Sadder now that its over, It is finished, and Conversations
All of the above apply now. Week 8 of my term here in Oxford is finished. It was a very good idea to study in England for a longer period, and extend my stay here in this city of spinning spires to allow for some decompression, thesis preparation, and most significantly conversation before returning to the states.
On Wednesday, I had my collections with my primary tutor, Lizzie. Essentially it took about five minutes for her to read out a summary of her comments on my work for her as well as prepared comments from my secondary tutor, Alastair. I was very pleased with my work, and I think they were fairly impressed as well, and this was an incredible encouragement. Unfortunately, having the collections a little early made it hard to focus on the final Shakespeare paper knowing that it would not be reflected as much as my work earlier in the term. I think this caused some amount of procrastination. However, the lack of pressure also helped me to be a little more honest in my Shakespeare criticism, and though the paper was fraught with typos, there were lots of good ideas, and my conversation with Lizzie on Thursday was probably the best that I’ve had during my time studying in England.. I got a little swept up in a debate between two critics, but it was actually a lot of fun trying to figure out who had better captured Shakespeare and why and what this meant.
I didn’t really know what to do with myself on Thursday afternoon with all of my assignments done. I couldn’t bring myself to return my books to the library, so I decided to have coffee with Joseph, a friend from Keble college. He’s studying Chaucer, and we’d had a few silly conversations about studying 400+year-old literature earlier in the term. The conversation this afternoon was stimulating as always, and I think reflected one of the biggest ideas that Oxford seems to be about: conversation and that life is about a lot of different things, but most of them only appear in (really good) conversation.
After that conversation, I began a long line of “see-you-later” conversations with other people that I’d met throughout the term. A lot of the other Americans are traveling in small groups that have been leaving sporadically over the last couple of days. If there is one thing that the Oxford system offers, it is long vacations that allow you to really take advantage of other opportunities to augment your own education. I wish my journey weren’t drawing to a close, but at the same time, it was incredible to be part of helping others plan their adventures in Europe. On Saturday night, all of the remaining Teddy Hall American students went to Maxwell’s, a restaurant near Cornmarket street that has a menu lodged somewhere between Applebee’s and Max & Erma’s. I had a huge “Oxford Blue” burger. It was super tasty. Afterward, we bought hot chocolate, ice cream, and cookies to wash down our hearty diner dinners. We eased the digestion by watching Elf and Wall-E, categorically American childrens’ movies, that had surprisingly grown-up elements and themes.
Sunday I went to church at St. Ebbe’s with Joe, a history student and a friend from Teddy Hall. Beforehand, we had a long conversation over a cheap English breakfast about religion in Shakespeare and Britain and America. I stayed up late with the group of American’s getting ready to go to Buddapest. At 5 am, I saw them to the bus-stop, their back-packs filled to bursting. It wasn’t goodbye, but see-you-later.
After Monday’s departures, there are only a handful of students straggling around Dawson street and Isis (the other residence hall). Three of us went down to London to catch a performance of Twelfth Night. It was absolutely fantastic. Derek Jacobi played Malvolio. Throughout the performance, I kept thinking about a conversation I’d had with a co-worker last summer. She had proposed that Shakespeare never really portrayed people in love, but rather that love was a bit of a joke, more absurd than anything than anything we could possibly ever imagine. After a term of reading Shakespeare at Oxford, I cannot say that she was wrong. I can also affirm the value of conversation and the importance of talking to people and figuring out what exactly they are thinking and saying. It seems like a bit of a childish thing to learn at such a lofty place, but when I think about why President Bush thought Barack Obama won the election, that is that, “most people voted for Barack Obama because they decided they wanted him to be in their living rooms for the next four years explaining policy,” I can’t help but think that it is a pretty important lesson to learn and I am incredibly privileged to have learned it at all.