Part of the Oxford experience is visiting the old haunts of Tolkein and Lewis; drinking warm beer in cold pubs that smell of wet leather and wood, and taking long walks through damp gardens full of bees and butterflies. Another part is doing work. That’s it. There are no fancy adjectives I can tack onto that, and certainly no butterflies. There’s just me, the books that I’ve scoured every one of Oxford’s accessible libraries to find, and that never-ending white page with the blinking cursor.
I say all of this not to entertain, but to remind myself of the hard parts so I’ll think twice lest I want to repeat the experience for graduate school. I know from experience that the long hours spent staring at a computer screen have a nasty habit of fading out of memory, while all night parties and busty British woman seem to do the opposite. Oxford is hard, difficult work, and… ah, who am I kidding? I love it here. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
The trick, I think, is figuring out how to balance the two 3,000 word essays I have each week with fun. I’ll take time to do the essays, to write about Yeats and the occult and the gyres and the significance of the metal bird in the poem, “Sailing to Byzantium,” but then I’ll go out and enjoy the country and the culture. If I lived to read, living would be called reading. It’s not. It’s called living.
Tonight I went to an invite-only event called “Drinks with the Master,” a sort of welcome ceremony for visiting students and incoming Freshmen. They had forgotten to make me one so I drew my own: “Kenneth Gould” it said under an artfully redesigned St. Catherine’s logo. Under that I wrote my major, “English.” It occurred to me after that people might think I was English, which I’m not, instead of thinking that I study English, which I do. However, I thought it was silly to ask for another nametag to replace the one that I had gotten as a replacement for another so I stopped overanalyzing the situation and just went inside.
At the door, a smartly dressed gentleman offered me a choice of white wine, red wine, or apple juice. I asked him which wine was better, to which he responded that he didn’t know, to which I responded why not, to which he responded that just because he had a British accent he was not an expert in the luxuries of high society. That was news to me. I took a white. Then a smartly dressed woman thrust a silver platter under my nose.
“Beef and ale or chicken and tarragon pie?” she asked, referring to the two varieties of mini puff pastry on the tray. I was going to ask her which was better, but then just took a beef and ale. I barely had time to look at it before the master showed up at the front of the room and commanded my undivided attention. This was the man in robes I had seen shouting Latin in the dining hall. Surely he had something interesting to say.
“Hello all,” he said. “Thank you for coming. As I was saying yesterday, this year’s Freshman class seems like the best in a long time. Thank you for coming. Goodnight.” Then he left, and his aides took my wine glass and ushered me outside. They seemed to consider taking my puff pastry as well, but in the end they let me keep it. I ate it thoughtfully. It is one thing to advocate that one take full advantage of life, but sometimes life has other plans.