The Dancing Bug

Edinburgh Expeditions

“It may be possible to do without dancing entirely. Instances have been known of young people passing many, many months successively, without being at any ball of any description, and no material injury accrue either to body or mind;–but when a beginning is made–when the felicities of rapid motion have once been, though slightly, felt–it must be a very heavy set that does not ask for more.”
-Jane Austen

I have been bitten by the dancing bug. The jitter bug, one could say. Dancing, swing dancing in particular, is addictive. It is, for lack of a better phrase, my drug. The high that I get from a night of dancing keeps me going through the week, the perfect fix to the Wednesday lows.

Lately, I’ve found that two days a week isn’t cutting it. I want to dance all the time. I was fortunate last week, dancing on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. But just the same, it isn’t enough. My friends and I are panicking, trying to figure out how we’ll continue with our dancing obsession over the summer months, when the uni society stops running.

Jane Austen speaks the truth. One can do without dancing. But once you’ve started, once it’s grabbed and enthralled, you count the days to your next opportunity.

Expressing the inexpressable

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

Music. It calls to me. There’s something visceral about it. It grabs me and twists my gut, weaving its way into my subconscious. Songs stick in my mind, they refuse to leave, perfect ear worms. The above song, “Speedway” by Morrissey is one of these songs (I can’t help it. I move to the UK and I develop a love of the Smiths and Morrissey’s solo stuff). I listen to his stuff while working; I find it to be just the sort of thing I need to get focused.

But enough on Morrissey (for this post).

Music in itself. I find myself drawn to it, perhaps more than any other art form (strange, for a writer/painter/graphic designer). I’m stopped by its sheer incredibility. The range of emotions, the sense of calm, fear, love evoked by notes expresses the human condition more than words or paintings ever could.

To quote Aldous Huxley, “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”

The past few months have been difficult ones for me. The coursework has been particularly strenuous in a different way from last term. My health hasn’t been the best (nothing serious, just atrocious colds and uncomfortable back injuries). Things haven’t been going as I had hoped–not poorly, but not as well as my internal narrative wanted.

The other day, I went into St Giles Cathedral to look around. A string quartet practiced for the evening performance. As the violin sang out, the cello setting a steady pace, my heart soared, leaped, fell, felt, repeated. The starting and stopping as the musicians ran through their piece struck me. It was, in its imperfection, exactly as I felt. There was joy, frustration, repetition.

Words failed me. Visual arts failed me. Yet music fit where no other expression would. It was fleeting, yet permanent, the memory to be one of the strongest I have.

My strongest memories are tied around music. The two best concerts I’ve been to have had moments of transcendence–from the Who, when Roger Daltrey sang portions of Tommy, a medley that meant so much to me, given that I had listened to that album ad nauseum the summer before. The second was the Swell Season, when Glen Hansard got the audience to join in on the chorus of ‘Back Broke.’ The effect was haunting, uniting, beautiful. For moments at both of these gigs, the music transcended. That’s all that mattered.

“Hello. I’m the first line of your novel.”

Edinburgh Expeditions

Last week, whilst at a Jazz festival with friends, I was hit with a line, a phrase, a sentence. Somehow it managed to stick in my mind, mutating, growing, digging itself into the part of my brain that ought to be reserved for PHP and PHP alone.

“Hello,” it said to me after six days of maturation. “I’m the first line of your novel.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said. “Tell me about yourself, future novel.”

“I’m chick lit. Or at least more female-focused-fiction than you’re used to, Ms. John-le-Carre-and-Patrick-O’Brian-are-my-favourite-authors.”

This is where I spat out my tea and wondered if my painkillers were a lot stronger than my GP said they were (swing dancing accident–water, concrete and two enthusiastic lindy hoppers don’t mix particularly well. I didn’t break anything, thankfully).

Nope, they aren’t. It’s just the story that needs to be told.

I haven’t been able to write fiction for months, not since I arrived in Edinburgh. Whether it was the change of scenery, the stress of coursework or a general reprogramming of the brain, fiction slipped to the backburner in favour of my recording everyday life, the adventures and the misadventures.

Turns out, though, that my opening line, combined with fodder from my day-to-day-life would make for a potentially hilarious, snarky and above all, entertaining book on life and love in the 21st century. Or some other cliche. Regardless, I’m excited to start writing…but why does the Muse need to return when I’m up to my ears in coursework?

