Learning to Stop, Dance, and Relax

Originally posted November 5, 2011.

It’s crazy and sad to think that I’m already half way through my time here at Oxford.  It has already been one month.  On the other hand, as this week has shown me, I have done quite a lot in the span of this one month and that I still have a lot more to look forward to in the coming one.  And more importantly, I need to slow down to enjoy all of it.

I started off the week on a great note.  After finishing my paper Sunday morning at yet another café (Morton’s, which had a yummy hazelnut cappuccino), I had the rest of the day free to celebrate Halloween.  So many people had warned me that Halloween here is not as crazy as it is in the States.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m not so interested in the creepy or because two of the big Rice Halloween celebrations include being naked, but I’ve never been a huge fan of the holiday and I wasn’t too bummed about missing out on the “American” version.  I thought I was just going to skip the whole thing, go back to my room, and finish editing my paper, but my Hertford friends had other plans.  They made sure that not only did I go to formal hall that night, but that I accompanied them to the Halloween BOP afterwards.  And I must say, it was one of the best Halloweens I’ve ever had.

Leah provided the white make-up for my costume.  I would not have had an awesome Halloween if not for her.  Thank you!

I don’t think I’ve explained formal hall yet.  It’s a fancy, yet subsidized, three-course meal held every Wednesday and Sunday night of term. The great part about being in choir is that we get a special sign-up and it’s even further subsidized for us.  Anyways, everyone wears their gowns and wears nice clothing, they turn off the lights so we can eat by candlelight, and it’s bring-your-own-wine, so that makes it even more fun.  This week they had gin sorbet and decorated the hall with jack-o-lanterns in addition to the normal candles.  It was only my second time attending and I definitely think I’m going to make a habit of it.

Anyways, the Halloween BOP.  First of all, BOP stands for Big Organized Party.  Originally they used to hold these within Hertford College, but it got too loud and messy so now they rent out entire clubs for the night.  Of course, as a Halloween party, it was required to have “fancy dress,” which is the Brit way of saying that you had to have a costume.  Originally, this was why I didn’t want to celebrate Halloween this year; I thought I didn’t have any costumes and didn’t want to go out and buy one that I would have to lug home later.  But, as it turns out, with just a little make-up and my all black choir uniform, I made a pretty ghastly ghoul (it’s a technicality, but I was not a zombie or a vampire because those are clichéd monsters; no, I had to pretend to be original while sporting a rather vampiric/zombified look).  After a few pre-drinks at the good ole’ Hertford Bar, we headed over to the club, Lola Lo’s.  Almost as soon as we walked in, they began playing “Thriller.”  I loved it.  I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed dancing.  At home I dance in my room, I go to zumba classes with my mom, and when I’m at Rice, I dance at all the public parties I attend.  I was so happy.  It was totally worth it to scrub all the make-up off my face and to do extra reading the next morning to catch back up with work.

But, pretty soon after Sunday, my week took a downhill turn.  I didn’t like my essay for World War I Literature and I was worried about going to tutorial for it.  And then on top of that, my Victorian Literature tutor didn’t send me my topic for the Gaskell essay until 3 pm on Monday.  And not only did she request that I read another of Gaskell’s novels at that point (only a few days before the essay would be due), but she gave me another broad topic based on a quote and it took my forever just to figure out what she was asking me to write.  All this combined in a rather emotional secondary tutorial where I ended up crying for ten minutes.  Apparently crying in tutorials here is a pretty common occurrence here.  It’s so intense and individual that I guess they just expect it at some point.  Thankfully my tutor was really sweet about it and once I calmed down, she was able to not only give me great advice about how to proceed, but about how to deal with my essay for Victorian Literature, too.  I had been putting so much pressure on myself to create polished essays, when they really aren’t expecting that here.  Yes, they want you to put effort into your writing, but because of the time constraints and the tutorial system, my tutors are more concerned with the level of analysis and the ideas that I explore.  Plus, if it’s a really broad question/quote, they expect me to break it into pieces.  I don’t have to write about the whole thing, because many times, that is really too much for a 1500-3000 word essay.

I tried to take Jennie Sykes’s advice, but I still stressed out over my essay for Victorian Literature.  But after reading half of Mary Bartonon Monday night and stressing out a lot about the topic, I ended up with a pretty good essay and we had a great discussion in tutorial.  I was really happy to hear that Jenny also did not enjoy North and South.  I thought there were some great, dramatic moments, but for the most part, the stupid timidity, unending self-sacrifice, and ignorance of the main character annoyed me.  It didn’t help that her name was Margaret.  Good thing I had the always-wonderful Cranford to distract me.

