel a part of what makes London great; it's enormity. With that massive lion at your back, and for that full second you are allowed to stand with it for a picture before you have to get out of the way for everyone else, you are invincible. I am 100% sure this is just me, personally, but I thought it was worth mentioning anyway. It's my blog after all.

Second favorite thing about our day; finding J.M. Berrie's house in Kensington. Our reason for going all the way to Kensington was to find the Peter Pan statue in the garden. Being on a story book adventure as we were, it was only appropriate we visit our pal Peter and high five all the lost boys. Anytime I find myself in Kensington Garden I am always looking over my shoulder in case any of Tinker Bell's cousins are around and want to take me to Neverland. (If you tell me I'm too old to go to Neverland, then consider us no longer friends. Harsh, I know, but just keep that in mine.) It's a place I always find myself in with not nearly enough time to relax or explore.

We found the statue with no difficulty and it was just as neat as last summer when I saw it for the first time. If you've been reading this blog for a while then you will know that I have a thing or statues. A big thing. I love them. The Peter Pan statue is one of my favorites. It's so intricate, the whole base encrusted with fairies, lost boys and woodland creatures, all leading up to Peter himself, his arms spread wide as if to dare the world to just try and make him grow up. ("cuz growing up is awfuler, than all the awful things that ever were!")

After bidding Peter farewell till next time, we headed down the street to the tube. We were crossing the street and I saw a blue dot out of the corner of my eye. I think my exact words were something like "Look, a blue dot! Wonder who that is." The blue dots are all over the place, I guess in the entire country. They are really blue plaques on the houses of either famous people (artist, authors, scientists, musicians, mathematicians) or noteworthy places. I've seen them all over Oxford and London, so it was no surprise that we found one in Kensington. The surprise was whose name was on the dot.

It was J.M. Berrie's house, the author of Peter Pan. THE house where he wrote Peter Pan if I'm not mistaken. It was 100 Bayswater Road, right on the corner. The yard (or 'garden' as they are called here) was hidden behind a high wall. The blue dot was only just visible above the wall on the front of the house. The corner of the house was rounded and made of brown bricks with bits of mirrors encased in it all the way up which made the side of the place sparkle in the sunlight. Being the creeper I am, I managed to climb onto an electrical box on the sidewalk and get a glimpse over the wall into the garden. It was so picturesque and adorable with a little stone path and benches among the bushes and flowers. It was like a mini Neverland that we would have walked right by if I had not seen that heavenly blue dot. As many times as I've been to that area of London (we stayed very close to there for a whole week last summer!), I never even thought of looking for Mr. Barrie's house. Story book adventure, I'm telling you. I was so tickled to have found that house that I kept talking about it for the entire day, even when no one was listening.

That night we went to Karaoke with Jen and her house mate and us WVU girls all sang Country Roads to celebrate WVU's victory over Marshal the night before that none of us had been able to watch. After butchering the first verse we got in our grove. Even Nicole sang, I could hear her, I swear.

Next we were off to Wales, our primary destination of the trip. Our whole reason or going to Wales was Nicole (the trip was all about her). She wrote an amazing book, the one I was talking about earlier, and she set it in little towns around Wales despite having never been to the country. This was primarily a research trip for her. Didn't I tell you that writing takes you places? I cannot think of a better job. Anyway, so we took a train from London to Cardiff and spent half the week in magical, dragon loving, faerie country and loved every moment of it.

Wales is an interesting place. I think I said at one point that Wales is the middle of nowhere, which at the time was a joke, but is actually true. There is not a lot going on, but it is a beautiful place. They are very proud of their faerie and Celtic roots. You can buy just about anything with their national red dragon on it such as your typical shot glasses, patches, t-shirts and messenger bags. I was tempted to get the messenger bag; I'm a sucker for a cool dragon, I'll admit it (especially if it sounds like Sean Connery). You could buy flower crown in the gift shops and greeting cards with all sorts of faeries on them, so needless to say Nicole and I were basically in heaven.

There were a few highlights of this trip, but the most unrelated-to-Wales highlight was the fact that we rented a car, and I actually drove on the wrong side of the road. I had to be the one to drive initially because you have to be at least twenty three to rent a car, and Nicole would not be twenty three until the next day. Man was I ever nervous.

