30.11.10

Snowfall

Central London's getting its first proper snowfall right now. It's supposed to have started in the middle of last night and now it's coming down visibly, not just a tease of flurries. I wonder if it'll stick.

My flatmate was all a-twitter (and I mean the original, non-social media meaning of "twitter") in anticipation of snow the last couple of days . She's seen snow before, but this was going to be her first snowfall in a place where she was living.

I was trying to remember what I was feeling the first time it was supposed to snow, my freshman year in Chicago, but all I remembered were a friend from Wisconsin tweaking me about using bear grease to waterproof one's boots and the crunchy texture of snow underfoot. Then I realised Chicago wasn't my first experience of snow, that I think it had twinkled at me somewhere near the Grand Canyon when I was a teenager. On the other side of time, it seems that four years of Chicago winters --- including my badge of honour: the first included a record cold day of -40ºF with windchill --- can make even the most tropics-trained person feel a little blasé about the onset of winter.

Last Friday night, it was flurrying as my cousin, her boyfriend and I scurried our way to a cosy bar for cocktails. Caught between streetlights and shadows, accompanied by the tart cold I could feel on my face, the snow looked magical, for the few minutes that it lasted.

Some friends here with a four-year-old have bought him two sledges in anticipation. Suddenly I'm thinking about making snow angels.

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24.11.10

Checking out

Off to Paris for a few days to visit the cousin. Because I'm in the middle of the term at university, the run-up to departure is just like trying to take a vacation from work: lots of pre-trip scrambling to get work settled before I leave (both schoolwork and some small freelance work assignments), and little thought as to what I'm actually going to do when I get there.

I was talking to several people in my course yesterday about mid-term brain/idea fatigue, and I think nothing would please me more than to sit in Paris cafes for the next three days and not do very much else. I will let my cousin feed me, of course. Nardac is a fabulous cook.

Meanwhile: students are protesting again (woo!) and I hope none of my friends get arrested --- not because they are the type to deliberately do something that would get them arrested, but because these things get messy sometimes.

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18.11.10

Making friends

Postgraduate life (or graduate student life, to my American readers) is a very different social milieu from undergraduate life. Everyone spends less time on campus. A number of people work. People who are from London have their existing social circles. In my programme we don't do group projects, and the kind of readings we're assigned are the kind best done on your own, at least for the first pass through the material.

So every time I've had a proper conversation or gotten together outside class with someone from my programme, I've felt like tweeting immediately: "Making friends. Woo!" Yes, in some ways it feels like kindergarten all over again.

What's really helped, socially and academically, is a couple of students taking the lead to organise an informal reading group that's open to everyone in my programme. Anyone interested gets together one evening a week to talk about some extra reading from our core course, and after about two hours of whacking away at it, we adjourn to the pub for a drink.

Plus we started a blog that my coursemate Dan christened Potlatch (I suggested Posterous to him because it's particularly handy for group blogs). There isn't time enough in the world to look at all the links and readings everyone's been sharing, but it's great for collecting ideas and inspiration in one place.

Tonight a bunch of us went to a talk at an Chisenhale Gallery ("Can anything genuinely new emerge in a political landscape that is clogged with ideological junk?") by Mark Fisher, then over to a pub where we contemplated: a) the end of capitalism, b) the spectre of the Terminator movies, c) whether the theorists we read would have come to similar conclusions if they were born in the developing world, d) how philosophy can get beyond people discussing things in a pub.

Making friends – woo!

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8.11.10

That which I should have done I did not do

The windowsill is also my bookshelf

With apologies to Ivan Albright, the artist who painted my favourite painting ever.

Things that have been easier to do since Thursday, rather than writing my first paper as a master's student (it's due in about 10 days):
  • Take a 3-hour nap.
  • Migrate my iTunes database onto an external hard drive.
  • Back up all my hard drives.
  • Update my Mac OS to Snow Leopard --- except that the upgrade had to be aborted failed due to a faulty disc (I bought it in Singapore months ago).
  • Check out the new North Road Restaurant (very crisp and white), then wine and dine at Medcalf.
  • Brave the cold and mud to catch the Guy Fawkes Day fireworks at Ravenscourt Park.
  • Watch The Notebook (I heart Rachel McAdams).
  • Mess around with Instagr.am (see image above).
  • Figure out which herbs give the best zing to scrambled eggs.
  • Cook Irish beef stew and pasta salad with green beans and mushrooms in one evening, hence ensuring I don't have to cook again till next weekend.
I may be coming back to school after 13 years away, but I can still procrastinate with the best of them. (Aren't you proud of me, kk, my dear old friend and partner-in-procrastination?)

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4.11.10

I'm not a Cylon but ...

For the last month or so, there's been a tune that creeps up on me when my mind is idle, usually when I'm walking by myself. I know only two lines of the song, but I know them very well, from piano lessons as a child or teenager. It's a jaunty tune, with a simple melody line that might be classical, or might be of an American folk song. I've definitely played it before, I could play it now if I had a piano before me. But I cannot for the life of me call to mind who the composer was or what the song might be. I'm not even sure I could pin it down as 19th or 20th century.

Yes, I've turned to my iPhone, but Shazam isn't so good at matching hummed tunes. A friend recommended SoundHound, but now I feel like I'd rather keep the mystery going, until one day serendipitously I stumble across the piece of music proper (or dig up an old piano score back in Singapore).

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2.11.10

Brainstretched

Now that I'm halfway through the term and very much in the student groove, I've been feeling a little mentally disoriented. As I put it to a freshly minted PhD friend last week (albeit less eloquently), I feel as if I spend all my dead-tree reading time (with the odd PDF) trying to get a handle on what each cultural theorist is about and sorting them out from each other, while my non-tree reading time is still focused on the something's-always-happening-on-Twitter-right-now world of contemporary culture, in all its minutiae and madness. I've become quite self-conscious (perhaps occasionally, even self-reflexive) about all sorts of human behaviour I see around me, including my own --- but at other times I just downshift the brain and let myself just be.

Another friend (this one still writing her PhD) suggested that I give myself 25 minutes of uninterrupted hammer-at-the-keyboard time, to let my thoughts loose and sort themselves out. I haven't, er, made time to do that yet.

In two weeks, I'll be submitting my first essay. It only has to be 2,000 words long. My writer side scoffs at the number, but the student side of me is still scrambling to formulate the essay question that I want to write on.

I realise this blog post makes it sound like there are many different voices in my head talking to each other.

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