Sunday, September 30, 2012

Religion and Music

I'd been to an awful lot of Catholic/Church of England churches this trip, but our Religion Professor had asked us to go to a different church while we were in London.  It was really for extra credit, but I was curious, so on the 26th, Nicole and I struck out for John Wesley's Methodist chapel.  Here is a photo of him:

His parish is my campus, being from BYU.  (Due to picture quality/size, you may not be able to see that underneath the photo, it says The World is my Parish.) The basement of this place had a lot of information on the founding of the Methodist church and a video; John Wesley started the church, but his brother and a group of friends started the idea.  They were called Methodists because they lived according to a rather strict "method" of life that was, as far as I could see, very faith-filled and service-based. The chapel had preserved the original chapel, as seen below.
 Incidentally, this is where some of the first LDS missionaries taught, until they baptized so many people the preachers decided they were at risk of losing their congregations and kicked them out.  I thought the window on the ceiling was pretty, too, and here that is.
 We also saw his grave in the back, which has several other people in it, too.
 After that, Nicole and I both decided we wanted to head out a little further and visit another location of interest.
 Quite frankly, I feel bad for anyone who lives near there.  This was the end of November, not exactly prime tourism season, and the cars still had to wait five minutes per car with all the people crossing the road there.  And standing in the middle of the road.  So we just leaned over and got our pictures when the traffic was low on that road.
We also saw the Beatles' Abbey Road studio, which has graffiti all over the wall that probably added an inch of thickness to the concrete.  And they had lots of security.  It was quite a lot of fun, though.

I also worked on my final project for art--it involved drawing something from a few different points of view, and I'd finally found a good pattern for arranging it after seeing a picture in the museum at Oxford whose underlying structure was something like this <. It was a picture of Gabriel on the point fighting a dragon representing Satan, while on the other side were representations of heaven and hell, and the picture divided going up or down.  I decided to structure mine like this >, with five boxes coming to a point.

Essay Essay

As promised, the essay I read in class.  Just to warn you, it's random and wandering, and you may have seen it on my alternate FB page.  It's unrevised, and if you read/understand it, you'll probably understand why.

