An Evening in St.James

February 27, 2010

Spiral Staircase
Picture by Martin Haesemeyer

She could not remember what she had been thinking, months previously. Why had she bought the ticket for the formal dinner at the prestigious club? What should she–socially awkward little girl–do in such a place? She must have had some reason–but for the moment it was lost to her.

Pacing throughout her little house, she was pulling her hair, wondering what she should do. Too much had been invested already for the horn of defeat to be blown. She had no option but to attend, as she had intended, all those weeks ago.

A dress was waiting for her in the depths of her closet, a dress bought for that very purpose. It would be a pity to disappoint it, that grey, formal little thing that suited her so well. So she put it on.

She tamed her eccentric, long hair and twirled it in two braids to form a compact bun, the weight held in place with what seemed a thousand pins. A white flower of silk was planted next to the secured wheat hair, and she allowed pearls to flow around her neck and droop off the lobes of her ears.

Indeed, she was beautiful, especially with both sooted and powdered eyes. Still, her lower lip trembled with fear. Biting it–knowing fear is best conquered when challenged–she draped a beige and pink coat over her shoulders. She looked a bit like her grandmother had done when her age. She liked it, always having found her grandmother in possession of an aura of self-assured elegance.

The sun was setting when she stepped outside, the clouds having been whisked to form strawberry meringue upon the powder-blue sky. The heels of her shoes tip-tapped the ground as she walked, feeling heads turn as she passed.

Two hours later she stood outside the elegant, albeit majestically menacing door. Her name on the guest list would grant her entry; this evening she belonged inside. Yet, her heart raced in her chest. She was frightened, pacing the street up and down, and back and forth, attempting to calm her terrified nerves.

She had done this to herself to learn what was painful not to know. Social ineptness knew only one cure: staring fear in the eye.

So, she entered. Her name granted her entry, acknowledged with a bow. Her coat was hung among others, and she entered the room.

She was taller than everyone, towering above them like a giant lost. What was worse, however, were the evening gowns that swept across the floor. Her heart sank in her chest as she looked down on her own, much less conspicuous as she had feared a gown would be overdress.

A few familiar faces welcomed her, and introduced yet more. For a moment things were going fine with conversation and introductions–until she ran out of words. She blushed, feeling insignificant yet again, disappearing into a corner from which she was pulled so the charade could start anew.

Entering the dining room she found people were missing from her table. It worried her. But it was the last of her concerns.

But things changed when the person next to her turned out to be the friend of a childhood friend, and so, with something in common, they spoke for most of the meal.

The dinner itself was enjoyable. Despite the price it was not up to the standards she knew from home, but far better than anything she would have served her solitary self–had she decided not to go.

A salad for appetiser, chicken with mushrooms for the main course, and panna cotta for pudding. She had never had the latter before but she enjoyed it. Over the course of that evening, she had grown ignorant of the intimidating nature of novelty. She did not like the coffee however, despite telling herself having a cup would be sophisticated. She found some things cannot be forced; which she knew, but desired to change.

She ended up talking with people for two more hours, being proud of herself during the course of the conversations, reproaching herself when swirling across the room, not daring to approach anyone. A kind person took her under their wing, helping her along. She was most grateful, finding she was straining herself to do what came so easily to others.

It was delightful to talk, and for once, she felt that she had something in common with her partners of conversation. What was more, she felt that she belonged.

As the evening–for her part–neared its end, she was given the card of someone who desired to see her again. She accepted it, not because she intended to, but because it was a token of acceptance she would treasure.

She bade them farewell, and was escorted down the stairs by the arm of a young gentleman. She was even kissed adieu on the cheek, blushing after she had disappeared into the darkness before the clock had struck midnight.

Although she was Cinderella, with a last train to catch, she had failed to forget her shoe. That was for another evening–when, she did not know. This, had only been the beginning.

As the tip-tapped home anew, amidst the silence and darkness that reigned during the young hours of the country night, the moon was translucent upon veiled skies. She smiled at its awe: she had actually enjoyed the evening she had not been certain she even wished to attend.

