Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ode to UCLA...

After graduating in June with my hard-earned degree in English literature, I must admit that I have developed a slight aversion to writing of any sort.

After the trauma of deadlines and forced literary criticism, I had hoped that my inclination toward NOT writing would pass, but you never know.

My poor little spinner-blog has suffered as a result, but I am back here today to remind myself that I LOVE to write- no matter how many research papers and Medieval texts I suffered through.

This being said- I'd like to revisit some of my favorite things about my brief but lovely time at UCLA.

Think of it as an homage to the English Literature that hangs gently upon the softened metaphorical walls of my mind...

To begin with...the cool concrete recesses of Royce Hall. I used to sit there, beneath the arched hallway ceiling of an outdoor entryway, and watch the fellows pass by. The shining green leaves in the tall trees moved like big restless organisms...longing to be free from their oppressive trunks and branches.
I spent many mornings and afternoons in this place...studying or eating my sad little student lunch...but I always felt so grateful to be sitting there.

The next victim of my gratitude is Professor Barbara Packer. A thin older woman, with chopped grey hair, shawled shoulders, and endless information- she is the best lecturer that I ever had. She turned Paradise Lost in to story time. I took her courses on 19th century American poetry, John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer/The Canterbury Tales, and the Transcendentalists. In our Chaucer course, we had to memorize and recite the first 18 lines of the Canterbury Tales' General Prologue. When I had finished my own recitation, she called my pronunciation of the Middle English "woeful."
But I didn't care- I knew that after my (if I do say so) stellar performance in four courses together, she really liked me- despite my woeful Chaucer. And how great is the word "woeful?"
Here is my image of the shame that accompanies an adjective such as "woeful"...

Here is a picture of her from 1994 when she won a distinguished teaching award at UCLA...and below is the beginning of the General Prologue in Middle English (just in case you thought reciting it would be easy)...

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
5 Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
10 That slepen al the nyght with open eye-
(So priketh hem Nature in hir corages);
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
15 And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond, to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were seeke.

Next up on our little tour is perhaps the nearest and dearest spot on the campus to me. The sculpture garden is unlike any place I have ever been. Have you ever seen the movie "Stealing Beauty?" Do you remember how the grounds of their Italian villa were littered with big, beautiful sculptures? That's what the sculpture garden is like.
During my first quarter at UCLA, I had one of the most peaceful afternoons of my life there.
Set back from the Humanities buildings where I had most of my classes, this garden is closer to the art school and up near the Sunset Blvd.-adjacent section of campus. I stumbled across it and sat down to read. It was Autumn, and the sun made everything warm and yet the outdoors glowed with the impending transition into the Los Angeles "winter." All of a sudden, I heard the low, deep murmurs of a stand-up bass being warmed up. Within seconds, a jazz trio had set themselves up and sent their lulling melodies across the garden and into the air. It was a beautiful moment.

Here is the beautiful place of which I speak...

I read many of the great works in this garden. I'd like to mention a few. One is "Nightwood" by Djuna Barnes. I cannot describe this book in a way that fulfills its whole worth, but I'll just say that it is a beautiful story of a lonesome, wandering woman who makes many men and women fall in love with her. It's sad, but rich with European scenery and intense personal interaction. It has stayed with me.
Next is William Faulkner's "The Bear." I'm usually drawn to tales of feminine woe and bucolic settings, but there is something about the Southern roots of the story, and Old Ben- an elusive and human like old bear with a mutilated paw- and young Ike's courtship of the great beast, that made me see masculinity, hunting and the American South in a different way. A more beautiful way.
And last, I suppose, for brevity's sake, is Margaret Atwood's "Oryx and Crake." It depicts a dystopic
not-too-distant-future wherein people eat "chickynobs" and genetic hybrid animals like "rakunks" and the deadly "wolvog" roam around. There is disease, hope, love, death, porn, and painful purity. It's a deliciously painful story to read.

Also of worthy mention:
The Price of Salt
Pride & Prejudice
The Life of Samuel Johnson
Mao II

Well...I could really go on and on. Tonight, however, we are out to celebrate a friend's birthday downtown and I must go to prepare my visage.

I'll leave you with the delightful commencement speech given by Brad Delson to myself and the rest of my UCLA class of 2009. It is perhaps the best commencement speech ever.

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