The Finer Points of Leaving Room

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All right, I know I haven’t been particularly good about posting recently. I did, of course, take a three month break from writing anything. However, I have a really great and fantastically thrilling tale of my adventures while not posting to “Reader, I Wrote This.”

Hours after finishing my last post, a group of time-traveling expatriates swooped in on a hippogriff and forced me to spend my entire summer doing the Charleston on a raft with Huck Finn as it sailed down the Thames.

OK, I run six blogs. Two of them don’t count and should probably be deactivated from neglect–though I like throwing them in because six sounds more impressive than four–but the others are relatively legitimate and I think I became a little overwhelmed with all the media I had suddenly become in charge of.

As a side note, I’d like to add that you can follow me at http://www.thethirdgreatemily.tumblr.com  and sendintheelephants.wordpress.com. The first is my personal tumblr, and the other is a blog dedicated to mild commentary on absurdity in politics, which I run with my good friend, Jonathan.

Anyway, I’m moving to Massachusetts tomorrow.

I’ve been dropping in little unaffected lines like the one above all summer. For example, while getting my teeth cleaned, the receptionist asked if I would like to schedule my next appointment and I looked at her very plainly and said, “I’m moving to Boston,” and abruptly smiled. The whole thing is definitely very bizarre for me. Especially because FedEx dropped the ball, and the four boxes containing my entire life is sitting in a Connecticut warehouse. I’m moving in tomorrow but my stuff won’t be there until Tuesday, which I’m hoping will be an awesome conversation starter rather than turning me into the slightly off minimalist art student who only brought some clothes and a ceramic mug to college as an abstract criticism on society.

Sorry–literature–right. I’m reading A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, which is her ambiguously narrated extrapolation of women, fiction, and the institution surrounding it.

I’m not done, so part of me feels bad for writing my blogs before they, um, hatch? Publish? There was definitely a way to make that funny and clever but I see my opportunity whizzing by. And there it goes.

So without digging prematurely deep into Woolf’s novella, I’ll simply let everybody know that her primary argument is that, in order to write fiction a woman must have access to a room of her own. Which is really quite convenient since I’m getting one tomorrow.

Of course, I have two roommates and I don’t actually maintain legal residence standing in the commonwealth of Massachusetts (which makes voting more difficult than it should be), but I will be shouldering a good deal of newly found responsibility and independence. So while I won’t truly have a room of my own, and I’m not necessarily writing fiction, I think this is as good a time as ever to embrace Woolf’s contention and move forward with this blog.

I think this little website is about to get exponentially more exciting, reader. Make room boys and girls, because I’m back.

I’m sorry. That last bit really sounded terrible but I can’t bring myself to delete it. Like, it’s so kitschy the irony is turning into one of those “can’t look away” things. Yeah, it’s definitely staying.

This Book Sucks (And Other Well Articulated Thoughts)

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Whoever feels as if the way our public education system runs as of now is efficient and superior doesn’t deserve to be a teacher. It is this observation that allows me to justify criticizing my English class.

This isn’t just because my teacher’s a Republican and I managed to land myself in a class without too many friends or because the senior AP curriculum at my school involved two of the worst (ok, they were great literature but they were still icky) books I’ve ever read. I bitch because I care.

Allow me to present the list of books we’ve read so far.

1. The Doll House (Ibsen)

2. The Metamorphosis (Kafka)

3. Hamlet (Come on)

4. Beloved (Toni Morrison)

5. As I Lay Dying (Faulkner)

6. The Kite Runner (Hosseini)

Which one of these is not like the other?

If you said Kite Runner because it’s totally not legit–you guessed right. Which leads me to my topic of the day. How are we actually supposed to judge books.

We have a finite amount of time to read a comparatively unlimited amount of literature. I have my personal list of “100 Books I Absolutely Need to Read Before I Die Dramatically from Tuberculosis Seeing as it’s the Most Literary of All Diseases.” I could catch TB at any time, and there’s a part of me that feels like I’m involuntarily running a race to get all the important novels out-of-the-way before I can take time to bother myself with current best sellers, or, dare I say it–non-fiction. So which books are worth of my time? Please note, dearest reader of mine, that I’m genuinely asking all of these questions because I don’t know.

