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Monday, November 28, 2005
Lost in Translation
Tonight (it's almost midnight here) we went to a small comedy club, a run-down garage-turned-avante-garde-small-theater in the heart of European Capital City. I was invited by a few friends and I admit that I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't understand anything, since the "program" featured local ECC artists performing completely improvised skits. As it turned out, I understood nearly everything and had a great time, and since I had a cappuccino while I was there I'm WIDE awake (I don't normally drink coffee at all -- never, in fact -- but I thought ordering a cappuccino was a bit more appropriate than ordering a hot chocolate [my hot beverage of choice] and I wasn't in the mood for something alcoholic).
One of the best skits featured two guys who were sort of doing a Penn & Teller-esque sort of thing, with one main guy taking the lead and his "sidekick" in the background doing silly things. At the beginning of their skit, the main guy said (in Foreign Language): "OK, I'm going to try to rile you all up and I hope you'll understand me because I'm going to do it in English." The audience laughed a little and then he shouted in English, at the top of his lungs with his fist raised in the air:
"Ladies and Gentlemen -- are you ready to be ROCKED?!"
A short time ago I wrote a post called "Holding Pattern," in which I described my feelings about being awkwardly and solidly wedged between graduate school and assistant-professordom. Today I'm feeling in another type of holding pattern, which I'll describe below. I should note that in my previous post on this theme I was feeling rather negative about the "holding pattern" life, but after some thought I think aspects of it are charming and worth remembering, perhaps even worth savoring.
In a few days I will leave Europe. I've been here since November 2, away from my family since November 1. Before I left the U.S., all I could think of was, "OK, you can handle this -- every day you're in Europe brings you one day closer to returning home." I just couldn't fathom being away from T and ST so long, being away from my comfortable life. After living here for a month, however, and being now so close to returning home, I'm feeling a bit reluctant to leave. Now I have friends here, people who care about me, knowledge I didn't have before, and a comfortable lifestyle I'm just getting used to here. I know where the grocery stores are, the post offices. I know which subway goes where. I know where the best shops are, I know the tourist traps. I know which bakery has my favorite bread, and which bakery charges a lot more for the same bread. I will be sad early Wednesday morning when I leave. (That'll be late Tuesday evening for most of you, I suspect!)
But I am also unbelievably excited to go home and be with T and ST. I'm sure ST has changed since I've been gone. I can't wait to hear his little voice again, since he's been unwilling to speak to me on the phone. (He's mad at me for leaving, and told me that he will only talk to me now when they come to pick me up at the airport!) I can't wait to sleep next to T again, to have his hand to hold and face to kiss. I'm excited at the thought of slipping back into my normal routine, doing laundry and preparing supper, taking ST grocery shopping with me. I love my life at home.
So, here I am once again in a "holding pattern," stuck between two places I love, caught in a deep web of relationships I hold very dear. For example, here in European Capital City I've been introduced to so many people (all significantly older than I am -- usually old enough to be my parents) and they have become friends. They have all been willing to go the extra mile for me, to make sure I'm comfortable, to make sure I am having a good time here and finding everything I need. Hugs and kisses are in abundance. It's quite lovely -- it's like being with another family, a family I'd never known about until now. And yet, my real lovely family is waiting for me at home. I wish I could have all of these people together in one place, even if just for a moment. Just for a moment so that I could embrace them all, tell them how much I love them and how they have made my world a better place.
My second "holding pattern" again involves my status as ABD graduate student seeking employment. I found out yesterday I have another on-campus interview. (That's FOUR! I'm absolutely stunned. I was hoping for one.) This is at a university I'm intensely interested in, more so than the two other interviews (Interview #2 and Interview #3) I'll have when I return home (December 4-8). (Truth be told, if I could cancel Interview #2 without being rude, I probably would.) Anyway, I must confess that I'm kind of enjoying this inbetween-ness right now, as hectic as it is. It's a relief to know that places are indeed interested in me and what I do. It's a relief to know that, even if I don't get a job this year, people like what they see of me on paper and so I would probably get interview offers next year, too. It's also kind of exciting to think of the future and not know where I'm going to land, but to have faith that God will place me right where I'm supposed to be. I've actually given up worrying about it.
