This has to have been, without a doubt, one of the most stressful and exciting days of my life. Today I started an adventure, out on my own. Today I started college.
Mom and my Stephen (my boyfriend) came with me to help me move in; they were both here for emotional support, but Stephen personally took on the job of “wiring” my dorm room to accommodate all of my electric gadgets. I have seldom done so much packing and shopping in my whole life. We filled the back of the Suburban until it was overflowing with sheets, towels, lamps, computer equipment, telephones, alarm clocks, toiletries, books, pillows, shelves, food, clothes, shoes - just about anything that I could possibly take up with me- and then, after two hours driving, we unloaded it all again. Then there was the crazy mob of students all scrambling to buy their textbooks down at the UT Co-op - I don’t know how I survived!
The comforting clutter of my dorm room
The comforting clutter of my dorm room
These first few class days have been a blur to me; I feel like a little mouse in one of those huge laboratory mazes, struggling and panicking as he pokes his nose around corners, trying to find out where he is supposed to be. I had no idea that there were this many buildings or classrooms or people on campus! There are more freshmen here than there were people in my entire home-town.
Luckily, I have a few small classes. I might be able to talk to a few of my classmates in World Literature and Composition, as there are only thirteen students, and my roommate, Emily, has turned out to be not only an amazing friend, but an excellent resource for college-savvy guidance. Without her help, I would never have found my way through the maze of online resources.
How will I ever get to know anyone else here? There are literally thousands of people, and suddenly I’m realizing that I’m just one more. Even if I do make a friend one day, how do I keep him from fading back into this homogenous mass of people? How do I remember them, and how will they remember me? With the exception of Emily and Lauren, what motivation does anyone here have to remember my name?
Lauren and I ventured out today to have lunch at a little diner called the Starseed. The ability to be independent, to explore new opportunities in the foreign environment of this wild city, never ceases to amaze me. There are endless possibilities nestled in the nooks and niches of Austin; new ideas, new experiences, and new adventures are never more than a moment away if I search for them. Still, not all of my adventures have taken place outside of the classroom.
Waller Creek Writing at Waller Creek
Writing at Waller Creek
Who could have known that such a place was hiding here, in the middle of the University of Texas? Who would have guessed? It’s as though I’m seeing the campus through a totally new set of eyes; I am seeing blossoming opportunities and warm invitations instead of stressful obligations and stifling pressures.
I have visited the rainforest and explored the woods of central Texas, but seldom in my life have I seen such a concentrated abundance of life as can be found in Lauren’s bedroom. It should scarcely be called that, for the space where the bed should have been is filled by the residents of a fifty-gallon fish tank. There are cats, mice, snails, fish, and plants, and today Lauren took me on an adventure to find a new member of her little ecosystem: a lobster.
I have gained an appreciation over the years for random, spontaneous trips, so I was excited about visiting a pet store with her. She was looking for a mouse to replace a pet of hers which she planned to feed to my brother’s snake (note to self: stay on Lauren’s good side) and as I had recently adopted one of her mice myself, it seemed like a good opportunity to buy supplies. We were fighting off the urge to cuddle the hamsters (I wasn’t even supposed to have a mouse in my dorm, after all), but our stoicism failed miserably when we reached the aquariums. Lauren fell instantly in love with a little blue lobster which the employees called “Houdini,” and in a moment of weakness I purchased a large yellow snail – a snail! What will I do with a snail? I’m still not sure, but there it is, happily sucking the scum off of the side of its tank as I type. Honestly, I don’t know how Lauren gets me into these things.
This campus amazes me; just when I feel like I know my way through its ever-changing elements - the warm yellow bricks, the bushes, the asphalt- it shows me another side of itself, challenging my perspective.
Tonight Lauren once again yanked me from the warm comfort of my solitary dorm room, this time on a late-night rollerblading excursion. Armed with our wrist-guards and helmets, we set off to conquer the drag. We began with a trip to TCBY for frozen yogurt, followed by a real dinner at Kerbey Lane – we always seem to focus on food when we’re together.