You know what? Essays are starting to annoy me. I start writing something, I feel like I have a good idea going, and suddenly everything I was writing feels cheap. Senseless, pointless, tawdry drivel spat onto a page with no clear direction, no point, and not really worth all that much. I tried to write something deep and personal and found myself circling so much that after going a long way, I'd only managed to penetrate a layer or two, such being the nature of spirals. I tried to go with a direct approach and ran into a hard wall that sent me staggering backwards, banner torn and troops gone, after just the initial charge. I tried to write out something of my thoughts on home, and where did that go? I had a page down and felt like I was a paragraph away from being out of things to say. Maybe it's me; maybe I have trouble sharing anything. That's it, I'm just a selfish person. You can't have my memories, you aren't allowed to see my feelings or my thoughts. Stay away, they're mine.
But it's not like I'm the Giver. If I put my memories on a page, they're not going to disappear. I don't need to worry about it. For example, if I tell you about the Halloween when my mom, as usual, had us split up the spoils of the night so we could all get an equal amount and make sure we had treats that we liked, and to make sure we didn't eat it all at once so she could mete out candy to us on a slower basis—it worked, we managed to still have candy throughout the year as she did this—and then she split the piles that were left after we took all that would fit in our little candy tubs into chocolate, chewy candy, and hard candy, then the chocolate pile mysteriously disappeared...along with my dad, and we pursued him to his room where he'd locked himself in his closet until we finally managed to dig him out, scour the closet, and eventually found a box marked “Radioactive! Poison! Explosive! Keep out!” in words and symbols containing—you guessed it—all our chocolate, that memory is still mine. Sharing that memory hasn't cheapened it, much less dissolved it from my mind.
What do I share? I don't share much. Sarah noted the other day “You realize ninety percent of the things she says are jokes, right?” as I'd told someone very seriously, as is my custom, some nonsense thing about their food at dinner. It's true, I joke constantly. It's my way of getting along with people, of relating to them, of making, having, keeping friends. I feel rather proud of myself when someone believes my occasionally-well-constructed ridiculous stories. Like when I was on track and the girl next to me was speculating on where wind comes from. I knew it had something to do with pressure and if I'd thought much I could have brought it to mind, but I wasn't a weather student, I was in AP Biology. So I drew on that store of knowledge and told her it was created by the trees. They create energy from the sun but with so many receptors and creators there's an awful lot of ATP and it's hard to store energy—trees don't grow fat—so they send out chemical signals which trees use to communicate, which is completely true for alerting neighboring trees to the presence of diseases and warning them to build up resistance, so they all begin shaking their branches to release that extra energy. And that's where the wind comes from. She looked at me astonished. “Really?” “Yep.” “I thought it was low-pressure systems or something like that.” “No, it's all the trees.” “Oh. … Really?” “No, I'm lying.” Another start from her, and then we both cracked up. It's not about the fooling people, it's not about feeling smart or feeling some sense of superiority, I just like the jolt of going against convention even when I fully intend on following it. Ask me to pass the butter, say, and 4 of 5 times I'll probably look at you like you're stupid and say no even as I reach for the butter dish. Or pat, as the case may be. But it's not like that's sharing a part of me. I don't try to get people to like me by offering part of my soul, you could say, but by trying to make them laugh. I hate seeing people sad, I'd much rather see them smile and I like to make them smile.
But like I said, I don't offer my soul, and if I don't like seeing other people crying, I hate hate hate hate crying myself. Multiply that by factor (I feel a hole in the pit of my stomach seeing other people cry)/(I don't like seeing other people crying) if you want to get an accurate measure of how I feel on the subject.. I think that's how it goes mathematically to cancel out the lesser amount on the bottom. (And now my mathematician friend will say I'm letting my own inner mathematician show and I might not let him ever see this because I know there's a bit of mathematician in there hiding but I'm not about to admit that to him.) See, crying for me feels like not a healthy release of emotion that you need to let out, like people say it is. If it's in public, it calls others' attention to you whether in an “Oh, that's disgusting, keep it to yourself” way or a “You poor girl, come here and let me make it feel better” way. If I'm going to get sympathy or attention, it'd blasted well better not be regulated by my personal tear flow. It turns it into a call for attention and also a positive reinforcement for a negative action, in my opinion. Even worse is if someone responds with pity or condescension. Do not do that to me. It won't make me feel better; it won't make me feel anything but angry at you. My mother is the only one whose job it is to mother me, and she trusts my independence, so don't you even think about trying. It's degrading, it's demeaning, and I loathe it. And crying in public feels like I'm sending out this “Pity the child! She's just an ickle little wee thing who needs your mothering!” Crying in private is no good either. It makes me feel like a miserable ball of soggy wetness and it's not like anything is going to feel better after; if anything, it compounds the problem, whatever it may be, and adds the problem of a stuffy nose, burning eyes, and other physical discomforts that accompany crying. There is no “good cry.”
Of course, maybe all that is to cover my distaste for “offering my soul,” as I put it. Why don't I? I don't think it was a choice originally; I liked letting other people know how I felt when I was little. Of course, since that was generally happy unless upset by a skinned knee or a black eye from running into my brother going around a corner at top speed, that was decently easy. But as I got older and people grew more complex and everything got ridiculously complicated, even talking, I found that every time I tried to share my emotions, they got jumbled up, misunderstood, brushed aside, or just didn't come out, so I tried less. This is basically the reason you're reading this essay and not my attempt to figure myself out. This is all essentially just surface stuff. I will openly and freely say that I hate crying. I'll tell people I've built myself a shell and if they want to try to break it, good luck, they'd better have a wealth of diamond-tipped cutting tools at their disposal and not mind breaking several in the process. I've put lots of time and energy into it, and when I really put time and energy into something, it turns out well, I don't care what it is.
All of this whole mess, bundled up into a tangled, knotty, irregular lump of randomity with one of those “Hi, my name is...” stuck on, tattered and looking like it's spent the better part of a year in the bottom of a not-so-neat 5th grader's backpack, with my name on it in bold but quick calligraphy, is what tries to unravel a little bit, just one piece of chenille stick from the mass, to turn into a personal essay and maybe that's why it's so hard. So it's easier to dab a bit of ink on the surface and roll it over the page, coming up with something simple but strange and twisted like this essay, giving you a surface imprint of who this “Elizabeth” is, something that you might not even recognize when you see the rest of it, like a simple amateur sketch that just looks like “Generic Individual” rather than “This One Specifically.” Because trying to dig out the thoughts on that one specific topic, that one particular thing that I wanted to express, leads into a mass, wanders off, gets lost, and leaves me either on a completely different thread or having hopelessly lost the original entirely, or just jabs me into a thumbtack that's been lying in wait to make me beat a hasty, completely undignified retreat. So it never gets to the paper, or if it does, I look at the paper, glance around hastily and suspiciously, then slowly suck that paper into the mass that is me, hiding it in the recesses where you'd have to dig around quite a bit to find it.
So I don't write personal essays; why don't I just write other essays, thoughts on life and so forth? Stuff like climbing mountains and praying. Why don't I stick with that? The problem with all of this is there's this sense of guilt or obligation roaming around me rather freely, and when this annoying posse peers out and sees personal essays by everyone else showing something deep and special to them, an exploration like I have found myself incapable of, it scatters and rushes to my brain and my fingers, all over, saying “Look at that! Why can't you do that? Come on, fingers, get a move on. Hash that soul out on paper. Look here, brain, you're in a personal essay class. What were you writing? Do you think that qualifies as personal? No good. Redo!” And once they start, it's hard to get them to stop, but the rest of me rebels so strongly at giving out that person of me that I end up never being able to produce anything that begins to be personal but only after much anguish and suffering. Okay, I exaggerate, but the end result is my essays just tend to peter out. Even like this one is doing...right about now.

