Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 96: Back to the States

Better Things

So Beth forgot to wake me up, I fell out of bed with five minutes to leave, fell down the stairs and definitely got a bruise, had to eat cold breakfast for the last time, and climbed into the taxi with Penny and in a grumpy mood. Shame as this was the last time I would see these girls. It was dark and raining out when we finally got into the airport. I sat in my little waiting spot with a book. Looking over, I saw Natalie. She was supposed to catch a later flight. Apparently that flight was cancelled and her dad had been on the phone with the airline for an hour trying to get her home. Poor girl had been wrenched out of bed and rushed to the airport that morning, sobbing on the phone about getting stuck in Europe, and finally found a spot with me and another girl to Chicago. What a nightmare. I felt bad about being grumpy this morning. I'd gotten everything, was clean, and had candy in my purse--I mean really.

I couldn't stop smiling as I got on the plane. Hooray to come home! I sat next to a lady headed to Chicago to accept some award from her company (she sounded like she was from Surrey), and we chatted about American chocolate, flights, where to go on vacation. The closer I got to America, the more thrilled I became. I watched Beauty and the Beast and Get Low and Eat Pray Love, and pretty soon we were circling over Seattle; it looked like a floating city, just clusters of lights floating over pools of blackness. So excited! It was about eight in the evening, and Mum and Dad thought it appropriate to feed me Dick's Drive-In burgers first :)

Farewell, England! Shall I ever call thee home again?

As it turns out, yes. I'm off to serve an 18-month mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the England London South Mission! I shove off April 21, 2011 to Preston and will get hom in time for Halloween the next year. If only everyone could have this experience; I guess that's what blogs are for?

Day 95: Last Day! Camden Town and the Lights of London

Living in London

The house is a wild flurry of packing, so I'll try to be brief and head downstairs for the hugs and such. Today Emily, Beth and I went shopping (meaning they went shopping for Beatles shirts, and I mostly just navigated) in the Camden Lock, the best market London has to offer. So much rock merch and indy art that it was hard to leave after all.

After that, it was off to the British Museum finally and I was entirely sated after an hour of being there. I LOVE art galleries and I really don't care for museums (although London is the place to get overdosed, question?) Saw the mummies and Rosetta Stone and Parthenon and everything. Now I'm done and have nothing but the pictures and memories. Tonight we headed to see Christmas lights in the squares as our final hurrah. Beautiful pictures, great friends, cold Christmas air and the last day any of us is able to say, "I'm living in London!"

Should pack myself, actually. But there's always time to pack--I just hope I can get some sleep tonight while everyone else packs in the middle of the hallway--since there's a scale for weighing everything, the girls started weighing themselves last night, and I jerked awake to Grace positively screaming, "My life is OVER!" She'd gained eleven pounds. It was 2:30am. All part of living with 40 girls, I suppose. I hope I can remember it all so I can write it down when I get home...I'm struggling to remember less-than-gripping days, heaven forbid there be BOREDOM in London!

Oh, goodness. After London we have to make choices and be adults about it, so says Nikki. I guess that's when real life starts up again--no more breaks off the treadmill of life where work and relationships dominate all our time. I guess we've all changed in ways we can't quite measure--like death, the only thing we really take home are the relationships and what we've learned. I hope I never forget what it was like to live in London with such great friends.

Looks like I'm off to pack some more. Cross your fingers for the airport to stay open!

Day 94: FINALS--Lost in Pimlico

Rough Town, Brixton

After many months, the space bag Norisah gave me, gathering dust in my already too-small closet, has been delivered. It took a couple of attempts, catching the Victoria line to Pimlico and trying to avoid the rough crowds supposedly wandering around that area. On Thanksgiving, a local told me Brixton and that area, south of the Thames basically, is not so savory as Westminster. But I went anyway, trying to act natural while hauling the yellow bag (too big to stuff in a backpack)--I was nervous enough, but I kept going over the directions in my head.

Naturally, I mistook north for south and went the completely opposite direction. Some construction workers gave me the creeps, and I passed several juvenile detention centers before it occurred to me that I was lost. Bless one nice clerk for giving me solid directions.

