Tell me to write about nothing. I’m asking for it. I’ll even beg for it. I’ll bend into a bow and ask you in my courtier’s voice if I can write about stupidity and bad cups of coffee, if I can pretend that I’m original and go to bed feeling like the day’s work is done. Tell me to write about the dead space, the air that mutes and thickens because your friends are in the room but none of you are talking. I think it would be easier to write about these things, don’t you? I think it would be easier because I am not Wordsworth, I can’t turn a waterfall into some goddamn metaphor about the brevity of a sigh, so I’m going to write about the things I know, because I know nothing. You crack a laugh and ask me what “nothing” is. So I unbutton my blouse and show you.
Days Twenty-Three and Twenty-Four
Yesterday we instructed our RA friend on how to touch a duck. They’ve gotten a lot more wary now, and a lot faster at ducking (hah.) away, so he only managed to get a brush of tail feathers. But, he was just as ecstatic as we were, so I think it was worth it.
Class was languid and intense. We were picked apart and left for crows — a medicine you sometimes need for your prose (see what I did there?). The afternoon saw a singular table and a quick venture into a neighbouring, donation-based garden. The haar had been lurking around since the morning, and over the course of an hour I watched it finally fade until it was a heavy, blurry line on the horizon.
Yesterday evening was uninteresting. I talked to my L.A. friends — I’m sounding Scottish again, apparently — before steeping myself in research and attempts at writing. It was because of this and the homework I remembered to do at one in the morning that I didn’t post yesterday.
This morning was quick and forgetful. We arrived at our Castle House to find a round robin of a competitive and tense speaking-based game. We played at this until the break, and I watched Krysto consume what was basically an entire cup of sugar (i.e. a Malteser from North Point). We came back to a mostly negative but honest discussion before we broke for signed copies, soup, and Mars bars.
My last tutorial was a sort of party — my tutor brought in treats to celebrate — and for once, I was not shy to share. We thanked her for her time and she thanked us for ours.
Decisions dominated the afternoon and we left for the ceilidh in high excitement (or, at least, I did!). We danced in the music hall on a floor that felt as old as stone, spinning and laughing as we whirled and stomped. I will surely miss the ceilidh.
Quote of the Day: Jo Falla, from a while back (I happened to find it in my notebook) – “Can we have a threesome?”
Currently Reading: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Currently Listening to: Night Work by Scissor Sisters
Duck Update: A group of ducklings has joined the pond. I repeat, A GROUP OF DUCKLINGS HAS JOINED THE POND.
I woke up pointlessly early and had a disappointing encounter of the toast kind. We ate slowly and followed our feathered friends out of the cafeteria. We’ve gotten them to start taking bread from our fingers, and guess what that means — we can touch the ducks!!! I touched a duck!!! I TOUCHED A DUCK!!!! It was so soft and sleek and I just *melts into a puddle*
The morning was a rush and a neighbourly nap. JF taught us about hotel websites that lie and how monasteries can actually be mental institutions. We broke, and I learned a new rhythm, before we reported back to learn more new rhythms and to recreate what it feels like to be a hostage. I honestly couldn’t tell you more without sounding mad.
Lunch was a warm and informational hour. I headed off to find the “Natural History Museum” of St Andrews (I’ve put that in brackets because it’s actually just a very large collection of animals, fossils, skeletons, corals, and the like), where I met up with my tutorial. We held a bomb and played with the animals before it was time to find and attend a lecture on undergraduate admissions.
We wandered home in merry, sleepy company. Dinner came quickly and after we exited the cafeteria, a duck managed to get itself stuck in the maze of tables. This required the chef coming out of the kitchen to do his special whistle to get the duck to exit. Very dramatic, to be sure.
I gave into my neglected work and research this evening. And now, I must return to it.
Quote of the Day: Krysto (speaking to me) – I’m glad to know that you care more about napping than the important affairs of the world.
Currently Reading: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Currently Listening to: It Catches Up With You by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
The morning was a surprise rush tossed together with a surprise visit from the duckling herd. They’ve taken to actually coming into the dining room/hall/chapel to poke around for bread. The courage! (Me at the airport on Saturday: Why, no, officer, I have no idea why my suitcase is quacking! Surely there can’t be a duck in there! Who would try to do such a thing?!?!)
We embarked ever northwards and stopped at a truly well-furnished hermitage. Eva and I have decided that we’ve found our future calling, namely giving ourselves entirely over to nature (meaning moss in the hair, clothing made out of rabbit skins, truly unappealing hair, and a lack of personal hygiene) just to leap out of the woods at gentlewomen, screaming of the prophecies the natural world has bestowed upon us. What could be better??
Next came lunch-on-the-fly and a quest to find the Dock Leaf for a stung (new!) friend as we hiked around a truly perilous ravine (Eva began reciting my obituary as we climbed) that was straight out of a fairy tale. We scared a deer and a wild Joe Falla, who met us rather reluctantly on a bridge. Sadly, my quest for a walking stick rather failed in the last minutes of our journey. I never did find a good enough stick.
We paused before descending upon Dewar’s World of Whisky – a place I could have happily gone without visiting. They were remarkable buildings and apparati, to be sure, but the sweet, pungent smell turned my stomach upon first whiff and the nausea didn’t fade until my Sunday roast and Yorkshire Pudding banished all traces of the alcohol *loud shudder*.
The evening was a continuation of Eva’s film education – I showed her Super 8, my favourite film – and far too many bowls of Frosties (British Frosted Flakes – only BETTER). We slowed at the chime of eleven, and I’ve been sitting here rather uselessly ever since. Time for bed, I think…
Moment of the Day: We stopped to pick up Joe Falla at a car park and a cluster of my Creative Writing classmates (who were sitting behind me) spread the word that we should start chanting “Falla, Falla, Falla!” when he walked on the bus. He ascended the stairs, and we ascended our voices…. to rather amusing results.
