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May. 14th, 2015

I had a meeting with my dissertation professor today and it went pretty well. He had some questions I could answer and some questions I couldn’t and some questions that forced me to clarify my own thinking about the topic right there in his office. He seemed positive about my overall idea and how I plan on structuring the novel.

I hedged a lot when he asked me if I planned on writing in a more “popular” or “literary” style because I’ve listened to so many arguments among my writer friends that those have become very loaded terms for me, but on the sliding scale I’d guess 75% popular and 25% literary, depending on your definitions. Since I think the theme of the novel will be a bitter pill for many readers, I want it to be accessible in story and style.

We also talked about some poems I had emailed him, several of which I’d written in a London Starbucks while waiting for my parents to get up. We were both gratified at my improvement and he showed me where he thought they worked best or didn’t. I told him it was ironic that the poem he liked best was the one I was the riskiest one stylistically. He said maybe that was why he liked it.


Grad school strangeness

British academic schedules are weird. Our big projects aren’t due until the end of the vacations following the term, not the end of the term itself, so instead of relaxing during the vacation I just have more to worry about, not less. And the dissertations aren’t due until the end of August so I don’t get my results until October, while the term is over in the middle of June. Meanwhile, I have to apply for jobs without an MA on my CV, just “in a MA program.” It does leave me wondering if professors are too cut off from our realities.

So for my dissertation I have to write 15,000 words of fiction and a 5000 word essay on the genre I am writing in. I had braced myself to write all 20,000 words by the middle of June, which is when the university website send the “summer term” was over. Having written 1000 words a day on a regular basis, I didn’t see this as a problem. Now I have until the end of August, which is 167 words a day, pretty candy ass in my own opinion. I mentioned that to one of my classmates, and he said not everyone is as dedicated to writing as I am (and this is in a creative writing program?), which isn’t the first time I’ve run across that issue. When I lived in Portland among the poets, I was informed around year 4 that a lot of the poets found me intimidating because I had given up so much to write as much as I had. Compared to my novel writing friends, the poets really were more into drinking than writing.

Ah, to hell with it. I write as I write, and today I’m going to rewrite a fight scene from one of my Asian fantasy novels, since the department seems to think quick writing isn’t artistic enough for them.

Family History Day

Today is family history day and we were off to Plymouth from where one of my ancestors took the boat to the future Massachusetts nine years after the Mayflower (we missed making history ‘by that much’). Then when he didn’t like the Puritans, he hiked over to Nantucket and our family became whalers (there is a whaling captain going by one of our ancestral names in Moby Dick, so perhaps we missed history and landed in literature).

Then after we ate, spent some time in a library (where my mom did some genealogical research and I read a British book about American history), and took photos in Plymouth, we were off to Brixton, his small hometown, and now four centuries later I’m sitting in a cemetery behind a church built on a hill before the Founding Fathers of America were even born. I can see a village spread out below me with houses that have become so expensive the local kids have to move to Plymouth and all points beyond and the drive ways have sports cars, and then as the hills rise again the checkerboard pattern of the British countryside of pasture, crops, and woods. I was afraid we were trespassing on church property but three little old ladies passed by and seemed very friendly; one of them had a lengthy conversation with my parents about our family history, mostly the mutual confirmation of dates and places while I’m pondering the twists and turns that brought the family full circle.

We rode back to Plymouth on the 2nd story of a bus and had a great view of the countryside, from new big houses to old red cliffs.

Last full day with my parents in England:

I’m afraid I’m not being a good host for my parents’ last full day in England. My kitchen is bare, my laundry hamper is full, and I have to make an appointment with a computer fix-it-man. Life just has a way of catching up with you. But at least my parents had a nice walk around town, found the river walking park, and had a big lunch with my friends.

One funny thing is that months ago I bought these cheap pocket editions of essays written by family people for an assignment I thought I needed them for and turned out to be wrong, but they fit perfectly in my fanny pack so I’ve carried them around for reading while riding the trains between cities. I would watch the scenery on the way there and read on the way back. Orwell wrote on a startling variety of topics.