I had one other opportunity to drive on the wrong side of the road, back when I visited Molly in New Zealand. We rented a car to get out of the city, but I chickened out and let Molly do the driving. This time, I had no choice. Not only did I have to drive the car, but I had to drive it out of the city. However, once I started to drive, it took about five seconds to get used to it. I don't know if it was because I've been here for a solid month, riding in cars and busses and may have subconsciously gotten used to being on the wrong side already, or if this just means I rule at driving. I think probably that first one. Either way, I ended up being head driver on our expedition, Nicole filling the position of head navigator and map reader, and it was fantastic.

We did a lot in Wales. A LOT. The first couple of days we had the car it rained and all we were able to see were the outlines of the countryside, and what would have been spectacular views of rolling hills and farmland, but ended up being white, fog drenched dreariness. It was still beautiful, but we had no idea what we were missing until the sun came out a few days later. Wales is gorgeous. Our second day driving down the coast we had sun, and not a moment too soon. GREEN AND BLUE everywhere we looked, the ocean on our right and farmland on our left. We kept pulling over to take pictures and climb on rocks, another reason Nicole is the perfect travel buddy. Not everyone would have the patience for stopping to climb on rocks or for turning around to go back and get a picture of a unicorn crossing sign. Oh right, did I mention we saw a unicorn crossing sign? Well we did. It's possible that the horn was just drawn onto a horse crossing sign, but I'd like to think it was a legitimate warning to motorists of the possibility that unicorns could be clogging the highways. That is Wales.

I think the highlight of the trip however were the Brecon Beacons. The entire trip was Nicole's deal; she planned it all out and decided where we were going to go without any help from me. I know nothing about Wales after all; I just want to go everywhere so I'm always game. The Brecon Beacons are a flat top mountain range where back in the day they really used to light beacon fires to contact the far away parts of the country about whatever they needed to alert them to. JUST LIKE IN LORD OF THE RINGS. This particular range of beacon mountains had a path you could walk to get to the top, and that's what we wanted to do.

We went to Brecon three times in three days trying to climb this mountain. The first two days it was either raining too hard or too foggy to climb, but the last day the clouds parted a tiny bit and we were actually able to see our hand in front of our face. Perfect.

Our first hint that climbing the beacons might be more of a challenge than we thought was right there as we pulled into the parking lot. There were guys everywhere wearing full wind suits with hoods or thick hats with ear flaps. We just laughed and said, "It's just a hill!" I debated whether to write about this or not, wanting to avoid any sort of negative reaction from my parents, but oh well. At least I wore hiking boots.

So up we went, me in a jean dress, bright turquoise sweatshirt, leggings and hiking boots, Nicole in a hot pink hoodie, jeans and tennis shoes, laughing and joking about how ditsy we looked compared to all the other hikers. It did not take long for us to see that the 'highest point in the southern UK' was actually pretty high.

We did not take that mountain seriously and probably should have. There were signs everywhere saying that it was a serious mountain and to be prepared. And it's not that we were not prepared, we had water and layers and provisions in my backpack, it's just that we were not prepared for the top. As we climbed, taking frequent breaks for my sake (Maria is not good at hiking), we were getting exceedingly high without even realizing it. Suddenly, Nicole turned around to see where I was and just about fell over the edge in shock. The path was no longer going up the middle of spreads of land but following the edge of a sheer cliff, tiny specks of houses miles below us. We were SO high. And that's when the wind picked up.

It had been windy all day, but nothing like this. The higher we got the more and more apparent it became as to why all those hikers at the bottom were wearing wind suits. We got nearly to the top and sat down to assess the situation. We clung to the rocks and contemplated going back, feeling unsteady with the wind tossing us around. However in the end we deiced that we had not climbed that far to not go to the top. Boy am I glad we did.

If not for the wind, I could have stayed up there all day. Tons of flat top mountains surrounded us for miles, the one we were on looking down on a green valley specked with ponds and trees so tiny I can't even be sure they were trees at all and not just little green smudges. Looking from mountain top to mountain top I could easily picture distant fires being lit to warn far off cities of impending invasions.

After walking around the top of our mountain for a while, arm in arm so we would not blow away, there was the matter of getting back down. We literally crawled to the edge. I went a little further to try and see the way. I couldn't. From where I was, it looked like we could climb about halfway and then it just dropped into nothingness. There was no path. Now, if this had been any other day neither of us would have minded climbing around on rocks to get down a mountain, but the wind made this seem impossible. Finally we had no choice but to just do it, and slowly, we made our way down.

