Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Garrison Keillor, in his collection of short stories entitled Leaving Home, wrote several times in several different wordings, "Thank you God, for this good life and forgive us if we don't love it enough."

After events this week, that quotation has been running around my head, but perhaps a little modified:

Thank you God, for these good friends and forgive us if we don't love them enough.

Daryl, it's so awesome that you're alright--your frienship has been such a blessing to me over the past three years! I am so thankful for each and every one of you, my friends, forgive me if I don't show it as much as I should!

Friday, September 24, 2004

The Price of Culture

Wouldn't it be nice if culture was affordable? In the space of this semester, I have the opportunity to participate in several cultural events, but I must decide what, if any at all, I will put money towards.
This weekend in Toronto, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale Opera is playing, and for a mere $29, those between the ages of 18 and 29 can purchase excellent seats. Much to the dismay of most of the others in my class, The Handmaid's Tale was my favourite book in Canadian Lit 222. Needless to say, I would love to be there this weekend.
This coming Wednesday, the Shakespeare class is going to Stratford to see A Midsummer Night's Dream (I believe that's the play they're seeing) and there are extra tickets available. I don't get the chance to go to a Stratford play nearly enough, so it goes without saying that I'd very much like to be on that bus on Wednesday afternoon. (And it would also be fun to see my brother and his family for a bit before the play!)
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra is something that I have wanted to attend for quite some time, and James told me sometime this summer about special deals for students. I've been looking at the scheduled concert listings for the year, and there is more than one that I wouldn't mind attending before the end of December.
Great Big Sea is making it's way to Hamilton for an October 21st concert. I'm finding this one quite hard to resist, because I saw them in London two years ago, with my sister and best friend, and we all had a blast. They put on a good show.
Redeemer Concert Choir is performing Handel's Messiah in December, however, I have no choice about this event, I will be participating in it. We have the opportunity this year to perform it twice, which is very exciting because normally, despite all of the work and effort put into our concerts, we only get one night to perform. One concert will be on Dec 3 in the Redeemer Aud, and the other will be downtown at a location that I am currently forgetting. I do hope that everyone's planning on attending at least one of the concerts (or I'll personally hunt you down and ....I don't know what). So, my dilemma for this issue is one of purchasing the CD for the Messiah: it will be an amazingly good purchase and will definitely aid in helping learn the music, but again, it's still $$.
Anyhow, I obviously can't participate in all of these events, much as I would love to. I keep thinking that I can justify all of them, saying, well, I don't have money right now, but next year I'm spending a whole year in Japan (or where ever) to make money, so shouldn't I be able to splurge now? Sigh. I know that's not the way it should go though. Why does it have to cost so much to be cultured?!?!

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Confessions of a Fourth Year English Major

Let me be the first one to express my absolute horror and disbelief at the fact that there can exist a fourth year English Honours student who owns neither a dictionary or a thesaurus. And let me also be the first to admit that that student is Yours Truly. It's true, I'm guilty. Amongst all of the Anthologies of Literature on my new bookshelves, you will not find one single dictionary. Though, in all fairness, I don't believe that I have ever claimed to be the "model English student." This fact is already quite evident to those of you who have noticed spelling errors or grotesque gramatical mistakes. (I have an intense dislike for proof-reading)
However. Now that we have dealt with the shock of the above statement, I will proceed to explain why this issue matters at this particular point in time. I'm learning a new language this year. However, it is not French or Latin or Spanish, or even Dutch: it is a language infinitely more difficult for me to grasp, and I have usually never been one for difficulties with languages. This language of which I speak is the language of Philosophy.
Normally when taking a course in a foreign language, I don't feel overwhelmed by any great degree, because chances are, there are no students in the class who can actually understand what the professor is saying. Everyweek, we study a new list of vocabulary words and are quized on the previous week. We learn how to tell time, how to order food, and how to speak to someone else in this new language. It would be somewhat ridiculous for Roberto DiFranchesco (the Spanish Prof) to assign a fifteen page paper in SPA102, because he knows that although the students have already taken one semester of Spanish, there is not nearly enough of a base to create a paper of that length- the structures of the sentantces, the terms, and the vocabulary is simply not advanced enough to handle that task, even if it were merely discussing the antics of Raquel Rodriguez in Destinos.
In my Christian Philosophy class, however, I was overwhelmed the moment I entered the classroom two and a half weeks ago. One of my friends aided in this feeling by commenting to another friend, "Well. This doesn't look like a very promising crowd now, does it?" Hmm. I was probably the least promising of them all. I am a child of books and novels: I love to read, but I don't "do" philosophy. My intro to Phil course was in the second semester of my first year, and I took it with Gideon Strauss. We watched some excellent movies, memorized the Tin Can Theory, and I did a project on Plato's two-realm theory. I did not learn the language, or even the introduction to the language of Philosophy. To be fair, he set a disclaimer at the beginning of the course: If you're not serious about learning this information, don't come to class. He told us that it was possible to get an A merely by completing the assignments that were given, and he was true to his word. His concern (from my point of view) was not to teach students philosophy, but to teach students how to love philosophy. Plainly and simply, I was not interested in loving philosophy, so I did the work, completed the course and passed with an A. And I can't tell you anything about any philosopher except for Plato. (and even that's sketchy)
So here I am, enrolled in PHL 261 with Craig Bartholomew, feeling somewhat as if I'm treading water in the middle of the ocean, without the aid of any floatation device. I have no vocabulary in Philosophy. I don't know one major philosopher from the next. I found myself borrowing my housemate's dictionary last week to read Plantinga's Inagural Address-- I had to look up at least three words in almost every paragraph. I don't have an encyclopedia of philosophical terms in my head that I can reach into at will; I don't know any of the isms that are scattered randomly through discussion in class. Kierkegaard, Tertullian, Kant, and Dooyeweerd do not signify anything in my vocabulary, which represents a significant problem, considering that the major paper for this course is 15-20pp on Dooyeweerd.
RobJ just wrote a blog encouraging non-philosphers to get courage and speak up and participate; the language that I have have been learning for the past three years is English Literature. It is as if I have been taking French for the past four years and step into a 300-level Spanish course: both languages are based on the same principles and therefore have similar root words, but if I open my mouth and start speaking french instead of Spanish, I'll look (and sound) like a right nit-wit.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

