Friday, September 30, 2011

When your thing gets wild, chilly down.

Or one of them, at least.

I have to tell you that yesterday was awesome. Mostly last night, but I figure class wasn't so bad either, and we had a pretty good visiting speaker from a printing press. I'd devote more time to this if I weren't impatient to tell you about my night. Our speaker was from St. Martin's, and he spoke about the actual process of printing and binding books, different paper, digital books, ebooks, and so on. The process is really complex, and I would have no idea in that career field. Seriously, I would probably fall into the press and end up as large red blots in the middle of a self-help novel. Not that they would sell those copies. That would be unprofessional.

On to the best part of my day. I tagged along to a showing of Labyrinth (David Bowie, codpiece, puppets - watch it if you haven't) in the macrobert theater, with a Q&A session with one of the many, many puppeteers after. The film, as always, was wonderful, with the possible exception of the quality. 'Bout 15 minutes in, the sound cuts off, then the theater goes dark. I'm pretty sure they were using an original copy. After the film all of the children left (thank God), and we sit waiting for a couple of minutes before this 60s guy gets up and says, "Well, I'm just going to jump in because I'm not sure anyone's going to introduce me."

Aside: By 60s guy, I mean that he was in his 60s, and his hair was influenced by the 60s. Double whammy.

Our speaker's name was Toby Philpott, and he controlled, in addition to various smaller parts on other puppets, the legs and body of the lead singer of the fire gang. Remember those red fiery guys in the forest who try to remove Jennifer Connolly's head? Yeah, he was dancing with those guys. He worked more extensively on Dark Crystal, where he was shoved up near someone's armpit in one puppet and worked on Jim Henson's team. Pretty legendary, yeah? Stick with me, my story gets better. Toby also operated the head, tongue, and left arm of Jabba the Hut.

Yeah. Take it in. Jabba. The. Hut.

Thinking back on it, I guess it's somewhat strange that I would probably be more excited by meeting the person who worked on R2D2 than I would Carrie Fisher, but that's just the way I am. The technical aspects of film are exciting to me. Don't get me wrong, I could probably work up a good fangirl gush if I ever met Samuel L. Jackson (are you listening, Universe?), but meeting this guy was pretty great. He explained a bunch about how they worked the puppets (with a lot of funny little demonstrations - sans puppets) and about all the little process they went through on the film to make the goblins and other creatures believable. who would have thought blinking was so important?

Mr. Philpott had a pretty interesting back story. Hi father was a puppeteer and his mother was an actress, but he decided to run away from home and school to tour the U.S. and Mexico and be a street performer. He learned how to juggle, walk on his hands, etc. making a little bit of money. He got wind of a juggling class and joined up, where his teacher/instructor/whatever-call-master-jugglers told him about an add in the paper for a puppet workshop audition for this movie. Wham. In the business. He did 6 films total, then moved on to teaching and working in the circus again. Now he's moved up to Cardiff where he works at a library doing semi-techy things. He says he'll probably go back to doing stuff for the circus when they retire him from the library.

After the Q&A, someone approached him about signing a card for a friend because they couldn't make it, and the floodgates opened. He sat signing things and talking about his life and answering questions for a good hour after the show. He's a wonderful person, and I probably have a slight high from this experience.

So there you go.  After all the information slammed at me this week and the future pressures of next week, it was a pretty pleasant way to spend 4 hours of my time. Wouldn't trade it for anything.

Until next time,

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dammit, I should have concurred.

Today was a bit of a whirlwind of date being shoved into an admittedly already confused brain.

For our 'general knowledge' portion of this general graduate studies module (aka class for my American readers) we are required to take, our course leaders have handpicked several visiting speakers and seminars for us to attend. I'm not sure if this module is specific to the University of Stirling, UK universities, or all postgrad programs, but I'm not sure why they would start trying to make us well-rounded students now. Maybe someone will explain it to me one day. Anyway, our visiting speaker slot was filled today with Andrew O'Hagan speaking about civic memory and Scottish culture, put on at the Macrobert cinema/theater thing on campus.

When I tell them about coming to school here, so many people ask me "Why Scotland?" Generally, I'm torn between two reactions to this question. The first is an uninformative, sarcastic answer of "Because I wanted to."
 and the other is a full monologue extolling the history and culture of Scotland. Both of those answers are accurate, but not completely true. And Andrew O'Hagan pretty much nailed my reason int he presentation today in a rather eloquent, author-ly way. I came back to Scotland for one simple reason - the people.