I delivered the bag to Norisah's brother, who looks exactly like his nephews and seems just as laid-back. He wished me luck catching the plane on time ("They see one snowflake, and all of Heathrow shuts down. It's unbelievable.")

I ran out and realized I had twenty minutes to get home before the Bible exam started--my very last. I pulled out my little cram sheet and attempted to absorb it by osmosis on the Tube. Bursting into the exam twenty minutes late, I still blazed through it and finished before most people. Exhausted and stoked that final were over at last (despite that question about Wordsworth, blast it all).

After watching Joyeux Noel (perfect ending to the War class and a perfect start of the Christmas spirit), I managed to say goodbye to Mandy and Kaitlyn before they headed to Rome tomorrow. Just one day left in London!

Day 93: The Last Sunday, Group Pictures and Ben's Slideshow

Testimonies in the Most Beautiful Place in the World

What a spectacular last Sunday. We had a great testimony meeting. All the girls here are so awesome--it wasn't so much that the Church is true, but that it holds people together. I talked about how living with these girls makes me more comfortable to serve a mission and be companions with such great people. Beth got up twice (we rolled with happy laughter), both guys got up, lots of people who swore they wouldn't did and cried most profusely (even Beno talked about how study abroad changed his life). Sister Tate talked about the definition of Zion, where the people were "of one heart and one mind, dwelt in righteousness, and there was no poor among them." That's us in a nutshell. We still struggle with our own baggage: loneliness, not measuring up, financial worries, exhaustion, stress, (Annie's family recently went inactive), but all the girls have been so willing to bear one another's burdens and comfort when that was needed. Some girls are quick to see what's wrong and to deal with it, like Annie and Andrea and Kim and Beth--it's a lot to ask, but if I could have companions like that, being a missionary will be the greatest thing ever. I'm so glad I came--it's the best group, the best weather, the last time these profs could come, and everyone's changed for the better.

Since it's the last 36 hours in London, I'm here to say that introspection is not the activity I thought it was. There's no point in seeing something beautiful if you don't have someone you love there with you. I struggled with this. I stood on the most beautiful moor in England, where Camelot could have been--and there was no one around to take my picture. The Seelys are so cute; we stopped in St. Patrick's church because it had always been closed before, and Dr. Seely went into raptures about the little red devil in the stained glass window. He looked around like a boy in a candy shop trying to find his mother, "Sister Seely! Honey, can you see that? The little devil?" She nodded and squinted up at it enthusiastically--I couldn't help but feel that for the Seelys, that little moment of being able to see the stained-glass for the first time would have been diminished if Brother Seely had been alone. MAN did I want Howard or Marnie or my mum or my best friend at times. Maybe that's what love comes down to--you want to be able to share the beautiful things with people you love, and their presence just makes it all the more beautiful.

The last couple of days look like they'll be full of walking around town and soaking up London--I walked through Hyde Park for the last time and finally saw the Peter Pan statue and the Serpentine ducks. So marvelous. Who wants to spend all their time in a museum when Borough Market or Hampstead Heath is calling? Let's hear about NOW! I think my favorite things here are all literary; freaking out about Harry Potter sites aside, I saw Finchley and knew that's where the Narnia kids lived, and walked through Bloomsbury and knew the Darling children were visited by a boy who wouldn't grow up, or walking through Picadilly and Grosvenor and expecting Mary Poppins to come down on an umbrella. Enchanted, that's what I am. London is so old, but I want to see the life, the vibrance of a culture that created J.M. Barrie and Jane Austen. We'll go see Christmas lights and shop around Camden and watch the locals sell paintings and carvings and cry on the flight home. I hope I can find bits of London when I go home--find a narrow cobbled road, or Indian shops, or gleaming fog curled up around tree trunks in a park, or half-frozen lakes, or politeness, or scarves, or half-bloomed rosebushes, or perfectly bred dogs, or winding country roads, or groups of students speaking other languages, or cathedrals. I can't begin to describe how at home I feel here. I still feel utterly American, but the idea of living here for another three months would be delightful.

Day 92: FINALS--Milton's Eve

Well, here's a paper I just got back with a smashing grade on top. For all you chumps who'd like to steal this idea, it's not original. I can just express myself...?