When I think of the purpose of literature or the purpose of art in general, I can’t pin point an exact answer. I mean, this is something great thinkers have mulled over since cave drawings and stained glass windows and whatnot, but I too am puzzled by the whole institution. I can say that a book exists to convey a point, a theme. Or I can contend that books exist as a means of entertainment.

The literature major in me hates acknowledging the latter. The rationalist portion of my psyche doesn’t seem to have a problem with accepting that books can be judged on the basis of sheer amusement. And of course, the tiny humanistic man who lives in my stomach is jumping up and down pleading for everybody to get along and suggests I hug more.

When Eric (My English teacher. I’ve started calling him Eric. Gosh I hope he never sees this. Dear Mr. Schaefer: I promise that I only call you Eric in the name of comedy) announced that we were reading Kite Runner, I was a little bummed. I have a good friend who goes to a neighboring school and he got to read Jane Eyre, Jude the Obscure, Dante’s Inferno, AND Pride and Prejudice on top of all the stuff we read. To be honest, The Kite Runner is a pretty good read. It also comes with endlessly helpful reader discussion questions at the back of the book. In case Shirley and Patty of the library book club ran out of ideas.

But then, who am I to criticize? Kite Runner isn’t particularly acclaimed, it returns to the same two or three symbols, and hasn’t been around long enough for anybody to determine if it deserves literary merit or rose to popularity because it discusses Afghanistan after September eleventh. What I can’t figure out is if there are even such things as good or bad books.

WHAT IS ART?

I should stop biting off more than I can chew. Still, you should all go out and read The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Oscar Wilde, my favorite sass-monger and role model (minus the STDs and absinthe addiction) wrote so much about expression in Dorian Gray. There’s this really fabulous poem he opens the book with about our relationship with art. Frankly, the whole book is an intense reminder of its importance. Come on, there’s a magical painting. A Magical, Angry, Clearly Gay Painting.

I. Love. Oscar. Wilde.

While I feel like subjecting literature to quantifiable scrutiny and judgement is inherently flawed, I also feel uncomfortable putting works like Kite Runner or The Lovely Bones on the same metaphorical shelf with Anna Karenina and Tale of Two Cities. I don’t have a problem enjoying it and discussing its good spots, but should I devote my life to reading classic literature because a standard dictates that they get centuries of thumbs up?

Oy.

Oh, and Happy Birthday Shakespeare.

Here’s a picture of Oscar Wilde being sassy.

A University, The Universe, and Being Universal

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As I sat squeezed between my good friends, Sam and Jonathan, on a concrete ledge thing outside the Illinois state competition for competitive high school theater, I scrolled through my phone and read an acceptance letter from Boston University. Next year, I’m moving to Massachusetts. Which I don’t even know how to spell yet without help from Microsoft.

I’m ecstatic. I’m absolutely, extraordinarily, irrevocably, ardently, and [insert every other positive adverb here] happy. Next year, I’m going to be studying secondary English education at one of the best teaching schools in the country. I’ll be terrier.

Their mascot is the terrier. The Boston Terriers.  

Come on. How cool is that?

I just want to remind you, dear reader, that I live in Illinois. BU is exactly 1,001 miles from my home. And then you have to take into consideration where all my good friends are going to school. A handful are staying in Illinois but going south, one’s probably moving to Michigan, and then there’s another who’ll end up in California.

In deciding what book to bring this back to, I decided to pick Jane Eyre.

Now while my life isn’t a gothic masterpiece (yet), there is a part I can kind of relate to. It’s when she’s moving away from Lowood and taking up a job as governess to Mr. Rochester’s maybe-kinda love child. I like to think that Adele’s baby daddy is Rochester. It’s much more sassy and scandalous that way.

I’m a pretty quiet person. Granted, my most primary character traits tend to lead towards “sharp-tongued,” “forceful,” and my favorite of all the PC words for “bitch,” “opinionated.” Still, I like my tea and classic literature. Clearly. Moving to Boston is a pretty big leap for me. Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana–all of those states in between my two homes are pretty significant.

Ok, all right, I realize that all of this is pretty basic in the realm of college topics. But wait, there’s more!

