I am back in Oxford. I have successfully commenced my new work timetable that I devised while I was away as part of my self-imposed Get Real Challenge. In the likely case that you are more sophisticated than me and missed that allusion, Dr Phil put sad people on Get Real Challenges in the early noughties.
I don't like Dr Phil. I haven't watched him or Opes in ages. Actually, I don't watch much TV at all. I no longer have a TV. I watch Stephen Fry shows on BBC iPlayer, and sometimes I watch Strictly Come Dancing, that is until I recognise that it's the jingle in between each segment that is making me feel mildly anxious. I was into The Wire for a bit, now it's 30 Rock.
I have recently read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg. I was a bit late on The Kite Runner train - all the hype made me think it might be of the same texture as the Da Vinci Code: vomity. But it wasn't at all. It was epic, gripping and sentimental (if a little heavy-handed at times). I felt a little emotionally manipulated at the end, but I went with it, snot bubbles and all.
The Little Virtues is more my thing: eleven essays, part memoir, part fiction. It's imbued with (post-WW2) moralising and nostalgia, a wonderful self-deprecating wit and perfect, often prickly observations (especially about the English, which made me feel like her friend).
Here is some preaching:
And the story of human relationships never ceases for us; because little by little they become all too easy for us, all too natural and spontaneous - so spontaneous and so undemanding that there is no richness, discovery or choice about them; they are just habit and complacency, a kind of intoxicated naturalness. We believe that we can always return to that secret moment of ours, that we can draw on the right words; but it isn't true that we can always go back there, often our return there is false; we make our eyes glow with a false light, we pretend to be warm and caring towards our neighbour and we are in fact once more shrunken and hunchen up in the icy darkness of our heart. Human relationships had to be rediscovered and reinvented every day. We have to remember constantly that every kind of meeting with our neighbour is a human action and so it is always good or evil, true or deceitful, kindness or a sin (Human Relationships).And some funny:
The English rarely show surprise. If it happens that someone faints in the street, everything is provided for. In a few seconds a chair is found for him, a glass of water, a uniformed nurse (England: Eulogy and Lament).
I am trying to widen my range of extra-curricular material to include some more current affairs coverage. I realised again when I was hanging out with my brother who asked me for my opinion on multiple public issues just how very insulated and self-obsessed one (has to) become during the last phases of write-up (and maybe even during the whole damned thing, at least in Oxford). I read about the strife in Gaza and the current financial crisis, and I try to get my head around some of the range of issues, but as soon as I am finished, I simply click on another webpage or go back to the Old Bastard and my thoughts. I connect certain themes together, but I don't feel nearly as passionate or even concerned about the people or places involved as I would normally. I don't like that really.
But charity starts in the home (right internet?) and I had the rather unusual experience today of having two man pals seek my advice about Love. I have experienced emotional males before, just not two in one day and both in such self-conscious, advisor-advisee situations. One of them was gushy and needed assurance that his sentiments would be reciprocated, the other was teary and overwhelmed about possibly giving up an old relationship for a new one. I have noticed that at the beginning of every term here, there are heightened feelings; intense fearfulness about losing and gaining - people, things, achievements, careers, and places. I listened, validated, shared and made suggestions where appropriate, as I would with my lady friends.
I really do give out a lot of energy when people ask me for advice. I wish the Old Bastard were a real person stretched on a couch, simply listening to my wise words and appreciating my charm. He's not like that.