The University of Texas took on a foreign look as we returned to my dorm, gliding smoothly across the dimly lit campus, which was almost completely emptied of its inhabitants. I cannot say whether it was the glow of the tower, the silvery play of shadows and moonlight, or the thrill and grace of sailing in wide circles on the pavement, but when I reached the open pavilion in front of the main building, I saw something in the university that I had never seen before.
Emptied of students and veiled in the semi-darkness, the main building seemed separate and withdrawn from the activity which surrounded it in the daylight. That building exists outside of time. How many generations of students have scrambled to classes under her surveillance? How many of them have seen her as I saw her tonight, dominant but kind, a sort of educational Madonna, welcoming the uncertain but curious students into her arms?
I was instantly humbled; I knew that I was not the first to have wandered these streets after midnight. Some part of me connected to my predecessors, the alumni of the past in whose footsteps I was standing. I have read that once we truly know a place, we leave an imprint of ourselves upon it, a memory of our minds and emotions which remains there long after we die. Suddenly I could feel traces of the thousands who came before me, and I understood why so many alumni remain faithful to UT; we are united under this Madonna of education, our Alma Mater. I left a memory of myself beneath the tower in the moonlight, and it will remain there for those who follow in my wake.
I have just experienced the most crazy, excitement-packed weekend in my short life. I don’t know how I survived it. I suppose I asked for a wild weekend; not only did I invite Stephen up from College Station on sit-in on my calculus class and go out to dinner with Lauren, her friend Tom and his boyfriend, I also made plans for three friends from home to join me in attending my first rock concert on Friday night. Add a promise to my sister that we could shop at local thrift-stores this weekend, and you have a recipe for one exhausted college girl.
My signed Blue October shirt
My signed Blue October shirt
It is now Sunday night, and I am feeling the creeping effects of sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion. To top it all off, I still have to read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for class on Tuesday. Honestly, though, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think when it comes to surviving this crazy college life, knowing when to give yourself a break is a truly necessary skill.
Gilley, my new
Gilley, my new fish
I finally feel like I’m getting back into the swing of things- I had no idea when I started off that I could ever build a life in Austin. I never expected to be able to wake up in the morning with a smile on my face. I certainly never expected to be eager to return to my dorm on a Sunday afternoon. I’m not sure when, or how, but somewhere in between the chaos of disruption and the melancholy of loneliness, this place became my home. I feel the subtle joy of ownership when I vacuum my own floor or type on my own computer. This place, these feelings, this life is mine. I have built it. I have lost some pride, some comfort, and some stability: I no longer know the details of the path in front of me. Still, I am making my way.
I suppose that’s what growing up is about. It seems that the longer I live the more childhood adages become reality. Growing up really is not easy. It is long. It is painful. It is the ripping of one’s entire self from dependence to independence. It is almost a rebirth. Here I am, a new person, out to prove myself. As Oscar Wilde once said, I am “drunk with life,” experiencing my own existence in all of its richness one day at a time.
So I am finally here! The day has greatly wearied me, but it is to be expected, as I awoke far earlier this morning than I am accustomed and embarked on a journey the likes of which every adolescent can make only once in a lifetime. As I write this, I am sitting at a small desk in my room at Magdalen. I arrived here this evening after having ridden for several hours in a small carriage from my home town with a boy who is returning from summer holiday. He seemed to feel himself above me, and after a few introductory phrases, we rode in silence. Naturally he was no help to me when it came to unloading my parcels.
How can I explain to you the excitement of finally reaching the institution for which I have felt myself destined since my first days of learning? I had fears, for a while, that I might not be accepted to Oxford on account of my rural schooling, but father’s old adage has proved itself: “We are gentlemen by nature, if not by birth.” When I saw the distant outline of this great university materializing on the far horizon, I felt like a weary pilgrim first glimpsing Rome. I saw my destiny beckoning to me from the glimmering lights, and I could not answer the call quickly enough.
