Friday, October 1, 2010

I'm busting up my brains for the words.

These are my housemates at Jazz night last week. From left to right, Shobha, Gavin, Paddy, Rose and ME. And Tesco Metro is a grocery story. We could totally be an add for Tesco. "Shop at Tesco and you can be as happy as this lot!"

So many things.

Thing one: I think Moonage Daydream is one of my favorite Bowie songs. I did name this blog after its lyrics. I don't quote lyrics lightly. Anyway, that has nothing to do with anything, I just thought about it today. Sometimes you listen to a song over and over but never really listen to the lyrics. Bowie should always be really listened to.

Thing two: Monday I went to a Society of Young Publishers talk. I know, I'm not a publishing student, but no one knew that. The talk was by David Fickling, the publisher who was putting on the book release party at Blackwells on my first day in Oxford. Aka, my all-time favorite publisher. He was just as charismatic and engaging to hear talk as the last time, cockeyed red bow tie and all. He is primarily a children's and young adult publisher (!!!) but at the talk he talked about publishing in general and about something very disturbing, the death of the book. This is something I don't like to think about, something that makes me want to take all the books in my room into my arms and cry, as if I could protect their future just by loving them. However it is important to think about, about the future of books as we know them and what they will evolve into in the coming years. I'll never go Kindle, but unfortunately, many will.

Luckily, the story will never die. David Fickling loves stories more than anyone I've ever heard speak on the matter. He practically begged the young publishers in the room to really care about what they published. "Care about what you're making," he said, "care about the book." He spoke of huge publishing companies as evil doers whose only objective is to make money, not to produce a story they are proud of. "Publishing is changing," he said in a serious voice that gave me goosebumps, "I feel like I'm strapped to the front of a steam engine racing through the black midnight." He spoke about the paperback and how different it is from any sort of electronic book. The paperback is just itself. It gives you no options, no choices about what you can do. It says, "Just read me," and nothing more. He spoke of Neil Gaiman and how he is a wonderful man because he works with small publishing companies. He said, "We want him, and we will get him one day."

I love this man. I want him to publish my book SO BADLY. One day. In the same way he wants Neil Gaiman, I want David Fickling. He loves the books he publishes, loves the authors, and loves books. On the death of the book he continued by saying, "I want to say the book is dead so that you all, in one voice, rise and say 'No it isn't!'" I want him to want me. I've got a lot of work to do.

Thing three: I get to use the Bodleian Library. This is THE library of Oxford University, and one of the oldest in the world. It consists of five buildings and is entitled to one copy of every book published in the UK and Ireland (11 million volumes, says Wikipedia). It includes the Radcliffe Camera, that building I keep gushing on and on about as being my favorite building in the city, and now, once I get my library card, I'll be able to get in. I went on Wednesday to turn in my form that I had to get signed by someone in the English Department at Brookes and a Brookes librarian to prove that I'm a real live Brookes Masters student. Only third years, research students and Masters Students at Brookes are allowed to use the Bodleian.

Before November, Brookes students are only allowed to go to the Bodleian to turn in forms and get registered on certain Wednesdays at very specific times. From reading the form we had to get filled out and all the rules, we thought we were going to go in and be yelled at. It's all very strict. So we went, my new friend Alisha and I, on a rainy Wednesday, the first Wednesday Brookes students were allowed to go. It was the type of day you would generally not leave the house, rainy, gloomy and muggy. But we just couldn't wait. We didn't get to see much of the library that day, but we did get to sit in this huge, parliament looking room with high ceilings and dark wooden benches that looked 100 years old (which It may well have been, the library was established in 1602).

In order to be granted access to the library, besides needing to be a Brookes student and have the proper documentation (passports, Brookes ID, paperwork), we had to verbally recite an oath. Not even all together as a group, each of us individually in our native languages. Here is what we had to recite:

"I hereby undertake not to remove from the Library, nor to mark, deface, or injure in any way, any volume, document or other object belonging to it or in its custody; not to bring into the Library, or kindle therein, any fire or flame, and not to smoke in the Library; and I promise to obey all rules of the Library."

One girl said it in Finnish, but the rest of us were plain old English speakers. Back in the day you had to read it in Latin, but then they realized that no one really knew what they were pledging to do so they changed it. I've never had to give an oath to get a library card before. This place is so cool.

Thing four: X-Men 4! SO, Alisha and I had just finished reciting our library oath and managed to find our way out of the room (we couldn't remember which way we came in, a problem we seem to have no matter what building we are in) and back outside into the rain and gloom. We were stumbling around and fidgeting with our umbrellas when we noticed we were surrounded by a bunch of perfect people in 60's garb. It was sort of creepy until we saw the camera crews. We were walking straight through a scene from a movie they were shooting in front of the Sheldonian Theater. We walked through the middle of it because no one told us not to, and because they were between us and Blackwells where we were going. When we finally got out of it and were standing in the street with the other onlookers we asked a woman what was going on and she said, calmly as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world, "it's X-men." X-MEN! I could not believe it. So if you see two confused looking girls with umbrellas and rain boots in the next X-men movie, that was us. Who knew that Professor X went to Oxford? Well, probably a lot of people, but I was not one of them.

