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Monday, April 27, 2009

Another Leftover Memory

Solace in Soup

I can picture the day perfectly, though I didn’t know I even remembered it until just now. It’s a strange sort of memory, though. I don’t see it through my own eyes, first hand, but as if I was an observer a few steps behind and to the left of myself. Even the feelings are foreign, second-hand.

I can see myself in my memory. I’m wearing the blue-striped rain-boots that I’ve learned to call “wellies”. Jessica, my roommate of two years, had sent them to me for Christmas before I left to brave the rainy weather of Oxford. I have on blue jeans, my usual fare, and a green long-sleeve, bought at Goodwill with Joanne (my other roommate) and Jessica, before I left. Around my neck is the bobbly scarf I knit on the flight over, and a black hat is on my head. Over it all, I’m wearing a gray pea-coat that goes down past my knees. The top and bottommost buttons are the only two left un-done. I’m carrying a faded pink-ish, orange-y umbrella with one broken prong, and my green backpack, purchased at Oxfam. In the backpack is my newly bought Loeb edition of Plato’s Symposium, still in its Blackwell’s bag.

I was walking down Broad Street, towards the City Centre, when a strange feeling swept over me. It was a feeling of aloneness, of isolation. An overwhelming desire to seek out company, companionship. It was a strange feeling to me, and it took me a moment to identify it. When I did, I so surprised that I commented out loud to the air, “Oh. I must be homesick. So this is what it’s like”. This was immediately followed by the thought that “Oh, this is homesickness” was probably not a normal response to the feeling. But I wasn’t sure how else to react. So I filed away the observation and continued my walk.

It was later the same day, and I was again on Broad Street, though walking in the other direction, back towards the flat I lived in that still didn’t quite feel like home. In fact, it would take an overnight trip away from Oxford before I could come to call my 6-month living location a home. But back to my story, I was walking down Broad Street. The same feeling of homesickness was there, but I feel I must try to explain this feeling. First, as I said before, I had the sense that I was observing someone with my feelings more than having them myself. But I also want to clarify that my homesickness wasn’t directed towards my home back in America, but towards any home in general. I felt homeless. Alone. And there was no where I could go where I could be rid of that feeling. So I kept walking.

I was walking down the alley way between Broad Street and High Street now, and as I write this it comes to me this must have been a Thursday, my usual day for my Formal Logic tutorial. But I was coming the wrong way to be leaving the tutorial, and if I had been going to it, I wouldn’t have stopped to do what I did. So this must have been the day my tutor cancelled, but my feet automatically started to take me to University College. Or perhaps the walk back to flat had been flooded that morning and so I was planning to take the long way around via High Street to avoid having to wade. I don’t remember. Isn’t that strange though? I can remember exactly what I was wearing, exactly what I was feeling, exactly where I was, but I cannot, for the life of me, remember why I was there.

But I was there, walking towards High Street. Alone. Homesick. And wet. And very cold. The weather! Oh, the weather. It had seemed so romantic when I’d first arrived. The quintessential English weather. The heavy gray clouds sitting on top of the famous dreaming spires. Breathtaking. But after two months of rain and cold and no sun, the romance had died, and while I didn’t know where my home was, I was pretty certain it was somewhere with sun. Cold, wet, and homesick, taking the long way back to my flat, fighting back tears whose source I didn’t quite know, with a broken umbrella. That was where I was.

The alley, which perhaps isn’t the best word for it, takes you past the Oxford Camera and St. Anne’s Cathedral. I’d walked it through it many time, and always saw the little restaurant at the base of St. Anne’s. I think it was called The Garden something. Organic food, or something like that. I had passed it many times without paying it much attention, but it caught my eye as I walked by this time. I was wet. And cold. And I’d be damned if I’d stay outside this weather any longer. So I went in.

Two months is long enough for the novelty of a new place to wear off, but not long enough for the culture to set in, and this wasn’t the kind of restaurant I was used to, and I wasn’t sure how it was supposed to work. I stood back, and watched a few people before getting in line. I wasn’t really hungry, and mostly had just wanted to be somewhere, anywhere other than outside. But I felt obligated to order. There weren’t many options. It was one of those places with a rotating menu, I think. I decided to get the soup. Potato and leek soup to be exact, whatever a leek was. I knew it was some kind of vegetable, but wasn’t sure beyond that. I managed to successfully order, pick up my bowl of soup and slice of bread, and stumbled through paying, still not familiar with the strange coins and brightly coloured bills.