My best friend in the whole wide world read Jane Eyre a few months ago and told me, quite thoughtfully, that it’s like the Van Gogh of literature. I’m still trying to get over how fantastic that imagery is. Try to think of Charlotte’s phenomenal words spreading out and thickening into masses of vibrant color, each page like a Starry Night. The horrible English plains and storms dripping across the story of Jane.

That’s what college is doing to me. The complete novelty and significance is overwhelming. It’s an emotional occurence comparable to the artistic or sensory experience of books like Jane Eyre or paintings like Starry Night. I’ve been thrown into a glittering daze of heightened everything. I was riding the bus home from the afore-mentioned state tournament and looking at the two friends who had sat next to me and thought about how proud I am that we had all turned out so well. All of us growing and graduating seems so beautiful all of a sudden.

So, there. It isn’t the most magnificently articulated concept I’ve garbled out in a while, but the whole thing is certainly hogging a great deal of mind power right about now. Also, my newly planned significant move across the country should make for a much more interesting blog.

In my post-acceptance-letter-haze, I’ve been ordering BU garb, taking google earth tours, planning a real life tour for this Friday, looking up Boston real estate, checking the BU class of 2016 page obsessively, and generally rolling around in a pile of smiles.

Also, I’m learning the ukulele.

(I’m not completely sure that “Also, I’m learning the ukulele” is a sufficient closing sentence, but I’m kind of at a loss for how to finish this up).

Go Terriers!

And now, a Literary News Brief Brought to you by an Ambiguous Blogger

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All right, all right, it’s been a month and fourteen days. The problem is that I’ve been participating in a shockingly intensive school play.

It’s hard work, all right?

During my sabbatical, I’ve read the following books:

  • More Fitzgerald short stories
  • As I Lay Dying (expect a post on this one)
  • The Fountainhead (which isn’t totally read yet but, come on, it’s 700 pages)
  • Divergent
  • Red (a play)

To be honest, it’s been more of a poetry month for me. I went out and bought quite an e.e. Cummings anthology and I’ve been obsessing further over my best friend, Emily Dickenson. By the way, my English teacher doesn’t like her. Shockingly.

AND I’m in the middle of Beloved by Toni Morrison. Which is, ahh, I can’t even talk. So good. Read it. READ IT!

AND (x2) I started writing a play.

So all in all, very fun and exciting literary stuff.

But I digress. Last night I was walking home after rehearsal because Chicago is absolutely, ecstatically beautiful. It’s important to understand that Chicago is never anything more than raw, frigid air that bites your face off or chokingly cruel humidity. Still, with a natural consistency that would give Henry David Thoreau a transcendentalist wet dream, we have a grace period of lovely once a year from winter to spring. I think I’ll probably miss that a lot next year.

Anyhow, it was lovely and we all felt lovely so a group of nicely dressed and academically successful theater kids plopped back to my house under an almost full moon.

Afterwards, I thought about the potential of finding significance in the fifteen or so minutes walking home. Almost full moon? Clearly, this is a symbol for the American dream and our inability to fully grasp a standard which crawls farther away as we reach for it. Clearly.

Literature is, of course, an extension of reality. There’s no water to any question of chicken versus egg. All that said, is there anything wrong with looking for significance or even plot in the foundations of real life?

When you’re done with a book you can say “William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying with the intention of saying this and this and this.”

When you’re done with a life you can say “Emily [insert last name here because I don’t want creepy internet guys finding me] did this and this and this during her life.”

I think it’s really cool that humanity itself was sort of plopped down and left to ponder over the before and after of existence itself for the rest of time. Awesome, no? But with books and poems there’s always a reason. The simplest way to exemplify this would be to bring up Hamlet prince of Themes but I have no intention of doing him the service. So, painfully, I bring you As I lay Dying (As I Die Reading, As I Regret my College Major, As I Contemplate Defacing William Faulkner’s Grave).

 

The book, more or less, has no plot. Well, it kind of has a plot but we’re not going to get into that. Anyway, there’s practically no action but some how you get to the end of the book and voila! A plot!

Like a life. Life is a series of events and more events and an event-a-palooza and then you get to the end and maybe, we can all leave around some semblance of significance. We can do this, guys.

Hop to it.

I now present to you: Moral Conflict!

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I’m a telemarketer. Not really. I’m a pseudo-telemarketer.

