This trip home is particularly exciting, first because the months between January 8 and June 20 represent the longest I've ever been away from home continuously in my life. Though my Mom came to visit in March, it's the longest I've gone without seeing my Dad in 23 years. But it's also exciting because one of the very first items on the agenda when I get home (after seeing Sex and The City with my mom, who held out for me like the Saint that she is, and spending the requisite 7,000 hours catching up with Stef) is seeing my best friend Holly get married. I'm a bridesmaid in the wedding, and that alone is quite a thrilling prospect, since it's my first time to fulfill such duties. Add to that the bachelorette party, the actual wedding, the ugly cry I will surely do at the altar during the ceremony and being in one place with my very best friends for almost a solid week, and you've got an equation that can only end in thousands of incredible memories. Needless to say, I can't wait.
And almost as soon as I get home from the wedding, the AEB will be landing in Memphis for his first visit to the states. I know, I know. First time in the country and he has to come to Memphis? Hopefully he'll still want to come back again.
I kid, I kid.
And after he leaves, my days will become completely devoted to my dissertation from very early in the morning until very late at night. And when I say very late at night, I of course mean whenever my mom turns the espresso machine on and puts in a Gilmore Girls DVD. I plan to blog with as much regularity (or perhaps I should be promising more) while I'm home, mostly about the work on my dissertation, and of course the adventures of an Englishman in Memphis. And since I've set a deadline to write a few thousand words before the AEB even arrives, I've got my work cut out for me this summer. I promise I'll keep you in for the ride along the way.
HRH e. cawein
On Saturday I also got to see a little bit of the AEB's work with a program at Brunel called Urban Scholars for gifted and talented teenagers in London, and on Sunday I had the pleasure of seeing a very familiar face, my little sister Rachel.
It was a fantastic weekend, though short on the sleeping in I would've liked, and my last in London for a while. But I won't start that business now -- I have to deliver the goods now. The beginning of the video is our guest conductor, Jeff Reilly, a Canadian bass clarinetist and improvisational composer, asking me how to pronounce my last name properly. The piece begins with the musical representation of a sneeze. I won't say anything else, except that the words are from the poem 'Forgotten Language' by Shel Silverstein. Hope you enjoy.
HRH e. cawein
It's been a very intense week. Playing your instrument (particularly when you are a wind player or a vocalist, as I am on both counts) for hours at a time takes a lot out of you physically. What it takes out of you mentally, though, is perhaps even more taxing. And doing this for four days in a row, well -- it really starts to wear you out. My lips are chapped, my wrists are sore, my musical creativity goes from feeling ample and overflowing to feeling dry and tapped out at random. But it's really been an amazing week. There have been plenty of times when I've felt frustrated, intimidated, unsure, uneasy. But I think the fact that I feel none of those things now, on the day before our performance, is a testament to what this part of my course has done for me.
I composed a piece of music that we'll be playing as an ensemble on Saturday, and I hope to take video (or rather, have the AEB take video!) to post here for you to see. And to keep for posterity, of course. But let's get back to that first sentence. I composed a piece of music. It wasn't perfect. I'd bollocksed up some of the rhythms in the notation, and my transposition (my instrument -- and thus the writing of the piece -- is in B flat, and thus must be transposed to C for other instruments) was sketchy at best. But with the help of Jeff, the guest lecturer who's leading the class (and happens to be a bass clarinetist) helped me communicate what I wanted from the ensemble and we played music. We played music I had written and it actually sounded really good. Concepts, ideas I'd imagined worked. Words I'd picked out for the piece fit, and meant something. And the other students liked it. It was no less than an absolute rush, and playing it for an audience will, I'm sure, be even better.
I'd spent a lot of time wondering what this week was going to be like, because the idea of getting through an entire component of my degree in five days is a bit heavy. Everything else has taken months, the entire school year. But I think in the end I might've learned just as much through this process, if not more, than I did in any of my other modules. I can't wait to post the video here.
After the concert on Saturday night, things will really begin to wind down for me. The AEB and I are meeting my little sister Rachel (little sister of the sorority variety, not of the womb), who's in London as part of a multi-country study abroad trip, for a roast lunch on Sunday afternoon. Monday and Tuesday are my improvisation exams, both group and solo. My solo piece has to be 15 minutes in length, and yesterday I spent some time in the recording studio on campus putting some vocal tracks together that I'm going to improvise with on clarinet. I need to rehearse it, but I have high hopes for that. And after about 2 p.m. on Tuesday, my actual classes are complete. It's just a dissertation standing between me and a masters degree. Wowza.