Having partially conquered her fears, she had proven she could do more than she had believed. She had grown stronger the evening–that evening in St. James.

Freedom

January 23, 2010

Aged Jetty

If only freedom was less of a notion unreal,
Oh, how delighted I would be!

I am not foreign to studies, in fact, I adore to read and learn new things; I love the fulfilling sensation to have my eyes opened by novel insights. I do however loathe to study subjects that interest me little, or not at all, as life is too precious to be allowed to go to such waste.

I understand that chemistry is one of the corner stones of science, but as a person whose interests forever shall be enamoured by the theoretical nature of science — which once upon a time was labelled “natural philosophy” — I find the act of studying it a chore best avoided.

I need to say I desire to help push the frontiers of science forward, for nothing less is expected of me. What my heart truly desires, I cannot allow to cross my lips. It’s a notion so foreign it is best silenced; tucked away in the jewelled box of my mind where I keep my most treasured secrets.

Still, as I force myself to study subjects that fail to appeal to my curiosity — by imposing alien restrains upon my own being — I find my mind floating into the vacuum of delight that unsatisfying discoveries create; I find my gaze abandoning the print on the pages to soar into the skies, into my own little world where my mind can be free.

A Day’s Work

January 14, 2010

Studying

Because I do not have any labs in Physiology1002 until next Thursday, I had today off. Having woken up at a reasonable hour and having had breakfast — oatmeal porridge with cranberries, with tea on the side — I managed to force myself to spend a few hours studying.

Studying has bored me to tears since infancy — not that infants study, but you get the point — and so I have attempted to avoid it whenever I can. For the most part things have worked out well, as my grades have been more than sufficient this far, although I would not recommend anyone to follow my poor example.

Since I learnt that I need to score 60% of higher in order to continue on to study towards a Master’s degree in a few year’s time, I have started to attempt to study more, as doing research is what I have dreamt about for years. But, it is terribly hard, as I sincerely do not know how to study properly. I have to learn what I should have learnt decades ago, and the process is slow.

To keep my spirits up I have therefore decided to make studying as fun as I can, by allowing myself to draw and colour; because it is childishly fun. So, I read my text books and lecture notes, while simultaneously copying down important points on paper and illustrating with colourful pictures.

It’s a time-consuming process, but I find that I can keep at it for hours as it makes studying more of a pastime than a chore.

My greatest concern is however that I never the less will fail to reach my goal of scoring >60% on my future tests, as a great deal of the curriculum includes subjects that bore me to tears. And when the motivation to learn is lacking, even the most ambitious of efforts are in vain.

For the moment — rather than studying biochemistry — I would like to start writing a thorough draft of my fantasy novel. I have finished plotting about a third of the story, but I find the hardest part being how to start. While I wait for inspiration to strike, I study, as I reason it cannot hurt me the least.

First Impressions

January 4, 2010

University College London
University College London

A post on first impressions should probably be made with the impressions still fresh in one’s mind, but as first impressions can be misleading — sometimes to the point of embarrassment, I believed it wise to postpone such a post before I knew whether my first impression of the United Kingdom was accurate or not.

My first impression, and the one that also made the most difference, was that the United Kingdom seemed more sophisticated than my native country, in the sense that it knows how to differentiate between what is important and valuable, and what is not.

Having entered my current university’s grounds for the first time I knew I would like the university, as I value history and traditions. I am also foolish enough to believe that first impressions last a lifetime, something the British seem to appreciate as they always are keen to appear at an advantage, something which the Swedes frequently overlook.

My first impression condenses down to that it provided me with a feeling of that I finally had come home, following a native allocation to Sweden lasting a double decade. I realised this upon replacing Stockholm University with University College London in September– several similar realisations having followed since.

Stockholm University
Stockholm University

Two Choices Became One

April 3, 2009

River Cam

Half a year ago I submitted a university application which I had spent many summer weeks writing and perfecting. I had the most glorious of plans; I was only going to apply to only one university; the highest ranked university on the continent where I happen to reside.

