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 defeat...giving 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. ;)