Now, off to work on that job talk I have to give on December 5 and 7 for Interviews #2 and #3. These job talks are interesting in that both universities want them to be "student-focused" -- in other words, they want me to "teach" my dissertation. At first I thought that was an easy assignment, but as I think about it it's incredibly difficult because I don't know how much background information the students already have. I'm also not sure how to make it exciting, and I'm also a little nervous about it simply because I will not have time to synthesize all that I've learned here in Europe before I have to give these talks. But oh well. I will do the best I can with what I have. In the end, that's really all I can do.
When we were dating, T used to do this annoying thing where whenever I'd say something very confidently, he'd ask (in a nasally voice), "Are you SURE? Are you POSITIVE?" Back then, I saw everything in either black or white; there was rarely a sense of uncertainty in my voice because I was always quite sure that I was right, that the decisions I made were sound, and that I was doing the best possible thing I could be doing at that moment.
A lot has changed since then.
Now I find that I'm fully aboard the dissertation rollercoaster, where one minute I'm very sure of myself and happy about life in general and the next I just want to throw in the towel and give up. I thought this feeling would go away once I was firmly entrenched in the dissertation project, as I am now, and certainly once I started getting interviews from schools, which I have. But if anything, the feeling has gotten worse. Being in academia has made me a lot less confident. I'm rarely sure that I'm right (probably because in academia there's someone around every corner waiting to tell you that you're wrong), I'm rarely sure that my project is interesting (despite a lot of external validation), and quite honestly, I'm rarely sure that I want to do this for the rest of my life.
Sometimes I think the sacrifices just aren't worth it. Although the experiences I'm having here are extraordinary, some days I'm just not sure if it's worth leaving my preschooler for a month, putting the full burden of childcare and household duties on my willing husband. And although I think eventually being a professor will be fulfilling, I'm not sure if it's worth putting off other things for, like having another child. In my "grand plan" for my life, I always thought I'd have another child before or shortly after ST turned three. That is not going to happen, considering his birthday is in April. And although I enjoy the work that I do about 75% of the time (that's an honest figure), sometimes I just think it's dull and pointless (and I'm not talking about the dissertation, but rather about the whole sum of coursework through the years). Sometimes I think I should have been a stay-at-home-mother. I'm sure I would have felt unfulfilled in that, too, however, after awhile.
Does anyone know for sure that they're doing the right thing? Is anyone completely satisfied with their career, or does everyone hover around a 75% satisfaction rate? Is this academic life worth the sacrifice? Honestly?
Some days I wish I had taken a different path. Sometimes I wish I had chosen a major in collegew with a very clear career path: engineering, accounting, business management. Sometimes I think I should have been a high school teacher. Some days I wish I had taken the path I almost did take: law school (although the type of law I wanted to practice would have probably led me even further away from family, a stable life, and a satisfying job for T). Some days I wish I could have been fulfilled working, as I did throughout my undergraduate years, in a bookstore. Almost every day I wish I could keep my work separate from the rest of my life. I wish I could take true "holidays," and I wish weekends and extended breaks weren't merely chances to "catch up." I wish academic life was 9 to 5, no weekends.
I said that about 75% of the time, I'm happy with what I do. I like the topic I'm working on. I've liked my coursework. But I've never been one of those people who just goes nuts over a particular topic, who can't wait to talk about it again, who can't wait to read every work ever published on a certain topic. I have a friend who received his Ph.D. this past June and is now working at a major research university. He gets himself so worked up and excited about the things he's reading about and writing about that he literally sounds a little crazy sometimes. He could speak with such passion about the topic, a passion I could never muster for my topic or for anything else I've read. Sure, I like the work I do just fine. It's a job, it's interesting. But do I LOVE it? No. Would I do this for fun? No. Is this normal?
I know I'm feeling this way because I am very isolated here. Despite being in a huge city and despite having friends here, I am lonely and terrifically homesick. I think of my husband and son, tucked peacefully in bed at my MIL's house 13 hours away from our home, and I just want to be there, want to be with them where I feel needed and loved. I don't want to do any more research, I don't want to do any sightseeing, and I certainly don't want to think about interviews or job prospects. I just want to be around the people who know me best and who can assure me that yes, YES, I am doing the right thing. And that yes -- YES -- it will all be worth it in the end.
Sometimes I forget how much I am affected by music.
A few days ago Brightstar posted about a tune she heard the grocery store, and she posted the lyrics. The song, as I indicated in my comments to her, brought back very strong memories for me, and I realized that I hadn't listed to "that" song in a very long time -- actually, I haven't listened to it in full since that fateful day in elementary school. I just can't listen to it.