People warned me and told me that it would not be wise, that things never turn out the way in which one expects them to, that I should use all the five choices which I were given. But I refused. I knew I was going to be admitted to the university most people can only dream of ever attending; because I was the best.

Two months after my application had been submitted I visited the university to attend an interview. It did not go well – it was nothing like I had expected it to be. The mock interviews had cemented a stubborn belief in my own superiority over everyone else; to be interviewed by professors employed by the continent’s finest university would be a piece of cake!

I was wrong, so wrong.

I returned home worried, hoping I had read the situation the wrong way, that the professors’ face-palming gestures were because they were tired at the end of a long day – not because I was a Swede born yesterday. A month thereafter reality befell me as I learnt that my application had been unsuccessful.

And I thanked my lucky stars for having made sure people warned me, that such belief in oneself would be unwise; I thanked the people who had warned me for being foolish; I thanked myself for having used my five choices.

My first choice was unsuccessful and the fifth choice I withdrew (though I am certain I would have been successful). My third choice made me an offer and like-wisely did my fourth. My second choice of university I did not hear from until today: unfortunately, my application was unsuccessful.

A sting of regret passed through my body upon learning that I had been rejected once more, I am however surprised to realise that I now am only a little numb, seated here in front of my computer monitor, telling the world of my failure. When my first choice rejected my application, I cried and regretted my stubborn pride for days. These two feelings are different.

I had two choices (three really, but only two I considered) and now the two have gone down to one. The rejection hurt me – this I cannot deny – and yet I am in no pain. It is because I had two choices, two choices which have gone down to one.

To decide upon two matters similar, yet different, is a task impossible for someone as undecided as myself. Should I choose the finer of the two universities I wished to attend, though its course was longer and a little less in my taste? Or, should I choose the other university; less well-recommended, but with a shorter course which appealed to me more? The choice may seem a simple one to make, but for me it was not; I wanted them both.

When I learnt that the finer of the two rejected me, I felt tears burn behind the lids of my eyes. But I wiped them away, attempting to see the matter from its brightest side, and I succeeded. The tears were blinked back – for now my dilemma has been solved.

Half a year ago I submitted an application to five universities overseas. I thought four of my choices unnecessary; there was no way I would ever fail. And yet I did – which I never would have believed had I told myself before the fact. Yet, I cannot help but smile deep within, though I of course still am a little bit disappointed in myself.

I cannot help but smile because my choices have gone down to one; the choice I had to make is to be made no more. It was made for me, and everything turned out for the best. For, truth being said, though I applied to the most sophisticated university on the continent – the university of prime ministers and kings – I would not have been happy there. Where I am going now I believe I will be happy – though I would never have believed my own words did I tell my own self six months back.

Life is a marvellous experience, and it is during bitter-sweet days such as this that I realise that every disappointment has a gilded edge; it is only a matter of noticing it.

Emmanuel College at Dusk

To be sophisticated is to handle rejection proudly and well; considering even the most painful of experiences as being valuable opportunities from which important knowledge may be derived.

My year 2008 was dedicated to fulfilling a dream which had been brewing in the back of my mind for some time; to apply to a university abroad. Certain of my own abilities; knowing myself able to one day be as accomplished as successful within the realm of the sciences, I decided to aim for the skies.

I applied to the University of Cambridge.

Having attended an interview at the university on a beautiful — however cloudy — day in mid-December, I learnt a month thereafter that my hopes and expectations had been in vain; though the university found me a lively applicant, they felt that I did not possess the level of knowledge which they during a competitive year sought. My application, and therefore also I, had been rejected. A year of anticipation had turned into nothing. Of course I was distraught and sad.

However, I knew that being upset would accomplish nothing, and I told myself that I could not allow an unexpected setback to affect me in any way; do I wish to accomplish something and make full use of my academic potential I cannot remember the past with a sense of regret; I must see it as valuable experience from which to learn!

