The Tutorial Cycle
by Dustin Janatpour
Studied in Oxford, Fall 2011
Photos by Kate Erickson
I. Tutorial Morning
So you wake up. The sun is already peeking through the back windows of Stanford House—including the one in your room—but no matter. Phone says it’s 8:32 a.m. You only set alarms with times like that when you plan to give yourself a few more minutes to sleep. Maybe this isn’t your first time waking up today.
Paper’s not due until 2:30 anyway. You’ll wake up then. Set the alarm for 9:01. Back to sleep.
This time you wake up from a dream about falling. Okay… so you’ve preempted your alarm. You check your phone to see what time it is. It’s 11:14. Well, damn. You’d set your phone to go off at 9:01 p.m.
Oh well. You still have three hours. It’s time to recover the situation. Back to the routine:
What were you supposed to write about?
Why were you up so late?
Is there still time for a snack or a shower?
Bargaining theory. You were reading something about bargaining theory and you need to write about its scope and inherent assumptions. Fine. And you were awake because you told yourself at 2:00, and again at 3:00, 4:00, and 5:00 a.m. that it’s not worth it to start writing until you know what you are going to write about. Then, at 6:00 (or was it closer to 7:00?), you set an alarm for 8:00-ish, fell asleep, and now here you are.
Normally you give yourself the following option during each crunch-morning (and this has been happening every Monday morning lately): choose two of shower, snack, and sleep. But you have overslept, so snack and shower will have to wait until after today’s tutorial. Best fix the dent in your hair so the tutor doesn’t get worried or ask funny questions.
Time to sit in the inclined position. You open LyX (to make prettier documents) and hammer out an introduction that you’ll have to rewrite anyway. Then one paragraph elaborating on your initial thesis. Then another. Where did you tell the reader where you were going with this?
Somewhere around page three you realize two very important things. The first is that you need coffee. The second is that this paper isn’t going to come together unless you map out the whole thing in your head first, and that means starting over.
With the help of the Oxford Rendezvous, the café underneath Stanford House, you are confident that you can kill two birds with one stone. Down the maze of stairs. Out the door, into the café.
You exchange good mornings with the Moroccan guys who run the place and get your usual: medium americano, extra espresso. There isn’t quite enough room to properly pace around in the waiting area of the Rendezvous, but as you stare into the cheese and jalapeños on a so-called Spicy Mexican Panini, the ideas come together. This paper shall be vanquished. It’s past noon. Grab the coffee, get the hell back up the stairs.
No more typing in the bed. You clear some stuff off of your desk, get the lights, and put on the clothes that you’ll wear to your tutorial now, since you probably won’t have time to change if you let yourself start typing.
And you hammer it out, yet again. Bargaining theory, bargaining theory, bargaining theory. There is no restriction on the length; to your tutor, a paper’s argument is either complete, or it’s not. You are now confident that this one is complete, and it’s only 1:40. Just enough time to read it out loud and clean it up—no need to sweat the small typos as you’ll just be reading your paper to your tutor anyway—and run downstairs to print it.
You get out of the door at 2:03. You’ll need to walk quickly, but hopefully not so quickly that you’ll be out of breath and sweating in front of your tutor (it’s happened before). You’ll walk briskly.
High Street is looking nice this afternoon and the weather is chilly but very bright. Lots of people are moving about as usual. The cars are still on the wrong side of the road, but otherwise traffic isn’t giving you a problem. People waiting for a bus occasionally force you to step off the sidewalk to keep the speed you want.
You round the Pret-a-Manger (the most ubiquitous of cafés) and head down Cornmarket Street. You dodge the guy who is wearing a microphone trying to save your soul (a nice reminder of home) and the hobos who are trying to stop their dogs from fighting. One asks you for change and you ignore him, partly because he asks every day, and partly because violin-playing Latino guy is playing Ave Maria today and you’d rather use your change to show him that you like his taste.
Down Cornmarket, past the bus stop, down Woodside road. You pass The Eagle and Child—a cool pub with a great history, even though its has the same menu as the Chequers on High Street—and then you get to the construction site. Almost there. The wind is picking up so you fold your paper to keep it from getting blown around.
You make it to the last turn of your route, the left onto Observatory Road, with just two minutes to spare. The Road is really more of an alleyway, with enough stone and vegetation to convince one that it hasn’t changed in over a century. Your destination, the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, lies behind an unassuming wooden double-door that you can only access from this alleyway. You go into the anteroom, punch in a security code, and ascend four turns of steps around an old-fashioned industrial elevator.
You’re only a little out of breath as you stumble through the door, say a good afternoon to Susan, the secretary, and whip left to meet your tutor. There he sits, as usual, at the gigantic table with the green tablecloth, reading his newspaper and drinking his tea.
“Oh,” he says, as always. “Good afternoon.”
“Good afternoon, Professor.” You are still catching your breath as you take your seat.
“What do you have for me today, again?”
“Bargaining theory, I believe, is what we discussed.”