There are other songs like that, too. Paul McCartney has this song "My Brave Face" that I used to absolutely love -- I remember singing along to the lyric "... ever since you went away I've had this sentimental inclination not to change a single thing..." at the top of my lungs. But that song now reminds me of a dead friendship, a friendship I still hold as one of the most important relationships in my life thus far. That song makes me sad and angry all at once. I heard the song on the radio a few weeks ago and I immediately had to change the station to find something else.
Sometimes I get so hung up on avoiding music that makes me think of things I don't want to think about that I forget to listen to the great music that makes me happy. I'll go for long stretches of time without listening to anything at all -- I'll leave the iPod at home, keep the car stereo tuned to talk radio, and not have the radio on at home. I just went through a period like this in European Capital City, since I wanted to make sure I kept my ears open to hear the sounds of the "life" of the city: people chatting, the recorded voice in the subway that tells passengers which station they're at, the European sirens on police cars and fire trucks, men at fruit stands calling out, "Fresh bananas! Beautiful, beautiful ripe bananas!" But earlier this week, when I was feeling a bit down and stressed and ready to go home, I pulled out the iPod and let the music cheer me up. I didn't want to hear the city anymore -- I wanted to hear home.
I walked to "work" singing along to the first Dave Matthews Band CD under my breath. I forgot how much I enjoy that music (not too fussed about their subsequent CDs, however), how happy it makes me. Later that afternoon I was sitting in the library and listening to a little Sting (love him, always), and then later that night I was singing in my bedroom with Ella Fitzgerald. I was in a considerably better mood just for having heard these familiar tunes. I didn't have to talk to anyone, I didn't have to do anything spectacular, didn't have to eat dark chocolate to cheer myself up -- I just had to listen to some old friends.
Sunday night, a friend of the woman I'm staying with here bought me a ticket to the Philharmonic. I was excited to go, even without knowing what was on the program. I arrived and waited patiently in my seat. The first song? Aaron Copeland's "Hoe Down" from Rodeo (you know, the "Beef, it's what's for dinner" campaign song?). I listened intently, joyfully. Sounds of home. But then, the coup de grace: selections from George Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess, perhaps my favorite music in the world. Tears streamed down my face as I heard the soloists sing. (I am the world's biggest George Gershwin fan, honestly. I think I've read every book on the man, including a separate book about the making of Porgy and Bess.) It was like the music was sent from above, just to cheer me up. Maybe it was.
Just found out that I didn't get the job at Interview #1. Apparently I was a "close second," but unfortunately the "close second" position doesn't come with a salary.
A bit deflated. OK, honestly, more than a bit deflated. I know it's stupid of me to think that everyone should like me the best and to worry a little when they don't like me the best, but still.
Life goes on. Obviously, there are reasons I was not meant to be at this place. I'm sure they are good reasons, and I'm sure that I will never know what they are. I will be sad for a few hours. Then I will stop being sad and look forward to new opportunities.
I'm feeling happy because it's already November 20th and I will soon be reunited with T and ST. I simply cannot wait -- ten more days. Nine, actually, since the 30th is a travel day. I've accomplished a lot here (not as much as I'd hoped, but then again my hopes were quite ambitious for a four-week stay) and learned a lot -- I actually have a whole new perspective on the dissertation, a whole new explanation for why some of my hypotheses are turning out so strangely. I can't wait to get home and start writing again, back in my cozy office where I always know that T and ST are just around the corner.
I'm also happy because I have another on-campus interview. That's three so far. That's way more than I expected, especially given that one of my best friends (who was widely considered one of the top candidates in her subfield last year) had four interviews. I wish, however, that Interview School #1 would hurry up and make up their minds so I would know where I stand. If offered that job, I would take it.
Additionally, I'm happy that I was able to go to a real Mass this morning. Priest in full garb, TEN altar servers (TEN, dressed in the traditional red and white altar "uniform"), incense (Feast of Christ the King), a great homily, and communion. It was wonderful. I feel refreshed.
