Things and Whatnots
Posted Oct 30, 2009
I submitted a poem to my university's literary magazine today.
I'm vaguely terrified. No one except my mother (whom I can never seem to keep from telling anything) has ever seen my poetry before, and so I don't know if pretentious undergraduate literary types will scorn it. The editors are nice people; I don't think they'd be like that--but we'll see.
We just had six weeks of term, and now we have a week break before we have six more weeks of term (followed by a two-week break and then exams, and then it's time for a new term). It's the busiest, most labor-intensive time of year, because whereas final papers and exams are spread out over a two-and-a-half week period when classes don't meet, midterm papers and exams all occur in one week on top of regular class meetings and reading. I had three papers (political theory, American studies, American literature) this week, and one exam (biological anthropology). (My other class is on the history of biography and autobiography, and our midterm paper is due after the break.) As you can see, in America we take lots of classes outside our area of study (my grad-student friend here who went to university in Britain thinks this is very odd), but most of my classes are still in my general area of interest, American and British literary and cultural history.
Because tonight is the last night before the holiday, the university is celebrating Halloween now. Most everyone is out in costumes, and at parties, but I'm very tired and don't feel much like partying anyway. I've been sitting here in the window seat in my room (I sacrificed about 20 square feet for the sake of a window seat) since after dinner, paging through old diary entries and reading the internet and watching a little YouTube. Term-time is so busy, this is the first opportunity I've had to simply let my thoughts wander since this summer. I feel a little melancholy, but a little happy at the same time, which is probably why I feel the need to rant in this text box. Odd, isn't it? Somehow I needed an audience, and out of all the text boxes in the world, this seemed like the right one.
It's strange that I feel melancholy, because this semester my life has been consistently the happiest it's been since I was a fairly small child. When I pass people on the paths that wind through campus and they ask me how I am, I say "great!" and I mean it. When people asked me a year ago, I might have said "good" or "fine," but I would have been lying.
I've begun to move away from journalism and into creative writing. I read a lot of books by Edmund White this summer; he's a novelist and memoirist and he teaches fiction-writing here. I'm longing to take a class with him, because his sort of autobiographical writing is something I would really love to learn how to do properly. The Washington politics world is so frustrating that I seize the opportunities to work on other projects, but it's hard to break away, since that's been the focus of my writing efforts for years now.
On the other hand, it's not too difficult when my academic work is always calling, since that has to take priority. In addition to doing my work for this semester, I'm thinking about the classes I'm going to take this spring and next fall, when I'll finally be a proper member of the history department and the American studies program. I'm starting to look at possibilities for what to do this summer: I'm thinking about doing a French course in Montreal, because there's funding I can apply for through school and because if I spend the summer in Montreal I expect a lot of my friends will want to come visit me. (Before university, I never had friends who would come visit me anywhere.) I'm keeping an eye on the process for applying to do two terms at Oxford in spring 2011--it's a bit early, but the application is quite complicated so I've got to keep on top of things. And I'm even getting the gears turning on my senior thesis, 100 pages of original research I'll be starting to write two years from now. It's going to be about gay men at my university between 1945 and 1973 (we went coed in '69), and because of the lack of written sources about that topic I've got to keep my eyes out for clues where I can. I'm keeping a file of names of former students and professors to interview; I'm hoping that enough people from that period are still alive and/or that there's some written sources. It's going to be a challenge, but I think it's a significant project that could contribute to historical scholarship (for a then-22-year-old, anyway) so I'm very, very excited.
I suppose I ought to stop rambling and go to bed--it's after 1am and this post has gone on for quite long enough. Bravo if you got down to the bottom. Love the new ; I'm still lurking in everyone's journals when I have time. Right, I suppose I'll retreat back to Facebook now....
Campaign to win posthumous apology for Alan Turing
Posted Aug 18, 2009
Alan Turing, one of the most brilliant mathematicians and computer scientists of the 20th century (who, as it happens, got his PhD at Princeton in 1938), committed suicide in 1954 by eating an apple poisoned with cyanide. This was after being convicted of gross indecency two years earlier, under the same statute that sentenced Oscar Wilde to two years' hard labor. Because this was the modern 1950s, Turing was instead given the option of submitting to a hormonal treatment that would chemically castrate him. He did so, but he lost his security clearance; his career was destroyed. And so he killed himself.
There's a petition on the 10 Downing St website calling for "the Prime Minister to apologize for the prosecution of Alan Turing that led to his untimely death." I can't sign it because I'm not a British citizen, but I'm sure some of you are, and while I'm not sure whether these petitions ever do any good, it can't hurt.
I know there's been something of a back-and-forth recently between Labour and the Conservatives about who's homophobic and who isn't, and wouldn't this be a nice way for Labour to demonstrate that it's on the right side with regard to LGBT issues?
Posted Jul 28, 2009
The entry on 'Hello World' I wrote in April 2008 (A32016692) reappeared on the FP today. I'd forgotten that Brian Kernighan, who's credited with the invention of 'Hello World,' played such a large part in my entry--I took his computer-science-for-humanities-kids class last fall at university, and it was very fun. The class was a little easy for me, since I already had some CS background, but he's a truly talented and devoted teacher, not just a smart guy, which is a rarity in professors.