Scotland has this somewhat unique relationship with their country. Each person here identifies with their particular region. As O'Hagan put it, they belong to Scotland (only he was talking about his parents' relationship to Glasgow).  In all the places I have traveled, this identity, this ownership of origin has never been rivaled, with the possible exception of my own state. The idea of Scotland is less of a place and more of a sort of state of being, like a living, breathing thing central in the hearts of all of the people here. In that way, the people here have made it a true home, and they never really leave Scotland even if or when they move to another country. This aspect of O'Hagan's talk was the part that struck me the most as something I was able to see upon setting foot in this country, and it's one of the reasons I decided to come back.

O'Hagan described a lot about the atmosphere of Scotland. This country is full of 'characters' and wrapped in a sort of lovely blanket of fiction, which I find absolutely delightful. There was a funny little remark in there about how hell, most of Scottish history is somewhat fictionalized. There's a story to be told everywhere here, whereas other places I have been have a lackluster approach to having any sense of community. I love Scotland for it's ability to enrich any conversation with a quirky, hilarious anecdote or fun fact that oftentimes isn't actually fact. And, more often than not, the people here gather you into their stories and welcome you to take a glimpse at their lives. There are people here have made me feel as if I were a part of their lives after sitting next to them on the train between Stirling and Linlithgow. I've met people who open their very homes to me, like my landlady Susan who offered me a place to stay if I ever traveled down to the Isle of Arran. This is not to say this warmth is primarily a Scottish thing. I have met several people here from all over who have made me feel equally welcome, but it seems as if I have encountered this feeling in every corner of Scotland I have explored.

At the end of the presentation there was a bit of a Q&A session in which I felt completely idiotic. Some of these questions were ridiculously in-depth and intellectual, but one question from a Canadian woman was "Who is a Scot?". What is the thing that makes a Scot, a Scot? Is it simply a matter of location, or something else entirely? O'Hagan's reply was that he identifies a Scot as someone who view Scotland as central in their mind. He said a Scot is a person who, regardless of what it says on your birth certificate, imagines Scotland as the only place they want to call home.

The rest of the day passed with more of a busied, information-jammed flavor. We've been split up, again, into two groups to accommodate for the size of our designated computer lab, so we took shifts on library information presentations and InDesign workshops for class. Seriously, we've probably got 4 different groups going at once, and they will be switched around again for the next set of assignments. I might request a large poster telling us what group goes for what module. It's confusing as hell. Anyway, everyone was talking out about the 'record-breaking heat' today (it's 73 degrees Fahrenheit, by the way), and we had a library information presentation in a stifling hot room right after the O'Hagan event. Then we moved on over to our first class on InDesign, where I fake a tech-savviness I do not actually have and managed to convince myself and my teacher. We'll see how long that lasts.

Today I have absorbed way too much information, eaten way too little, walked around in short-sleeves n Scotland at the end of September (who knew?!), and managed to settle into my idea for my publishing project with a bit of comfort. I actually had a couple of people in my group tell me they would like to read it! So that's a bit exciting. Tomorrow is another busy day full of marketing, visiting speakers, and IT classes, followed by Friday, which is pretty much a catch-all day for various things I have to have settled. Internet comes (hopefully) Friday, so yay for that! I will actually be able to blog from the comfort of my own how and Skype with my parents for the first time in a couple of weeks. Don't be too sad for me on that one. I have been calling and sending them emails pretty regularly. But I will be able to Skype with the rest of you! then Saturday, I will take a nice, relaxing climb up Dumyat, where I vow I will NOT fall in a bog again. We'll see...

Until next time,

P.S. - When I finished writing this, I somehow hit the back button and deleted everything. Thank you, Blogger, for autosaving.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Oh, hai!

Dad reminded me 'politely' that I need to update my blog, so I thought I would oblige. Much has happened since I last wrote, including two weeks of class, several mishaps with the bank, fire hazards, and various post-related surprises.

To begin this whole thing, I suppose I should tell you a bit about the thing that is taking the majority of my time - school. My program is from 10-5 Tuesday through Thursday, with an hour (sometimes) break for lunch. I have to admit that I do get restless and want to put my head down on the desk, but I have to refrain because I'm pretty sure that's frowned on by postgraduate profs. We address our profs by their first name, on request, and so far all of them are extremely helpful and very clear with instructions. I have a marketing class, an editorial and content creation class, a publishing dynamics class, and a class specifically for the giant project I will be doing for the next two semesters. The project is to make a publishing 'dummy', which is essentially 16 pages of a book, ebook, children's book, whatever. I've got an idea in mind for a twist on Grimm's fairy tales that I've told to a few people and enlisted the help of 3 artists and my creativity facilitator, Misty. She and I have this great relationship where we can look at each other's stuff/outfits/whatever and tell the other what we need to do to improve in a loving and easily acceptable way. By the end of it all, I will have created a physical product, from formatting to design to editing. We don't have to write it or anything, but I'm an overachiever who doesn't want to deal with copyright issues.

