Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Today is an Oxford-y Day

Today is an Oxford kind of day.

The sky is unbleached wool. A fine mist, invisible to the eye, hangs in the air like the memory of rain. The trees are clothed in shades of yellow, red, orange, plum. The colors tremble in the breeze. A few trees have already shed most of their leaves, and barren branches stretch up to try and snag the sky. The cold wraps around fingers--I wish I'd grabbed my gloves as I hide my hands in the pockets of my jeans. The air smells of falling leaves and the city. But then another smell intrudes. The scent of a memory.

Berry scents mix with citrus, a hint of cinnamon,  the deep aroma of wine. I can almost taste it--the sugar coating the edge of the glass, the sharpness of the brandy mixed with the wine, subdued by the mulling spices. Now I can picture it. The table at the front of the White Horse, underneath the ground-level window. Sipping mulled wine with friends. There's a good-natured argument going on--we're trying to detmine each other's Middle-Earth races. We are on a Tolkien tour, after all.

The aroma, the sounds, the mental image fade quickly. Always so quickly. I'm left with the the reality of campus. Still beautiful, but despite its concrete, here-and-now reality, it feels a little like a fraud, a rip-off of a spatially and temporally distant cold day. I miss Oxford and my friends. Then I soldier on.

The day is still beautiful, in its chilly, mystic way that seems somehow simultaneously isolating and embracing. And somehow the memory has made the weather both sadder and more beautiful. Because today, in the form of my favorite weather, Oxford followed me home.

Monday, April 4, 2016


Towpath by the Thames behind my flat.
(This is an essay I wrote for a college application, and I thought I'd share it here.)

Like most days in Oxford, the sky was overcast and grayish. The streets were full of jostling crowds of people, rushing black taxis, delivery trucks, and buses. The old buildings loomed over their modern lower-level faces. I had a song stuck in my head as I walked back to my flat: “I Feel Good” by James Brown. I did not have the song on my iPod, so I put on one of my favorite playlists instead. As Michael BublĂ© crooned “Feeling Good” through my earbuds, I could not suppress my goofy smile. Once on the less-populated canal path, I danced as I walked.

I am an introverted perfectionist who fears the unknown. My introversion is partially learned. My interests as a child—history, reading, mythology, ancient warfare—did not win me friends. In junior high and high school I was reticent. But in ninth grade I joined a drama troupe. Four years of drama instruction, performing on a stage and making friends helped me become more expressive and open. In 2013 I attended a two-week long leadership and worldview conference. The old hotel where the conference was held was crowded with people. I had three roommates. I did not want to stay. But I did, and two weeks later, not only had I learned a wealth of information, I had made friends and was less afraid of new and uncomfortable situations.

My jobs have helped as well. I worked for three years as an administrative assistant and receptionist at an assisted living home. I disliked phone conversations, but I did well. I had good relationships with the staff and the residents and their families. When I helped a family member just by listening or made a resident’s day, I loved it. The job was draining, but it was not just a job; I was investing in a community. In my current job I supervise a computer lab at my college. The joy when I help a student has reinforced my decision to be an instructor. Both of those jobs provided me opportunities to grow.

My perfectionism is more ingrained, and partly based on the appellation “the smart one.” I started piano lessons when I was ten. I caught on quickly and advanced through multiple levels the first few years. I performed in three honor’s recitals. And then my progress slowed as the music I played got tougher. Anything less than perfect felt like failure. In other endeavors, from art to academics, learning I am not perfect is an ongoing process. Now, instead of letting my perfectionism drive me to despair, I try to use it to motivate me toward success.

My fear of the unknown is a struggle. Foreign experiences are both exciting and terrifying. Not having a clear plan is stressful. I applied in 2013 to study in Oxford in the fall of 2014. That semester abroad was expensive, and when I applied, I had barely a fraction of the money. I worked and saved for a year. Once I earned my AAS, I picked up more hours. I did house and yard work and mailed dozens of fundraising letters. At times I felt hopeless. Through dedication, the generosity of friends, and financial aid, I made it. In the process, I learned a little about faith and coping with the unknown. Living in Oxford for a semester, with all the new experiences and friendships that entailed, was without parallel. I found when thrown into a challenging situation, I thrived.

