“Would you like an adventure now? Or would you like to have your tea first?”

His courage was almost appalling. “Would you like an adventure now,” [Peter] said casually to John, “or would you like to have your tea first?”

-J.M Barrie, Peter Pan

I write this to you now from Oxford, where I am on the cusp of beginning my final term of my master’s degree. Classes begin tomorrow! My course of study this term is Chaucer, a beautiful bookend to my undergraduate Chaucer class, which essentially changed the course of my academic life.

I flew out from DC Sunday night on a red-eye. The flight was record breaking in several regards:

1.) The only time I have ever heard flight attendants refer to turbulence as “extremely dangerous.”

2.) The most number of strangers (or people in general) I have ever heard vomit at one time. (I was not one of them, for the record, but it was pretty miserable)

Needless to say I did not sleep, but I also did not crash into the ocean, so there’s that. And I woke up at one point to a beautiful sunset over the horizon.

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I arrived in London, read about half of the Catcher in the Rye while waiting in the line at the customs to cross the border, and then staggered onto the bus for Oxford. My third time around, pulling into Oxford felt like coming home. Aside from the city, which I adore, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones always adds an extra special element to these early days of term.

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An added surprise this time around was the beautiful window seat and view from my room; a dream come true for my senior year.

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Followed by this sunset:

IMG_0025This morning I took an early morning walk around the city, a time of refreshing stillness before the crowds roll in, and snapped a few pictures along the way. IMG_0036IMG_0027IMG_0031IMG_0030

Later that morning, I did some shopping to pick up supplies, and finalize everything for classes. One of the items on my shopping list was thumb tacks for the bulletin, board and I found these darling little turtle pins which make me think of my brother, Reid. IMG_0038

Having turtles hung all around the room now is a comforting sight.

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This afternoon we had orientation for the both the our college library and the Bodleian library, the latter of which involved swearing an oath that we will not deface, remove, materials etc. AND (I’m not kidding on this one) “bring into the library or kindle any flame therein.” Which makes sense considering that this oath was written at a time when candles were the light source of choice. I still promise not to kindle any flames though. IMG_0041Incidentally this room was apparently used to film the infirmary in the Harry Potter movies. And doubtless  many other more historically significant things than that.

IMG_0043Above is the view from one of the Bodleian orientation rooms, and below is the view from another orientation hall; a rather Hobbity view I think.

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Tonight was the High Table Dinner, and the official opening to the term. The event is so named because the professors all sit at the High Table at the front.  The evening holds much ceremony and etiquette, starting off with a prayer led in Latin.

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IMG_0045These pictures aren’t great since I was trying to be discreet, but you get the idea.

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So after all of that, our term officially has begun. Tomorrow we have our first class, as well as our first meeting as seniors. It’s hard to believe that my graduate studies are all about to come to an end, but I prefer to focus on the beginnings for the time being.

A Raid on the Music Library

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The circumstances under which composers compose is a matter I have always found fascinating. Part of it is as a writer, I am always curious to hear where creators of other art forms find inspiration. The biggest fascination, though, is that music seems to be such a tangible form of magic, and the fact that it could originate from someone’s pen is even more mysterious.

Last  summer while at grad school, I wandered the library on main campus toward the beginning of the summer and discovered the music library. There I found biographies of just about every composer imaginable. I picked up a few favorites whose biographies were lesser known to me and picked them up whenever I had a few minutes of non-school reading. I realize that this is a stretch for light, summer reading. Even my grandmother made fun of me when I told her. However, I loved this little extra-curricular study and wished I had more time to devote to their stories.

One biography made a lasting impression, and that was the life of organist and composer César Franck. I learned in the course of the book that Franck wrote an oratorio that caught my attention for a number of reasons. As I understand it, the composition was not initially as well-received as Franck had hoped, but a sort of revamped version released later in his life was met with great acclamation and popularity. One quote in particular stayed with me, and I wrote it on an index card that summer.

“If M. Cesar Franck had obtained, twenty-five years ago the success which it had obtained today, how many works might he not have produced which perhaps have been stifled by discouragement, self-doubt and the sad necessity to provide for the needs of each day? And let us not believe that the acclamations which have been bestowed on him, the emotion of the populace and all those hands which were extended for the honor of grasping his after the concert can compensate him one evening for long years of solitude, of silence, of oblivion ”
Reyer, via Vallas, César Franck

The idea that an artist would be “stifled by discouragement” even to the point that self-doubt would prevent the creation of further works, especially by someone as talented as Franck, is a haunting one.

I spent the last 8 months writing a translation of that same oratorio, which had fallen back into relative obscurity over the years. It was not a project I ever expected to tackle, but it has been one of the most exciting and rewarding endeavors of the last year. Countless hours have been spent buried in that score, playing a sort of four-way tug of war between accuracy, singability, poetry and structure. My belief in the piece has only grown the more time I have spent, and I know that this journey is far from over.