Eve, Scripture and Poetry

Reading Paradise Lost brings up the immediate question—how much of it is reasonably scriptural, and how much is poetic license? For Latter-day Saints, we are impressed at Milton’s illustrious war in heaven, Satan’s journey and eventual persuasion, and the love scenes between Adam and Eve. But as a woman, going back and reading Genesis 1-3 reveals quite a lot of poetic license with regards to Eve. The scriptural Eve is created Adam’s equal, at least until God’s curse for Adam to rule over her; we know nothing of her beauty, charms, or submission—and for a modern woman reader, she even seems like she takes charge better than Adam does. I argue that in basis of fact, Eve in Paradise Lost is not scriptural Eve.

The major verse condemning Milton’s Eve is Genesis 1:27, “In the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” This verse overturns Milton’s assumption that Adam was created directly in the image of God, and Eve derived from the secondary source—Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve were both (and subsequently all human beings thereafter) created in the image of God. Milton argues that Adam was made in God’s image, and that Eve was subsequently made from and for Adam (4.442, paraphrased: the only reason Eve exists is to alleviate Adam’s loneliness, and line 448 says she is his inferior); therefore, Adam can approach the throne of God, and Eve is somewhat distanced—only able to access God through her husband (see 8.54-56). This idea is also refuted in scripture, when God addresses Eve directly, giving the pair of them instructions to tend the garden and multiply, as well as asking her why she partook of the fruit. But Milton’s poetic license, since Eve is assumed to be a “helper” only, and not an equal, creates a couple that are not equal.

This idea extends to Eve’s physical being and actions, both of which serve his vision of a perfect woman being both beautiful and entirely submissive. Eve is more beautiful than all of God’s creations (something not found in scripture, but implied in art and literature throughout history). But Line 4.468 is an ambiguous line: “What there thou seest fair Creature is thy self”, which leads the readers to believe that Eve’s self, as apart from Adam, is no deeper than her appearance. In 8.568, Raphael describes Eve’s beauty, calling it “an outside”. On line 4.498, Eve’s charms include not only beauty, but submission, which, if one existed and the other did not, would not delight Adam (man) so much. This is not found anywhere in Genesis that Eve is submissive or lovely; in fact, it is she, perhaps with Adam standing by, who argues with the serpent, she who partakes, and she who gives the fruit to willing Adam. Whether Eve was beautiful or not makes no difference to Adam—there is no other woman to compare her to. And her actions in the garden suggest her a headstrong, even intelligent and clever woman who does not submit to whatever Adam’s will was (he seems not to have had one in scripture), and one who takes the responsibility for the Fall, something Milton really fails to develop.

Being a Latter-day Saint makes reading Eve in any literature a chore. But Milton’s ideas about women and divorce in Paradise Lost vocalize an estrangement from scripture altogether. Eve, in his eyes, was the perfect woman until she began to have ideas and choose independent of her husband. This idea of inferiority and objectification has resulted in struggles for women throughout the history of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism; the idea that women are weak, susceptible to evil spirits, even devilish and carnal themselves, has inspired witch hunts, separating men and women, and incredible oppression. It is disturbing that such a masterpiece as Paradise Lost alludes to the author’s own opinions before the book of scripture itself—whether he is to blame for perpetuating these ideas or simply the result of them, remains to be seen.

Day 91: FINALS--Life Lessons from Austen's Boys


I'm pleased to announce that three of four finals are over and done with, but not before some rather disturbing dreams involving being chased by a mental institution inmate with an AK-47 (I think I was actually gunned down--I've never died in a dream before). I have some fairly extreme chasing dreams (chased by dinosaurs, Nazis, the principal, etc) before the first day of school or a test for which I do not feel adequately prepared. But my religion test did not merit such a bad night--it, and Austen and Great War all went very successfully. Everything is still on the incline as far as my GPA, even in a place as diverting as London.

Jane Austen's Heroes

In the last few hours, I've made some of the best purchases of my young life (all girl clothes, of course, cheap London coat and scarves from Primark and Queensway). Girls are obsessed with such things because there's nothing like the confidence that comes from a new dress or pair of shoes, when guys look at you for a bit longer than they do when you're in sweats, know what I mean? Finally finished with Austen, and now I can appreciate her more. Or at least, I can appreciate the film adaptations a lot more. That's as much Austen as I'll handle in future anyway.