That is why that walk home that day in Oxford is etched in my memory. I had just left a medieval history tutorial. My tutor was impressed with my essay. As I wove between pedestrians, his words played through my head. “Be smug. But not too smug.” In that moment, I had overcome. I had overcome the financial barrier so I could walk beneath those old buildings. I had overcome my nagging feelings of academic inadequacy to write a paper I could be proud of. I had overcome my shyness to be completely comfortable in my one-on-one tutorials and to make close friends. When my introversion or perfectionism or fear of the unknown threaten to bury me alive, I can look back on that moment as I danced next to the canal while Redbone thrummed through my earbuds and know: I can overcome.

I have done it before.

I keep overcoming the odds--maybe this should be my new motto.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

True Friendship

I returned a couple days ago from a crazy, exhausting, awesome road trip from Colorado to California for the wedding of one of my of my Oxford flatmates, Kelly.

I had never been to California. I had seen the Atlantic from rocky cliffs in Ireland and the sea from the shores of Iona, but I had never walked barefoot on a sandy beach in the sun while the jade ocean pulsed against the shore. It was the longest road trip I've been on, and my amazing sister and I rocked it. But as exciting and new as that experience was, and beautiful and amazing as everything was, the best part was seeing my friends from Oxford.

I had the privilege and the pleasure not only of attending Kelly's beautiful wedding and reception, but also of participating in her bachelorette party. Seeing her again and seeing her so happy and having the opportunity to hear about her engagement and so much that had taken place since we were in Oxford was wonderful. Celebrating her and her husband's joy on their wedding day was special and incredible. But even better was the time I spent with another flatmate, Alexis, and a couple of the guys from Oxford, Logan and Nigel.

It's been over a year since I returned from Oxford. 1 year, 3 months to be exact. I haven't seen any of these people in person in that time, and we talked only intermittently due to all of our busy lives and time zone differences. Sure, we keep up with each other on Facebook, but that's not the same. But you couldn't tell. In some ways, it was as if nothing had changed. We met up at a beach and just picked up where we left off. There was no awkwardness, no time needed to settle back into our groove. There was a little bit of surreal feeling, but at the same time, being together again just felt so right.

Of course, we didn't just meet and BAM, instant deep, long-lasting friendship. In fact, no one really had a good first impression of anyone else. We were all a little judgmental of the bios we'd written to introduce ourselves online before the semester started. Almost all of our first meetings were awkward. Several of us felt we shouldn't even be in Oxford--these people were strange, we didn't fit in, the academic rigor was beyond us, we didn't belong. We were all jet-lagged, nervous, and a bit (a lot?) unsure of each other.

But then we started getting to know each other. We spent all day together in the worldview intensive discussing the course readings, the Bible and theology, and sharing about ourselves and our lives. We started to see how each other thought and who we were. We spent time together outside of class. Before long, we were doing pretty much everything together--studying, eating, travelling, watching movies and TV shows. We talked about everything--the trivial and the eternal, the banal and the serious, pop culture and politics, our families and our futures, our innermost thoughts and fears, our aspirations, our studies, our successes and our struggles. We knew what each other thought of our worldview readings through our discussions in and out of class. We told each other what we were learning in our Oxford tutorials. We knew when someone did well, and we knew when someone had been sprawled out on the kitchen floor working on their essay at two in the morning. We laughed together, prayed together, encouraged each other, and brought each other down a peg or two when necessary.

This was community and friendship on a level I had never experienced before. This was deeper and more thoughtful discussion than I had had the privilege of knowing. When we agreed, we expounded and grew in our surety and reasoning and sometimes discovered new reasoning we hadn't considered. When we disagreed, we discussed and grew. Sometimes our views changed, sometimes they just evolved, and when we agreed to disagree, we did so knowing we weren't doing so lightly or blindly, but with reason and respect for each other's perspectives and logic.

There was also laughter, so much laughter. There were movie nights and bonfires and fireworks and long treks through England's old streets. We cried, we laughed. We were out too late sometimes, and sometimes we motivated each other to leave our flats when we hadn't left in two or three days. We danced. We drank mulled wine and tried sips of each other's ale. We set off the over-sensitive smoke detector making grilled cheese sandwiches.

