words

I had a nice moment in my Renaissance lit class this week.

Our professor spares his voice by asking students to read the longer passages. Sometimes it’s painful: students stumble over the unfamiliar language and the syllables accented or elided unexpectedly, or make it clear they’ve never read the assigned passage before, or simply flush at the attention.

Or maybe they don’t see that the language is the play. The words are more than information conveyed; they pack power and rich hidden meaning.

This week, the professor asked me to read a passage.

And I read it.

Silence dropped over the class, and when I finished, I looked up from the page to see eyes turned toward my corner. One girl clapped silently. Another breathed “Wow.”

I’m not pretending any dramatic gift, oh no. I think it’s simpler. I think when you hear Shakespeare read without stumbling and stammering, without embarrassed hesitation and by someone who understands the content and the context, you hear the words.

And such words:

from Antony and Cleopatra

Cleopatra: His face was as the heavens; and therein stuck
A sun and moon, which kept their course,
And lighted the little O o’ the earth.

His legs bestrid the ocean: his rear’d arm
Crested the world: his voice was propertied
As all the tunéd spheres — and that to friends;
But when he meant to quail and shake the orb,
He was as rattling thunder. For his bounty,
There was no winter in’t; an autumn ’twas
That grew the more by reaping: his delights
Were dolphin-like; they show’d his back above
The element they lived in: in his livery
Walk’d crowns and crownets; realms and islands were
As plates dropp’d from his pocket….

Think you there was, or might be, such a man
As this I dream’d of?

Dolabella: Gentle madam, no.

Cleopatra: You lie, up to the hearing of the gods.
But, if there be, or ever were one such,
It’s past the size of dreaming: Nature wants stuff
To vie strange forms with Fancy; yet, to imagine
An Antony were Nature’s piece ‘gainst Fancy,
Condemning shadows quite.

According to our class custom, my reading skipped the incidental lines interrupting the speech; in their place, I have put ellipses. I include here Dolabella’s “Gentle madam, no” only because, to my surprise, the prof uttered it, prompting me to read another section.

Closure

Whoa. Having printed off my last two papers at 8:30 this morning, I have finished another semester.

This has been a trying term, with the convergence of several particularly taxing classes. I didn’t help matters much by deciding, after two months of researching the fairly straightforward methodology of foodways and subsistence studies and only ten days before the deadline, to switch my research focus (in History of Archaeological Thought) to the much more baroque and contested field of feminist epistemology in gender archaeology. Phew.

I owe several debts of gratitude:

to Elli, who was crucial to the dialectic of determining my approach to the subject, who has offered unflagging support and cheering in the face of massive boredom, and who has endured countless updates on my progress,
to Dr. H., who accepted on faith the last-minute swerve in my research, and who perhaps knew (as I did not) how much of myself I would identify in the process;
to C., whom I’ve been helping out during her busiest season and who told me to take the week off and come back when I was done with my papers;
to interlibrary loan, who took up my offer to make them cookies in exchange for hastening the transfer of a watershed article;
to anyone who has actually read this far, for letting me release my hazardously elevated levels of blah blah blah.

I mustn’t rest on my laurels just yet; although I have printed everything out and packed my bookbag, I still need to get to the campus and turn in the darn things before the deadline.

Wicked

During finals, I often find it hard to rev down my mental engine at bedtime. To help me wind down from the all-day Paper-A-Thon yesterday, I popped in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs before snuggling down in bed.

I grew drowsy even as I watched the first scene, in which we meet the fantastically cool cruel Stepmother, whose coldheartedness strikes us dumb with horror and whose garments make us quiver with envy. Oh, just me, eh? We learn that she plans to have Snow White’s heart cut out, simply because she cannot bear the beauty and light-heartedness that the girl embodies.

A few scenes later, Snow White, having fled her desperate fate and raced through the forest, greets the adorable woodland creatures that come to meet her. As her saccharine speech segued into treacly trilling up and up and up the scales, I surprised myself by muttering into my pillow I’d cut out her heart, too.

biblio

So many bloggers keep a pretty sidebar with links to “Books I’m Reading!”, and I love to see that, since my usual broad-spectrum foraging technique for contemporary fiction is woefully unfocused. I typically go into the library and fling myself toward the new fiction shelves, castigating myself for not writing down that author’s name and hoping I can find something promising in the ten minutes before my bus is due.

I’d love to maintain a “current reading” sidebar myself, truly I would, but with the quantities of texts I’m reading for classes and research, it simply isn’t feasible to be entering and linking them here. No, really.

No, really.

Continue reading

Teacher’s pet becomes Schrödinger’s cat

This term, I am taking my first class with Legendarily Scary Professor™. So far, she has handed back each of my papers littered with remarks like articulate and good clarity, very thorough. Phew!

Yesterday, we had the midterm, and at the end I walked out with absolutely no notion how I did.

