Friday, 26 October 2012

A List: Adventures Since the End of September, Plus Photos

Some of my current work materials
Goodness, I've been a bad updater.  I intended last week to do a post on the excitement of the first two weeks of term, but now we're at the end of 3rd week already.  So, instead I offer up a list of my adventures since the end of September.

1)  I attended the SCWBI Agents' Party in London, where I was very brave and pitched my novel to four literary agents.  Pitching was terrifying at first but became easier when I reminded myself that agents are book nerds just like writers.  We're all just looking for a great book to read.  Now I need to finish my polish/proofread and make sure all my spellings are British (rather than Canadian or American: see my last post) and start sending it out.

2)  Having previously seen Vertigo as part of the BFI's Hitchcock retrospective, Tim and I also went to see Rear Window, which was also even more amazing on a big screen with great sound.  Also, I realized it's much easier to see what the characters in the other apartment buildings are up to on a big screen and in high resolution.  (As opposed to the fuzzy VHS version I'm sure I originally watched the film in).

3)  At the very beginning of First Week, Tim and I went back to London to see the Original Practices production of Twelfth Night at the Globe, starring the one and only Stephen Fry as Malvolio.  It was amazing and very funny, especially since they milked the comedy of men playing women (and in Viola's case, a man playing a woman playing a man) for all it was worth.

Before we went to the theatre, we popped into the famous Daunt Books in Marylebone and finally made it to Regent's Park.

4)  Also, in first week, I taught my first ever Oxford tutorial on Oscar Wilde (Paper 7 - the special author paper).  Now three weeks in, I must say I'm really enjoying myself.  It's lovely to get my teaching muscles working again.  Tutorial-style teaching is definitely very different from the teaching I did during my Master's degree of the University of Saskatchewan.  It's strange going from having, say 15-30 students down to just one.  At its best, the teaching resembles a supervision meeting or a really productive conversation, with ideas and interpretations zinging back and forth.

5)  Then we had EGO (English Graduates at Oxford) committee elections.  I will be serving on the committee for the second year in a row, this time as Academic Affairs Officer.  I'm really excited to be involved again and will aim to do my best.

6)  I'm also on the organizing committee for the graduate conference again this year.  We decided on the theme for the conference just a couple days ago: Object.  We're hoping to here some really interesting papers on materiality, tangibility, Thing Theory, and also more political/theoretical/critical objections.  A CFP will probably go out in December with an abstract deadline in March(ish).

7)  Last week, I also had the opportunity to hear a bit of a children's publishing celebrity speak.  The Oxford branch of the Society of Young Publishers hosted a public talk by David Fickling, head of the Random House imprint David Fickling Books, which publishes some of my very favourite authors in the UK: Linda Newbery, Kenneth Oppel, Margo Lanagan...  David Fickling was a fabulously energetic and enthusiastic speaker, running off onto fascinating tangents like some of my very best university professors.  He spoke really engagingly about what an editor must do (recognize talent, add energy, provide stability, communicate to the author).  It was fascinating to hear about the editor-author relationship from the editor's point of view, especially because unpublished writers tend to focus more on getting published and the submissions process.  Also, it was lovely to hear David speak so passionately about importance of publishing good books and great stories, rather than focusing on market issues.

8)  Last week I also got to meet another hero of mine, David Mitchell, who was in town at the Oxford Waterstones signing copies of his memoir Back Story.  If you haven't seen David Mitchell and his comedy partner Robert Webb in Peep Show or their sketch show That Mitchell and Webb Look, do so.  Fantastic British comedy.

9)  My 9th adventure comes later today when the Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Forum is hosting a tour of Oscar Wilde's rooms at Magdalen College, which I am very much looking forward to.

This image isn't related to anything in this post, except that autumn has come to my favourite churchyard by the English Faculty.
 And to close, some general thoughts on beginning the second year of my DPhil.  First of all, where did first year go?  It went by so quickly.  I'm a third done now!  But, really, everything feels a bit more comfortable this year.  I have friends inside and outside my program; I'm used to the city; I'm well into my research (though writing is still a struggle).  It's also scary, however, because I recently realized that instead of applying for scholarships next fall, I'll be applying for lectureships, post-docs, teaching roles and really thinking about the transition into an academic career.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Englishes: Canadian, British, American

My English is going to be a confused mishmash for the rest of my life.  But I'm okay with that.

This morning I listened to a really interesting interview on the CBC radio program As It Happens with American English professor Ben Yagoda, who tracks the increasing use of "Britishisms" in American English.  A fascinating topic (frankly though, this just makes sense to me - British words and slang are so much more fun than American ones and I've personally been adopting many of them ever since I read Harry Potter and saw Bridget Jones's Diary).

Ben Yagoda does this tracking on an incredibly interesting blog, Not One-Off Britishisms.

In reading through a bunch of the blog, I realized that between growing up in Canada and having now spent  a year in Britain, my vocabulary is steeped in Britishisms, though I find I can switch back and forth, mostly at will still.