I sat down and wrote a letter — however one which I never intended to send — for the process of writing and phrasing a letter has great potential of clearing one’s mind; almost as if the ink with which it was written was derived and harvested from the thoughts swirling before one’s eyes.

In times of distress I recommend this approach to you; when there is something on your mind; write a letter or a piece of prose. You need not show it to anyone do you not feel like it, as it after all was written for no-one but you.

I will however share my letter with you. Having written it I shared it with friends who believed it uplifting that I dealt with rejection so well. Therefore, are you interested (or perhaps in a similar position as I were) then I wish for you to read it and realise that if I can recover from such a stunning blow, then so can also you.

.-:’*’:-._.-:’*’:-._.-:’*’:-._.-:’*’:-._.-:’*’:-._.-:’*’:-._.-:’*’:-._.-:’*’:-._.-:’*’:-.

“Dear Professors of the University of Cambridge,

You will never read this letter of mine but I never the less found writing it worth my while; my purpose none other than to allow my mind to understand a decision never anticipated, one which paralysed me with its absurdity. Certainly there is a reasonable motivation underlying your final decision — of which I have no doubt — but I find it in my right to question the accuracy of your reasons never the less.

Monday January 5th was an ordinary holiday morning for me: I woke up at too late an hour before dining with my family. Having laughed with the people whom I dearly love I returned to my room to complete a line of reasoning — a hypothesis you would probably call it — which I had begun to formulate during the newborn hours of this day now already mature.

Truly, my affection for the sciences is a part of me; there is no other reason for why I allow it to occupy so many hours of my days; there is no reason for why I consider the sciences as one of my foremost priorities. I am not proud over the fact that I consider other assignments to be far inferior to the lines of reason which I entertain, but it is yet a fact I cannot deny. Indeed, substance is what I value, though I realise this may be something which I failed to make you understand.

Although my day had started with a morning like all mornings past, this changed as my mother entered my room. As excited as she was at that moment I do not believe I ever have seen her, the reason being a small envelope in her hand. The envelope was waved before my questioning eyes, and the red letters spelling ‘Cambridge’ on the postal mark told me that the white, small envelope contained the letter which I had awaited for more than half a year; inside laid the sheet of paper that would forever come to change my life!

For what seemed like hours — however a moment lasting only seconds — I held the envelope carefully in my trembling hands, my heart beating with the strength a fate soon revealed is alone in causing. On my left hand my mother stood, her back turned to me; she did not want to know what the letter said, her excitement most likely surpassing even mine. After all, I know my own abilities by heart, I know my strengths and weaknesses; I know what I am able to achieve. I did not doubt the contents of the envelope my hands embraced, never in my entire life had I been so certain of any thing!

Following a deep breath to calm the beats of my cheerful heart I reached for the exquisite pewter letter opener in shape of a crocodile which my parents had given me for Christmas; a piece of metal handicraft which I intend to treasure for the rest of my life. Today was the day when it was first to be used; the knife-like tail of the crocodile with its silver sheen would assist me in opening the letter of a lifetime. Truly, this was the purpose the pewter reptilian had been created to fulfil!

Carefully, I opened the envelope, the paper tearing perfectly as it met the blade of the crocodile’s tail. Holding my breath I placed the animal with its silver scales by my side and peered into the envelope, a single sheet folded three times lingering inside. I removed it from its protective paper and studied it; to unfold it I did not yet dare. I wished to treasure the moment; the moment illustrating the few seconds remaining of my old life before a new fate was to be revealed.

With hands still trembling, the heart in my chest still pounding with cheerful excitement, my mother standing by my side with her face teasingly covered by her hands, I unfolded the letter. ‘Dear Elisabeth’ the letter began, but my eyes were unable to linger further on those two words alone; something else had caught my attention. A few lines down the words ‘regret’ shone with a colour red I am certain my mind conjured on its very own as I have not seen the bright glimmer of defeat shine as brightly as it did then.