“Oh, yes, very good. You may begin.”
II. Not a Tutorial Morning
Again, class starts at 2:30. And it’s in the building. You can really afford to sleep in this morning, and, if you want, this afternoon.
So you do.
By the time you’ve finished the ritual of resetting the alarm every three minutes (fortunately you’ve only done this for an hour this time around) it’s about 2:04. 2:05? The phone now reads 2:05. Time for a shower.
Flip off of the side of the bed. You need to make the bed—you always get it made eventually—though it can wait for now. About face: grab what you need from the shelf on top of your dresser. You get your shampoo, your toothbrush, your toothpaste, your keys. They can stay in your right hand as you round the bed to get your towel from its drawer. With only your left, you retrieve the towel.
Before you leave the room, you scan the desk: your copy of The Quiet American is sitting safely on top of your notebook, and the clip of your mechanical pencil is held fast to the notebook’s spiral binding. They’re all where they need to be for rapid retrieval. In a smooth(ish) motion you slide each foot into one of your Shaq-brand shower sandals as you leave the room.
Here’s the tricky part: Stanford House is maze; in fact, you dedicated an entire afternoon to making sure you could go from your room to the study room without going outside. You live on the second floor (counted ground, then first, then second, etc.), up two winding flights of stairs and a third that continues past the second into a secluded hallway that you share with three other guys. This hallway has its own bathroom, but no shower. Your preferred shower was the one on the bottom floor, down all the flights of steps plus a small indentation into the ground. But that one broke weeks ago.
So you go down the steps from your hallway and the steps of the second flight. This brings you to a middle platform and is standard procedure for reaching the ground. From here, though, you continue forward to go down the far flight of steps instead of turning around as you descend. This brings you to a hallway that always smells of bitter coffee and is your main gateway to the study room. It also contains the door to your second-choice bathroom. You turn to face it now.
Through the door, keys and toothbrushing equipment in the cubby, towel over the side of the shower. Shirt off, shower on. And… there is no hot water. Unlike other showers in which the only indicator that there is no hot water is a cold stream that never seems to get any warmer, the showers in Stanford House have the common courtesy to make their deficiencies readily apparent. This shower has only a single knob which one turns counterclockwise through cold and onto the hot setting. However, as you turn it on this morning, when it should become hot, it simply turns off again.
You don’t have your phone so you can’t be sure that you have enough time to course-correct, but you are already mostly naked, so you may as well get clean. You sling your towel over your shoulder, gather your things and, clad now in your boxers, your Shaq-sandals, and iron determination, march through the coffee-smelling hallway and back to the junction of the steps that lets you reach the ground floor or your room. From here you turn around yet again to go up a different flight of steps which faces away from your room and takes you through a claustrophobic nook with a very low ceiling. Through this nook is a heavy door. Behind this door, there is another platform. In the room that contains this platform, there is another door.
Behind this door is your third-choice bathroom: the yellow one. It has an ugly yellow floor and bright yellow stalls, and it gets more sun than the other bathrooms you use. The showers are also very small, and you are a tall guy. But…
There is no time left to waste. You toss unnecessary items onto the windowsill and jump into the shower without further consideration. You get into the tiny shower, throw your boxers over the top and relax as the water hits you. You shut your eyes. It feels nice.
You wake up and the water is still going. You are leaning against the wall. Damn! This has happened before, but again, no time to waste. No more time to waste that is. Have you even shampooed your hair? No, you haven’t. No time to do it now. You are certainly late, anyway. What’s worse, the steam has made you tired and sluggish again. Time to cut losses.
Shower off, towel on. You slide the folding door open and stumble to the sink. There’s another dude there, waiting for the shower.
“Hey,” he says.
“Mornin’,” you grunt. It’s afternoon. Whatever.
You brush your teeth.
Out the door, down the steps, minding your head all the way (you are convinced by now that Stanford House was designed to evoke both images of Hogwarts and the Shire). The Large Seminar room—where today’s class will be held—lies roughly between your current location and your room, if you go down one level before coming back up a different flight of steps. So there is a question: stop by the Seminar room in your towel to see if class has started and check in, or go straight to your bedroom first but make your first appearance even later? On another morning, in a more rational time, you would probably choose the latter. But you have just fallen asleep in the shower and the steam has addled your brain. You choose the former.
As it turns out, class hasn’t started yet. In fact, only the girls have shown up so far. None ask why you have come to class in a towel. You don’t give them the opportunity.
“I’m gonna get dressed and roll back down in a second,” you tell them. “Just let him know I’m on my way.”
As you turn around you see that he, the professor, has just come up the stairs. You are still in a towel. There is no shame in this situation, you tell yourself. This is pure academic dedication. His quizzical look almost agrees. You can at least pretend it agrees.
“Good afternoon,” he says.
“G’dafternoon,” you say. “I’ll be right back down.”Abroad Reflections, Dustin Janatpour, Kate Erickson, Oxford, Volume 6 Issue 2