In other news at school, we had a presentation yesterday about the workforce, and our presenter managed to simultaneously adjust our focus on possible careers and scare the shit out of us. Apparently the publishing workforce is aging, shrinking down their hiring, and keeping all their current employees. BUT the main area that needs hiring is marketing, sales and distribution, and technological stuff. I'm somewhat relieved to hear that because marketing is quickly becoming a subject on par with economics for me. I have a natural aptitude for it because I tend to gloss over the technical names for things and focus on the actual theory itself. Economics and marketing have a tendency to try to confuse you with terminology. Get past that, and you're golden.

Moving on to mishaps with the bank, let me just tell you...banks in any country suck. I opened an account so I can pay rent and use a debit card that won't be looked at funny for the next year. Everything was hunky dory until I tried to deposit my financial aid in said account, only to be told I can't do anything because I needed proof I lived here. I get that. It makes sense. Luckily I had received a letter from the Stirling Council about council tax (another absurd way for the gov'ment to make money here), so they told me it would be fixed by the following Wednesday. I continued on my merry way, and was granted Wednesday afternon off from classes in a fortunate twist of fate. I tried to deposit the very large check again...and failed. No, the lady said, we need your visa information again. Bring that in and we'll fix everything.

Let me just pause here to tell you about my morning of panic. I woke up and had the genius idea to set my passport down by my jewelry so I would remember to grab it for the bank before I left. I grabbed my handy dandy lockbox and keyed in the right numbers...and no passport. So, okay, no passport there, but it's probably just in my purse or computer bag. Skip on over and search said bags....and no passport. Okay, let's not panic just yet. I probably put it somewhere dumb and told myself to move it later, then didn't. Look on the table, up on a shelf, inside my luggage...and no passport. Calm time has passed, freak out time has commenced. What followed was a lovely interlude of me alternating between reassuring myself that I took it out of my bag, it couldn't have fallen out, it's here in the apartment and calling myself all kinds of irresponsible and stupid for not knowing EXACTLY where such important documents are, you irritating, ditsy little fool. Things got ugly. A couple minutes of standing in the middle of the room and retracing my footsteps for the last week and a half passed, and I had a sudden thought. Once, I lost my debit card for an hour and then found it in the book I had shoved in my purse. I flipped through all of my books, found my passport, and immediately burst into tears. Not a good way to start your day, but at least I'm not as stupid as I thought. Maybe. Jury's still out ton that one.

Back to the bank - I brought in my newly found passport today, and it will now take until Monday, most definitely by Tuesday to have everything worked out where I can deposit and access the big check I have. Luckily, I don't need to go anywhere, so I'll just spend this weekend getting all organized for class and cleaning my apartment. Which currently houses a sparking microwave. A rather horrifying moment for a girl living by herself for the first time, not entirely sure where the fire extinguisher is. Thankfully, my landlady is on top of things, and I will conference with her husband tonight on the issue. She thinks it may have been the fact that she cleaned the microwave with a metal scourer before I got there. I'm inclined to agree, but we'll wait and see.

So, you're all caught up on my shenanigans and tomfoolery. Both words which, surprisingly, are accepted by my automatic spell-checker. Talk about a varied dictionary. I may actually spend some time, previously promised, walking around Bridge of Allan and taking pictures. In my defense, I've been pretty busy and it has rained nearly every day. But I think waiting for sunshine in Scotland right now is comparable to waiting for rain in Texas this summer. Equally useless and frustrating.

Leaving you with a fun fact. The meaning of the thistle, official emblem for Scotland is "No One Provokes me with Impunity". Appropriate, yes?

Until next time,

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I'm an adult?

Hello again!

I've been awfully remiss in blogging, apologies, but it's been a wee bit busy on my end of the world. I think I left off with moving in? Well, I'm definitely all moved in. I've even gone so far as to leave an actual mess in my flat this morning. I fell asleep doing the washing, and I managed to leave clothes all over the place. This is actually quite commonplace for me, but you can definitely tell I live there. My flat is a small studio solely reserved for me. I can't stand up in the shower without banging my head on the slanted ceiling, even at my height. It's actually a bath, really, but I have this small shower hookup thing that gives me a shower option. I'm thinking of just switching to baths because in the cold morning, it's best to be submerged in hot water. I have no fridge to speak of, but having a butcher right down the street and a grocery store around the corner makes it relatively simple for me to just buy meat on the days that I need it. But my flat is a perfect little place just for me in a pretty great location, so I'm stoked.