I guess I liked learning about all the different heroes; in harlequin romances or whatever, the men are all the same mold: Fabio. Yeesh, I could never date a guy so in love with himself. Austen's heroes are confident and lucky, or clever and knightley, or thoughtful and shy, or poetic and devoted, or friendly and content with life, or proud and reserved, or full of bravado but easily hurt. All different. I guess that's my problem with Twilight--there's one guy everyone wants to be with, and the preteens yet unacquainted with the world will expect every good guy out there to be the mold of moody, stalkerish, creepy human-eating Edward Cullen. And all the good guys out there who struggle to remember significant dates, who might be awkward in expressing love in so many words, who aren't good at reading girls' minds and who aren't even as handsome or whatever as he is, will get snubbed by girls who think they're on a quest to find THE PERFECT MAN because that's what they've been taught to look for. Isn't that terrible? And the girls here are struggling to recognize that (after hearing so many botched boy stories) their misery really does come from this fruitless search.

Whew, vomit of the keyboard. I guess this is what happens when a perfectly good day in London is hijacked by finals...puke. But almost done!

Day 90: Pied Beauty

Okay. Gerard Manley Hopkins is one of my most favorite poets of all time. Here is perhaps his best work:


GLORY be to God for dappled things—

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

Naturally, I needed to explicate it.


Hopkins’ “Pied Beauty”

Romanticism is a marvellous post-Renaissance movement in which to find religious fervor, in art, poetry, novels, and even theatre. The artists find God in nature, finding the maker through His handiwork—typically this handiwork is best admired if it is beautiful according to our own values of beauty. But one renegade Romantic, Gerard Manly Hopkins, penned a poem that features the dull, the spotty, and the strange as natural elements just as important in finding Divinity. “Pied Beauty” is a splendid reminder to us that, by describing all kinds of nature, though they be imperfect in our eyes, they are still creations of a perfect, loving God.

Hopkins is a Romantic poet; as such, he is a firm believer that “seeing a rose is to see the face of God”, or more simply, that the divine is best accessed through nature. But rather than choose something like a tiger (William Blake), Hopkins describes a cow (2). Rather than describing animals like sharks, whales, hawks or falcons, he uses trout and common finches as examples of God’s nature (3-4). This more common side of nature sets the tone for Hopkins’ poem; he argues, in Romantic fashion, that the face of God can also be found in something as common as river trout or a milk cow. In post-Renaissance world, where great art and poetry features the most perfect and beautiful humanity and nature have to offer, such an idea is revolutionary, and savors of future artistic movements such as realism. By coupling divinity with plain elements of the world, Hopkins suggests that”beauty” is a temporary and mortal word, ascribed by humans in nature based on temporary and mortal reasons.

In addition to describing common elements in nature, he describes the so-called imperfections we would see in those common elements. During the Romantic period, society looked on freckles and other such blemishes as imperfections brought on by exposure, lower society, and even the devil (witch-hunts, etc., and also the Puritan idea that Satan looks like a fair, freckled Scotsman). But Hopkins suggests that these imperfections are created by God, and are therefore well meditated in advance, and looked upon as “good”. His nature in this poem is “pied” in every way, spotted, dappled (1), freckled, and even fickle (8). This play on the word “piety” invokes yet more divinity within nature, and suggests our own proper reaction to finding God in the imperfect.

By combining un-sublime elements with physical imperfections, Hopkins makes a clear call for us to stop finding imperfection in the creations of God—creations we also are. These imperfections are not imperfections after all—they were, after all, created by an all-knowing and all-powerful God. “GLORY be to God,” he writes on the first line, and then the last two read “He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him” (10-11). This suggests that God Himself is beautiful—therefore everything that comes from him is also beautiful. Whether Hopkins suggests that God Himself is pied, striped, dappled, or spotted—all those imperfections a Romantic society would find—remains to be seen. I suppose the fact that the author brings it up is evidence enough of his opinions. He does say that beauty on earth cannot be determined by a mortal being. He does call us all to praise God for everything He has given, and not to find fault or ignore His creations. In that kind of devotion, we might be able to see beauty in everything on earth.