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Me on the slopes of Helm Crag above Grasmere (taken by Sarah, another girl on the trip)

Last spring break, I begged off Florida 2.0 with the team and jetted off to England instead. And not just any part of England, but the Lake District—a place I’ve wanted to go ever since I can remember. It was a trip through the English Department to study Wordsworth with Professor Engell. We’d be staying in Grasmere and working with the Wordsworth Trust—studying manuscripts, making pilgrimages to the sacred sites of Wordsworthiana (with a few nods to other Lake District literati thrown in), taking walks, reading, writing, and—almost certainly—falling in love.

The trip was far from a sure thing. I applied just after Christmas desperate for the trip to happen, but at that point all we’d received was an email from the department saying that maybe-perhaps this trip Professor Engell would like to do might happen and if it were to actually be approved would any of us like to go? There was no maybe-perhaps about my answer. My application was off a day later with my fingers crossed—both for my acceptance and for the trip to happen.

In the end—of course—it did, but we didn’t know it was all going to actually work out until 3 weeks before we were to leave (it was all a bit harrying for my coach). And those 8 or so days were some of the most magical of my life. I fell absolutely head-over-heels in love with the Lake District often find myself wondering how I could contrive to get myself back there. This post—brimming with photographs of my time there—is long overdue and has only brought on a wave of nostalgia (thoughts of dropping it all and hiding myself away in Grasmere abound). Read More

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In no particular order and dating back nearly a year

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 1.38.39 PMThe Collision of the Miniature and Immense in the Construction of Self

The dining table of the house I grew up in wasn’t a particularly enormous one, but it was big enough that, when it was spread with the far-too-large tablecloth my mother used for Christmas parties, the space enclosed by the walls of heavy fabric was more than enough for a brother and sister to hide away in. Every year, as soon as this tablecloth came out for the Christmas party, my younger brother and I were in and out from underneath it, burrowing under the folds of fabric which pooled on the floor around the table’s edge, sitting in the semi-darkness together or alone, playing at spies or detectives or cavemen or else just existing within the space we felt we’d made—in helping to lay the table cloth—and discovered—in crawling beneath its folds. This was not the only such space we created or appropriated; we made pillow forts and tree-houses (some more successful than others), took over the tiny triangular space behind the winter coats in the closet under the stairs where the ceiling sloped to meet the floor, built huts of fallen palm fronds in recesses of the backyard, and appropriated the little shed that housed the back-up generator at the side of the house in the day or two when it was empty and awaiting an newer model. The two of us, only fifteen months apart, pushed and wormed our way into every nook and cranny we could find and made them ours—despite having our great-grandmother’s little wooden playhouse available to us in the backyard. Many of the memories I have of the house I grew up in (which we left nearly ten years ago) are grounded in images of these places—small, physically enclosed spaces, which were, because we found and created them, ours.

Our engagement with miniature space did not stop at inhabiting any nook we could discover or make, though; both of us  spent hours constructing spaces too small for anyone but fairies or Alice after she’d drunk the shrinking potion. American Bricks, Girder and Panel, Erector, and Lego were staples in our house growing up, but they were more the domain of my brother. My building materials were whatever I could get my hands on, constructing cities and buildings on my bedroom floor from books and dominoes and boxes and blocks and anything else I fancied. In the backyard (or anywhere we went, really), I made houses and huts of twigs and grass, leaves and berries, moss and flowers. Somewhere around the house, there was always bound to be some such construction project underway and I could sit for hours building and staring at my creations, imagining life into them, imagining myself into them. Looking at the photos of myself in the midst of constructing one of these miniature worlds—whether on the floor of my room, in the backyard, or by a lake—I am struck always by the look of concentration on my face and by the size of the thing I am building, which, though logically I know the scale I must have been working with, always surprises me by its smallness in the photograph. For in my imagination then and in the vestiges of my memory now, those cities and buildings were somehow infinitely vast, transgressing their physical boundaries and swallowing me. Read More

Procrastination means that I am looking through drafts that go back years and years, which led me to discover this photo-post from last summer which got forgotten about. Last summer, we got chickens. 11 chickens, to be precise. 10 hens and one very, very testosterone-ridden rooster. They are my absolute favorite things in the world and really the main reason I can’t wait to be home is that I miss them like hell. So here they are.