I thought that I had learned my lesson—I needed to calm down and work, but not freak out about making my writing perfect—but it turns out that God thought I really needed to slow down and take it easy.  In other words, I got home Tuesday night feeling feverish and stuffy.  I went to the nurse on Wednesday morning just to hear that I had a cold. Lame.  There’s nothing I could do except drink lots of hot beverages, wear a scarf, and get lots of sleep.  Meanwhile, everyone else was going out to the clubs and pubs, attending training sessions for rowing, and generally having a great time.  I felt so trapped.  I only have a month left here and I didn’t want to waste a minute.  But, I did try to take things easy.  I spent part of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night skyping friends and family from home so that I wouldn’t be out and about, making myself feel worse, but I would also still be getting necessary social interaction (reading and writing all day is great, but it can get lonely after a while).  It’s hard to force myself to take it easy, but I have so much else to look forward to in terms of academics, rowing, choir, BOPs, etc.

But I do “like” one part of having this cold: it’s an excuse for drinking even more tea.  During the first week, some visiting students and I found this amazing shop in the covered market, Cardew’s, that sells tea and coffee.  It’s so great.  You walk in and it smells like fresh coffee beans and herbal tea.  Then to order, you tell the cashier what you’d like, they go grab the right tin, measure it out, and hand it to you in a little white package.  It feels so … old-fashioned to order loose leaf tea like that.  Plus, I don’t know any shops in the States that do that, or that sell the same variety of tea as Cardew’s.  Since I wanted to be able to drink tea at all hours of the day to help my cold, I got one of the herbal ones to go along with my normal order (Oxford Breakfast).  I chose Blackcurrant tea and I love it.  I’ve already had three cups in the last forty-eight hours.

So after resting up Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I left my flat early this morning and went over to the Oxford Playhouse for their Writer’s Weekend.  I’m sad that I can’t participate in as much theatre this term, since I’m already so busy with my tutorials, choir, and rowing, but this weekend is definitely making up for it.  The entire day was filled with talks about commissioning, the different genres of scriptwriting, how to continue to motivate yourself to write, and how to get your scripts out into the world.  We had producers from playhouses in the area, a successful writer from the area, and other important speakers/contacts talk to us.  It overwhelmed me in some ways, and in other ways, the detailed information doesn’t apply to me since I will mostly be playwriting and pitching my writing in the United States, but it inspired me to keep writing.  Plus, I have a new friend at Hertford, Matt, who is also interested in scriptwriting and he came along to the writer’s weekend, too.  I was glad to have him there, especially because there were so many older, established playwrights and it helped to know I wasn’t the only young one.  I hope that we can continue to keep in touch about our writing, even when I return to the States.  It’s great to have a new writing friend, especially since he’s an engineer too and has a good, different perspective on things.  I can’t wait for the second day: they have organized for actors to come in to help us workshop the first four pages of a current project.  I’m nervous to share some of my really rough work with others, but I know it’s a priceless opportunity that I cannot miss.

And finally, as if that didn’t make this weekend exciting enough, today was Guy Fawke’s Day.  For those of you who don’t know, it’s an odd British celebration.  Guy Fawkes was involved in a plot to assassinate King James I by blowing up the House of Lords.  But he was discovered, tortured, and then executed.  So on this day, the fifth of November, the British set off lots and lots of fireworks and gleefully burn Guy Fawkes effigies.  The fireworks show was pretty standard.  I liked that they played “Firework” by Katy Perry for the finale, even if it was a little too predictable.  But through all the fireworks, you could see the huge wooden effigy of Guy Fawkes.  They made him really really creepy, with fangs and snakes in his hair.  Still, I must say, it was oddly satisfying to see him burn to pieces.  They had sparklers woven into the frame that went off periodically and they also set off a larger bonfire behind him, which made lots of white smoke and gave of lots of lovely heat.  But, then it got creepy again.  The effigy is made around a metal frame. When the wood burns, only the metal frame remains.  And the metal frame was in the shape of a devil, complete with a tail, horns, and nasty face.  Just in case I didn’t get the picture from the snakes and fang, or the violent burning, the metal frame hit home the point: Guy Fawkes was as awful as Satan.  Wow.  It was creepy, but I must say, I was glad I got to participate.  It’s not like quite like any other holiday I’ve experienced.

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About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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