...2009/2010 and a University Student.

So... I've finished my first year of university at St Andrews.  Gotta say, the place has grown and shrunk on me by turns; I love my fellow students, and I love the society life, but the place is... small, if not stifling.  So, studying; that's gone well, and - unlike many of my friends - I passed all my modules (in one case, scraping a pass by the skin of my teeth, with a 7.1 on the exam. 7 is the pass-grade), and I'm on track - if I pull my socks up and work out how to take exams properly (I know, I know. I should know by now.  I don't, though, m'kay?) - to come out of the university with a First Class MA(Hons) in Ancient History.  Which makes me somewhat proud of myself, honestly... though it's not going to be easy, it is doable! ...Right?
More importantly, however, this was my first year! I was meant to spend it building connections, setting myself up with a social life, joining clubs, finding out about the town!  I mean, what else is the first year of a degree, a year one needs only scrape a pass in, a year which does not count towards one's final result, for?  So!  The town took all of an hour to walk around - that covered the entire town centre, also known as 3 - count 'em, 3 - streets.  For a Manchester lad, this place is tiny; and spending a year there could have been stifling.  So, it's a good thing that 2 factors swung into play to stop that being the case.
The first factor was simply that I'm rather withdrawn and self-sufficient; anyone who has time, really, to read as many books as I do must to some extent be replacing social life with books.  But the second factor rather mitigates, if not wholly overturns, the first factor; and that is the wonderful friends I've made at university.  Some are 4th years, and vanishing off - to do Post-Grads, to enter the real world, to do a post-grad that doesn't even involve leaving the town; some are fellow Freshers, who I met in Hall or in my subjects and got on with based on even the most thin common ground; some are intermediate years met in all sorts of ways.  But the simple fact is, I've made a huge number of friends, and spent a lot of time with them - especially some of the academic family, like my two mothers, and two of my academic sisters (both by different mothers, of course!).  The other grace of St Andrews, the other essential non-academic wonderfulness, is the societies; I've had such a wonderful time beating the stuffing out of people (and, admittedly, having stuffing beaten out of me) at the Shire of Caer Caledon; rolling dice through first semester at WarSoc; headbanging, relaxing and generally rocking out at RockSoc ( \m/ ).  And, of course, as anyone on Facebook will probably know... founding a society all of my own, possibly the first of many, B.R.A.S.S.  That last? Not an altogether pleasant experience, in all honesty; I have to say that some of the bloody effort involved in founding a society against the bureaucracy of the Student Association - obviously not the Student Association's fault, much of it, just legal requirement - is a right bugger, and running up against the bank's rules on setting a society account up has also been... an education.  However, I'm really looking forward to next year and running the society properly and fully! That... is going to be pretty cool, I reckon.   And a lot of work.  And yet, I'm already considering (if only because of the relative proximity to the Bubble of Iain M. Banks, Ken MacLeod, and other SFF writers) the founding of a SciFi Society (for science fiction and fantasy; novels, films, &c.  Whether it would overlap too much with pre-existing societies... I dunno).
Either way... the year ahead is gonna be hella interestin'!

Now, the tags down there also say love. So yes, there's a brief and simple update on the love-life; I'm in love, she's in love with me, we're going out, life is grand, we can see a bright and shining future for the pair of us.  No, you don't get more detail than that! ;)
"[I]t is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me personally, it comes down to integrity – theirs as individuals and ours as an institution." - Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in testimony to Congress on the repeal of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy regarding gays in the military.

Thank you, Admiral.  Thank you for your courage.  Thank you for your honesty.  Thank you for your integrity.  Thank you for standing up for what you believe in.  Thank you for your clarity, your personal strength, your service.

Thank you.
I've taken the title, and topic, from LJ Idol; however, since this isn't a review, it's friend-locked and thus won't be linked there.  That doesn't mean it's not worth reading, though, people!

So, what's a moment of devastating beauty, and how do you know when you've seen one? Actually, I'd say you only know if you've seen one if you're not looking for it.  I've never taken a photograph of a moment of devastating beauty; I've never gone out looking for one; I've never thought "this is a beautiful place, and at such-and-such a time it'll be truly devastating in it's beauty".  Stunning, awe-inspiring, amazing, fantastical, all in their literal senses, yes; those moments of beauty are lovely, and powerful, but they aren't devastating.

Moments of devastating beauty are unexpected; they are devastating because, not despite their unexpectedness.  They are unpredictable; one could watch a sea sunset for five days, and be unmoved, and on the sixth day, a strain of song, the right formation of birds, the movement of clouds, the shades of the sunset itself, even just the ocean waves and the sound of sea lapping shore, all could combine and suddenly the ground shifts under the viewer's feet; all around them are people unmoved, but for one person, this moment is a moment of devastating beauty.

A moment of devastating beauty is ordinary, whilst being extraordinary.  It is mundane, and yet fantastical.  It is base, and yet it is transcendant; it transcends its parts into a single, cohesive, powerful whole.  It takes the parts, and combines, just so, into something more than those parts, something that takes the devastatee into the devastator, the viewer into itself; it transcends the divide, and the viewer - just for a second - is part of something more.

If all that sounds pagan and mystical, it should.  There is something pagan about those moments; moments where nature poleaxes you, brings you to heel with its power and beauty.  If all this sounds like sentimental gush... you wait.  It'll hit you, some day; you'll be looking out of your window at the sunset, in a world of your own, only half-seeing what's beyond your nose, and suddenly... it'll come together.  You'll realise that that's the world, out there, that's the world you're a part of; and it'll deconstruct you down to basics, and build you back up again, in the space of a moment, but changed and different for it.  That's the devastation of it; that's what makes it transcendental; that's what makes it more than just a stunning, a fantastical, an awe-inspiring view.

I've had a couple of these moments, in different countries; very, very few, for obvious reasons.  One of the two I'll tell you about now... involves a beach, on the side of a lake; a sunset, in July, a week after Independence Day; a friend, talking with me, walking along the beach with me.  The lake was Lake Erie; the friend was Anne, the person I was staying with - a friend and a lot more than a friend.

The lake was calm, placid, though not flat; the beach was a stony beach, beautiful curved things, on sand, a smooth walk, painless, few shells to shatter and leave sharp edges.  I picked up a stone, and - as I skipped it, standing with my friend, sea lapping my bare feet, warm and quiet and gentle - I watched it, heard it, felt the sea and the sand and the presence of Anne, and looked at the sunset, beautiful shades of gold, of green, of red, of purple... and the moment froze, coalesced, came together, and was different.  I've got very few crystal-sharp memories of my trip to America, especially unaided by photographs, but that is one of them.

The other is a very different moment, though some elements are the same.  This was not a natural moment; I was sitting, here, in my room using my laptop, the curtains closed to keep the heat inside, the light on.  I was talking to Anne (there's the link) and looking around the interwebs (oh, Youtube...) and came across a song that I had heard, for the first time, live in concert, with Anne and others.  I listened to it, and the world - outside the song - faded away; the memory came back so sharp it cut, and when the song ended, it hurt.  I missed them, I missed Anne, like I'd never missed her before.  That song changed me, and every time I hear it again, it reminds me of that - of how much I miss Anne, how much I miss all of them.

Those aren't the only two moments of devastating beauty I've experienced, but there are precious few others, and some things are truly private; the second one I shared above is perhaps one of my most private memories, but you don't get all of those.  Not in one post.

So, when you next see beauty, stand and think.  And hope: Hope that you're devastated.

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Squeaking of the GrimSqueaker....

February 2012

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