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Light years

This is me. I picked up these cards this morning and said to the lady at the print shop: “I’m official.” And because all good things work together, today was the first day I didn’t think as I woke up: “What will I do next on my research proposal?” Why? Because I turned in my research proposal last night. Oh yeah! (Picture me doing the happy dance–It’s my birthday, it’s my birthday!)

What’s a research proposal? Ten thousand words mapping out the next 2+ years of reading, writing, interviewing, analyzing, reading and writing 80,000 words (not including the bibliography, but including footnotes, but at this stage-hey! Who’s counting?) for my PhD thesis (UK)/dissertation (N. America).

Way back in October I wrote a blog entry hoping and trusting in a shaky way that this day would come. Now I have a roadmap. So if I deviate, at least I’ll know where I’ve deviated from. The general direction has become a bit more focussed: To go where no man has gone before, to explore new worlds. . . . Sorry, got carried away there.

My research will explore the place of voice–specifically young people’s–and its role in conflict and peacebuilding. And my case study is South Africa, where I’ll be visiting for two months in 2012. But I’ve also been interviewing NGOs and individuals involved in youth policy here in Scotland. Which brings me to my business cards. Monday there’s a conference here at St Andrews put together by my wise supervisor, on violence and circulation of children. And Wednesday I’m going to Edinburgh for an “event” about Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has become EU law. Article 12 is about the voices of children, and requires that children be consulted on decisions that affect their lives. So since I’m looking into how youth narratives can be used as tools for policy assessment and policy design, this is my kind of event. I hope to meet Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, who has called for widespread interviews among young people before determining future Scottish policy. The last time young people in Scotland were asked what was most important to them, was by the NGO Children 1st. The overwhelming response–surprising to the adults who run this world–asked for one thing. What was young people’s number-one priority? To spend more time with their parents. Hmm. Anyway, for these two events next week I needed business cards. As I told my husband, next week I’ll have to be smart and pretty. He told me I should go to bed early.

I think I’ve been spending too much time around my PhD colleagues. The other day I ran into one and immediately we started discussing the socio-economic ramifications of a social-constructivist epistemology. What were the ontological implications? Was this rooted in Aristotle or Plato? Hegel maybe, pre-Marxist, that is. And was it too early to go to the pub? Well, those of you who know and love me have probably realized I’ve always been a closet geek. What’s worse, I may now have become a recovering academic.

Ok, enough. Onto Life in Scotland news: I love living in a small fishing village. I’ve introduced you to Bob the postman, but have I told you about Peter? He works at the post office, and whereas I stand in line for whole half hours at the post office in St Andrews, when I go to the one in St Monans, Peter is often sitting with his feet up on the desk, waiting for the next customer. He works with the door open so he can look outside, across the harbor at the wide expanse of water to the other side of the firth. Every time he sees me, he says, “Hello, young lady.” Speaking as someone who’s turned 35 17 times, this is music to my ears. I eavesdropped once when another woman entered the post office to see if he says this to all the girls, but he didn’t. So I’m convinced he’s sincere. The other evening I was out for my daily walk along the harbor, when I found Peter sitting outside. “Look at that light,” he said. “Aye,” I nodded in my best imitation Scottish way.

And this brings me back to a previous Scotland theme: the light. These photos are of my favorite walk. It starts the moment I leave my little house. I close the door behind me and look up, and this is what I see.

I walk along the harbor and say, “Hiya,” to everyone. Did I mention that we don’t lock our doors in St Monans? Took some getting used to, until I had to go twice to the package center in the next town over after I missed shipments from my drug dealer (–free shipping in the UK!). I noticed that on sunny days some people simply left their front doors wide open. So I stopped locking mine and voila! I come home from a hard day listening to seminars and reading in the library to neat stacks of packages and boxes on my living room floor. Bob cometh, he leaveth and he goeth.

My walk winds up, past coves, and toward the Newark castle ruins, the origins of which date back to the mid 1200s.

Look at this stonework:

Heading back, this is the view:

The St Monans church, which was built in the 1300s, is still standing. In all the UK, this is the church located closest to the sea.

And when I come home, before opening my unlocked door, I turn once more, because the light, which is so unique here, I’m told, because of the angle of the sun when you’re this far north, often has one more surprise for me.

I watch the water and the sky here all the time. Can you see in this photo the snow-covered hills across the firth? That’s North Berwick on the other side. As I write this, its lights twinkle across the water in sunset like fairy promises.

In the mornings as I drive to school, the snow on the distant hills sketch an anti-shadow against the treeline. Mist rises and falls. I watch for birds of prey, my sea eagle Norbett, buzzards, which are like hawks, and wonder why I haven’t seen the first lambs of the season yet. In Holland they’d be bouncing straight-legged beside their mothers by now. But maybe it is because of the eagles, maybe the farmers here keep them indoors. Or maybe it’s because it still drops below freezing at night. On these drives I count the hillsides with centuries-old cascades of daffodils, and listen for brooks thick with the spring run-off, until the spires of St Andrews rise to meet me.

This place tells me, time comes and goes, like the sea, an ebb and flow of ideas not set in stone. What is 600 years?

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