After a whirlwind month that included making my first short film, long nights in the edit room, a run in with a stomach bug, and a flight from Oakland to London, I have arrived in Oxford and hit the ground running. I arrived on Monday afternoon to the Stanford House in Oxford and have been busy ever since. At last, I am able to sit down and begin to write. We’re on a long train ride to Glasgow, Scotland at the moment, and as I hurtle toward my seventeenth country, I am trying to process the excitement and exhaustion of my last thirty days.
First, I am brimming with thoughts concerning the Stanford House and Oxford itself. I’ll be brief, as I will have months to elaborate more deeply. However, it is as if I’ve entered a fairytale. Within a one mile radius from my bedroom the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, T.S. Eliot, and Lewis Carrol studied and taught and drank and wrote. The architecture inspired the sets of Harry Potter, Narnia, and many other stories. The University is also twice as old as the United States of America. The history and accomplishments of Oxford are palpable as you walk down its cobbled streets.
The Stanford House is historical, complicated, and magical. Renovated from six old Oxford houses into one labyrinthine dormitory, it is easy to feel that you might make a wrong turn and end up in Narnia, or swear that a staircase has shifted since you last walked up it, or wonder if there is a potion room behind one of those locked doors, or find the garden to actually be the Secret Garden, or find that when you bump your head on a low doorway you feel quite like Gandalf in a Hobbit Hole, or wonder if you’re actually Alice in Wonderland and if you’ve grown too, too tall and that’s why everything around you seems so small. I do feel as though I’m living in a half-reality, a world where fantasy and fact mix… hm, Wizards vs. Muggles, Narnia vs. England, The Shire vs. Middle Earth, Wonderland vs. England—I sense a pattern here. What is it about Oxford that is so unbelievable yet so real? I’ll be studying C.S. Lewis and Tolkien in depth this term, so I’ll keep you all updated on my musings and findings of the magical city I’ve stepped in to. I would not be surprised to find a white rabbit with a pocket watch just around the corner or Mr. Tumnus waiting for me at the Lamppost just down the block. Pure imagination and stressed out students. Ah, yes, Oxford is wonderful indeed.
Now, concerning America. I spent the last three weeks at Stanford in an intensive film class. It was an introduction to film production and screen writing, although a trial-by-fire crash course is probably a better description. From basic camera operation to cinematography, sound design, dialogue crafting, to on-set directing, we learned and did it all. We had ten days at the end of the course to create a 3-minute short narrative film. The days were long, our resources limited, crews shorthanded, and yet, we all had an amazing time and not only learned so much but saw a film through from beginning to end. My co-director and I wrote a film about a naïve girl named Marie who had moved to LA to pursue a modelling career. Upon being rejected and told she wasn’t special, Marie digs within to find her voice and embrace the things that make her unique. It perhaps fell short of accomplishing exactly the vision we’d had, but nevertheless turned out to be visually interesting and emotionally resonant. Due to our lack of music rights, I cannot post the film, but if I know you personally and you are interested in watching, feel free to comment or fill out a contact form to request a link and password to the film. My big take away? I’m not half-bad at acting, I love deadlines, making things happen, and writing/producing/directing.
So, back to England. We visited Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, which was lovely. I also picked up my Student Delegate Pass for the London Film Festival and watched a screening of a strange Argentinian thriller that spent two hours setting up an intriguing and exciting political thriller with compelling elements of suspense just to end abruptly, everything unresolved. It didn’t even leave me wondering how the story ended but rather if perhaps their budget had run out. It was weird. I forget the name of the film. Anyhow, if anyone knows of cheap, safe accommodation in London, I am looking for somewhere to stay the next two weekends so that I can pack in watching as many films as possible without having to commute excessively from Oxford.
I’m still a bit jetlagged, but while dozing off on the train I had a thought I’d like to share:
No one can ever know themselves to be good. Goodness, in all its facets, is something determined by God and by others, not by oneself. However, greatness is different. Greatness is something one knows from within. Greatness, or what I call excellence, is internal and disregards the opinions, approval, and judgement of others. Excellence is radical—it can be radically good or radically bad—but excellence is not something another can take away from you. So, in all you do, pursue excellence. I encourage, of course, a humble and noble pursuit of righteousness in this pursuit of excellence, but I have convinced myself that it matters not if you think yourself good or bad. You won’t ever know if you are because it’s not for you to decide, but you can know you have achieved greatness, even if you appear to be failing miserably, based on your own knowing of you heart and soul and body and mind. Feel free to disagree, but the hazy in-between on transportation and fatigue can often induce some rather philosophical conclusions in me. The point? Be bold. Be a fool. Don’t settle for good. Good is safe. Great is terrifying. Do that.
The Book Club Reading List