Carefully balancing my soup, I found a small table, meant for two people, against the far wall of the restaurant. I set down my soup, slid my backpack off my shoulders, and un-buttoned my coat and draped it over my chair. Then I sat still for a moment, my hands cupped around my bowl and feeling dry and warm. Then I looked up. And suddenly, I felt more alone than ever. I was the only one sitting by myself, and all round me were voice speaking my language, but in a way so different from mine. I couldn’t even remember how I spoke, what the American accent sounded like.

Feeling conspicuous sitting by myself, I pulled the Symposium out of my bag and started to half-heartedly read it. But even in the words of my favourite philosopher I found little comfort. This wasn’t a work of his I had read before. And that was it, really. All of this lacked familiarity. If it had been familiar, it would have been ideal. The thought of sitting in a cozy restaurant on a cold, rainy day, reading Plato and eating soup was almost ideal. But I couldn’t understand the voices in this restaurant, didn’t know this work of Plato’s, and had a vague idea that I leek was some kind of vegetable. And it wasn’t familiar, or comfortable, or ideal, and I was this close to just getting up and walking out the door.

But, it was still cold and rainy out there. And I had my stupid bowl of leek soup and had paid for it with the silly coloured money, and I was going to eat it, so there. I took a bite. At first, all I noticed was that it was hot, and I relished the warmth that raced down my throat and spread out through my body. But then, I had another thought. I thought, “Hm. So this is leek soup. It’s not too bad.” And of course, I might not have read this dialogue before, but it was Plato. And it was warm and dry in here, and it’s not like I’ve never eaten alone before.

By the time my soup was gone I was, well, refreshed. There’s not really another word for it. I was still homesick, and I would be cold and wet by the time I made it back to my flat, but I knew I could make it now. And that was a nice feeling. As for potato and leek soup, well, it became a staple in my cupboard at the flat that later became my home. And Plato’s Symposium, well, if you have to ask, you must not know me very well. I don’t like to moralize, but sometimes I can’t help it. And if I had to find a moral for this story, it would be that some days call for a hug from a friend, some for a good book in bed, and some for a bowl of potato and leek soup.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Belated Update

So, I figure it's about time I give an update on what I'm doing about Graduate school. The reason I waited so long was becuase I was waiting to hear back from all my schools in hopes that I would have some good news to share. Sadly, that's not the case.

Purdue was my only acceptance, but they weren't offereing me any funding, not even to cover my tuition, and without any funding...well, it just wasn't practical for me to go there.

So, I am officially looking for a job. Anyone need a Latin teacher?

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Story

So, I feel guilty about not having posted in a while, but I also don't feel up to composing a post. So here's a story that I actually turned in as a paper (I have very understanding professors).
The Potter and His Daughter

A Response to Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols

The First Pot
“The real world attainable for the wise man […] he lives in it, he is it […]” (IV 1)

The Potter was new to the village and didn’t yet have a water jar for his Daughter to carry to the well. So after he set up his shop and his wheel, he began to work. He could see the image of the jar he was making in his mind’s eye, and as he worked, his deft hands moulded the clay into the form he envisioned. It was a masterpiece, a thing of beauty, and he could see his Daughter proudly carrying it to the well, a gem amongst the rough made jars of the other girls.

The walls were as thin as parchment, sloping upward, narrowing for the neck, then flaring out, an open greeting to the outside world. He pressed shapes and designs into the clay, which would later be emphasized by the multi-coloured glaze he saw in his vision. And when the jar was finished and fired, he presented it his Daughter.

The Daughter looked at the jar, and she exclaimed, “The walls are too thin! It will never hold water without breaking!”

So the Potter took back his masterpiece, his magnus opus, and put it on a shelf in the backroom of his shop, where he would go to look at it from time-to-time, and sigh, remembering the image he had seen of his Daughter carrying it to the well.

The Second Pot
“The real world unattainable for now, but promised to the wise man […]” (IV 2)

It started, once again, with a slab of formless clay. This time, the Potter was sure to make the walls thick enough to hold water. But he could not do away with the image he had seen, and this jar was also a thing of beauty. The walls were not so wide, the neck not so narrow, the spout did not flare out so wide, but its shape was still graceful, still elegant, as his Daughter would look as she carried it to the well.