The past few days have just been settling in and going to class. My program is pretty small with around 30-something people, and 98% female. Naturally, with a class that small, we are all going to get to know each other and I've already met some great people. After the induction meeting yesterday, a group of us and two of the profs all went to the Med (a pub) and sat around and talked. It was great fun. My classes are only Tuesday through Thursday from 10-1 and 2-5, and we have several guest speaking events and other things going on at the same time. I've offered myself up as course representative, a pretty easy job they tell me, and I'm thinking of doing other outside things as well. Tomorrow I figure I will go up to the job shop on campus and see if there is a place on campus I might get a job. That would be an enormous help to the feed-Alicia fund.

The program is set up with a mind for the future, and we have some aspects paying particular attention tot he digital world. One of our course leaders  (profs) puts on events for something she calls 'The Digital Bookshop', and I plan on attending some of those. I'm not exactly a cheerleader for the digital aspect of publishing, but it is a major movement that any prospective employee needs to be aware of.

I haven't yet had internet set up in my flat, but I do have a date! It's on September 30th, with the wonderful broad time period of 8AM to 1pm. Fridays are my day off, so I'm a little peeved that I will have to be awake that early for someone who will get there whenever. But hey, INTERNET! I'm currently sitting up in the atrium (students center) on campus, roughly a mile's walk from where I live, so that I can have internet. At some point, yes, I will go home. The walk from the University to Bridge of Allan, however, is nice and lit up, so I may just stay here a little while. Or go back down to the Med and take advantage of their cheap student menu. I'll probably also go food shopping tomorrow so that I can start packing my lunch for school. How cute is that?

Other very useful things have occurred such as setting up a bank account and sorting out my financial aid and classes. I seemed to have turned into some sort of advanced adult, even though I've been handling these things for a while, anyway. Maybe being in another country makes you feel more grown up. For the next few days, my life will consist of puttering around different places for Wifi, gathering things and reading for class, sorting out my flat a little more, and other miscellaneous jobs. I'm headed to Glasgow on the train Saturday to visit various bookshops for class, as well as meeting a few group members in Stirling to do the same. Our first project as a group is to visit booksellers and create a powerpoint answering various marketing questions and such. Should be interesting, but it's another great excuse to be in a bookstore. Let's hope I don't spend all of my money on books.

Well, that's all I can really think for now. Yes, at some point I will take a little stroll around Bridge of Allan and put up pictures. Mayhaps that is what I will do on Sunday. Until next time.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Happy Ending

Yesterday morning I woke up with a disappointing sense of loneliness at an alarming 6:45AM.

Lorraine B&B is situated in the 'burbs of Bridge of Allan, a peaceful and quaint little town where all of the houses have names. For example, I took a walk to see the front door of my future flat, located in 'Woodview House'. I suppose 'Woodview House' sounds better than 'Woodview Collection of Flats'. Anyway, waking up on a Sunday morning in the 'burbs of a somewhat posh little village (think upper-crust Village Green without the Preservation Society, although there might be one now that I think about it) may be restful for the ordinary person. But for the person who just traveled several thousand miles away from family and friends to what seems like uncertain arrangements, peace and quiet has the opposite effect originally intended. I managed to work through the soreness from the previous day of lugging suitcases across the world to make my way down to a shower and hot breakfast. For those of you who don't know, breakfast is not something to be taken lightly in England or Scotland. The dishes are savory, potato scones, sausage, fried egg, ham, mushroom, boiled tomatoes, and oftentimes black pudding or baked beans. Baked beans are surreal to see on a breakfast plate, I know, but I've never seen them eaten anywhere else here unless it was a nice production of beans on toast. Another phenomena I am not entirely comfortable with.