Ok I’m actually not a telemarketer at all. HOWEVER, I am a phone recruiter for a market research company. And yesterday my employment drove me to flushing my morals down the toilet of indifference.

We’re filling a focus group for a tobacco company. I recruited people to participate in studies for a tobacco company. I helped a tobacco company. I sat there and actually aided in the success of a tobacco company.

Emily, the crusader of literature. The soldier on the war against illiteracy. The educator of children. The gleaming intellect. The girl with a moral compass screwed tighter than fancy tupper ware at the container store.

I sold tobacco and I’m very, very sorry.

There I stood, clutching the search parameter printout thing and thinking, “all I have to do is let my supervisor know that I’m morally opposed to this.” But I couldn’t bring myself to doing anything because I’m horribly afraid of confrontation.

Literature works like this too sometimes. We disregard realistic flaws because it’s part of the work and a piece of the character. We say “well it’s not a big deal that Phoebe smokes because it was the forties and they did that.”

I like my ethics nice and smug. I’ve severed myself from organized religion and, as a result, rely on my own set of cultural and societal standards to create a set of morals. Does that even make any sense? And I mean that as a self-directed rhetorical inquiry. Am I not immensely selfish by insisting that my perceptions of ethics holds any water to begin with?

I loose so much respect for people with lose morals. In characters, though, it doesn’t seem to matter. The great and almighty presence of literature diffuses how much I deplore weak ethics. I’m not so sure this is even fair. Fair to me, fair to my standards, or fair to the integrity of the work.

When the Glass family smokes incessantly, my opinion as a reader doesn’t skip a beat before accepting the habit as a result of Salinger’s time frame and rather enjoy his ability to paint such a smoke infused literary mosaic.

Even with modern works like John Green’s Looking for Alaska. The concept of drinking and smoking is a terribly pivotal theme throughout the novel.

So how do we reconcile? Authors make their small armies of characters act the way and do the things they do for a reason. Franny and Zooey (and everybody else in all the books that man ever wrote) use smoking as a rhetorical vehicle. It means something. Of course, I understand the chronological implications.

I’m finding it increasingly difficult to balance my vague relentlessness at upholding my moral standards and adjusting them on a situational basis. Books aren’t helping.

But they’re relevent, which is something that gives me a lot of joy. So far I haven’t had to scramble for a connection to books while writing any of these posts.

It isn’t looking like I’ll ever be forced to preach lies in front of a classroom. Books are relevent. They’re so wonderfully and substantially relevent.

Insightful Sniffling, or, an Homage to the Illness Theme

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The reason behind my week or so long hiatus can be traced back (at least a partly) to a rather violent case of the stomach flu. Up until a few days ago I’ve been running around telling everybody that I’m “vomit free since ninety-three” which isn’t entirely true on number of levels. To start, I was born in ninety-four. Also, I’ve naturally vomited quite a number of times since my birth, I just haven’t done it recently enough to really remember anything.

Until the stomach flu, that is.

I’m pretty much over it, however, which is great because I can finally focus on something other than sipping ginger-ale. Right. Literature. Connection. Here we go–if you were wondering why I decided to use the dramatic, one line, punctuation thing, it was partially a little salute to Sylvia Plath seeing as I finished up The Bell Jar last week. For the deprived souls who have yet to read Ms. Plath’s novel, the prose employs a heavy amount of dramatic, one line, punctuation things. Not that I’m complaining, it actually works quite well.

Not to freak anybody out with how much excitement you’re going to be put through today, I’m totally going to talk about THREE WHOLE BOOKS! Too much sarcasm? I really don’t think so. Hopefully, if you’re invested in reading this post or following this blog, you enjoy reading and literature. I digress.

Books: The Bell Jar, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Fault in Our Stars.

Authors: Sylvia Plath, Stephen Chbosky, John Green

Verdict: Awesome, Awesome, Awesome.

Common thread: Illness. (Oh my, that was strikingly depressing)

It was through some divine streak of irony that I managed to read three books, each with major themes revolving around sickness, while simultaneously landing myself with the stomach flu.

First, The Bell Jar.

