Tuesday, February 15, 2011

All That Lived In Its Rainy Arms

My title today comes from the book, Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich. Some of you may recall that thisbook was the inspiration for my undergraduate honors thesis on Love and Language in Erdrich's Native American novels. Lulu, the character who speaks the above line (the entirety of which is, "I was in love with the whole world and all that lived in its rainy arms"), was one of my favourites, as she unabashedly appreciates and repeatedly indulges in the sensual beauty of life. Erdrich said of her in an interview, "She’s able to take in anything that happens and turn it into something that’s rich and exciting. And she somehow has a little magic in her."

Yesterday was Valentine's Day. I wore pink and black socks with elephants and hearts on them that say "Tonnes of Love." I wore a wine-red off-shoulder shirt with a pink lacy tank top showing underneath. I wore a red scarf and a red coat and my red and grey trainers, and if I had had any heart-shaped jewelry I would have worn that, too. Even my undergarments were suitable for the occasion--not that anyone else knew that! I had a really busy day, with rowing at 6:30 followed by breakfast in hall, then class 11-1, then walking up Iffley Road to pick up a free hand mixer (I had intended to bake a cake), then going to Peter McCullough's amazing recreation of a John Donne sermon in the Lincoln Chapel at 5:30, followed by choir from 7-9:45. I had no romantic plans, nor was there any reason for me to feel particularly happy. Still, as I walked around town on what turned out to be a gloriously sunny and breezy and temperate day for February in Oxford, I could not stop smiling. There were people holding flowers, holding hands, holding heart-shaped balloons (a number of which ended up tied to the fence surrounding the Radcliffe Camera, which was a cheerful sight!), and holding boxes of cakes or pastry.
There were couples old and young wandering around enjoying the day, gazing at each other and giggling and stopping to share a kiss in the middle of the sidewalk. I ought to have been jealous, but every time it happened I just could not suppress my joy at seeing other people happy. It's so rare, these days, for people to show their happiness--that is, if they are lucky enough to find it in the first place. It is kept private and precious, like a secret. I was never very good at keeping secrets...

As I walked down the hill after picking up my mixer (a great score from the Oxford Freecycle website, where people keep unwanted but usable items out of landfills by recycling them back to other people who can make use of them), I lingered in the fresh air and sunshine for as long as I could. I felt so happy; I smiled at everyone I saw, and felt positively in love with the world, like Lulu, though I was enjoying the world's sunny arms. I thought about the known effects weather can have on mood, and I wondered if it is actually easier for people to be in love when there is warmth and sunshine than when there is cold and drear. I tried to imagine how one would study that phenomenon, perhaps by surveying those in warm climates and comparing the results to a survey of more northern climes. The Italians are always in love, aren't they? And the English always seem to be miserable. (I say that with a giggle, because it isn't true of either, entirely.) Then again, it may be that the facile love of the tropics is superficial and fleeting (a fair-weather romance?), while the fierce love of the poles must be sturdy and substantial to survive the long, cold winter. These musings occupied me during my pleasant walk, but of course they came to no resolution; poets and philosophers and dreamers, and probably most other human beings, have always been interested in (and mystified by) the nature of love, but no one has ever satisfactorily figured it out.

I was glad to have such a promising start to Fifth Week, not only because it was such a sad time for me last term, but because last week was a little bit miserable, itself. Maybe I got the Fifth Week Blues a little early? Really, it was because I didn't sleep well through the weekend and was working late nights and early mornings to finish a paper and two presentations for Monday and Tuesday, a minor stress exacerbated by the computer lab printer being out of paper when I was trying to print copies of the handout at the last possible minute. Thank goodness for my classmate, Madeleine, who rescued me (and was later rewarded with my first attempt at muffins, an oat-raisin-nut adventure that didn't rise well because we only have a bun tin and not a real muffin tin, but the results were still delicious). So I was really overtired by the time I had the meeting with my advisor, Diane Purkiss, in which I learned that I did not do as well as I'd hoped on the essay from last term, but the markers had not bothered to write any commentary on the form, so I had no idea why. After some tears, and some reassurance from Diane that I am not a failure, I went home and ate a Mars bar and cried again on the phone to W, and then finally composed myself, baked some excellent banana-chocolate chip muffins
(this time with muffin liners, which made all the difference. And yes, apparently I am a stereotypical girl who seeks comfort in food), and went to bed. And that was only Wednesday! But there were lots of positive moments, too. There was an exchange dinner at Jesus College on Tuesday (part of a 3-way exchange between Lincoln, Jesus, and Exeter, of which the final dinner, at Lincoln, was tonight), two successful presentations, a lovely rehearsal of Alexander's Feast for the Turl Street Arts Festival, and a capsize drill to qualify me for sculling in the summer. So I can't complain too much about Fourth Week, even if it had some notes of the blues mixed in with all that jazz.

Of course, today it rained, and all that lived in the world's rainy arms was blustered about by a mean, wet wind that kept most of us huddled with eyes bent on the ground as we rushed to get wherever we were going. For me that was a class at Oriel, a lecture on Figurative Language at the Exam Schools, the OUP Book Store, Starbucks (almost finished off that gift card!), a lecture on biblical references in Herbert and Vaughan at Corpus Christi, and the dinner at Lincoln. Somewhat less enamoured with life than I felt yesterday, I still managed to have a "rich and exciting" day, and as I now move wearily toward my bed, anticipating a 6 a.m. alarm, I can still think positively about the meditative focus of those dark morning hours, the slow awakening of the senses as the body's movement invigorates the mind, and that first glimpse of dawn that rewards a morning row. It makes me hopeful that I, too, might have a little magic in me.