So I took a science class last spring. An actual, honest-to-God science class. With p-sets. And math. And things.

It was sort of a soft-astrophysics class. And if you’re wondering how on earth astrophysics can be made “soft,” well the answer is it can’t really be and the class was very hard (though not as hard, of course, as an astrophysics class that hadn’t masqueraded as soft). In the end, I scraped an A, mostly because I got away with de-sciencing the final project by convincing someone to let me write a science-fiction short story, rather than design an experiment or go to a local elementary school to try and soften quantum theory even further.

The end product was an eighteen-page romp through a future Pasadena, peppered with fancy jargon (which I understood when I wrote this and since have completely forgotten), which did its absolute best to make it look like I actually understood the theoretical science I was using to send my maniacal antiques dealer through to a parallel universe. The result is absolutely ridiculous; I lifted heavily from H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (explanations turn into a whole lot of handwaving at crucial moments) and the tone I struck sounds somewhat like a weak parody of the 40s and 50s scifi I love so much shot through with a good dose of wannabe-Douglas Adams.

I reread this yesterday while doing anything I could to avoid writing a paper on Tennyson’s Idylls of the King and, since it’s been long enough that its ridiculousness makes me laugh rather than cringe, here it is.

(Let it be noted that, since this was a final for a science class, I wrote it in the science library, which definitely legitimates my entire project.)

“Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory does not understand it.” Niels Bohr, 1927

“Nobody understands quantum theory.” Richard Feynman, 1967

Inter-state

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Elgin stopped scrolling—he’d read enough. Owen had done it. All those years of trial and error in a Caltech basement (well, Elgin wasn’t really sure whether it was a basement. Owen was probably important enough to have an office or a lab or whatever it was physicists had) hadn’t been for nothing and he’d done it. This could—no this would—change everything. Read More

1.

I met a man in the street today whose collar was turned up even though there was no wind. I did not nod to him, but pushed my left index finger through the hole in my left coat pocket and kept walking.

I think that’s all.

2.

Most people are good people until they are given the opportunity to go bad. This reminds me of an aunt who died last year alone in her apartment. They only noticed because the neighbors complained of the smell. The aunt had rotted because she had been given the opportunity.

3.

When not speaking, keep your mouth shut.

4.

“Lyuba!” cried the undertaker.

“Elena!” cried the baker.

“Kchkch!” cried Irina, raising the doorknob.

Behind the fence Serge drank the goat’s milk and listened to the thwacking.

April 18, 2017

5.

Matvei ate peas from a spoon.

The children’s grandmother peeked out from behind the curtains.

The goat in the garden bleated.

The sun went down.

Andrei waited in the dark.

Mice squeaked and Arseni died. Read More

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Hughie O’Donaghue, Long-Legged Fly, in response to Yeats’ “Long-Legged Fly.”

Each stanza of Yeats’ “Long-Legged Fly” opens with the same word, “that,” carrying all the force of “in order that.” Immediately, just in this one word, we feel that something tremendously important is at stake, even before Yeats conjures the images of what’s at stake for us (partly through the incantation-like repetition of “that”): a sinking of civilization, the burning towers of Troy, the onslaught of sexual awareness in young girls. It’s easy to read the poem as an analysis of the cycles of civilization, the role of the individual in history, and of the creative moment. In the first stanza, a general saves civilization in a great battle, in the second civilization is destroyed by a woman and the love men bear for her face, and in the third it’s rebuilt through art and sexuality. Each stage is depicted through a single great figure, around which history narrows to a point, before it opens up again, having for a moment been one with their action. History, in this vision, is defined by these great figures—generals, lovers, and artists—who tower above the rest of us in their importance. And yet, in the long view of history, these people (all of whom seem to fall under the umbrella of “creative” in Yeats’ mind) are as but flies in contact with the ever-flowing stream that is simultaneously the stream of history and a timeless source of creative power. For each of these people—in the moments they are depicted—to access this creative power and accomplish what they must, silence and solitude are necessary. The fly becomes a metaphor for the artist: connected and yet separate, suspended on the surface by long spindly legs, but not actually in the stream. The creative moment, in this vision, is one profoundly important, upon which the very fate of the world may rest, but it is also one cut off from the world by its reliance upon solitude and silence. Read More