I am, however, feeling a little sad because Interview #3 is supposed to take place the week of Interview #2, which means I'd have to be gone another full week. That'd be FIVE WEEKS away from my son, and I'm not willing to do that. It's also complicated because Interview #2 is December 4-6 and the flight is already booked and paid for (but not by me, of course!) and Interview #3 is supposed to be December 7-9... which would be fine except that T has a conference he is DIRECTING from December 6-10 and so I have no one to watch ST. No one. We have no relatives in the area, and most of our good friends (people we'd trust with ST) have wacky schedules as it is. My Dad did offer to drive down (8 hours!) to watch ST, but I hate to have him drive all that way for just a few nights. Not sure what to do. Ideally, I'd postpone Interview #3, but I'm not sure what their timetable is. And I assume they want me to interview in early December simply because it's probably their last week of classes and they probably want me to teach a class. Grr. It's so complicated. I hate complications.
But overall, all is well and I am confident that things will work out. I just need to relax, let the situation settle down a bit, and figure out a solution. At the end of the day, I need to be sure that I'm attentive to the important things. After a month away, the important thing is being with my family.
Today was one of those days where you feel like you were busy all day but accomplished nothing. The bureaucracy and hierarchy around here are inpenetrable. I spent all day trying to gain access to an archive -- the archive I came here to see. I have been assured for two weeks that I'd be able to get in, no problem. Not so! Everywhere I turn there is another form to fill out, another person to talk to, another meeting, another website to look at for further information. Every person I talk to has "only been in this job for a few weeks" or "is recovering from a long illness and not up on the latest procedures." Either that or the person I need to talk to is "very important to the organization" and "usually does not speak to researchers."
I think I found a way to circumvent this system, but involves a lot of charm on my part. Let's hope I can muster the charm early tomorrow morning, and in a foreign language.
There's a German film out in Europe now called Die Grosse Stille(roughly, The Great Silence). It's a film about the Grande Chartreuse, a strict monastery in the French Alps. For many years, the producer yearned to make a film about this place and the men who spent their lives there, praying, and he asked them for permission: 16 years ago! They finally, after almost two decades, allowed him to film them, and the resulting movie is a cinematic masterpiece.
The monks in the Grande Chartreuse are not allowed to speak, except for a brief period on Sundays or during religious holidays, when they are also allowed to take long walks outside the monastery walls. The film follows them through a year, and the audience watches them work and pray. There is no background music in the film. There is no climax or conclusion. There are only the monks, reading and studying their manuscripts, washing the floors, shaving each others' heads, sewing new cloaks, repairing their shoes, planting and harvesting their gardens. The film is startling for both its careful re-creation of monastery life and its beauty: the French Alps are the backdrop for the film, and so the shots of nature are truly breathtaking.
Now I want to learn more about this monastery, and learn more about religious life in general. I've done a bit of reading about convents and the nuns who live in them and have had many nuns for teachers in elementary and middle school. On some simple level, I can understand why some women choose to become nuns. I cannot understand, however, why these men chose to become monks at this remote, strict monastery. They have no contact with the outside world. They do not teach, they do not sell anything, they do not perform any "service" for the outside world. They live for themselves and they live for God -- to me, they are either completely selfless and holy, or a bit egotistical and selfish. I consider myself a prayerful and religious person, but I think that part of my religious "purpose" is to serve others -- to improve the world. I don't understand what the "purpose" of the monastic life is at the Grande Chartreuse. Perhaps their mediations are, without anyone knowing, improving life for the rest of us?
(Bright Star, I thought of you as I was watching this. You would have really enjoyed this film, both for its religious aspects and the gorgeous nature photography.)
I got up early this morning, put on some nice clothes, ate a light breakfast, and ventured out into the chilly sunny morning to go to Mass. I could hear church bells ringing loudly all around me, I was in a good mood, and I knew that the church would be easy to find. Frau W. had told me it would only take about 10 minutes to walk there. I found the church right away.
Catholic churches are lovely in that they are predictable: every church is reading the same three scriptures, every church uses the same responses, the Creed is the same, etc. That's what I was looking forward to this morning -- some predictability. I knew that the Mass would be conducted in a foreign language, but that wouldn't be a major issue as long as I could follow the predictable, comfortable format I've been following every Sunday since I was a toddler.
I was early. I walked in to the modern building, staring at the high concrete walls and the floors that were composed of thousands of wooden blocks. Only a handful of people were there and it was already 9:55am -- five minutes before the beginning of the Mass. I dipped my fingers in the frigid Holy Water at the entrance, crossed myself, and found a seat in the middle of the Church, genuflecting first before sitting down. I knelt and prayed quietly. I was not surprised that the church was so empty -- Frau W. told me (and my own research backed her claims) that not very many people attended Mass (or any church services) anymore, and that I would probably be surrounded by a few older people. That seemed to be the case.