I'd like to think I'm going to spend the rest of that week relaxing until my flight on Friday, but I know that's probably a dirty lie. I'll end up working on the dissertation (good girl!) or cleaning or doing laundry or any of a million little things that need to get done before I leave. I hope I can find some time in there to lay out in the backyard because I am pastier than Elmer's right now like the rest of these English cave-dwellers and I have a feeling next to sub-tropical Memphians I'm going to look like a malnourished Scandinavian. You know, what with the blond and all.
Check back on Sunday for video from the performance; I hope we can get it up that soon, but it may be Monday. Til then!
HRH e. cawein
Hi Elizabeth,This outline looks excellent -- exemplary, even!
About the content -- I think it looks fascinating and you've got
some good sources. I'm not exactly au fait with the field but it seems
to me that a crucial part of the argument will be to justify
the correlation between specifically musical attributes (such as
song structure) and gender associations. It's more straightforward
with cultural associations (physical attractiveness, for instance) and
of course song lyrics, but the idea of masculine and feminine
musical structures is thornier and will need a good argument
(which, judging from your talk, I'm sure you will be able to
Needless to say this e-mail was a much needed kick of affirmation about the project in general and where I stand on my progress with it. Despite not getting as much done this week as I probably could've, I've still managed to get myself in a really good place for starting work once I'm home in two weeks, and I've created such a solid structure and done so much reading already that it'll simply be a matter of combing through the notes I've taken, fully gathering my thoughts and putting pen to paper. Or fingertips to keys, rather.
And of course this satisfied feeling also made me feel less guilty for jacking around on Pic Nik, this web site that allows you to edit and do fun things with photos. For free. And is thus internet addiction No. 7,568,902. But one of the creations I came up with today, mostly to make the AEB laugh during a boring day at work, did remind me of a story I've been meaning to tell you.
On the bank holiday Monday, the morning after we came back from Southend, the weather was disgusting in London and the AEB and I got the bright idea that we should brave it to go find a good hot breakfast somewhere. We planned to go to Jack's, our favorite fish and chip shop just around the corner from Ed's flat, but we were distressed (and soaking wet) a few minutes later to see a hastily hand-written sign in the door that said "Closed until further notice." Still not sure what happened there, but by this time we were committed. We were in it to win it. So we walked back down a ways to catch the bus, which of course as on any day when it is raining like a cow pissin' on a flat rock didn't come for 20 minutes. God I love you transport for London. Really.
The bus finally came, we got on and rode into the town centre in search of breakfast. I knew The Chimes (the mall) was open on bank holidays because I'd been there on one before, and I also knew Debenham's, the anchor store, served breakfast in its cafe. And it was the closest thing to the bus stop. Bonus.
So we go into the cafe, we get our trays and go through the line, where I get my usual English breakfast faves -- eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, mushrooms -- stealthily avoiding the beans, like a good little American girl. When we get to the cashier, the AEB sees me looking around frantically. This next exchange will come as no shock to anyone who knows me well.
(Me looking around frantically.)
AEB: "Don't worry. I already checked. The ketchup's on that stand over there."
And then he points to one of the largest conglomerations of ketchup I have seen since entering this fine country. And it was officially a good morning. As we sat down, he pondered aloud what it said about our relationship that the first thing he thinks about when he goes into an eating establishment now is not what he might order or what he's in the mood for, but where the ketchup is, if they charge for it, how we can get it, how we can get more, how much will they give us, CAN WE STEAL IT.
I told him I'm keeping him.
And now, for your entertainment:
HRH e. cawein
I've spent most days this week in the post-grad study room on campus getting through journal articles and books, typing up notes and fleshing out my outline, all in view of getting an abstract started tomorrow and a schedule of draft due-dates plus my reading list ready to send to my adviser by tomorrow afternoon. This is the only time I've had to work on my disseration since the fall semester, and I think I've spent a lot of that off time worrying about it, worrying mostly because writing something of this size and weight is vastly unknown to me. But after finishing a 5,000+ word paper last week and realizing that the research I'd done could've supported at least another 3-5,000 words, I feel a lot more at ease about the idea of 20,000 words and my ability to get there without going completely bald. Just a little bit. In patches. Hopefully in the back.