International Women’s Day in Edinburgh

Edinburgh Expeditions

For the last three years, I’ve been in Europe for International Women’s Day. The first one, I had no idea what was going on. There were women carrying flowers through the streets of Florence, lovely bright yellow ones. I found out what the meaning was (indeed, what the day was) after asking one of my professors.

The second was also spent in Florence, this time whilst my family visited my sister. We didn’t realise it until going to one of the local museums, and it was free entry for myself, my mother and Holmes. My father was a bit surprised when he had to pay! I translated the handwritten sign for him and we went on our merry way, enjoying the museums and the fact that we’d each saved about 12 euro (to be spent on gorgeous handbound journals in my case).

This year, I attended a lecture given by University of Edinburgh* alum and best-selling author Dr Philippa Gregory. I’ve only read one of Dr Gregory’s books–Earthly Joys–and while I didn’t love it, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to attend her lecture! I love listening to authors speak.

I found Dr Gregory to be a wonderful speaker. She was funny, engaging, intelligent and goes on the list of people I’d love to invite for a dinner party. It would be a very interesting discussion, I’m sure.

Now, below is the lecture. I invite you to watch it–its very good (if long, just over an hour). And yours truly asks a question, because I cannot resist asking questions in lectures!

*My uni. Also the uni that both authors I’ve seen speak are attached to in some way.

A Girl Who Reads…

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

A poem by Mark Grist.

I had to share this. Because girls who read are brilliant (if I do say so myself).

I do feel like a bit of a fraud. I’ve only finished one book since January, Barry Miles’s London Calling: A Countercultural History of London Since 1945. In my defense, it was several hundred pages long (and I’m working hard on my degree).

But I am a girl who reads. A reader of fiction both literary and pulp (and where the two crossover), of histories (mostly pop), of biographies, of critical theory, of academic articles. And you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. As much as I love television, movies, even the internet, I wouldn’t trade reading for it.

Not reading for myself hurts. It aches as my brain grows weak, my attention span dwindling, when all I want is to read and find I can’t.

I still wander through libraries and bookstores, my eyes lusting over the beautiful book covers, the words on the pages…I long for the day where I can read for myself again (I may end up cheating a bit and reading before going to bed. All PHP and no books makes Beth a dull girl). Just today, I found myself at both Blackwell’s and the Edinburgh Central Library, perusing the shelves, holding books in my hands.

And yes, I gave in to temptation. I couldn’t resist. I never can. The printed word entices me, it draws me in, it is irresistible. I picked up a couple at the library, and am considering buying one for myself from Blackwell’s (Catriona Child’s Trackman). Perhaps as a reward for surviving this first round of submissions.

And, as a girl who reads, I have to say there’s nothing sexier than a guy who reads.

Maybe I’ll write a follow up poem.

If you could talk to any deceased historical figure, who would it be?

General Geekiness

I was listening to the radio station and they were discussing who you would want to talk to once you get to heaven. Family not permitted.

The listeners said everything from Jim Morrison (is he really dead?) to Marilyn Monroe (what happened?) to Lee Harvey Oswald (was there another gunman?)

Which got me thinking. Who would I want to talk to? If I had to choose one, who would it be? I’m defining historical figure as: “anyone who contributed to history and the creation of the current culture.” Which is what the radio station used.

The more I think, the more names I come up with. First to pop into my head were Winston Churchill, Roald Dahl and Alfred Hitchcock. With a little more thought, Sandro Botticelli, Dante Alighieri, Victor Hugo and Eugene Delacroix wandered on in (I’m hoping I have a Babel Fish for this).

But why not Jim Henson, Queen Elizabeth I, or Patrick McGoohan? Andrea del Sarto? Or Steve McQueen?

I’m leaning to Botticelli, Delacroix or del Sarto. We can talk art shop and it’ll be pretty sweet.

I clearly cannot make up my mind. I have the same issue when trying to answer the “If You Could Have Dinner with any Five People, Who?”

The problem with having so many interests is, well, being so interested. I’m not sure if I’d want to speak with an artist (visual, written or an actor), or a politician.

Which begs me to wonder: can I just go on a historical figure speed dating circuit?