A lazy afternoon of literature

The absolute highlight of my weekend arrived on Sunday, with the annual Eden Mills Writers Festival. For those of you who have never heard of this delightful event, I shall set the scene. Eden Mills, located just north of Guelph, is a quaint little hamlet that boasts of one main street, a small hotel that resembles a cottage, and an old mill located on the small river that runs through the town. In my opinion, this town could very easily be likened to a small British town. In 1989, Canadian Author Leon Rooke launched his book in a public reading outside the General Store, and invited others, such as Michael Ondaatje, to share in the event. Thus was the festival born. Every year, it is held on the first Sunday after Labour Day, and has been, for the past four years, an exclusively out door event. Over a thousand visitors crowd the streets of Eden Mills on the festival day every year, to hear readings by prominent children's authors, adult authors, aboriginal authors and fresh talent. These readings take place in venues ranging from meadows to back yards to riverside property, and the environment is genuinely relaxed and informal, as the reader has little more than a small podium and microphone, and the audience has nothing but a square of grass on which to get comfortable. Between reading segments, visitors are encouraged to walk the few streets in town and browse through the tables set up by individual authors, publishing companies, and fundraisers selling newly published books, older books, and books to be signed by the authors.
On my first Eden Mills experience last September, I had the pleasure of hearing George Elliot Clark, Robert Munsch, and Alister McLeod, among others, read some of their new and older works.
This year, I arrived twenty minutes too late to hear my favourite childhood author, Jean Little, read, but I decided to visit "The Fringe," a site where new prospective authors were receiving their first chance to read their material for a larger audience. Much of what they read seemed to be dedicated to the events of 9/11, which was appropriate, being the day after the third anniversary of "the Fall Events."
Leon Rooke read a narrative poem/short story of his in the most interesting manner: to me, it almost seemed as if he was singing it in a way that Anglican Priests sing their liturgy. Was he meaning to make that connotation? I'm not sure, and it would help quite a bit if I could remember the title of his poem in order to read it myself.
Stephen Heighton, a poet who visited Redeemer this past year for a poetry reading, read eight selections out of his new publication "Address Book," all based around people that he came across while transferring contacts from an old phone book to a new one, and reflecting on those that had drifted away, died, or vanished from his world altogether. (Just as a side note, when he was reading his voice sounded so similar to Keanu Reeves that it almost coloured my view of him, but he sounded intelligent enough to redeem himself.)
Finally, one of the highlight authors to appear was Anne-Marie MacDonald. Not only has she written two full length novels that have been nominated for and won awards, but she has the title playwrite [Goodnight Desdemona (Goodmorning Juliet)] and actress [Where the Spirit Lives] on her resume. She read--or almost acted--several selections of "Where the Crow Flies," to the delight of the entire audience. I think that shall be the next book on my "to read" list.
It is such an excellent way to spend an afternoon, and for those of you in the Hamilton area next fall, I highly encourage attending this experience. It might seem as if this event will only be enjoyed by "the literary type," but if you enjoy listening to people tell stories, check it out. I promise that you won't be disappointed.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Weekend fun