Thing five: my first day of classes. Yesterday was my first day of real classes. I only have two classes per semester, one day a week. Sounds like not much work right? That's what I thought, but not anymore. For next Thursday I have to fill out a character sketch outline, write 500 words about the character based on what I learn about him from the outline, write 300 words based on a theme in Heart of Darkness which we read for yesterday's class, write an unspecified word count about a hobby I have and pertain it to writing, read Dubliners, finish another book I'm halfway through and read 4 or 5 packets of pages photocopied out of a book that is no longer in print that were passed out. And the books are only getting longer. I had three packages in front of my bedroom door when I got home last night. Some of the books we are going to have to read are LONG. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining in the least bit. I'm excited. And I know 300 and 500 words don't sounds like much (after doing 50,000 a few times, that sounds like cake), but these are things I'll most likely have to share in front of the class, so they need to be something I'm at least a little happy with. AND the character I want to write about is almost a complete stranger to me, so that should take some time.

Overall, yesterday was the best day ever. Our first class, Narrative, consisted of 8 people plus the teacher in a tiny classroom that looked like the room where you stash things that don't go anywhere, or are broken, or you just want out of your sight. There were computers and random other pieces of junk all over the place. I think I'm going to pretend from now on that room is The Room of Requirement from Harry Potter, and that I'll only be able to get in when I really need it, which will be every Thursday at 12:15. Have I mentioned that right now is the closest I'm probably ever going to get to going to Hogwarts? I mean I live in England, I'm going to school, and writing to me is like magic, so I'm practically there. I was devastated at age 11 when I did not get my Hogwarts letter by owl post, but it looks like they have a Masters Program, so it's all good.

In Narrative we talked about Heart of Darkness and then did a few writing exercises which we had to read in front of everyone. SCARY. This is exactly the sort of thing I was afraid would happen on this course. However, once I read my first little thing, got a few laughs and one of Jim's gigantic smiles, the fear vanished completely. I have never felt that comfortable reading my own stuff in front of people before, it was great. And, something else happened that I've never encountered before in a creative writing class; everyone is good. Like, really good. NO offense to everyone I was in classes with at WVU, bbbuuuttt there were always a few kids in those classes who's comments on my work were practically useless, either because they did not even bother to try or did not know what they were talking about. Here, everyone knows what they are talking about. I could not believe what beautiful little stories were coming out of my classmates heads when we were put on the spot and told to write. All I've got is humor so far, that's the only thing that kept me afloat in that class, and they were not even that funny, just a little chuckle worthy.

After Narrative we had a break, then a talk/workshop by one of our Fellows, Bernardine Evaristo. She read to us from her book, Lara (which is awesome and I really want to buy now), a fictionalized history of her family in verse, and talked to us about her own process for writing. She had us do an exercise on character, and I did chicken out when it came to reading out loud. I'll get over it eventually, but there are way more people in that class so it's a lot more intimidating, and again, everyone is REALLY good. After that we had another lecture class with Rob and Jane, talked about all sorts of other things, then we were done. Long day, but probably my best first day of class ever.

So, I have a lot of work to do. Better get crackin.



DeeRoo said...

Xmen 4?!! Fantastic!

I sure would love to go see that library, I wonder if you can bring visitors with your card?

Have fun with all your reading!

Tanner said...

It is great to know that the most recent first day of class is the best. It all sounds so wonderful and exciting.

I also noted you twice said "everyone is really good." I just thought I'd point out that, by logical necessity you must also be really good. It is not out of the question that you may be someone David Fickling wants to publish someday. Strive for it. It may feel like a storybook, but this is your real life!

OK2BU said...

OMG Maria you are awesome. I loved hearing about the love you have for the written word and your LOVE of the history of where you are.

This opens my eyes and heart to all thing literature. And your time as a Grad School attendee sounds as if it is going to be TOUGH and WONDERFUL at the same time.

You GO girl

Kelsey Austin Threatte said...

I LOVE YOUR LIFE! YOU ARE FAMOUS! Oh and not just for walking through that Xmen movie (that should be on your life list of things to do then you can immediately cross it off) BUT you are going to be famous because YOU unlike most people who do what they do... LOVE what you do. If you love life, love what you are doing in life, love the people around you and the silly supermarket down the street, then you will be great because you are great. Oh man I have a new life goal though... get a library card from somewhere that makes me take an oath. First I want to learn how to catch and gut a fish, but next I am doing that library thing : )