Six characters pulled me down from the ninth cloud, and I fell into a black hole of the darkness of a midwinter night. A knot formed in my throat and I blinked back tears, returning to the letter in my hands; truly, this could not be! I must have doubted myself one time too many, I must have allowed my mind to play tricks n me! I returned to the letter, reading it carefully through. The six letters were no longer ablaze, but they never the less remained. My application had been rejected. I believed I had failed.

Sharing this disappointing realisation with my mother she believed me pulling her leg, but the blankness of my mind and the tears rolling down my cheeks made words obsolete. I had failed to succeed. Surely, my mother mused, unwilling to accept that my dream had come to an end, my application must have been pooled; surely, my application must have been sent to other colleges for consideration, the college of my choice unable to offer me a place but without failing to realise my potential. They did not, my application was not pooled. I had failed two times over; it was over, my dreams had all been lost. Not even mercy was a kindness bestowed upon me!

These were news for which I had been wholly unprepared, how could I have been so wrong? I asked myself: how could this be? The anticipation and excitement of half a year — or more! — disappeared as the tears filled my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. I could barely phantom my fate, could this be true? Was there not even the slightest possibility that this was an evil dream from which I was soon to wake up? The pain I felt as however too real to be denied.

By now half a day has passed since the devastating news reached me and it all lies in the past. A new day has arrived and though dawn lies many hours away my day of disappointment has passed. I can still feel a few tears burning behind the lids of my eyes, but I see no point in allowing them to fall. Crying cannot do more for me than what it has already done, and my eyes are still all too swollen and red; I am no beauty in distress — but then again, who is? Indeed, I am beyond the stage of crying; I am now curious. How could a mistake such as this have been made?

Dear Professors — once again I turn to you — some people are scientists, born to lead through no other cause than reason — I am no world leader bringing about change through my words. Believe me; it is all for the best as the time has yet to come when the world is ready for me to make everything right. Yes, I have great faith in myself — too much some would say — but I am not incapable of doubt. To quote Shakespeare: ‘the fool doth think he is wise and the wise man knows himself to be a fool‘, I can quite safely say that I am a wise fool; doubtful of my wisdom.

A mistake has been made — this I know whether or not I am a fool — for I am indeed a fool, however one wise. The amount of scientific passion which I harbour, the creativity which has blessed my mind, the determination which defines who I am; they do not make me the perfect student — this I readily do admit — but they make me so much more; the make me me, they make me Miss Josephine, they make me a person of future success. I am determined to make something out of myself, no matter whether you are willing to aid me or not. I will get by, though the sting of disappointment has not yet faded, and I will re-emerge as a person stronger than she used to be.

This setback was no stone which broke my bones — it hurt more than so — but it will help me grow and it will help me succeed. I am in an admirable situation; I cannot deny this without lying. Though I wished to become a student of your university — ranked third in the world — I have secured an offer from another university, an offer which is no shame to accept at all. Nothing has been gained, but neither has anything been lost. A life of opportunity awaits me, no matter whether you want me or not.

One day you professors are going to realise the magnitude of your mistake, but I will hold no grudges as it is human to falter. It is not easy to understand people such as myself; those who are awkward by nature and not by nervousness, those who are the sophisticated scientists of the future whilst being unable to articulate their thoughts, those who were asked factual questions when philosophy is what defines their every thought. I am a regrettably slow, but immensely deep thinker. Do you ask me a question I require time to think; do you wish to know this and that you must give me time to ponder the implications of why and what. It is first after I have done this that I can give you an answer, but it cannot be reason enough for you to think less of me.

I know in my heart that I am one of the most able candidates who applied to your college and your university this year. I am intelligent, inventive and ingenious. I am determined, deterred by no disappointments and with the desire to derive substance from all matters of reason. This is what you have mentioned yourself as interested in educating and perfecting, and this is what I offered you. You turned me down and whilst the pain is mine, the regret is bound to eventually be yours. I will rise from my own ashes as does a phoenix bright and wise, and one day I shall attempt to convince you again — foolish would I otherwise be — and mark my words, one day I will succeed.

Yours sincerely,
Miss Josephine”