It was not as bad as it looked. Once we were down the rocks to another flat surface, the rest of the way down was cake. We kept looking behind us, not believing that we could have possibly been that high. We were put to shame by a group of young boys who seemed to have had no problem with the mountain who followed us down. They were all properly equipped and none could have been over the age of 12. I feel like you would never see that in the states, super young boys climbing treacherous mountains in gale force winds, but then again I was never a boy scout (clearly).

I was going to write about when Nicole and I got back to Oxford in this blog too, but 2,800 words later I'm thinking I should save that for another one. Stay tuned for Maria and Nicole's adventures in Oxford in which we actually go to Wonderland.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Why you should visit Cork.

I'm sitting in one of the lounges in my hostel in Cork, Ireland eavesdropping on these Italians at the table next to me. Is it really eavesdropping if you don't know what they're saying? OH wait, it's not even Italian, it's Spanish, my bad. See? I'm doing nothing wrong; I could not even identify the language. That's what's so cool about hostels, all the random people. And everyone is so easy to talk to because we are all, most of us anyway, are all alone, all in the same boat and more specifically, in the same hostel. I wish I was staying for longer than one night so there would be a point to me actually meeting people. I am in a co-ed dorm style room (it was the cheapest) with 12 other beds in it, all bunked, but the only people in the room are me and this guy with dreadlocks from somewhere Slavic. We have not had much interaction. Some guy in the computer lounge complimented my fast typing when I was about to leave asking if I wanted to be his secretary. Hey may, if you lived in Oxford and seriously need someone to type for you, sure, but I am pretty sure he was kidding. Anyway, I was talking to someone online, and my time was running out, so I had to type fast. And I'm all hyper on no sleep and all those bad things you drink to keep you awake, so I am only half aware of what I'm doing even now. Zombified man.

So anyway, if you are ever in Cork, Ireland, I don't know if I would recommend Shelia's Hostel or not. It was the cheapest thing I could find, that's for sure, but it's not terrific. Not much going on. The wifi won't work on my laptop (but I think that's my fault), the lights went off while I was taking a shower and…well that's it. It's a fine hostel, I'm not picky. As long as it has a bed for me, I'm cool. I was even able to stash my backpack for the day under lock and key until my room was ready while I was out gallivanting. That's really all you need.

I know what you're wondering, I can read your mind. What's so great about Cork? Why should I go there? Well, I'll tell you. Lots of things. Let me put them in a list because you all know how much I love those things. And I'm zombified remember? Lists are easier.