My room here at Magdalen
My room here at Magdalen
After unpacking my clothes, putting out a few personal things, and organizing my quills and textbooks, I find myself with little to do but muse on what adventures are to come. My moment of arrival has lost its initial gilding of excitement, and I find myself quite alone and uncertain here on my first night in Oxford.
Wilde invited me to go shopping with him and Blair on High Street this afternoon; apparently Wilde thinks that he is in dire need of more china from Spiers’s Emporium, although I honestly cannot explain how he pays for it. I was surprised at Wilde’s willingness to walk; his general motto is that “the only possible exercise is to talk, not to walk!” Once we arrived, he selected two exquisite blue vases with which he became instantly enamored, and for the rest of the night he complained that he would never be able to “live up to his blue china.”
After we returned to campus, I parted ways with my friends and walked on in the fading light. Unlike my friends here, I occasionally feel the need to walk about on my own. I had never before noticed the calm quiet of campus after the sun has set; it seems more alive, somehow- not with the activities of students and noises of classes, but with the thoughts of great minds from generations past, as though pieces of their souls still lingered in the stones. The gardens are sweeter at this time of day, heavier in their fragrance and lighter in their color, as if their essence has evaporated into the air to be breathed in by the passerby.
My wanderings gradually led me to the Chapel, which I had never seen without the starched formality of Sunday services. It seemed to me more majestic in the soft moonlight, and I felt a slight tremor of fear, as a child might feel, which dared and pressed me to enter the sacred space.
sketch of the Chapel as I saw it tonight A stone saint
A sketch of the Chapel as I saw it tonight
A stone saint
Wilde has developed a rather strong admiration over the recent months for the Slade Professor of Art John Ruskin, and I have found myself constantly accompanying my friend to lectures and discussions about Pre-Raphaelite paintings and Gothic Architecture. This I do not find particularly taxing, but when Oscar came to me a few weeks ago and suggested that we join in Ruskin’s latest project, I must confess I was significantly surprised and distressed. Professor Ruskin apparently feels that the students should put their energy to more useful work than rowing and walking, and he therefore organized a group of students to build a road across the swampy land which divides Lower Hinksey from Upper Hinksey. Despite his strong aversion towards physical labor, Wilde had joined the crusade, and assumed I would do so also. I attended at first for curiosity’s sake, but after a few days I found myself taking some pride in the manual labor. Naturally our final accomplishment was a miserable looking structure, as it was constructed entirely by undergraduate students unskilled in the art of road-making. If Hosky were not such a persuasive talker, I could certainly have saved myself the aching back and frozen fingers.
crew at the race today, slightly behind Exeter
Our crew at the race today, slightly behind Exeter
The electricity which had hitherto been building slowly among the members of the crowd suddenly broke loose, cutting through the silence with a shocking wave of released energy. Before I knew what was happening, I was running along the bank, shouting and cheering with my fellow students as our crews fiercely beat the water in beautiful synchronization.
Magdalen did not bump Exeter college this afternoon, and tonight the common room is quiet and solemn, as if the students are mourning their hopes of victory. The heavy summer rain seems sent to dampen our spirits even more. Nevertheless, I thought that we rowed rather well, and my heart still feels the memory of the exciting afternoon as I lie, restless, in my bed.
I believe that today I have finally broken through Wilde’s sarcastic exterior and caught a glimpse of the man underneath. We were sitting in his main room after one of his less extravagant dinner parties when he began to question me on my plans for life after Oxford.
“Well” I said, “I am planning to continue with the classics. I have considered becoming a don, but I honestly don’t know. Perhaps I would be better suited for some more technical field, such as the …”
“Honestly, you do go on, don’t you” he interjected. “I couldn’t care less about your career, I mean what do you want to do?”
I knew not what to say, and so it seemed the best course of action to say nothing.