We traveled back and forth between our flat and the guys' house, hanging out and eating together. We saved money by making pizza or hamburgers or curry at "home" and eating together crammed into our flat's tiny living room. We watched Harry Potter and Doctor Who and then finished our essays on medieval Britain or Shakespeare or theology or math and philosophy. We read our worldview homework together when we were so tired we could barely concentrate. We looked forward to Friday nights when we went to the Bywaters for dinner and hanging out together as a big, raucous, happy family. 

We told each other our pains and then we found something to laugh about--not to ignore the problem, but to put it in perspective. We laughed at live dragons and in our laughter found the courage to slay them. And we still do. 

There is a lot I loved about my time in Oxford and that made it meaningful, special, worthwhile, and a life-shaping experience. The wisdom and knowledge I gained from the worldview intensive, Kevin Bywater's thoughtful experience and wisdom, my Oxford tutor's knowledge, and the mountains of reading are impossible to quantify. The experience of living abroad, traveling around Great Britain, and living and studying in a city and libraries older than my country is impossible to describe. I suppose that's why I can't stop talking about Oxford--I feel I have yet to convey the depth of what that time means to me. Yet, even with all of that, the greatest impact, the most importance aspect, the most valuable take-away is my friendships.

I don't make friends easily and I struggle with community. But not at Oxford. Not with these people--these people are my people. We're the same and we're wildly different. We have moments of beautiful brilliance and times of extreme inanity. The time spent together discussing every topic imaginable with people who all care deeply about learning and growing and God and each other produced some of the most important friendships in my life.

We may be separated by thousands of miles and pesky time zones, but the bonds we forged in those four months are strong enough to keep us close despite the distance. So when Alexis, Logan, and Nigel and I were together again in California, we were relaxed and natural and just thrilled to be together. We could have seaweed fights and talk about life. We could just sit in silence waiting for a table without it being awkward. We could dance like fools at the reception and talk about philosophy or theology or our current struggles in school or life with equal comfort.

We lived life together for four months, in all its highs and lows and messy glory. I didn't make friends at Summit Oxford.

I just grew my family.

(For more information on Summit Oxford, visit: Facebook:

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Some Memories of Spires

I've been back in Colorado for just over two weeks now. The first couple weeks were pretty busy with Christmas celebrations and spending time with family. Now that things have slowed down and developed something of the normal rhythm of home, I think I'm starting to process the last four months. To be honest, it's still kinda beyond my grasp. The fact that it HAPPENED at all still blows me away. Against the odds I lived in England for a semester, studying at one of the world's top universities, making friends I can't imagine NOT being friends with now. People back home ask me 'what was your favorite part' or 'what will you miss most' and I'm stumped. All of it? What on earth actually WAS it that made my term in Oxford so amazing?

When I think about that 15 weeks, it's like photographs or short videos playing in my head. Walking along the Thames. Admiring the architecture in Oxford. Bus rides through the English countryside. Walking my feet off in London. Dinner at pubs with friends. My flatmate bursting into my room. Foggy mornings. Stacks of books on my desk. Discussions with my tutors. Bonfires and fireworks. Laughs and giggles. Dinner at the Bywaters. Hammering out essays. Speed reading entire books. Harry Potter film watching, house sorting quizzes, and my friends shouting spells at each other and waving their phones around and laughing. Carrying on worldview discussions in between sessions. Studying at the Bodleian. Getting to know my new friends. Learning I can research and write a 2000+ word essay and make it good in three days if necessary.

Maybe it's like asking what the point of something is. As Mr. Bywater would say, maybe there's not one point. Maybe there's not a favorite part or a one thing I'll miss most. Maybe I'll never know what exactly about Oxford makes me smile and feel wistful every time I think about it. Maybe an experience isn't summed up in one thing. Maybe it's all the little things working in concert that make an experience amazing. Maybe some things are felt so deeply in the heart the mind has difficulty finding words to express them.

Huh. Happy tears. Humany-wumany.

Anyway. Find below my attempt at summing up four months of crazy adventures in three minutes.