(Incidentally, the "mathematician friend" I mentioned was Bryan, who read this before I remembered that was in there, and started teasing me about it immediately.)

What am I thankful for? Oh, *that's* a tough one.

In case you're wondering about timetable, the day in Oxford was November 22.  Which made the next day the 23rd, which I spent on projects and making Christmas postcards for family.  The next day, though, we had no classes, due to some random American holiday we decided we'd celebrate. Something about there being a lot of Americans in the center or something like that.

No, really, Thanksgiving was great.  I did kind of miss the fact that I didn't get to go to my family's houses because that is kind of the point of Thanksgiving.  Instead, I called home and talked to as many family members as I could.  There was an awful lot of baking and cooking going on downstairs in the kitchen, and before too long,  by which I mean 2:00, we had a magnificent Thanksgiving feast going on.  There were probably at least 5 turkeys, a tray or two of stuffing per table, potatoes, sweet potatoes, salad, rolls--everything you'd want for a Thanksgiving dinner but on a grand scale.  Or a 30-person scale.  I think we had at least a dozen pies after.  I kind of missed out on several of those, due to being really full for a good several hours.  That evening, we had a party  upstairs celebrating the fact that we were now officially in Christmas season.  We watched Nightmare Before Christmas, about half of The Hogfather, and Tangled.  All well-respected Christmas traditions, right?  (Hey, sitting around on the floor with your friends, everyone wrapped up in blankets--that's a good Christmas feeling.)

The day after that was also short, as we had an art show set up on the back stairs and in the art studio, complete with little hors d'oeuvres.  There are some extremely talented artists in this program.  I have to admit, my favorite was probably Madeline's cave--she had built it with foam around Christmas lights with little mirrors hanging inside of it, and it looked positively magical.  I told her, and still stand by the idea, that I could live in a place like that (preferably made of something firmer than foam).  Still, though, the other ones were amazing.  About halfway through the scheduled time, we went to the classroom and had some readings.  There were some fun essays, some really amusing or very serious stories, and my essay.  I wasn't planning on reading any, but John asked me to so I did.  I'll post it next.  Put some more work into my projects for art. It was a good few days.

For your viewing pleasure: Some external photos of the London Center.  I actually took them the day after this, but I thought I'd give you some pictures anyway.

Just Another College Town

We spent the day after Stratford in Oxford.  We'd stayed at hostels overnight; the one I was in was very comfortable.  The guy who ran it was very kind and enormously excited to make us a full English breakfast, because he was very proud of his cooking.  He got our table a pot of hot chocolate and lots and lots of toast while breakfasts were cooking.  Have I described these breakfasts before?  You've got toast, eggs, bacon (fried ham), sausage (this was the best I'd had in that it tasted the least like cardboard), and juice...and fried mushrooms, tomatoes, beans, and if you really wanted it, blood pudding.  I never had that last one.  But the rest of it was really quite good and very filling.

Anyway, we went on to Oxford from there and all unloaded at one end and walked up the streets to their museum.  Unlike Cambridge, we'd already let them know exactly what was happening and they didn't have a problem with us coming in en masse.  The museum was beautiful--I'll have to post some of my sketchbook from the trip sometime.  I spent a good several hours there sketching and so forth, and then we had wander time until Evensong.  I know a lot of people went on the "Harry Potter" tour to their assembly hall or something which was used as Hogwart's great hall.  You know, with the candles.  I didn't want to spend the money, though, and was more interested in seeing what an English college town looked like.  I ended up wandering around a lot on my own and discovered that, aside from the fact that the houses are a lot closer together, their shopping district is far larger than Provo, they have cobbled streets rather than paved, and the whole city gets into the decorating for Christmas spirit, it felt familiar.

We went on into the cathedral for Evensong.  We'd had seats reserved for us on one side that were reasonably comfortable--high-backed chairs with arms, padding on the seats, and a little stool.  It was directly across from where the choir was and the whole lot was mostly lit by candles.  The choir filed in later; they all wore the traditional choir robes and they were mostly young boys.  The two preachers were in darker robes, and they sat at one end of the aisle with us and the choir facing each other on either side.  The whole program was written out, with all the words the speakers said and instructions for those of us listening.  The music was beautiful, but it was a very different type of worship than I'm accustomed to.  I spent a lot of the time feeling slightly out-of-place and wondering what I was supposed to do, but the music was beautiful.

(Sorry, no pictures today.)