Sunday, March 28, 2010

Counting my steps

Last night walking through the courtyard of Christ Church (Tom quad), amid the throngs now allowed in for the literary festival, ourselves coming from a debate between an optimist and a pessimist taking part in the lit. fest, passing the fountain, I felt the urge of tragic outpouring begin to arise, how could it be that I won't be coming back here, how can it be that one can find the very place where one can be wholly oneself and be asked to depart, or at least not to be begged to stay, and from this perhaps you may think me aligned with the pessimist, but no, I'm not, though I often flee from optimists like they would drain all my self-attentiveness & honesty to notice without controlling and contriving what it is that swirls around my mind.  Naya asked, while our footsteps echoed around that beloved courtyard, and cellos seemed to play in my head, "Are you an optimist or pessimist?"  And I replied that I don't like how either of them cap, tie up, smother what they are feeling.  I said I wouldn't have studied at Oxford for these three months if I wasn't the finest of optimists; yet, if I were true to optimism I would right now shove the lamenting down and make myself flutter about something else.  I will flutter in time.  But not until my body gives the go ahead.  So I respect the pessimists because they'll often let themselves go to the places the optimists won't, i.e. deep tragic human feeling, which is utterly beautiful in its longing.  I wouldn't give that up for any monotone nirvana of continual, relentless happiness.  Yet, the pessimists are tiresome when they won't ride the wave that does also arise in the body and carry one away to heights that I've never known to be for me except at Oxford.  So, I think there must be another term coined that better describes those that feel what it is that they are feeling, rawly, savagely, longingly, with ecstasy, twitterpattedly, forever tumbled by the rise that seems to take the breath away, capable of much awe, followed by falls from heights that feel excruciatingly hard to survive.  This particular emotional aptitude is not a composition I'd necessarily wish for my daughter, but it is who I am, and it is brutally, artistically open to what actually is.  I said something of all of this to Naya.  Poor child.  Lucky child.

Then we came around the north corner of the quad and a bowler-hat-clad porter looked up and smiled so beamingly at us and said, "Well, it sure is nice to see some familiar faces amid all of this hubbub!"  Could he know how much that was what this tragic character needed most to hear---because it fanned my fire--he recognized me as one who belongs in that quad, oh sweet comfort of that!  Yet he has no idea that he soon won't be seeing us, oh depth of sorrow, familiar lover of mine, why do you visit so loyally?  I replied appropriately instead of all of that with, "It is so good to see you too."  And it was.  I will miss three of the porters in particular.  Him especially.  He blocked us one night and didn't believe I was a student just after our arrival...but another porter knew us and so said...from then on this porter seemed to treasure us and tip his hat, with a twinkling eye, and kind, jolly phrases always aimed to make us smile and feel welcome.  We walked in the opposite direction from him.

Coming around the last corner before walking out Tom Gate, under the grand arch & bell tower & clock,  here walked another familiar face, who met my gaze and smiled so wholeheartedly I found myself smiling warmly back without the usual reserve one has with strangers.  He was a doctoral student I'd sat next to or across from at dinner many times, and exchanged nods and smiles many times, yet never talked.  No exception now, no words passed across the gap.  Yet again, this sense of belonging, of being of this quad surged me heavenward.  And then the fall--I had imagined so thoroughly coming back again for dinners here in the fall that I hadn't pushed on some of these connections.  It seemed there was no need to hurry and push.  All would unfold.  All these friendships would have chance to flower with ease.  I would have the chance to learn my favorite porter's name, and befriend this doctoral student & others for a walk around the meadow, for a debate over port.

Yet Oxford says it isn't so.  Or so the woman on the phone said.  My letter still has not arrived.  The optimist in me says aloud to Naya, "What if the letter came on Monday and said 'Congratulations, Ms. Brigette, on your admittance to the Master's of English (1900-present).  You, unfortunately, have not been granted the colleges you listed on your application as Magdalen and Balliol are satiated, however, you have been assigned to Christ Church.  We understand you to be of the substance of that place.  We hope this pleases you.  Warm regards, your fellows."

The pessimist weeps for the sweetness of such hope.

Two more days in Oxford.  I feel I'm counting my steps to the gallows.

What about you, optimist or pessimist?  & why or what for?


  1. Just awaking to my last day in Oxford from a dream that I was not only accepted to Oxford's MA, but was given full funding and a personal call from the English chair apologizing for the confusion. Ah, but then the mind wakes and sees that it is more intoxicating than the strongest drug. & I feel thankful to the joy of brief dreamy illusion.

    The birds are singing this morning. I feel lucky to have come here. I go to the day with a tender heart which is all I ever ask of life, even more so than being handed what it is that this heart craves. Perhaps this note closes this blog. Thanks for meandering with me on this loveliest of all paths I've yet walked. Cheers, Sabine

  2. well, there it is, the last day, only days ago. optimist or pessimist? i'd say that the permanent assumption of either persona simply leaves other essential internal realities clouded in "mist."

    one ends up ignoring the great multifaceted sadness smiles tears gasms laughs sighs worries angers hungers appetites hardness darkness joys of living a full human existence, in favor of some half-empty, half-full glass of mediated gulper's juice. for me, i'll gulp the 100% full glass until its 100% empty, thank you.

  3. While all of this must be so disappointing, you mustn't let this stop you from following your heart. Whether Oxford has taken you in or not doesn't matter, as long as you get to study literature. Obviously, this is what you were born to do.

    Trying to get back into these studies with a young child must be very difficult, yet you are succeeding. You got yourself to Oxford and now you'll take the next step and go to the next program. You mentioned some other programs to which you were accepted, among them UVM. Burlington is a lovely city in a lovely place, filled with interesting people. If that's your destination in the end, I certainly wish you well.

    You are, in fact, triumphing over adversity: never forget that.