"Some memories are unforgettable, remaining ever vivid and heartwarming!" --Joseph B. Wirthlin
"True nostalgia is an ephemeral composition of disjointed memories." --Florence King

"There are few greater temptations on earth than to stay permanently in Oxford in meditation and read all the books in the Bodleian." --Hilaire Belloc

"He hath Oxford seen, for beauty,
And healthiness ne'er saw a better
If God himself on earth abode would
The Oxford, sure, would for his
     dwelling take."
--Daniel Rogers

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

They Can Never Take Our Freedom!

Stirling, with Wallace Monument in background
I love Scotland. I love its history. I love its landscape. I love it, and I'm not entirely sure why. Suffice it to say that "The heart has reasons that reason cannot know." (Blaise Pascal)

My essay this week for my medieval history tutorial is on Anglo-Scottish conflicts. One of my essay questions, and probably the one I'll end up writing on, is:

Why was Scotland not subjugated by English kings?

Now what I'd really love to do is write the world's shortest, sappiest, most un-scholarly essay ever. For obvious reasons, I won't do that. But I can post it here. ;)

So. My answer.

The kings of England didn't understand, as Burns would later clarify, that Scotland was 'the birthplace of valour', and that Scotland, as Hugh MacDiarmid said, didn't and doesn't see itself as small. They didn't understand that, as Arthur James Balfour stated, 'Scottish theory … is that every country has need of Scotchmen, but that Scotland has no need of the citizens of any other country.' Most importantly, they vastly under-estimated the Scot's love of freedom and belief that being under England was 'chains and slavery.' The Scots had spirit. And they had a David I and Malcolm IV and Alexander III, and most importantly, they had William Wallace. I'll let Wallace speak for himself: 'Tell your commander that we are not here to make peace but to do battle, defend ourselves and liberate our kingdom. Let them come on, and we shall prove this in their very beards.’

In short, the kings of England failed because of the sentiments captured in Burn's 'Scots Wha Hae':
"Who for Scotland's King and Law
Freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand or freeman fall,
Let him follow me.
Lay the proud usurpers low,
Tyrants fall in every foe,
Liberty's in every blow!
Let us do or die!"

In closing, "Go back to England and tell them... Scotland is free!"


Yeah, I'm totally not biased about this. At. All. :P

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the North,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth ;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

Farewell to the mountains, high-cover'd with snow,
Farewell to the straths and green vallies below;
Farewell to the forests and wild-hanging woods,
Farewell to the torrents and loud-pouring floods.

My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
Chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,

My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.
-Robert Burns

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Little Oxford Things

Living in a new place, particularly in a different country, is interesting. There are some big differences between living in Colorado and living the UK. Things like no free refills, having to ask specifically for tap water so you don't get charged, the huge difference in humidity, the lower level of customer service, the cooler architecture, the increased price of everything. Some things aren't as big and obvious. Sometimes they're just funny, sometimes they're annoying, sometimes they're fun.

Today, I'd like to tell you about some of these little Oxford things.

Our Kitchen Sink
Hot tap water isn't pressurized in most homes in Britain, and our flat is no exception. So to get hot water, one must partake in a little hot-water ritual. You turn the hot water tap all the way forward. 9 times out of ten, nothing happens. 1 time out of 10, you'll get a tiny trickle. Then you turn it 1/4 to 1/2 of the way back. And the water comes on! Give it a second, and it'll get hot. ;) Then turn it all the way back to turn it off. Now, when you use the hot water, you may have to fiddle with the cold tap to get the sink all the way off. And 4 times out of 5, if you use the cold water, you'll have to turn the hot on and then off again to get it to stop dripping.

British Toilets
The British don't understand how to do toilets. End of story. They don't flush well, they don't swirl down in a nice fashion that usually does a decent job of cleaning the bowl, no, it's like this useless sploosh of water from every direction. And lots of toilets like to not flush for a few minutes after about 10 flushes in quick succession. Why? Who knows.

THEY. ARE. EVERYWHERE. And if they weren't so unbelievably stupid, they'd probably be ruling the world by now.

While not as prolific as pigeons, also everywhere. You just kinda walk under it and around it without caring after a short bit.

Geese and Cows
The Thames is behind my flat, yeah? And across the Thames is field, yeah? Beautiful and brilliant, yeah? Sure, except that there is a herd of cows that sometimes grazes over there and like to low, often in the morning. And the geese? The geese like to make a horrendous amount of noise, particularly in the morning. But hey, they can be pretty, and the other day I saw some adorable calves, so...