In Canada, growing up, there weren't really any rules as to whether you used American or British or that amorphous thing called Canadian English.  I remember very clearly in Grade 2 being told that it was fine to use "favourite" or "favorite" on a spelling test.  Once we hit high school and university, the only real rule was to be consistent in one's spelling.  (Though generally, I think Canadians have a bias toward British spellings - except we are also pretty keen on zeds - "regularize" as opposed to "regularise").  I had one English professor who came out and specified that we must use British English in our essays (but he also had a soft spot for zeds).

Then I came over here.  I started using those s's in "ise/ize" words.  I even started using single quotes rather than double quotes (which was a bit hard).

And my spoken English changed, a bit.  I stopped talking about apartments and started using "flat".  Apparently Blackwell's is generally referred to as a "bookshop" rather than a "bookstore".  I learned that "athletics" means "track and field"; I've trained myself to say "football" rather than "soccer".  I know all about the horror of "roundabouts" (vs. "traffic circles").  I haven't had much cause to talk about gas or petrol, so I'm not sure which would come out most easily.

Because of this dual Canadian/British linguistic experience, I found reading Dr. Yagoda's blog rather interesting, because some things that sounds pretentious or awkward to his American ear either have never sounded strange to me or now just sound normal.  For instance, the British "made redundant" as opposed to "laid off" (something you hear a fair bit in an age of high unemployment).  Or "piece of kit" or uniform or equipment.  That's not pretentious; that's the legit way to talk about, say, your rowing uniform, etc.

Also, hilariously, Yagoda identifies the phrase "'at university' as setting "a news standard for conspicuous and gratuitous use of Britishisms (CAGUOBs), even for the New Yorker."  Americans would of course say "at college".  Canadians usually refer to university, rather than college, which can have a rather different meaning (community college, the College of Arts & Science, etc.).  And if you say "college" at Oxford or Cambridge, then you're into a whole new field of meanings.

Ah, English, such a fun mongrel language.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Music of Long Vacation 2012

I suppose now that it's halfway through 1st Week, I'd better round off the long vacation by telling you what songs I listened to over and and over again between June and the end of September.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, we'll start off with yet more Florence + the Machine, which is fast becoming one of my favourite bands ever.  For some reason 'Dog Days Are Over' really got me this summer.  Also, I've discovered it's a great song to run to: 'Run fast for your mother and fast for your father / Run for your children for your sisters and brothers / Leave all your love and your longing behind you / Can't carry love with you if you want to survive.'  Slightly apocalyptic, no?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Late Summer Adventures, Part Three: York, Bath, and London

Now that term has started, it seems like a good time to finish my run down of my late summer adventures.  The last adventure involved showing my very good friend around England on her first trip over here.

We did a little bit in Oxford, including seeing the Hysteria at the Oxford Playhouse, which was really cool, though also very strange (especially at the end, but it had Freud for a main character, so what do you expect?)

Then we left Tim behind and took the train up to York for two nights.  I love York.  It's such a lovely city to wander around in.  You don't even need a map; you can just dive down side streets and snickelways and if you get lost, you just look for the massive Minster towers to tell you where you are.

Mickelgate Bar

Inside the Minster
Highlights including going through a darling antique store, taking a river cruise down the Ouse (oh dear, it rhymes), and of course visiting the Minster.  Even though I was just in York last November, I'm really keen to go back again, especially since I still haven't seen the Railway Museum.

 Then we went to Bath for a day.  I had my first ever spa and thermal mineral water experience, which was good fun.  Then we hit the town: Bath Abbey, the Roman baths, a picnic by the Royal Crescent, the Fashion Musuem, and little shops in between.  I'd forgotten just how pretty a city Bath is.

Bath Abbey

Pulteney Bridge

Delightful shop, full of ribbons, buttons, and other odds and ends
Then it was off to London.  We stayed in empty London School of Economics self-catering student accomodation in Drury Lane which worked really well and was not very expensive by central London standards, I think.  London highlights: dinner at the Wolseley (an art deco restaurant that used to be a car dealership), Phantom of the Opera, the Buckingham Palace State Rooms and the Queen's Gallery (showing an exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci's anatomical drawings - definitely a man ahead of his time), the British Museum, the Tower of London, and Westminster Abbey.
The Tower of London.  We discovered no one actually knows where Anne Boleyn was held before her execution.

Glorious Westminster Abbey.
 On our last night, Des and I had dinner down the street at Sarastro's, a fantastic restaurant done up like a particularly over-the-top opera house, complete with a string quartet performance, followed by opera arias.  Des reports that the food was good, to boot.  Then we headed over the the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House for a contemporary ballet performance which was...interesting.  I'm a bit traditional when it comes to ballet, I suspect, and I really like it best when it tells a story.  But it was a good experience.

And then Des sadly had to go back to Canada!  Alas, but, speaking for myself, I had a fabulous time playing tour guide.

Also, all credit for the lovely photos goes to Des.  Having been all these places before, I didn't bother to take any photos, which is a problem when I then wanted to illustrate our travels for the blog.

Des is also an animator back in Vancouver.  You can see more of her work here and here.