Currently Reading: Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Currently Listening to: Stay and Defend by Wolf Gang
The morning greeted us with delicious yoghurt and a surprise storm that Eva was glad to have dodged. Krysto eventually turned up and while he and Eva were both very distracting, I managed to finally finish reading Writing with Style and boy, am I happy to see it done!
Our hair got soaked as we took a shortcut to town. We wolfed down pizza that was more expensive than we thought it would be and polished it off with – you guessed it – ice cream.
We wandered into a used/antiquarian book store, which just ate up the time. Krysto met up with his grandparents and left us to go to the library for me to grab research materials for my final project. This took longer than we thought it would – the St Andrews library is very distracting – but when we went back to the bookstore, I had a new recommendation, an Oxford anthology, and a friend! The store owner is expecting a letter from me as soon as I finish the book he picked out for me.
Eva and I wandered home in spitting rain, only to be caught up by Krysto! The mist had settled in quite heavily, so we were delayed by taking pictures and shaking the rain from our hair.
The evening was A Cinderella Story (we managed to get a boy completely invested in a chick flick! SCORE!), pasta on top of meatballs, and T.S. Eliot read aloud. A lovely evening, to be sure. I hope I have another week’s worth of them.
Moment of the Day: Standing on the edge of a mist-filled field in complete, pocketed silence.
Currently Reading: Nooooothiiiiinnngggg and it’s so beautiful!!!!
Currently Listening to: The Child Inside by Depeche Mode
Days Seventeen, Eighteen, and Nineteen
On Tuesday, a guest slam poet (a lovely lady named Rachel McCrum) gave us circular nicknames, ballad encouragement, and taught us how to properly adjust a microphone. After truly embarrassing myself, I became a bit more comfortable with the idea of slam.
Wednesday and Thursday passed in a blur. Everything was focused on writing and practising for our evening of Slam Poetry (Thursday night) and getting our radio play finished and rehearsed by Friday.
I read twice in the Slam, made it to the second heat, and won a Golden Orb for my efforts (in JF speak, that means a clementine). My friend Joe (unsurprisingly) won the Slam – snaps for Joe!!!!
Yesterday morning was gratifying – our radio play went off without a hitch – and very humourous. My classmates are hysterical! We had a long lunch, accompanied by Buttons and Maltesers (that’s North Point Café speak for a hot chocolate with whipped cream, marshmallows, and either Cadbury Buttons or Maltesers on top) and a quick couple of sandwiches, topped off with some of the most delicious ice cream I’ve ever had.
Tutorial on Friday afternoon was a summation and workshop. Eva and I did small shopping and raced the rainy sky home.
The tartan hair scrunchies are still a thing.
Dundee was a simple distance and terrifying bridge away. We, sporting our finest thrift store couture, wove through construction destruction and pulled up outside DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts), where we were immediately split into halves.
JF pulled the first half (which Eva, Krysto, Jen, and I were in) of us out to the street. The first thing he told us was to pay attention to the tops of buildings, which would tell their history better than their lower floors would. I got a bit of a crick in my neck from spending most of the next two hours looking up.
He explained the uselessness of the bingo hall, showed us how the city was filthy and barely treading water. We saw meeting rooms and abandoned department stores and post offices and far too many broken bottles. I’ve decided that back alleys are an art form and that Dundee is quite possibly the saddest place I’ve ever been.
We then went into a graveyard that had been there since the late 1500s, early 1600s. It was once outside the city walls, and it was begun in the courtyard of the city’s monastery. The good brothers began planting graves rather haphazardly on and above their small hill, and soon they decided that it didn’t look organised enough. Solution? Fill in the hill. They poured in a new layer of sediment on top of the graves and started planting more graves. Now, you can see the graves from the level below pressing up around the newer ones – they don’t even look like gravestones anymore, just rounded, uneven hunks of rock.
I left a touch on a witch’s gravestone and my classmates and I were stunned into silence by the sheer number of children listed on family gravestones. The most shocking one was of a single mother who had had fourteen children, only five of whom lived on to experience adulthood. Well, that one ties with the parents who knew their four month-old son’s age down to the day, which they listed with what felt like nauseating pride (and grief) on his gravestone.
We walked out of the newer parts of the city, past churches that had been turned into clubs and restaurants and sports centres and into the old jute mill district. Dundee was the centre of jute manufacturing up until the early 20th century, which was when the jute barons decided to take the industry to India, where it still is to this day. The removal of this trade caused the city to crash, and it’s still struggling to get out of that pitfall.
The reminders of the jute trade are everywhere. Massive smoke stacks rise above the city – only a third or a quarter of them remain, because a lot of them were torn down for safety reasons – and the abandoned jute district is full of mills that have collapsed into near-ruin. Many of the buildings still resemble what they looked like in the early 1900s, down to the pulleys, fire escapes, thick floorboards, and massive, north-facing windows. This part of the city is especially haunting, as car garages and credit loaners have taken old mill managers’ cottages and turned them into small businesses. The factories stand alone, crumbling giants.
DCA greeted us with a place to sit (which we did with relief) and free paper and watercolours. The following hour-or-so break was full of half-finished paintings, sandwiches, and soothing lullabies.
Then, the groups switched, and Jen and I went to go screen print the poster we’d designed the week before. It was an illuminating, tiring, and mildly stressful experience. And yes, I did get ink on my clothes!
The ride back was rainy and as equally sleepy as the morning’s. We crashed upon arrival.