  1. Blarney Castle is sweet. I mean come on; it's a castle you can climb around in, what's not to like? And there is that Blarney stone thing you have to hang backward over nothingness being supported by your grip on these metal rods and a strangers hand on your waste. What? That does not appeal to you? ("In 2009 ranked the Blarney Stone as the most unhygienic tourist attraction in the world," says Wikipedia) OH come on, it was fun if not a little bit weird. So now that I've kissed it I'm going to be more elegant or something. Just kidding, it's eloquence I'm getting, not elegance. Clearly it's working already. I could use a little more elegance and eloquence, or any to begin with. I made friends with these older people, I don't know if they were family or friends (there were a few couples) from St Lewis and we talked about me going to Brookes and them traveling around Ireland. They were nice and not at all embarrassing like the last Americans we encountered (twice!) last time we were in Ireland. The 'we' are my grandparents and I and the Americans were these jerks on our plane who happened to be on are plane going home too, all of which were loud and drunk and made me want to defect to Canada as to not be associated with them. Anyway, the St Lewis gang was cool. I took an awesomely spectacular picture of all of them (they did not think I could fit them! Come on people, I'm a professional!) at the top of the Castel, with the sweeping Irish countryside in the background, perfectly framed if I say so myself. In turn they took some really bad pictures of me with my camera kissing the stone and at the top of the castle. Oh well, at least they were good company. So in conclusion, Blarney was awesome. Do that.
  2. Cork has a Butter museum. After Blarney I had to go back to my hostel to get some new batteries for my big camera. I've been awake for almost two complete days now with only like one collective hour of sleep, so when I got to my room I came very close to passing out then and there. But no, I only have one day in Cork! Wake up Maria and explore! So I did. I had no plan after Blarney; I just picked a direction and walked. And walked. And walked. It's amazing how much I did walk actually given my exhausted state. I think at some point I got past it, got a second wind and just could not stop my feet from walking. I even walked up hills, weird. Cork has some very Morgantown like roads in it, one of which leads up to my hostel. So anyway, while I was wandering around in a daze with no plan and my maps tucked safely in my bag not being used, I stumbled upon the Butter Museum of Cork. One minute before it closed. Dang. Well anyway, the fact that Cork has a butter museum, even though I can't tell you what it's all about on the inside, is reason enough to visit I think. It's just so delightfully weird.
  3. Cork is delightfully weird. In general. I was just wondering around thinking to myself, 'man this place is weird.' It smells like fish, contains the tallest building in Ireland (which is about 5 stories, no joke. So huge.) and seems super proud of their local Gaol (prison), which was also the case in Dublin. I never found the prison, but I could have. There were signs everywhere and could have found it if I had not just been that direction already and if there was not something else in the other direction. I just followed my feet; I had no say in where we ended up. I found a bookstore/fabric shop called Vibes and Scribes and it was basically the coolest place ever in history of cool places. And other weird things. I don't know, just like buildings that seemed weirdly placed or a painting on a wall that seems out of place. OH, I've noticed that the Irish like to put weird things in their windows. Like, if you walk down a residential street and look in the windows, there will be stuff on the sills and then be a curtain behind it so you can't see in the house. Like mini window displays. So you will be walking and you see flowers, flowers, flowers, skinned chicken statue with vines coming out of its head, flowers, flowers, flowers. That sort of thing. Or you will be walking toward a church and you pass a door and suddenly the whole street is filled with weird techno music in the middle of the day on a Wednesday, then when you look inside it's just a room with junk in it, blasting music. And no one on the street seems to mind. Whatever Cork, do your thing. It's all good in the hood.
  4. It's easy to walk everywhere. This might just be because I'm a naturally fast walker or because it's not that big of a city. It is probably a little of both. All I know is that I was up on one side of the river, up high looking out over said river at some huge church thing with domes, then the next thing I know, after walking what seems like a short distance, I'm suddenly in the view I was just looking at. IN THE VIEW. Woah! If I had like one more day and a few hours of sleep I could totally own this city.
  5. There are like a million churches. And I guess that's cool. You know, if you are into churches.
  6. This is the best reason to visit Cork. The people of Cork are seriously the friendliest people ever. I know, this could be said about almost anywhere. Most people are nice in the world, BUT not as nice as the people of Cork. I've been a lot of places, but never have I been treated so kindly for no reason besides someone else's desire to be friendly. My bus driver from the airport to my hostel basically gave me a personal tour of the city, pointing everything out just to me (the people in the back of the bus didn't care) and telling me all the best places to eat and shop. He drew me a map from where I got off the bus to exactly where the hostel was and went over it with me like twice to make sure I got it. Super super super nice. Polite people just make my day, friendly and polite people make my world go round. AND the people I've talked to who have helped me, they all seem genuinely excited for me to have a good time. That's what makes Cork's residents different. Like when I got off the bus at Blarney. I asked the driver if this was where to go for the castle, since I did not see any signs (because I'm a zombie. There were signs everywhere), and he said 'yes it is, the castle is right over there!' and pointed. But it was the look in his eyes that said it all. He pointed and grinned, like the castle was his castle and his surprise just for me. Like he was excited for me to see it because he took me there and therefore he was excited for me to be there. Or something like that. You just had to see his eyes. And this kid was not that much older than me I'd say, and yet he was still genuine. This is the number one reason to go to Cork, Ireland. People there rock.

Ok, now if I don't go to sleep for at least a few hours before my bus to the airport in the morning (at 5AM) I might not make it through another day. Fair well Cork! Thanks for the hospitality, I'm telling everyone.



Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Don’t get deep, shut up and dance.

Nicest day ever.

I always tend to want things after it's too late. I got distracted today online watching Aerosmith music videos when I should have been doing other things, since the internet in my house is broken and I have to go elsewhere to get connected. I would kill to be in an Aerosmith music video, how cool would that be? I know everyone is going to say I'm crazy as they usually do when I talk about my celebrity crushes, but Steven Tyler has always been way up there. I remember my mom once said to me, and I think this is a direct quote, "You are going to make some weird looking guy very happy one day." I do NOT like weird looking guys, I just always seem to be drawn to guys who are different, originally good looking, that's all. David Beckham? Gross. Seriously, I see absolutely nothing in him. Robert Patterson? Nope. Not in a million years. But Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, David Bowie, HOT.