You know what's brilliant about the system of ordering at a pub? Well, do you know how to order at a pub? So, you and your mates find a table, note the number, figure out what you want to order. Then you go to the bar, give them your table number, place your order, pay, and go sit and wait. This is brilliant, because if you're in a large group YOU DON'T HAVE TO FIGURE OUT SPLITTING THE CHECK. It's beautiful. haha ;)

We've finally gotten rain! And it's been beautiful. I love foggy days. (At least for now.) Conversely, walking down the ever-crowded Oxford streets when EVERYONE, or nearly, is walking about with an umbrella, makes for interesting crowd-weaving.

The British know tea. And tea is everywhere. You can go into most pubs, all cafes, and most restaurants and order tea, and if you're eating (or drinking) in, they'll probably give you a small pot with a cup. Make your tea with the perfect amount of cream and/or sugar. It's positively lovely. On that note, I've gone through just over half of my box of 100 tea bags. Meaning I've drank at least 55 cups of tea since arriving in September. So there's that.

The leaves are finally starting to turn! And the vines are leading the way. Entire sides of buildings are covered in brilliant red. It's breathtaking.

The buildings
On the one hand, the buildings are an obvious feature. On the other hand, I think they're under-appreciated. Not just the big buildings--the libraries and colleges and churches and massive stone structures that I never tire of--but also the houses. Houses with old slate tile roofs. Houses with thatched roofs. Brightly painted doors and cute, brightly painted houses smushed together. Medieval architecture lurking above modern store fronts. Cobblestone side streets. I love it all.

Basically, life in interesting, and I'm loving every minute.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Reason for Writing

One of my new good friends, Ben, has asked the question of why we write. His query has inspired me to give blogging another go, more earnest and sincere than previous attempts.

In my history of writing, my reason for doing so has morphed and changed. A large reason of why I've had difficulty keeping up with writing in the last year or so has much to do, quite possibly, with a bit of confusion on that front. But whenever I do write--for the sake of this particular answer, when I write fiction--there are some things that are most always present.

At the most basic level, I must simply quote C.S. Lewis--"I wrote the books I should have liked to read. That's always been my reason for writing." In the end, I only will spend time working on character and plot development and all the effort that goes into actually writing a book if it's a book I should enjoy reading. Sometimes that is, in point of fact, the motivation for beginning such an endeavor--something sparks my imagination, and an amorphous idea takes seed, if I may mix my metaphors. And I think, 'if that were a book or a movie, I should like to read or watch it.' At which point I decide if it needs reading and doesn't yet exist, clearly, it needs writing.

Reading--another world.
By Selina R. Gonzalez
At a bit of a deeper level, I fear I have to be corny again and quote another favorite author--this time J.R.R. Tolkien. “Fairy tale does not deny the existence of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance. It denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final a fleeting glimpse of Joy; Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” "We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.” Basically, I write to reflect life--or perhaps life as I would like it to be. This is why my genre of choice is speculative fiction. I find all fiction provides an ideal medium for the exploration of real-world ideas in a removed realm that makes it somewhat objective and allows an alternate angle of viewing ideas and ideals. Additionally, fantasy is just fun to read. If I may be allowed a further quote in such a quote-heavy paragraph, I'll quote Neil Gaiman paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton (why not?): "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."

"One final thought--I also have to agree with Alexis. Writing is an out-pouring of your soul. I beg thee to allow me a final quote, a sort of paraphrase of a variety of quotes, more of a saying: "There's nothing to writing. You simply open up a vein and bleed." I've noted that it's a grand endeavor to write a book. When you really write--when you open up that proverbial vein and bleed onto your computer screen--you put a piece of your soul, perhaps even a piece you don't understand, onto the pages of your writing. And so by writing, you are given an opportunity to understand yourself better, by looking at your work and seeing it reflect the deepest parts of you; and to leave your mark on this world forever. That reflection of you in your work will live on as long as your words are read. You have the opportunity to connect on an unspeakably deep level through the written word--soul to soul, if you will. And that is both exciting and completely terrifying.

I apologize for the lengthiness of this response--sometimes I just can't help myself. ;)