A day trip to Bath

This morning I had limited time so my ladder exercise used a difficult move so involved fewer reps. I also read an essay about gender and Indian religion’ there was a lot more to it but the take away lesson for my paper was how Buddhist feminism was constantly swimming upstream against an increasingly sexist Hinduism, from the initial Brahmin ideological power grab strengthening caste and gender boundaries to the 19th Century nationalist movements. Buddhism has also been handicapped linguistically by sexism assumed in the languages of cultures it comes into contact with. Of course, Jesus was also very feminist for the time, but it was watered down for centuries afterwards. Thus I can address this issue with Taoism at the same time; how to be feminist while accepting the definition of feminine (my professors current issue with my topic)?

As for my vacation, we went to Bath just in time for a walking tour of the city which lasted 2 ¼ hours, about ¾ longer than my feet would have liked but it was one of Jane Austen’s favorite stomping grounds; she set two of her novels there. Most of what we saw was Georgian architecture, and there are clues in the architecture that the architect himself was a Mason (ooo, conspiracy?). The PR guy for the rapidly expanding Bath during the Georgian Period made himself the Master of Ceremonies for Bath using his completely made up position to bully nobility and get rich from kickbacks; I guess I have to admire the gall. The faces of homes had to match the architect’s plans, but the insides of the homes were up to the builders (sort of an early Home Owners’ Association).

After a leisurely, foot relieving lunch, we went to the Roman Baths, which have a lot of modern displays. If you stand in the right place, you can stand in the replica of the Roman Bath and see Georgian housing and a medieval cathedral.

Then we went into the Abby of St. Peter and St. Paul. On the front it has angels scaling ladders. Inside a lot of stain glass lets gentle light onto massive stone columns. The walls and floors are lined with burial dedications. The more you set in the pews and admire the decorations the more you will see. Who needs to walk around and see little things up close when you can sit down and take it all in?

I found myself wondering if I should have gone to the University of Bath, but then I wouldn’t have had Nan as my social coordinator nor the few friends I managed to make on my own. Just one of those things I’ll never know so why bother thinking about it?

A full day in Exeter with the parents

Easter Sunday we went back to St. Peter’s. The boys and girls’ choir did a great job aided by the great acoustics in those old structures. I had a bit of an adventure trying to find a toilet, but such is life. Then after an Italian lunch we walked through a 400 year old city park and near the walls of a Roman fort, then went through the RAMM (Royal Albert Memorial Museum, I think) which was on a smaller scale then the London museums but had some interesting local history and a wide screen video of the geological evolution of the local terrain going back 400 million years. Then we had dinner in a Brazilian restaurant. I am taking such shameless advantage of all this walking around burning off calories that I eat pretty much as I like.

Back to Exeter

We took the first day in Exeter very easy. The morning and half the afternoon was spent in taxis and trains, then my parents checked into a hotel and I took them to my dorms to do laundry and play cards. At their hotel we had the fanciest meal so far; they were the sort of meals food critics love and we liked.

The next morning we walked around Exeter, making sure to see St. Peter’s Cathedral, and then had lunch with two of my friends, one from Taiwan and one from Beijing. You may have already seen the photo of the shake I had. Then I gave my parents a tour of the university, we played cards, and then went to a Turkish restaurant with some more friends of mine. My Dad may have already posted the photo of me surrounded by four of my favorite reasons to have studied in England. Some of you will not be surprised to know that my Dad and I told more than our fair share of funny stories.

London Vacation Day 5

Kicked off late in the day but spent the rest of the morning at the Globe, a replica of where Shakespeare and his partners produced plays. The tour guide had interesting stories to tell, about how the original had burned down because they’d used gunpowder for sound effects, how the Puritans had shut down all the theaters, and when Charles II returned from Paris triumphant, he introduced “France’s greatest contribution to theater: actresses.” My father overheard another tour guide say “to be or not to be” in Klingon to illustrate how Shakespeare has even been translated into imaginary languages.