Wilde sighed. “I apologize. It is only…I am not content to plan my life according to the practical plans of the day. There is far too much in the world left unnoticed and untouched and unwritten.” He looked up for a moment, as though he were considering something. His eyes lit up with a sudden decision, and he rose, saying to me, “Life is far too important a thing to ever talk about. Prose is not for such occaisions. Let me show you something.”
With that he rose and moved into his personal room, where he removed a piece of parchment from a desk drawer and handed it to me to read.
It was part of a poem, obviously written in Wilde’s hand.
Only the leaves are gently stirred
By the soft breathing of the gale,
And in the almond-scented vale
The lonely nightingale is heard.
The day will make thee silent soon,
O nightingale sing on for love!
While yet upon the shadowy grove
Splinter the arrows of the moon.
Before across the silent lawn
sketch of Wilde’s Nightingale
A sketch of Wilde’s Nightingale
And to love's frightened eyes reveals
The long white fingers of the dawn.
Fast climbing up the eastern sky
To grasp and slay the shuddering night,
All careless of my heart's delight,
Or if the nightingale should die.
I was surprised that Wilde had written such a thing, and told him so.
“This style is nothing like your Latin prose, Wilde, that’s for sure.”
“No,” he said, and for the first time since my meeting him, he sounded serious. “But you know, one's real life is so often the life that one does not lead.”
After this he fell silent, and even by my best efforts I could not seem to coax him out of his melancholy; I thought it best to leave him to himself for the night.
So, diary, tonight this is what I have learned: never assume that you fully understand a person, especially in youth. There are far more riddles hidden in one human being than all the scientists of the ages could ever record.
As Bodley and I were walking through the Deer Park this afternoon, listening to Wilde explain to us once again the importance of beauty above all else in our lives, I felt my mind wandering back over the past term. It amazed me how drastically one’s life can change in a mere matter of months, weeks, nay, moments! I felt, upon my arrival here at Magdalen, that I was being hustled along by time and aspiration; in the back of my mind, I expected a grueling series of tests and studies, nights spent thumbing through books with ink-stained fingers, and afternoons devoted to pouring over Latin and Greek prose. To be sure, I have had my fair share of long nights devoted to studying, but it seems now that an equal number have been spent sharing laughs and ideas in the company of good friends. This thing, then, that we call Oxford, this mystical castle from whence the truth of the past and the visions of the future spring, this true and tangible place, has somehow seeped deep into my blood. Here, I have dug my shallow roots into an established culture secure enough and rich enough to allow me to grow. Oscar tells me that he would rather spend his days “drunk with life” than as a “dried up Oxford don,” but I cannot help but feel that once I leave this place, I will envy those who live their lives teaching and who die nestled under the branches and between the stones of Oxford, their voices remaining to whisper in the twilight to the lonely students who wander the campus in the moonlight.
 “The drag” is a nickname for Guadalupe, a street very close to the UT campus with restaurants and shops.
 Ellmann, Richard. Oscar Wilde. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. “Wilde did not totally neglect his classical studies except when the exercises were boring.”
 Ellmann. “Hunter Blair describes Wilde in an autobiographical book (In Victorian Days)” and mentions Wilde’s enthusiasm for furnishing his rooms at Oxford. Hunter Blair went shopping with Wilde several times.
 Ellmann. Wilde ran up quite a bill at Spiers’s. “In those days tradesmen were willing to wait for students to settle their bills, but even Speirs's lost patience with Wilde and dunned him in the Vice-Chancellor’s Court.”
 Ericksen, Donald H. Oscar Wilde. Boston: Twayne, 1977.
 Ellmann. Hosky was Oscar Wilde’s nickname at Oxford. According to Ericksen, Wilde also showed a talent for making up nicknames at Trinity (where he went to school before coming to Oxford).
 The Isis is the local name for the Thames in Oxford. http://archive.comlab.ox.ac.uk/other/rowing/oxford.html
 “Life is far too important a thing to ever talk about” http://www.worldofquotes.com/author/Oscar-Wilde/1/
 From Wilde’s “By the Arno” http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc38w2.html