Steven Tyler is also just SO damn cool. I mean, not in the whole doing drugs again sort of way, but the whole can wear anything he wants, amazing stage presence, big lips, sexy voice, plays the harmonica sort of way. So anyway, I was just imagining how cool it would be to be in a music video with him and the whole Aerosmith gang who have been my favorite band since my Uncle Peter and Aunt Karen's wedding in 2002. I had just bought the two disk, Ultimate Aerosmith Best Of collection or whatever it was (white CD cover showing a women's back, and hands reaching to undo her bra I believe. So classy. I think it was actually called Young Lust.) and had been listening to it nonstop on my portable CD player for about a week. Because when Maria gets hooked on something, she gets a little obsessive, especially when it comes to music.

Shark attack!

I distinctly remember being made fun for liking Aerosmith too. I mean, not meanly, and only a little (who could be mean to little Maria with braces on her teeth and braids in her hair?). I remember my Uncle Tony asking what I was listening to and when I said Aerosmith he replied, "That's what old people listen to, shouldn't you be listening to Nsync or something?" Ok so he might not have referenced Nsync, but he did make the old people remark. I was not deterred or discouraged and kept rocking out to Eat The Rich and Walk This Way. I secretly thought that Uncle Peter and Aunt Karen should probably dance to Deuces Are Wild just because I thought it was romantic. I never told anyone that because I was embarrassed about it. HA. Man high school Maria was weird. Nothing has changed.
Real butterflies!

So here I am in England, and I just realized that I only have two Best Offs (Young Lust and Oh Ya! Ultimate Aerosmith), Honkin' on Bobo (one of my faves) and Pandora's Box disk 2 (disk 1 was stolen in the great CD lift of 2001, along with ALL my Dada) and a few random songs. Lame! I have so much more Aerosmith than this, including a box set at home somewhere with Toys in the Attic in it. Something must have happened between my last computer and this one in the itunes transfer because I have a shamefully small amount of Aerosmith here.

But this blog did not start off being about my undying love of Aerosmith (all I wanted for Christmas last year was for Steven Tyler to stay in rehab and get better). I love it when mega tangents happen. This blog was originally about things I want after it's too late. I could probably still be in an Aerosmith music video, but they have been on the fritz lately, so I'm not counting on it. Other things include being an extra in a Star Wars movie, seeing David Bowie in concert and meeting De Forest Kelly and Freddy Mercury. Really, for the record, I wanted to be in a Star Wars movie when they were still coming out, but probably after they were already filmed. AND I was in high school, not exactly an easy place to be in life when you want to go somewhere ridiculous and potentially miss a lot of school. AND I think I could probably still catch David Bowie in concert one day (fingers crossed that he'll tour one more time!), but I'll never get to see Ziggy Stardust or the White Duke. Those last two definitely can't happen. Sad sad sad.

Pitt Rivers

However, I'm not depressed about this stuff, about the things I'll never be able to do, because my list of things I still want to do is much longer and totally doable. Rose has this book in our living room called "This book will change your life." It's sort of a stupid book. It's 365 pages long, each page with a task you are supposed to perform, and the idea is that if you devote a year to doing these things your life will change. BUT they are mean things, like dine and ditch, insult rich people and adopt incompatible pets. The whole book is just a joke, but we jokingly started doing it a few weeks ago because some of them are fun. That's why I drew that self portrait; that was the day's activity.

Anyway, day nine was entitled "things you will never do before you die," and the page was filled with 300 some (I counted) things you will probably never do. (The first one on the whole list says "Read Proust." No joke.) The idea is for you to check off everything on the list, accepting the fact that you will never do them. But as I was reading through the list, I realized that I have already done a lot of the things. The first column includes things like 'write that novel/screenplay,' 'learn Italian,' 'go to a drive-in cinema,' 'become an artist,' 'drink yourself silly in New Zealand,' 'smoke a Cuban cigar,' and 'be on tv.' I've done all of those things (and mother, I was only a little silly in NZ, do don't get all concerned). Sure I don't know Italian still, but I did learn it. I have written four novels (finished one, almost finished the rest) and a screenplay (writing is an art, in case you were wondering). I have been on tv little bits at a time during my Marching Band career from being on an episode of West Wing the day before my first day of high school to random tv appearances with The Pride in college.