After breakfast, which was served at 8, I retired to my room for a bit more of that quiet contemplation and found myself settling in for a nap. The hour I intended on napping quickly became six, and I slept from 10AM to 4PM. I woke myself up, dusted myself off,had a chat with a couple of friends back home and Misty, then popped down to Village Green for dinner at Allanwater Cafe for a nice dinner of fish, chips, and ice cream. Note to all travelers here: when eating anywhere abroad, always ask the server what they suggest. My dinner selection came with a dessert of ice cream, and at the suggestion of the waitress, I chose the raspberry ripple. What followed was probably the most delicious bowl of ice cream I have ever had the pleasure to enjoy. Swirls of red raspberry trailed delicately through a creamy, smooth confection of vanilla ice cream, leaving behind a fresh pink hue when the two blended together in a melted lake at the bottom of the bowl. Each bite brought equal parts euphoria and disappointment that another bit of ice cream had gone. I have not had the occasion to eat an entire serving of ice cream in one sitting, but I took time and due diligence to enjoy the entire offering without a hint of guilt at the added calorie intake from the delicious treat.

When I had completed my journey to Nirvana, I moved on to walk down the main street of Bridge of Allan and check out the shop fronts. Naturally, being Scotland, nothing was really open on a Sunday evening, so I ducked into the shop to buy batteries for my camera and came home to chat with my parents and a few friends. After conversation, I was feeling much better and much less lonely. It will get easier as time goes on, but the first couple of days being completely alone caught me off guard. Last time I was here, I had a chalet full of roommates to welcome me as well as a few American friends. It might take me a bit longer to gather the same crowd I had before, but I have no doubt I'll find some great people to pal around with throughout the year.

Today started with a bit less loneliness a bit more anticipation. Today I have plans to move into my new flat, then take a walk down to the university to sort out a few issues with my enrollment process. Things have been a bit sticky on that front, so the sooner I get that sorted the happier I will be. For the next week or so I'll only have internet when I am on campus, but I will be buying a phone and some credit for the necessary communications on Wednesday or Thursday. Once I'm more affluent, I'll be able to provide internet for my flat and chat with everyone online. Hit me up on my email in between now and then because I'll be anxious to talk to people back home. Until then!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Un peu fatigue, peut-etre.

I'm not entirely sure how to do accent marks, and I don't have enough energy to look it up right now.

I have arrived! My day started very early yesterday morning. I woke up around 7:20AM with the inability to sleep any longer. Fighting an insane amount of nausea, I completed all of my last-minute errands before we set off for the airport at 12:30PM. We must have been running late because, after a bit for Dad to find us again, I didn't manage to make it through security before my boarding said the gate closed. Added to this was the group of Brazilians in front of me who had on an inordinate amount of accessories and carried a ridiculous amount of stuff. Naturally I was in a panic and ran to the gate. Yes. I ran. How surprise are you right now? Obviously I made it before the gate actually closed, and I learned a very important fact in the process. Airports never give you the correct time. Departure, arrival, anything. They run on their own little clock. I'll explain that more later.

My flight to London was uneventful. I did have a nice chat with the woman sitting next to me, Natalie, and she became my airport buddy. She was on her way to Newcastle visiting family, and her second flight happened to be at the same time as mine. Airport buddies are great. If you can find a good one, keep them. I slept most of the way to London because of the headache and nausea medication I took, and I only woke up when meals were served and bodily functions became more primary than catching a few z's. 

We arrived in London early, which is nice for some short layovers and inconvenient for long layovers. Me and my airport buddy spent the next billion years (it seemed like it, anyway) looking around at all of the expensive airport shop stuff, grabbing a snack, and waiting for the magical time board to tell us our departure gates. Another example of  airports running on their own time, there. The flight to Edinburgh wasn't as uneventful. I sat next to a couple of middle-aged German ladies, and we seemed to linger a while before the captain came on to tel us that some of our luggage hadn't yet made it to the plane due to a chemical spill. After the great flight debacle of 2008, I didn't mind so much. I went to sleep. The next time I woke up, they were handing out snacks, and we were 100 miles from Edinburgh.

I managed to snag my luggage with only the usual amount of difficulty and caught a bus to Waverly Station. Bus driver guy said there was some sort of demonstration going on, so the bus ride took a little longer than usual. I trekked down the walkway to the station and boarded a train to Stirling. Then a taxi to this B&B with a man I will greatly respect and admire for the rest of my taxi-riding days. He managed to turn into a drive with about 2 inches of clearance between the van and a brick wall on either side. The B&B, Lorraine B&B, is a few blocks from my future apartment and not too far from the University. The weather has been cooperative so far rather than "coder than a mother-in-law's kiss", as a Scot on the plane to Edinburgh remarked. He followed that up with the statement, "I'm always right. Except for once when I though I was wrong, but I was mistaken."

My plan for the next two days is to recover from travel. This B&B is nice and quiet, with a pretty nice view from the attic where I'm staying. Unfortunately I forgot batteries for my camera, so no pictures today. Now, on to shower and food! 

Until next time,