By 10:10am, however, the church really started to fill up. The Mass had not yet begun, but people were swarming the altar, setting things up. A few microphones. A pair of music stands. A large projection screen. A computer. Oh dear. Many men in sharp-looking suits.
By 10:30am, the place was packed to capacity, standing-room only. Soon a PowerPoint presentation flashed on the screen, lyrics to songs I had never heard, and certainly not traditional Catholic hymns. Two neatly-dressed people came up to the front and started singing, clapping their hands and swaying. The congregation joined in, some people raising their hands over their heads and shouting, "Amen! Hallelujah!" This was certainly not what I expected.
There was no traditional Mass. No prayers, really, not even a priest. No vestments, no responses, no Psalm or Proverb. No Gospel reading at all, in fact. Instead, a man in a nice suit and tie, the "Pastor," got up in front of the congregation and spoke about how he hadn't truly known God until his wife led him in prayer one night, and how they both began to speak in tongues. He told us about how several years ago his wife had been diagnosed with an incurable cancer and how she, through prayer, was healed. Many people in the congregation clapped and this and swooned. "Praise Jesus!" they cried. "Hallelujah!"
There was no Communion. There were a lot of announcements at the end, a collection, and another synthesized song. Then everyone went into the basement for coffee, soup, bread, and cake.
This was certainly no Catholic Mass! I have no idea what was going on here, actually. Outside the church it said very clearly, "St. XXXX Catholic Church." But, aside from me, no one genuflected or crossed themselves, and no one blessed themselves with Holy Water -- these are standard Catholic behaviors. The kneelers were never used. What the heck WAS this?
Now I know: whenever I see a PowerPoint presentation in a church, I should run. Very quickly. I should run to the nearest old, traditional Catholic Church I can find and sit with the gray-haired ladies with canes and the nuns. I'm a pretty open-minded person, I think, but there are some things in my life that I need to have untouched, and Mass is one of them. Needless to say, next week I'll be taking the subway to the Cathedral.
I'm having one of those days where I don't like my dissertation. I don't want to think about it. I don't want to write it anymore, and I certainly don't want to do any more research for it. I don't want to talk about it, I don't want to discuss it with anyone, and I don't want anyone to ask me questions about it.
I get this way every now and again, this small voice inside of me saying, "Ah, you know that this is a stupid topic! Why are you bothering?" That small voice is talking to me today, and it's really getting me down. Although I was busy sightseeing today (am not going to waste a beautiful day in ECC sitting in front of a computer!), I could hear that voice, loud and clear.
The thing is, most people think my topic is pretty doggone interesting and on most days, so do I. I find that when people show a LOT of interest, however, I doubt myself even more, thinking that I must have missed something somewhere and that someone will find me out. (Lurking in every academic, I think, is the thought that we're frauds somehow.) Today, after an afternoon of shopping in open-air markets and visiting old churches, I received an email from a well-known professor in a nearby city. He wants me to come to Nearby City (two hours away, by train) and give a presentation about my topic. I don't want to go (and indeed, I might not have time to go anyway). This is just the type of thing that throws me into an abyss of self-doubt.
Days like this are so frustrating. I think I'm having one today because I'm feeling guilty about not having written much for several weeks. Since I got here, I've not written a word but have instead been gathering impressions, materials, etc. Right now, the thought of sitting down to write something is most unpleasant.
All the more reason to head to Mass tomorrow morning, I think. Whenever I'm feeling low, I find that going to Mass gives me whatever it is that I'm seeking. God works in mysterious ways -- perhaps He'll work through my dissertation? THAT would be pretty mysterious.
I have a love-hate relationship with the telephone. When I was younger (especially when I was a teenager and living at home), I hated to talk on the phone. My friends would call and I'd beg my Mom or Dad to take a message, not wishing to be disturbed. For me, friends had their place: I saw them at school, and that was enough for me. I didn't want to talk to them again when I was at home, doing my own thing. It's not that I was anti-social -- I just didn't (and still don't) like being on the phone with someone when there's a very good chance I'll see them in person in the near future. I also don't love being "reachable" all the time, available at a moment's notice, which is why I choose not to have a cell phone or even call-waiting on my landline. The phone exists for my convenience.