Despite the fact that I failed to do any readings for class, I think that I had a very balanced weekend. Friday evening was spent in the company of my fellow Oxford Alumni at the Coach, which was rather relaxing and the environment was slightly reminiscent of English cottages and pubs. I'm quite sorry to announce that, although the Coach does carry Strongbow, a British Cider and my drink of choice whilst in England, they manufacture it differently for international pubs than for their own local brew. It's still better than beer, though.
On Saturday, a collection of us Sunday afternoon volleyball folks got together to play in a tournament for Andy's friend's Stag and Doe. We played a total of eight games throughout the day, and I'm sorry to announce that we lost every last game. (James, Ben, RobJ, Dan, where were you when we needed you?!?) Besides the horrible loss of 25-6, we managed to keep our heads above water with respectable scores hovering around 25-21, 25-23, etc.


Wednesday, September 08, 2004

And the peasants rejoiced

LATE BREAKING NEWS------ The Misses Diana and Crystal Fraser have returned safely and soundly to the humble abode on Upper Wellington!! They appear to be in tact, all in one piece, and fairly sane. Well, as sane as they were before they left the country, to be sure. :) Thanks be to God for preserving their family throughout the whole ordeal-- and from the bits of stories we got from them tonight, it was indeed a huge ordeal! Crystal has already left us to be with her girls on campus (*sigh*), but it absolutely made my week to see her, if only for half an hour!
They were in the part of the Bahamas that was apparently hit the hardest by Hurricane Frances-- when the storm started through the bahamas, it was travelling at 15 mph, but by the time it reached them, it was at 4mph and then it stoped right over them, so they were in the eye of the storm for a full 24 hours -- total devistation around the whole island. Anyhow, our girlies are back home, and our house is now complete: Kenny, Me, Barnho, Diana, and Osanna. Here's to the coming year at our house!! (We have yet to name the house, and we're currently welcoming suggestions....)

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Looking back on my first three years at RUC...

If there is one thing that scares me about this school year, it is that this year marks my final year at Redeemer University College. I'm a fourth year! Who would have thought? If I may, a few reflections on the past three years....

I decided in grade six that I was going to go to Redeemer after High School. Why? I'm not sure what my reasoning was, I had never even been to the school, but Redeemer was definitely the school for me. I therefore procedeed to tell both my brother and sister, when they enrolled at RC two years later, that they were following me to school. When it was finally my turn to hand in the applications for University, I didn't even bother to look at any other schools. I got up early on Labour day, bid a quick and teary farewell to my bestest bud (who got up at 5am to see me off!) and headed off with my mother and my worldly belongings to the scary world of college. Registration was nerve-wracking, but my dorm seemed to be a hit- my RA was sweet, and some girl named Becky had a really nice mom...
I went through what I consider to be a fairly typical first year. Our dorm baked a cake or cookies every day for the first two months, I ate cereal for breakfast, lunch, supper and midnight snack, and I gained 20lbs. The core courses didn't excite me very much, and within a month, I ruled out a major in both Social Work and Sociology. A good friend told me, "Jenn, in twenty years when you look back on your time in college, the things you'll remember are the memories with friends, not the test that you only got a C on." This piece of advice was sufficient enough to encourage nights of 4am fun and very little studying for tests. My roommate ended up hating me, but that was ok, because I was convinced that I had met "the One" for me-- and after spending three months with this third year student, over 40 hours a week (that's a full time job!), my heart was kinda trampled on a bit and my dormmates and some wonderful new friends were left to pick up the pieces of me and bandage everything back together. These new friends of mine turned out to take a keen interest in me, and invited me to join in their dorm for the following year, and I accepted with great inthusiasm. First year came to a close with a very low GPA and the summer was spent answering phones and returning and exchanging printers and binders: "Thank you for calling Staples Business Depot, how may I direct your call?"