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More than that, the life and works of Franck has continued to inspire me, the more time I spend in this project. Whatever comes of all this, I never could have imagined what a significant role that little biography would end up playing in my life one year ago.

Journey on, Dearest Hearts

As a mentioned previously, saying good-bye at the end of this school year was particularly difficult, as I will be transitioning to a new school in the fall. As frequently ends up happening when emotions are high, I wrote a song, and played it for my juniors on our last day of class. I did record it, though the audio is a little quieter than I would like.

The lyrics are below:

Verse 1:
Words feel as scarce as time as minutes slip away
I knew this day would come, though I don’t know what to say
If we could freeze the moment, step out of time somehow
Take one more adventure, yet we only have right now

Chorus:
Oh___ as our paths fade apart
Oh___journey on, dearest heart

Verse 2:
We faced the morning mists and ghostly shrouded trees
Boarded a charter bus for castles and tapestries
We journeyed through the ages, in tales of days of yore
Discovering in the pages, the adventures we came for

Chorus

Bridge:
If I could have just one minute
To look each of you in the eye
Try to explain what you mean to me
But then I would probably cry
Let’s be honest, I’d probably cry

Verse 3:
Our quest led to treasure, the memories that we share
Treasure in the bonds that formed and moments spent in prayer
The time has come to leave you, and though it hurts to part
I carry with me always, each of you upon my heart

Chorus

© 2016

Workplace Du Jour

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This is the overhead view of my kitchen table. This is the perfect vantage point from which to do scary things like sending proposals to literary agents, drafting correspondence in French, and calling publishers. The tea is the secret power, or at least that’s what I tell myself. This is one of my favorite things about summer break. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not all bonbons and mimosas in our bathrobes. Summer is when I can move the part-time job as a freelance writer back into the full-time slot. There’s still plenty of time for pool sitting and trail running, but nothing beats the feeling of productivity and dusting off neglected projects. Even if sometimes they are a little scary.

The Bard of 2016

Lin-Manuel Miranda, craftsman of words, and creator of the theater sensation Hamilton, penned a sonnet as acceptance speech for the first (of many) Tony’s won on Sunday. I have posted it below (as quoted in Playbill).

“My wife’s the reason anything gets done.
She nudges me towards promise by degrees,
She is a perfect symphony of one.
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.

We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play
When senseless acts of tragedy
Remind us that nothing here is promised, not one day,
The show is proof that history remembers;
We live through times when hate and fear seems stronger,
We rise and fall and light from dying embers,
Remembrances that hope and love last longer.

And love is love, is love, is love, is love, is love, is love, is love, is love.
Cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story.
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.”

(Source )

I love this for so many reasons, and I think one of the biggest lessons Miranda teaches by example is every aspect of his career is that excellence opens doors for an audience. When you speak,  and write, (or  rap) with excellence, people listen. Plus anyone who can drop a sonnet as a beacon of love on a day when the nation reeled from a horrific mass murder and hate crime, has my immense respect.

 

Golden Years

When I was in high school my senior superlative was “most likely to have 10 kids”. At our 10 year reunion this came up again as a classmate pointed out how true our predictions had been. Obviously in the time that transpired I had not had 10 kids. I had so many more than that. For six years, student after student’s name appeared on a roster, and then became attached to little faces in chairs. Or sometimes big faces as the case may be.

I remember the fearful moment I stood in front of my first class of as a brand new teacher. They stared at me, and I stared back, face frozen in an awkward deer-in-headlights smile. Then bell rang, and I realized I was the grown up in the room. Something changed in that moment. My heart opened wider than I ever thought possible and they all climbed in. I remember later on that first day walking down the hall on a  planning period and one of those same students caught a glimpse of me from his 6th grade math class. He looked around and with an impish grin, gave a surreptitious wave of his little hand. I realized within mere hours I had gone from standing terrified in front of middle school strangers, to walking the halls of a school populated by  “my kids”.IMG_2063

Year after year passed and my heart has never failed to grow with each name and face. I still crawl across the summer vacation finish line as much any teacher, but with each ending comes a little sadness.  This year was a particularly sad good-bye, as I will be teaching at a new school in the fall. (More on that another time) However, I did get to spend my golden birthday with the seniors chaperoning the senior trip. As I spent some time reflecting on my own senior year and the time that has passed since then, I am amazed how full my heart has become over the years. Faces, names, and memories  accumulate year after year. And there’s always room for more. Transitions and endings can hurt, but I have learned to value the precious commodity that time is. J.M Barrie said it best when he penned the opening words of Peter Pan: “All children grow up, except one.”IMG_2966

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