Oxford / Updates

sapere aude, incipe!

Dimidium facti qui coepit habet: sapre aude, incept

Wikipedia tells me a loose translation is:  “He who begins is half done. Dare to be wise. Make a beginning.”

I have been thoroughly enjoying my reading on liberty (and the impact of economic circumstances on (the absence of) freedom) for the past 24 hours, actually, which was pleasantly surprising. There has been a surfeit of insights, and arguments that have gotten me to pause and think about them, and it hasn’t felt like a monumental effort to take about twenty pages of condensed notes; right before this, too, I typed up about an essay’s worth of notes on the question I’m meant to answer. If there is any part of my course I derive the greatest satisfaction from, I suspect this (i.e. political theory) is it, with economics in general coming a close second.

Latin expressions have been popping up in these readings, too, and I took a geeky sort of delight in being able to ask the people I knew doing Classics what they meant. In the background, there is always some atmospheric appreciation of the fact that the people surrounding me at college are devoting a substantial chunk of their lives to one (or a couple of) area(s) of human knowledge.

I suspect my week (and the two months before that) could be described as eventful, but I have paved the path through those merry times too thoroughly with too many well-intentioned thoughts of posting on WP to salvage any hope of recollecting everything I want(ed) to say, and it is a matter of some regret, of course, that I have let the edges of those experiences fade so carelessly with time.

But surely a quick survey would still help. First week back at Oxford ended up being lovelier and more exciting than its start promised. I was particularly demotivated with collections and could not muster much energy to, how shall I put it, give a shit, and then I took the rest of the week off to recover from the trauma. Copious amounts of time were spent in university parks and on any grass-covered plot in college. A telling indication of the amount of time I’ve spent under the sun (there was an unseasonal amount of sun the past week) would be the fact that my limbs are now tanned.

My 4.5 weeks in France have affected me in lingering ways. I had grand plans to write a post on the bits of France I would miss and the bits I decidedly wouldn’t, and I’d even drafted it, but I had begun by writing about the four cats, and thus ended up with a slightly crazy-sounding essay about the individual quirks and personalities of the cats, so I abandoned that attempt and have not found the heart to try again. But I will say that on the day I left, La Rochelle was deliciously warm, the airport was stuffy and claustrophobia-inducing with the hoard of English schoolchildren on the end of their French immersion trip, and the first thirty minutes back in Oxford was filled with an unexpected distress at being back. There was suddenly something unpleasantly enclosed about the squat, stately buildings lining the streets, and walking on the arithmetic lines of pavements was not a cheery affair. I found the ceaseless, low-grade chatter around me frustrating, and for the first few days, I seized any opportunity to be on the forlorn rectangle of grass in front of my house, and each afternoon saw me in the parks, reveling in the ducks and mutant ducks geese and newly discovered horses (HORSES). I have also started buying conference pears and eating them in a highly idiosyncratic way (I first peel them, sometimes awkwardly with a knife instead of a potato-peeler, and then quarter them, and then slice off the core), because that was how my French host family ate them, and I’d never eaten a conference pear before then. Sometimes I imagine myself in a decade, a mélange of little habits and tics I’ve collected like particularly interesting rocks from the people I’ve seen and the places I’ve been, and being able to track my journeys through each one. More interesting than collecting stamps, at least.

Now, I am also confronted by a little shock of pleasure every time I realize I have understood what was being said when I listen to my French podcasts, even the standard radio news one that speaks at a normal (i.e. stupidly fast French) speed. It is an unbelievably drugging feeling, and I only exaggerate a little. It is such a petty triumph but I’ll take even that pathetic offering after six years of suffering through incomprehensible aural/listening exams. I have decided to also resume my leisurely refresher studies in Chinese by subscribing to a Chinese vocabulary newsletter.

It is with a curious absence of stress that I explore Trinity term. I had two essays due last week, which I finished four hours after the deadline and 10 minutes before the deadline, respectively, but I had intentionally left them that late. This week, I have three essays due by Thursday, but if I had to characterize my attitude towards them, it would be ‘unhurried’. Maybe something needs to be said about perspective and peace of mind but I’ll let the feeling rest for a little while before I poke at it. I can’t quite comprehend the magnitude of Prelims or the end of my first university year or the prospect of summer yet.


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