I now find myself in a state of indeterminacy. The prof has not graded them yet, and her faith that I am still the same solid A student is touching. I, however, am breathlessly waiting for her to open the box and report the dead cat.

My brain, how it works, and why you shouldn’t eat it

Out of nowhere, a prof asked, “So, who knows what kuru is?” Mind you, this has nothing to do with our classwork; he just likes to make conversation Jeopardy-style.

I happen to have read an article about kuru several years ago, so I was able to shoot back (or, more honestly, stutter back) “Um, the disease brain-eaters get, right? Human brains? With the, the, the prions?” (I am less than eloquent on the spot, but all the key points are there, my friends.)

But who, having read this once in her life, wouldn’t remember it? Brain-eating cannibals, people.

Just do what the brain says and no one gets hurt

BlogFast 2004 is over! Am I done with finals? No. Have I finished my papers and study guides? No. Have I given up? Oh, hell, yes. Can I get an AMEN?

In the interests of full disclosure, I should add that BlogFast ended up being more like BlogRation, which doest have the same pithy sound, but which does conjure up images like WWII domestic propaganda posters, one of my favorite forms of graphic image. I think their main appeal for me is the acknowledgement, at long last, of the many roles that women play: we are shown as mothers, wives, homemakers, defense workers, and citizens. Also, look at all the pretty colors. Oooooh. Vivid.

Ahem. As I was saying, BlogFast would more properly be called BlogDramaticReduction, but that would be a mouthful. I did visit a few select blogs during the past week, but dramatically curtailed the surfing. Did it help? Hard to say — I found myself woefully behind schedule all week, and have only stopped now because my brain is threatening to leap out of my cranial vault if I brandish any more data at it.

Now that it is in recovery, my brain has evidently started a cleansing purge to remove all contaminating knowledge. I studied thoroughly, calmly, and meticulously for an anthropology exam on Tuesday, only to discover that the information vacated my brain Monday night and never did return. This is an experience I’ve not had before, and I didn’t much care for it.

So, it is midnight, I have an exam in the morning, and I have packed my books away and am celebrating my brain’s revolt with Ben & Jerry’s, because nothing says I give up quite like a brimming bowl of butterfat.

Scorn from beyond the grave

Only a scant few days of classes left, and I am a jangling bag of nerves because everything seems to be going so smoothly. This can only mean that there is some massive crucial project that I have utterly forgotten since it was first assigned in January. Right? Right.

E., my first partner and dear friend, used to say, “Elsa, if you were a super hero, you’d be Worst Case Scenario Girl!” (For the full effect, you should stand straight and proud with your shoulders thrown back and arms akimbo, and call it out in your most stentorian voice: “Making mountains out of molehills! Leaping to the most disastrous and farfetched of conclusions! It’s Worst Case Scenario Girl!” Really put the exclamation point in there. Good work.) He would tease and deride me right out of my twitching fits of fatalistic nerve-burn, threatening to get me tights and a cape and a crest emblazoned WCS.

E. doesn’t say this anymore, not because I have learned to tame the nightmare blood weasels that populate my brain manage daily stress, but because he died a few years ago. But his derision lives on. When I catch myself going right off the rails, imagining that a possible mishap is only the first step towards the Worst Case Scenario, I picture myself in full regalia, flying off into the sunset to inform someone of just how bad this could be, and I start to laugh. He left me a legacy of laughter and mockery, and I imagine that suits him fine, wherever he is, as the flames lick at his heels.

I have been using the image of WCS Girl for years to defuse my panicky bouts, and it is only this week that I noticed something rather obvious: Dude, you got sick and died. Worst Case Scenario Girl was right! In your face, dead loved one!

I miss you, honey. Thanks for getting me through finals. Again.

No, No, NaNo

NaNoWriMo is proving arduous, but not for any reason I expected. The subject matter is taking too high an emotional toll; I can’t imagine keeping at it, especially since I am doing all my writing in the computer clusters at the university, and sitting here clickety-clacking away while tears stream down my face seems a breach of courtesy.

So… instead of following the original backstory for my main character, in which her partner dies young of a lingering illness, I am making her a young widow whose husband died in a wacky mishap, the details of which are pending.
But still I am flayed by the process of writing. I ruminated for most of the morning on love — what it is, what it feels like to the loving and to the beloved, why it is so damn hard whenever it isn’t effortless.

This afternoon in art history class, we discussed “reality” in art. The prof put forth a few examples to clarify the concept that reality is a slippery little sucker.

“Is this pen real?”

“Was your childhood real?”

“Is love real?” At this moment, she accidentally dropped the pen, and the crack when it hit the floor shocked me nearly to tears. I had thought all morning about the nature of love, and “real” never occurred to me.

Once bitten

I turn in my last midterm assignment today, and I already need to study for an exam next week and start research for another paper. I suddenly find myself stricken with a sense of fellow feeling toward sharks: I never sleep, and if I stop moving, I die.