So who's to say I won't do the rest of those things, if I've already done a handful? Sure, there are things on the list I don't want to do like 'shoot heroin,' 'marry someone you've never meet' and 'be eaten by cannibals.' Not the point. Not sure what the point was, but I know that's not it.

Something else I wanted to mention in this blog before it went Aerosmith on me; look I'm writing again! This is more blogs than I've done in ages. Last year was so weird, not only because I was not in school and had a real job and smelled like beer all the time, but also because I did not do a lot of writing. I was afraid that would happen, that once I was out of school it would just stop. And it didn't stop, not at all. I wrote 50,000 words in November, rounding it out to 60,000 the next month to finish the book and a bunch of other random little things throughout the year, but still. Compared to being at WVU, that's not much. But lately these random blogs have come more easily, less of a struggle to write. AND more excitingly, last night I wrote over 2,000 words of something totally new and fictional. It's a new direction for my Capstone story that's been my head ever since I got here, and last night I finally got it going. It's nothing amazing or anything, but still, it's new and I made it. Thank goodness.

Maybe it's the fact that classes are starting soon, or that I'm in a new place with no job and nothing to do but explore, or that I'm in freaken Oxford- the most inspirational city in the world as far as I'm concerned. Who knows? But I'm not complaining.

AANNDD I'm going to Cork on Wednesday! I better get packing!


Saturday, September 4, 2010


Why do I want to work at Blackwells? Why wouldn't I want to work there would be a better question. I love books, duh. I have an English degree that is just itching to be utilized and fearing that day may never come. If I could do anything in the world it would be to travel and read and write all day, don't you think that qualifies me to work at the famous Blackwells bookstore?

If that hasn't convinced you of my overwhelming credentials, I have a few other reasons. First of all, I came all the way from the USA to Oxford to study Creative Writing up the road at Brookes. So, needless to say, I'm going to need that discount on books that I assume employees get. My book list is not going to buy its self people, and as much as I love libraries, I like owning books more.

Sine I'll be taking writing classes this year I'll also be reading. Constantly. Probably to the point that my eyes will start to bleed and my brain will beg for a mindless soap opera or even (heaven forbid) a Twilight movie to stop my mind from thinking about symbolism, stream of consciousness and imagery. What is something people look for in a bookseller? Someone who reads a lot. Someone who can tell you what they are reading and tell you what they should read. I am that person!

Since I already have the aforementioned English degree (and look! I can use big words too sometimes!) , I can already recommend things your average bum on the street probably has not read. One of the great things about being an English major is that you are forced to read things you don't always like, but then later you tell people you've read them which will make you look smarter. I can tell you that The Heart of Darkness is good the third time you are forced to read it, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man is never good, but Dubliners is (I won't even start about Ulysses), Confederacy of Dunces will make you mad but you'll be glad you stuck it through and To Kill a Mockingbird is gold every time. EVERY time. I can tell you that Peter Pan is a tragedy as well as a fantastic children's story, that Shakespeare is a pretty funny dude and that the book Memoirs of Geisha is so so so so so so so so so much better than the movie. Eat, Pray Love is overrated, The Glass Castle is fantastic and In Cold Blood will blow you away.

I've also read Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass and His Dark Materials trilogy. Can't think of why, but I feel like that's also important for some reason.

What else? Ah right, I freaken LOVE Young Adult Literature. It's what I like writing the most and something I've got lots of opinions about it. I would be totally ecstatic if you stuck me back at the register in the YA section. I have read Harry Potter (MANY times) and will fight to the death defending it. Ok so that's not necessarily a reason you should give me the job, but those books are like national treasures or something right? Anyway, I can recommend lots of what I feel kids should and should not read (cough cough TWILIGHT cough), and with good reasons.

I feel to work in a bookstore, especially one as huge and well known as Blackwells, you need to have a certain level of nerdy-ness about you as well. How's this for nerdy-ness; I was the president of my college's chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the international English Honor Society. Bam, I win. I organized book drives, readings, attended conventions, all sorts of nerdy book lover types of things. And I KNOW Blackwells puts on events like this, I've even been to one. That sort of thing really gets me excited, so use me. Use my excitement. I want you to.