My second year opened on somewhat of a sad note: my 93 year old grandmother--my only remaining grandparent-- passed away, and while everyone else was moving in on Labour day, I was in Chatham with my family for the funeral. Once moved in, however, the year got off to a great start, and I completed all of my readings for the first two weeks of school. I got along great with my dormmates, and got to meet (and peek into the lives of) some amazing boys living next door. I soon found myself enmeshed in this group of people, my initiation into it perhaps being completed when, one night, I recieved a welt the size of a tennis ball on my butt from a too-successful towel-whipping from one of the boys. (This, I might add, was completely unprovoked and is still in the process of being avenged.) Our dorm was not clean, and was perhaps one of the more problematic dorms on campus, but God's presence was very clear in almost every situation. I chose an English major, and almost on a dare, made it an honours-- I had to prove to myself that I could do it. I tried to be dilligent with my studies and papers, and managed to succeed in raising marks, but as any student will tell you, a first year GPA is a hard thing to raise. I swore off the male gender for the year, but ended up dating someone in Grand Rapids, which meant hours upon hours of sitting in a car on the weekends to visit. Second year also marked my entry into choir, which was one of the most amazing things to date that I have done at Redeemer. I remember sitting in practice on the first day, and instead of warming up with the rest of the choir, I sat there listening, thinking that if a group of people singing a scale or tongue-twisters or the like could sound so beautiful, what an experience it will be to sing with these folks in a concert! I almost left Redeemer after second year to persue a writing major at Calvin, where the programme is a little more advanced than at Redeemer, but after meeting with the faculty there and going on choir tour with Redeemer, I was convinced to stay for the remainder of my University career. The Michigander and I broke up shortly after that decision, and I had so much more time on my hands after spending all of my weekends in a car! I learned how to two-step, made my first visit to Hess Village, and decided to go to BC for the summer with Laura Kenny. Oh, and Sam convinced me to apply for the Oxford programme.

After an amazing summer in the mountains, I returned to room with one of my first year dormmates who had decided to RA. I fully intended on concentrating on my already-present friendships and only sort of getting to know the girls that I was living with as I was going to be leaving for England in January (I know, I'm such a snob!), but God blessed us with such an amazing group of girls that I couldn't help but desire a real and deep friendship with each girl. I had no intention of getting involved in any relationship, seeing as how I was leaving the country in a few short months, but regardless, an interest arose and between that, my girls, my friends, and my first senior level English classes, I was a very busy girl. It broke my heart to walk by the choir room and hear them practising without me, but I wasn't able to be a part of it due to my one-semester attendance for the year. I left Redeemer very reluctantly in January, and it wasn't until I was actually settled into my room in England that I actually became excited about the semester. Stratford, London, Oxford, Charlbury.... the programme was absolutely nothing like with thought it would be, but the semester was an unforgettable and phenomenal experience nonetheless. Spain was thrown into the middle of the trip, and I had the chance to practice my very limited vocabulary of Spanish (Unfortunately, Don Fernando and Raquel didn't seem to have a whole lot to do with ordering food in a restaurant....). I experienced the thrill of being in a drama for the first time since highschool, and I "wallowed in the quagmire of stupidity" for several days after I lost a fifteen page paper for my Independant Study and had to rewrite with half the sources of the first paper. School finished, and I travelled here, there and (nearly) everywhere in England for three weeks with two guys. I returned home to Ontario to a month of unemployment, the end of the aforementioned relationship, and three months of work at a hat factory.

And that about brings us to today. I'm quite sorry, I didn't realize that a few memories from each year would contain that much information--so much has happened, and this was only a fraction of my life. I have indeed been blessed.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

I have sat down many times to write my story, and almost immediately I come to a hurdle. How do I write my story, while not writing anyone else's? If I were to record only the events that involved myself alone, I'd have merely a handful of pages of notes containing such actions as: "Started school on this date," "name of first boy I liked and all conversations---" wait, no, that wouldn't even work. Every story, any event in my life worth discussing, is shared by at least one other person.
My birth, for example, very obviously contains the two crucial characters of my mother and my father, yet that is the beginning of *my* story.
My elementary school years have a large cast of classmates, teachers, siblings and neighborhood kids.
Any mischief in which I could be found was closely associated with my best friend.
These stories, then, are not sole mine to reveal, not mine alone to tell. By revealing my end of any tale, I'm leaving all others that were a part of it in an involuntary position of vulnerability. Or, what could be worse: by telling my story, certain people will learn that certain events have shaped who I am today--events that were not meant to be part of my story form chapters in my life that are not listed on the table of contents for even the keenest eye to see.
But here we are. My story is a kaleidoscope of shards from the lives of others, just as pieces of my story are intermingled with someone else's story. Every tear, every smile, every thought and every scene in my memory compiles to create a story that unique only to me. The question that I must ask, and with which I struggle: how honest should I be in telling my story, in revealing thoughts and memories most poignant to building my character, which are also most revealing about others?