Friday, October 24, 2003

An Open Postcard to Me Mum

Dear Mum,

I have a few moments to spare before I make my way up to the university and finally, several weeks late, matriculate. I would prefer to put it off even longer, what with the silly fact that I have to pay them gobs of money when I do so, but the registry contacted me yesterday, god love 'em, wanting to know why I was receiving student loans if I wasn't even registered for the 2003/04 term. None of their bloody business, I say! Let me go in debt in peace, please!

All is well . . . surprisingly so. Got my passport back from the Home Office yesterday, with a brand spankin' new leave-to-enter stamp, good until May '05. This was a welcome relief considering what I just said about my lack of matriculation. Work, too, is coming along fairly well; though I bit off more extra work this year than I should've -- what with organising the centre, reading groups (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5), and writing several book reviews (1, 2, and 3). This, my third year, I've decided is to be my 'serious' year.

The reason, as you might've guessed, is rooted in some measure of my overwhelming vanity, as I was reminded the other day that my nonchalance about such things as, say, this whole damned academic enterprise, may not always be the best thing for my 'image'. I was talking to a friend of mine who is writing his thesis on technology and conceptions of the Self, and I guess I said something that was either very articulate or particularly astute; whichever it was, because it came from me, it surprised him and everybody else at our table. It seems that I am mostly regarded, at least by the postgraduates with whom I associate, as the first to arrive at the pub and the last to leave -- i.e., the most likely to destroy himself and all he loves w/ the drink and his ability to say really uncouth, alcohol-induced things like 'God, you Brits really hate your Jews, don't you?'

But, you know, I sometimes feel like I just can't be bothered by trying to try to impress these people, or at least this is what year-two B. would say (and what year-three B. will undoubtedly say again after his second double of uisge!). I realise that many of them will inevitably be my colleagues, and some my friends, and that I should try to make a good impression; but I've recently come to an even more important realisation that trying too hard at just about anything is actually kind of frowned upon in Britain. In other words, there are no rewards for all that stuff I was taught in various leadership courses whilst an eager undergraduate in America: namely, proactivity.

For instance, should you wish to register for classes when you are told to do so in the student manual or in countless emails from brusk-sounding administrative types, you will toil your day away in a five-hour queue. Or, should you submit your visa renewal application on time and with the necessary paperwork, as I did last year, the Glasweigan office of the Home Office will go out of their way to nearly lose your passport in the process. Or, should you aggressively position yourself as an important contributor in your departmental centre, you will invariably be second-in-line in every bid for substantial funding. Or, lastly, should you make an innocent call to British Telecom's customer service line, in hopes of making sure that you're not paying too much for calls to Belgium, you are summarily thrown into a vertigo of confusing conversations, disconcerting pauses in the midst of those conversations, and long waits on cold late-mornings with a stomach whose grumbling betrays the fact you've not yet eaten anything - all to learn that, 'we don't even understand why your line is working correctly'.

The Belgian is doing well. She, in fact, says 'Hallo' right now, issuing her trademark, childlike wave (ever notice how she makes a little semi-fist with her goodbye waves?) for all to see. For the most part, she seems to enjoy her job. It is a bit more of a call centre position than she originally envisioned, but the pay ain't bad for a short-term gig. Crap job or not, she's far more resiliant and filled with moral fortitude than I, so even if she truly loathed her job she'd handle it with considerable grace and aplomb.

You'll appreciate this, you who pray over my lost soul all the night long, in those darkest nights of the soul that only a mother with wayward children can know. I was telling a friend of mine the other day - a friend from way back in the days in which I wished to be a minister, those halcyon days before the 'fall', one who has, despite her own ministerial standing, considers me a friend - about how my fascination with theory has been supplemented, quite healthily I think, with a passionate enquiry of ethics, politics, and praxis in general. More significantly, though, so many of these 'practical' concerns are very similar to the ones I had before - though, admittedly, radically altered, tinged with a hopeful, creative, indeed a theological, atheism. Stuff like inter- and intra-religious dialogue, political dissent and compromise, and even eschatologically-charged stuff like 'care for the other'. This is a good sign, I suppose.

Anyway, I guess I've written far more than I thought that I might - and likely far more than you wished to read. Hope you are well almost as much as I do that I might hear from you soon.