The Potter once again pressed designs into the walls of the jar, images of the sun, and moon, and stars. And the beauty that had been lost in its new, sturdier shape was made up for with the deep colours he used in the glaze. It lacked the delicacy of his first jar, but not the beauty. And when the jar was finished and fired, he presented it to his Daughter.

The Daughter looked at the jar, and she exclaimed, “I cannot use this jar either! The other girls will see it and laugh and say ‘she has brought a vase, fit only for decoration, and not a water jar’.”

So the Potter took his beautiful work, and placed it on the shelf next to the first one. And often he would go into his backroom and look longingly at his two creations and sigh.

The Third Pot
“The real world unattainable […] but the mere thought of it a consolation […]” (IV 3)

This jar, the Potter decided, would be plain. There was no image in his mind to work from. He shaped it as he had shaped hundreds of water jars before, back when he was an apprentice. It was no work of great beauty, but respectable in its simplicity. His Daughter would not carry it with the pride she could have borne with the other jars, but she would not carry it with shame either. It was a humble jar.

The sides were impressed with a series of grooves that circled the jar from top to bottom, and the glaze was plain, a solid blue, like the water it would hold. Though it was no work of art, the Potter reminded himself of the two jars in his backroom, and smiled at the mere recollection of their beauty. And when the jar was finished and fired, he presented it to his Daughter.

The Daughter looked at the jar, and she exclaimed, “Now this is a jar I can use!” And so she carried it to the well to fetch the household water.

But when the jar had been fired, a small crack had formed in the side, which neither the Potter nor his Daughter noticed. Thus, when the Daughter brought the water back from the well, the jar was only half full. The rest of the water had leaked out. So the Potter placed the jar on the shelf next to the other two, where it sat condemned, a broken jar next to the two works of beauty.

The Fourth Pot
“The real world—unattainable? At any rate unattained. And since unattained also unknown. Hence no consolation […]” (IV 4)

The Potter gave no thought to his other jars. All had failed him, and he had been left with nothing but half a jar’s worth of water, brought back in a leaky pot. There was to be no design this time. The walls were thick and strong, so that the jar could withstand the heat of the kiln. No shapes, not even the simple grooves of the last jar, were pressed into the sides. The glaze was clear, only there to ensure that the porous clay would hold the water. And when the jar was finished and fired, he presented it to his Daughter.

The Daughter looked at the jar and exclaimed, “This jar is too ugly! I cannot carry it to the well, for the other girls will mock me!”

And so the Potter took the jar and set it beside the three in his backroom, and when he looked at the ugly lump of clay sitting next to his three creations, he was disgusted, and swore he would make no more jars.

The ‘real world’—an idea with no further use, no longer even an obligation […] let us do away with it!” (IV 5)

And so the Potter and his Daughter lived off of the half a jar’s worth of water that had been brought back from the well for a few days. Because the Potter had sworn to make no more jars, they drunk their water from their hands, shaped to make cups.

But soon they began to run out of water, and the Daughter said to the Potter, “Soon we will go thirsty. Give me the ugly jar and I will go get water from the well.”

But the Potter refused, and said “We have our hands. We do not need the jar.”

Incipit Zarathustra
“The real world—we have done away with it: what world was left? the apparent one, perhaps?...But no! with the real world we have also done away with the apparent one!” (IV 6)

When the water was gone, the Potter went to his backroom and looked at the jars on the shelf. “We have our hands. We do not need the jar.” he repeated.

And so, he took his first jar, the great work of beauty, and smashed it on the floor. Then he took his second jar, with its dancing colours, and smashed it on the floor. Next he grasped the humble jar, the broken one with a leak, and it also he smashed on the floor. Finally, he took his arm and swept his last jar off the shelf, not even willing to look at its ugliness. And it too was smashed upon the floor.

Hearing the sounds of broken pottery, the Daughter came into the backroom, and when she saw what had happened, she exclaimed, “What have you done? Now we have no jars to carry water back from the well!”

“We have our hands. We do not need the jar.” the Potter said. And at these words, his Daughter wept, because she realized they had no jars, and no way to bring water back from the well.