I should probably clarify by adding that Plath’s only novel wasn’t about sickness in terms of stomach flu. The story follows a kinda-sorta-version of Sylvia Plath as she plummets into depression. She gets better in the end, though, and I think that’s really, extraordinarily awesome of Sylvia Plath to do.

I realize that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a stretch on the illness front. Again, it’s psychological sickness, but I wouldn’t be the first one to raise her hand and shout, “the overarching theme in this novel is the idea that illness is ultimately something that we as humans can overcome! Go team!”

 Still, the presence is definitely there through Charlie’s PTSD thing he’s got going on, and it’s a bit more applicable in 2012 than Plath’s vague attacks on pre-feminist movement suppression.

Finally, I read (well, actually I have a few more pages to get through) my first John Green book.

Basically, it’s really, really, really, awesome and also about cancer which is how it sumbled into this post.

The thing about illness is that it’s more or less the most powerful weapon in the universe since, without disease, we could hypothetically continue living infinitum.

That said, nobody ever talks about being sick. It’s something we sweep under the rug and ignore. Especially in the AP circuit where psychological Darwinism surfaces and staying home from school not only means twenty trillion hours of make up work but also equates to waving a white flag of surrender as a weak link in the race to the top tenth percentile.

So thank you Ms. Plath, Mr. Chbosky, and Mr. Green. Thank you for acknowledging the existence of depression, PTSD, and cancer. But most of all, thank you for choosing to argue the theme that sickness is ultimately something to overcome. Unlike a certain other writer who decided to babble on about disease and then kill everybody involved, cough cough Shakespeare cough cough Hamlet sucks.

And thank you, lovely stomach of mine, for reminding me that vomiting is a thing.

Now get offline and buy all the books I mentioned. They’re totally worth it.

This is not a post. Yes it is. No it’s not.

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For a while, English professionals have been stressing the idea of appearance versus reality.

“Hamlet is merely a reflection of himself and he truly looks inwardly on his reality and blah.”

If I hear the Hamlet mirror thing one more time I will personally build a time machine and travel back into space whereupon I’ll find Shakespeare and poison him ear-style. Of course, knowing my luck I’ll probably land back in 2012 and nothing will have changed because Shakespeare wasn’t even Shakespeare.

Officially, this post is about Hamlet. It was going to be about The Wizard of Oz because of an awesome theme I wanted to bring up but I read Baum’s book so long ago that I didn’t feel particularly qualified. Either way, I’m prodding at the same point so it’s all kosher. Let’s throw in some aestheticism, shall we?

For some reason there’s a push to get students into recognizing themes of appearance against the constructs of reality. Not everything is how it seems. That may look like a chair but it isn’t a chair. Ceci n’est pas un pipe. What was that? Why yes. I do believe it’s time for a visual aid.

Alright I get it. We all get it. Existentialism, nothing’s as it seems, it looks like I’m enjoying this lecture but the reality is that I’m not.

I feel like sometimes this theme makes appearances is simply due to the fact that perception is fundamental. Of course the way I’m looking at my mug full of chai tea looks like a mug full of chai tea to me. I’m viewing the mug and how my brain presents its shape and color and whatnot is completely up to him. The brain that is. I just personified my brain, did you catch that? What’s also fundamental is that the way I see something might not be exactly as is presented, which is ok, because humanity isn’t completely used to changing their mind after gaining more information. Sorry, Mr. Bard.

The reason I’m even bringing this up is because I think there are maybe more poignant forms of what either all these authors are trying to say or all my English teachers are trying to hose us down with.

“The Man Behind the Curtain Syndrome” being one of them.

I realize that I’m taking horrible teenage justices with intricate, scholarly themes and naming them in grotesquely cute fashions, but I have a point. This is a blog dedicated to the application of literature so don’t you dare bite your thumb at me.

Get it?

The aforementioned application is this: we all bum around on the internet a trillion hours a day and don’t even know the first name of the people creating websites and blogs and angry birds.

We don’t know the faces of people who own restaurants or the voice when you call customer service or, as my depressingly simple classmates in econ class proved today, Ben Bernanke.

Since this is rather early on in the history of “Reader, I wrote this,” (which, by the way, isn’t a URL that’s likely to stick around) I wanted to give a little piece of who I am.