I think by tomorrow I actually could start writing in a few different sections of the outline I've created, but with something of this size I've decided I want to wait until I've read everything I can before I start developing the ideas, mostly because as I read I continuously tweak the outline and think of new points I need to fit into the discussion and research more.
Right now I'm reading '(R)evolution now? Rock and the political potential of gender' and when I finish it I'll be almost done with the book Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender. It's the last of the actual books I have checked out, so finishing it will mean another trip to troll for new stuff, though I do have some journal articles to get through before I'm done with all the reading presently on my person.
In the midst of all this I'm trying to mentally prepare for next week, in which I will start and finish an entire course of my degree in five days. It's our collaborative performance event, and everyone on the course gets together every day for a week to come up with an entirely new program of music to perform at the end of the week. I'm a little intimidated by the whole idea, but excited nonetheless. Once the week is over, I'll be frantically putting the finishing touches on my two improvisation exams (solo and group) which take place the next Monday and Tuesday. And then? Then?
Then I'm going home.
As much as I'm not looking forward to leaving the AEB, and in fact dreading it would be the more appropriate word, I can't wait to be home. I miss my mom and dad, I miss my dog and my best friends. This January to June stretch has been the longest I've ever been away from home, and though a homebody I am not, a family person, I am. Although the actual physicality of home is exciting to me, too, this time around, mostly because I'm getting excited about showing Memphis to the AEB when he arrives on June 30 for his first trip to the states.
There's probably more to tell, like how I'm almost completely moved out of my flat, how one of my little sisters in the sorority is coming to London next week, how the AEB is moving into a new place this weekend, etc., but I've been procrastinating more dissertation work long enough now. Back to gender and rock'n'roll with me.
HRH e. cawein
Outside of the crowd, though, Southend was lovely and the weather held up for most of the weekend, with the only downpour happening on Sunday morning during a lie-in that lasted just long enough so that we stepped out of the house as the rain was stopping.
Our lovely hosts for the weekend were the AEB's dad, Arthur, and his girlfriend Chris, who live in a town called Hockley, 10 minutes or so by train to Southend. Their house is tucked into a close which puts its back garden directly on the train tracks, as you can see from these pictures I took out of the guest bedroom window on the second floor of the house.
The sound of the trains isn't as loud as you might think for being so close -- the AEB tells me it's because it's a breaking point for trains coming into Hockley station -- and the noise is actually quite soothing and smooth.
We got in to Hockley around 7:30 or so on Friday, just in time for me to meet my new best friend, Bailey -- who appeared to be a Doberman-Labrador mix -- before dinner. Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of him, but I left with a souvenir nose-dirt smudge on one of my shirts and a lot of dog hair! His face, though dark and with a slightly pointed Doberman-esque nose, was Biscuit's entirely, along with his personality and tendency to be a love sponge.
After dinner with the parentals we watched a bit of cycling on TV and called it an early night. We were up early the next morning to head into Southend. The weather was sunny and gorgeous, perfect for taking off your flip-flops and wading into the sea. Which of course, I did! These are views of the seafront from an observation tower, and the rides are in Peter Pan park.
The world's longest pleasure pier! No, seriously.
After lunch we went to visit the AEB's step-dad, who's just had pretty major surgery on his heart, before heading back into Hockley for a nap and then dinner. Whether it was the walking, the sun or all the wine we had with dinner, I can't say for sure, but I was knackered and we made another early night of it. The next morning we had a bit of sleep-in while it poured down outside, but luckily by the time we got to Southend the clouds were clearing the sun was out and ready for the air show.
We went to the AEB's favorite coffee place in Southend that morning and met up with his brother Joe and his girlfriend Becky, who we then had lunch with before heading down closer to the seafront to take in some of the airshow. As I said earlier, the AEB and I didn't last long at that -- the planes are neat to watch and the weather was quite good, but the only good thing about the crowds of people was being able to take random pictures of trashy looking ones without anyone noticing me. I still need to look through those to find the best ones to post here, but I may need to employ Ed to help me choose the trashy shortlist.
After the airshow we had another wander through the town centre before making our way back to Hockley to collect our things, say thank yous and goodbye and grab the train back to London. It was a really enjoyable weekend, and good to meet more of the AEB's family and spend more time with the ones I already had. I'm a firm believer in knowing where a person comes from to really understand who they are, maybe because where I come from defines me so much -- it was good to get my first chance at that.
HRH e. cawein