The journalism internship I'm doing in Washington, DC this summer has caused me to become quite certain that I don't want to be a Washington journalist. And so I've been distracting myself by planning my academic career in myopic detail, shaping a sense of "what I do" as far as the study of history is concerned. I've been thinking about the programs I can apply to and courses I can take at school that will help me do this, and I've also started to plan my independent work. At my university, every student has to write two junior papers (about 30 pages each) and a senior thesis (about 80-100 pages), consisting of original work in one's respective field of study. It's years before I have to have topics for these (particularly the thesis), but it's fun to do some reading and some planning and some thinking--and I've also figured out that if I do a thesis involving Europe to some extent in addition to America, I'll have a much better chance of getting funding to travel to Europe so that I can do research, which sounds like an awesome deal to me.
I often feel very insignificant in the fast-paced and very insular Washington progressive journalism/blogging world, and jealous of the other people my age who are making better inroads into this world than I am. It's good to have this "what I do" in the back of my head to remind myself that I have something I'm good at and am passionate about, and that some people care about things that aren't very fine points of American policy or politics.
Posted May 16, 2009
As I was thinking over my evening, I thought of this place. Because I was at my friends' apartment, and one of my friends is from England, and we got to talking about our favorite BBC program(me)s. We enthused about Simon Amstell and Never Mind the Buzzcocks, but I'm a much bigger fan of QI than he is. We lamented that you can't get much of the iPlayer content in the US. We discussed how Stephen Fry is taking over Humphrey Lyttleton's (sp?) role in the new series of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. My friend seemed genuinely delighted that there was someone in this country with whom he could talk about things like that.
But, you know, there's no better way to learn a language than cultural immersion. I was an Anglophile when I came to h2g2, but in the same way that a lot of Americans are--I'd had an exposure to Monty Python and that was about it (well, granted, I was 14 at the time; I had been on one two-week family vacation to the UK, and it's not as if I'd had much other opportunity to absorb British culture). When you live among people, you learn to speak their language, you learn their cultural benchmarks, and you learn to talk about what they're talking about. Folks on h2g2 talked about British politics, so I started reading the Guardian, and even calling it the Grauniad. They talked about certain celebrities and broadcasters, so I listened to Radio 4 and caught what BBC and ITV program(me)s I could on YouTube. Essentially, spending a lot of time on h2g2 is not too different from the conversational experience of studying abroad in the UK (well, I haven't done that, but I'm guessing). You have a lot of conversations with people who have a very different set of cultural standards to yours, but you figure things out, and you start being able to use them too. Then you bring them back to your home country, and people think you're really weird--I'm still traumatized by the time in my grade 9 history class when everyone made fun of me for talking about the Cuban Miss-aisle Crisis (the Americans say Miss-ull).
Now I live in the real world, more or less, so I largely function in American idioms, since I live here--though I've played translator many times when Americans don't know what a British or Irish or Australian or South African or South Asian or European/Middle-Eastern, British-schooled or even Canadian person is talking about. But this first year of university, in many ways, has been as much about revisiting old aspects of my life and my interests as much as it has been about discovering new things. I think my friends here--like the friend I was talking about Buzzcocks and QI with--are a lot closer to how I've always been, basically just a nerdy Anglophile. I suppressed that part of me in high school, because people just didn't get it, but it's okay to do that now because I can have conversations about British television shows with my RL friends. I've not just been listening to Radio 4 again, I've been coming back to the nerdy folk music I was into in 9th grade or so, and the books I used to read over and over again, and all sorts of other things. I remember how delighted it was when someone on this site--I think it was Edward?--told me I must be the youngest Radio 4 listener, and how delighted I was. I don't think that's true anymore, if it ever was; I'm certainly a bit older now. But it makes me happy to think I've come full circle.
I'm going to apply for a study-abroad program(me) at Oxford for the spring of my third year. It's a very competitive program(me)--only a maximum of five students from the history department get placed each year--and even if I get in, I'm not entirely sure I want to go. There are good reasons to stay in the States to do with other aspects of my degree course and things I want to do while I'm at university. But if I do get into the program(me), and I do come across the pond, well, at least I'll have a little less culture shock. And I promise I'll make it to an h2g2 Meet.
Apologies for this ramble--it's late, and I've had a little --you can do that at university, you know, even when the drinking age is slightly higher than mine. But I like this, as a forum for reflection; I'm so non-anonymous now on the Internet that it's refreshing to be able to say things to a virtual space full of pseudonyms whom I've always known as pseudonyms, and who I still feel as if I know as well as anyone on my Facebook friends list. I still don't know whether I'm going to dive back into hootoo life--I haven't the time to even think about writing entries!--but I think this is as good a way as any to start dipping my toe back in.
I can't believe h2g2 is 10.
Posted Apr 22, 2009
I feel old. When I joined up, the place was half that age. It's strange how one can feel old at 19, but I was 14 when I started here. Holy shit, man, things change (can you still say "shit" here?).
I was talking to some people at a dinner for a famous writer at my university last month. I got invited through friends of friends. There were a lot of literary types there, people whose names you might recognize, who are well-known in the writing world. Towards the end of the dinner, most people had left, and a small group of us were talking, I can't remember what about. The issue of British vs. American grammar/style came up, and I spoke authoritatively on some point about the distinction, a point that even a British person there wasn't aware of. The assembled masses expressed surprise that I knew whatever it was. "Well," I said, "I got my start writing and editing on a BBC-owned website; I was what they call a sub-editor there for three years, so I got good at British style and going back and forth." "But... you're only a college freshman..." they said. "Yeah," I said, "this was when I was in high school, like between the ages of 14 and 17." "Wow," they said.
Thanks, h2g2. Everything that went on to help me in the writing and editing world, now that I have professional writing jobs, I learned from you. And what's more, you'll always have a special place in my heart.
Right. Back to university-land.