Currently, I’m sitting cross legged on my office chair drinking tea out of a mug my good friend, Donny, got me for Christmas. I’m listening to music by St. Vincent, because she goes perfectly with my reading of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I’m rather comfortable in a Chicago Bears sweatshirt my dad bought circa 1988.

Here’s a link to my tumblr: www.thethirdgreatemily.tumblr.com

I’m trying to figure out a nice way to relate everything back to me but I can’t seem to figure it out.

Bloggers block, I guess.

The difficulties of waking up as a bug and not caring. Especially when it’s the climax of the story. Or is it?

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I’m having a bit of trouble getting started. I mean, shucks, this is more or less my first real life post on my first real life blog.

So I thought about classic first lines. I didn’t want to do any Pride and Prejudice. Well, let’s revise that statement. I love P&P. I think Jane Austen is a BA satirist from the beyond. Frankly, her and Mark Twain are sitting around at the Famous Dead Author Bar in heaven and having a good laugh over how she’s managed to pull the wool over a great deal of unsuspecting Darcy Fan Clubbers.

Regardless of how fabulous the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice may be, it isn’t the book I need to start with. I mulled for a little bit and decided to whip out an old not-so-crowd-favorite. Allow me to introduce my friend, Mr. Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.

You wouldn’t believe how hard it was to find cover art without any visual references to entomology.

I don’t think that The Metamorphosis is overly hipster-obscure, but because not every school spends two and a half month Huck Finn style to teach Kafka’s twisted novella, I’ll summarize. Gregor Samsa, slave to the system and completely un-actualized, wakes up to find that he was physically turned into a giant beetle thing. He was going for the distorted metaphor thing, what can I say.

The reason I’m bringing it up, is because the baby novel (and by baby novel I mean novella) starts with a killer opening sentence. Translated from German to English in a fairly sketchy fashion, it reads something like this:

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.

There’s the rub. (<–Hamlet) It’s the climax. Well, sort of. I’m undecided as a matter-of-fact. The reason that it keeps popping up on lists of great first lines is because the major event of the story has already happened. Or did it?

We studied this book in English class further towards the beginning of the year, although I had felt ambitious as a sophomore and read it then as well. My teacher, who I’m sure you, dear reader (<–Jane Eyre), will hear all about fairly frequently if this blog takes off, insisted that this was the climax. No questions. Climax, climax, climax.

Between my continuous determination to prove this man wrong and the fairly strong conclusions I had made through my own reading, I strongly disputed the point.

Allright I got in an actual fight with my teacher. I have strong opinions, ok? My argument was that Kafka used the shock of his first sentence to set a standard for distortion. The idea that his world was terrifically grotesque and that was simply the way this novella ran. No more questions.

Now, I honestly don’t know. I honestly don’t have a lot of things figured out, especially regarding literature and even more so regarding the “for real” problems posed by the books I love and respect so dearly.

How fair is it, as authors and critics and readers, to put stock into the first sentence. We don’t get to pick first sentences for our life. Technically, it’s “waaahhhh,” which we exclaim upon literally being born, but the maternity ward isn’t really where our human stories start. Even if we are able to pick moments and narratives as representations of us, it isn’t something we tote around.

All the same, I couldn’t stand the climax of my life being the first thing people know about me. How do you even choose the climax of your life? I certainly would want to pick myself rather than allowing a depressed, tuberculosis ridden dude from Prague to decide.

I wrote about The Metamorphosis first because I’m opening my blog on, if not the climax, an exciting and charged entry. Which is truly what makes Kafka’s first sentence so great.

That was his first sentence, and this is my first post.

Let’s start on a high note, shall we?

Here’s to blogs and books.

This really is a wonderful site so far. I haven’t the faintest idea of how to use it but everything I’m typing is sounding posh-British in my head.

The premise (of this blog, that is): Kind-of-sort-of publish insights into my life and that of the world around us as I hurdle out of secondary school and into the academic abyss of college.

The really cool idea: Tie every entry back to literature. I happen to be an almost-English-major and I want to, I don’t know, prove to myself and the “world” (ok the internet) that this fabulous art form is universal.

Post a week sound good? I think so.

Now I’m off to figure out this uncharted country from whose bourne no traveler returns. Did I quote that right? Too dramatic? Biting off too much? Will I get over it?

Yes. The answer is yes.