We ate in a replica of where Shakespeare and his friends ate and drank, minus the 60s-80s music piped in I’m sure, and then went to the Tate Museum of Modern Art, which was as alternatively puzzling and disturbing as modern art usually is. I think my favorite photographs were off the lonely long haul bus stops out in the middle of what I think was Central Asia, symbolizing for me both the spirit of adventure and the isolation of so many people’s lives. Then we walked through the bunkers Churchill used with his staff during the war (when he wasn’t busy racking up his 100,000+ miles of diplomatic voyages), which has been converted into a museum.

London Vacation Day Four

I started my day well enough. I read two essays for my sexuality and Taoism paper and discovered that one of them will be useful for my romantic comedy essay. Essentially, are romantic comedies for African Americans more pessimistic about ideal love because of Hollywood racism or because they are an ideological extension of blues jazz’s emphasis upon women’s freedom as resistance to male folly instead of white romantic comedies stressing idealized love?

Most of the hotel guests seem to be German high school kids and their scattered guardians. Must be a school thing.

We tried to go to the Natural Museum but the lines were too long from student tour groups so we walked another block to the Victoria and Albert Museum which turned out to be really cool. The inner architecture gave me a sense of exploration, even the possibility of getting lost in history. Bridges inside the space allowed some rooms to reach all the way to the roof, allowing skylights to light rooms with the tallest sculptures and for you to see some of the rooms from multiple perspectives. Even the lunch room would be the pride of an American Museum.

I’ve also heard my mom musing over the local property values. If my parents didn’t feel so responsible for so many things back home, I think they’d move to England for a year or so.

London Vacation day 3

We looked for a better breakfast than toast and cereal and the best we could within walking distance was Starbucks. Why is breakfast such an underrated meal anyway? Do people really find it so hard to wake up a half hour earlier to eat a decent meal? I know not everyone has a natural alarm clock waking them at 6 whether we like it or not, but really.

Our bus’ tour guide repeated her speeches in Spanish for the tourists from Latin America; she was from Spain. A nice woman but she giggled too much. We saw Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Oxford University. For the latter two the bus/walking tour was fine, but Windsor Castle really needed twice the time than the tour allowed. The security check alone was 30 minutes and in summer the line is twice as long. So if any of you want to see the castle, better to set aside a whole day and go there yourself. The info guides at Stonehenge suggested a variety of theories about the area, but I think it all adds up to some sort of Celtic Vatican.

I am actually writing on paper and later transcribing it to the computer because I don’t like announcing to the world that I’m out of town and our hotel’s Wi-Fi is so bad I’m not even checking email. But every morning I’ve writing poetry and doing morning exercises and every evening reading books for my research topics when I get back to Exeter. I’m just glad I didn’t waste luggage space on my laptop. I filled up a backpack and a book bag, so I even had my hands free hiking from Paddington to the hotel.

London Vacation Day Two

I had a weird dream about Worf leading Klingons back in time to find James T. Kirk, but I woke up on a cliff hanger so I don’t know why.

I did my morning exercises and went down for breakfast but it was disappointing. I had OJ and toast. Any nutritionist can you breakfast is the most important meal of the day but tell that to cheap hotels. Sometimes I feel the only way I can have a healthy diet is to stay at home and cook all the time. As for my morning exercises, I don’t work myself into exhaustion, just work up a light sweat to warm up the joints and get the blood flowing.

We saw St. Paul’s Cathedral, the burial place of Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, and the composer Sullivan (who apparently wrote hymns as well as working with Gilbert). Once again I was amazed at the detail and work put into such buildings – we have so much technology but such streamlined sense of style, or lack of it. We heard the boys’ choir singing hymns like lullabies, or maybe I was just tired.

The London Museum was like a history museum for kids; they put a lot of thought and effort into making the history and pre-history of London interesting for all ages, and judging by the reactions of the children succeeded. We also found the church of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, and gravesites of William Blake and Daniel Defoe across the street (I wonder how many professors groan when discovering that Defoe had a bigger monument). The Thames River tour had a comic tour guide on the boat with us explaining various buildings along the way, including London Bridge and the Tower of London.

We are eating out a lot, but fortunately all the walking seems to be keeping the weight off. London has a lot of good food, even good English food.



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