Oh here is something worth mentioning; I hate the Kindle and all other electronic book sorts of things. I think that's important, my hatred, because if the kindle takes over the world we will not only have a real Terminator like problem on our hands, but you will all also be out of a job. ALL OF YOU. Some guy back home last month tried to convince me to buy Borders's version of the Kindel. My cousin and I were in the bookstore and we had been talking about them all day, so we stopped and humored the guy who was telling us all about the amazing things it did. He said to me, 'I bought one of these a few months ago and haven't bought a real book since!' I said, 'well, I love books,' and lamely walked away. What I should have said was 'listen buddy, if everyone felt the same way you did, and never bought actual books, YOU WOULD HAVE NO JOB. You work in a bookstore! Look around! Why do you work here at all if all you want to do is read off a little electronic screen and probably play X-box all day.' I don't know that he plays video games, he just had that look.

Putting my super judgmental opinions aside, think of what a book is. Think of all the work that goes into those pages. I'm not only talking about the work the author puts into the story, agonizing over every sentence and word choice, shutting themselves off from the rest of the world until it's just right or overdosing on coffee shop food and frapa-double-shot-heart-attack-in-a-cup-with-whiped-cream-on-top-ccinos, closing out the world with their ipod ear buds stuck so far into their ears that they are completely IN the story they are writing. Sure, that's important, but there are also the publishers. Think of all the typesetting, the cover design artists and hours spent editing, re-editing, and tearing their hair out (if they have any left) correcting stupid spelling mistakes, comma splices and run-on sentences much like the one that consumes half of his paragraph.

Nothing beats the feel of a book in your hands, the smell of the pages, the feel of the biding. Try curling up in an overstuffed chair on a rainy day with a kindle and let me know how that feels.

Where was I? Oh right, telling you why you should hire me at Blackwells. Well, beyond the fact that I think I have made quite clear that I love books, there is also the customer service aspect of the job. Beyond being able to recommend a good read, and despite the snootiness of this cover letter, I am pretty friendly. I'm great at pretending to care about what people are telling me, I've had lots of practice. I worked at a German restaurant for the past year and while I did genuinely care about what a handful of the regulars were telling me, most of the time I was just doing the whole smile and nod bit. However, at Blackwells, I'd wager that I'll probably care about what most people are talking to me about if its book related. Or at least have an opinion about what they are telling me beyond 'well I don't like sauerkraut anyway, so I don't know why you are getting so upset about the fact that we don't have any.' Also, after working at said German restaurant for a year, I'm pretty good at figuring out accents. In such a touristy place like Oxford, I think this is probably a good skill to have.

Lastly, I just plain need a job, like yesterday. I can only work 20 hours a week anyway because I'm here on a student visa, so if you think I'm annoying or boring you will only have to put up with me a few days a week. I swear I'm a nice person, honest. I don't mind manual labor or cleaning and I'm stellar at leaving personal problems at home. If I'm upset about something (and why would I ever be upset? I'm in freaken Oxford!), you will never know. So hire me, please. You won't regret it.

Pleadingly and sincerely yours,

Maria Goodson

Ok, so I probably won't really send that in as my cover letter to Blackwells. It's far too long. Besides that I think it's pretty good. Would you hire me? I'd hire me.


Dark and dusty, painted on the sky.

Once upon a time there was a girl who lived in Oxford, England. She was from the States, Virginia specifically, but had spent four years attending West Virginia University. She always felt that West Virginia was her second home, a place full of spectacular scenery, momentous mountains (which she realizes are the same thing) and the school she loved so much. Imagine her dismay on September 4th, 2010 when the first football game of the season was due to play, which she had no way to watch! The internet in her house was broken, her closest Mountaineer buddy all the way in London and the coffee shop she found herself in kept kicking her off the internet randomly. What was the girl to do?

Ok enough of that. I don't really like writing like that; it's just what came out. I have been getting really nostalgic for WVU lately, what with the start of courses nearing and the game today that I have no way of following. Be sure that I will be listening to WVU Marching Band music all day today and crying inside. Alright I'm not that emo (I am that nerdy), but you get the point. Even last year I was able to watch the games at work, here I'm just high and dry. It's actually pretty lucky I'm dry; it has not rained for days. Knock on wood.

So this is me today. I have nothing else noteworthy to write about. OH but Nicole gets here a week from today!! That's certainly exciting. I need someone to geek out with. Everyone I know here does not quite see how amazing it is. Just wait Oxford, you think the Asian tourists are bad, videotaping rocks and walls and clogging the streets? You have not seen anything like what happens when Nicole and Maria get together. It's going to be ridiculous.