After I moved out of my parents' house when I went to college, I grew to appreciate talking on a phone a bit more. I chatted with my Mom nearly every other day. Later, I even came to enjoy talking on the phone with various boyfriends, although T and I kept our phone conversations at a minimum because we saw each other all the time. Now, I don't mind talking to T, my Mom, sister, brother, or best friend, but talking to other people still makes me really uncomfortable, almost like my privacy is being invaded. I've often said that I could live without a telephone and be perfectly happy.
Being so far away, however, has changed my opinion somewhat. Yesterday, for example, was just a day where I felt completely overwhelmed. I longed to communicate effortlessly in my native language, to find my usual things in the grocery store, to handle dollars and cents, to overhear conversations that I could immediately understand. So I turned to my old nemesis, the telephone, and was able to speak with both T and my Mom to make me feel better. It was such a relief, and then geared me up for living in another language and culture again.
Later last night I had a telephone interview with Small Liberal Arts College, and that, too went very well. I felt a real connection with the interviewer (the chair), and the conversation was truly that: a conversation, not a question and answer period. She asked me questions that I could answer immediately and enthusiastically (mostly because of my experiences on Tuesday), and I felt like I was telling her exactly what she wanted to hear. The interview was supposed to last 15 minutes -- it went on for 30 minutes. I felt good about it -- I hope she did, too. She said she will get back to me about my status in three or four days.
After these good telephone experiences I was psyched up to make some phone calls today, attempts to secure appointments with people for interviews. Speaking on the phone in a foreign language is never easy and it makes me tremendously nervous, but I worked myself up to make four calls today. To my great disappointment, the bureaucracy here is immense and I wasn't able to get ahold of anyone -- no one! -- and was repeatedly told to call back tomorrow. So tonight I have to prepare myself again and then tomorrow make all of those dreadful calls again, hoping that I don't sound like an idiot. I simply must get in touch with one of these people as she is holding up the rest of my research. Wish me luck!
There are five major subfields in my discipline, and doing fieldwork is not required for any of them but is highly recommended for one, the one in which I do most of my work. I'm not sure how many graduate students in my subfield actually do fieldwork (especially now that so much information is available online and so many people can be reached via telephone or email), and indeed I wasn't sure if I needed to do it at all. This trip, for example, wasn't planned until right around the time I started blogging, in late July. In fact, the reason I started a blog was so that I could work through my feelings about doing fieldwork while having a young child, husband, mortgage, etc. -- that original blog was quickly deleted, however, in favor of this one, where I could talk about my journey through academia more generally. As I've mentioned before, however, I do have a separate blog that I've devoted entirely to this experience. I write on it daily for my friends and family to read, but I also write it to remember what I did each day.
I will never forget what I did today.
Yes, I could easily be at home right now, eating dinner with T and ST. I could have spent the day reading documents off the internet databases I frequent, I could have sent emails to important people for information, I could have checked books out of the library. Instead, today was spent LIVING what I study, actually being a part of something I've previously only observed from the outside.
I can now say without a doubt that fieldwork is absolutely, 100%, unquestionably necessary in my subfield. There is simply no substitute for what I experienced today. It's not even that it was so relevant to my dissertation work -- rather, it was relevant to my entire career studying this subject. I understand now why Prof. G. was always so insistent that I do this. I emailed him after my experience today and received a reply that made the entire trip worth it a million times over: "I am so proud of you."
Truly, it does. Whenever I have a complaint, will someone please remind me about how much my life really does totally rock?
First, another interview! A phone interview this time, and I will call Small Liberal Arts College (SLAC!) from European Capital City (EEC) on Wednesday afternoon (well, Wednesday night for me, just around midnight). Pretty exciting -- SLAC is a very small school, consistently ranks in the top 50 of the U.S. News Top Liberal Arts Colleges list, and the job seems pretty interesting. I'd actually never heard of it before the postings came out in June, but after talking to some people about it and reading more about it, it looks like a nice place. Sort of in the middle of nowhere (not good), but with plenty of resources. We'll see.
Second, I SO wish I could reveal details here because tomorrow afternoon I get to do something that is so completely awesome (to me, at least, in my discipline). Let's just say that there were only about 40 tickets to this "event," and those tickets were gone months ago. Somehow (mostly because everyone here knows my advisor) I ended up with a ticket. Not just A ticket, but in the front row.
Third, after the totally cool thing happens I have a meeting with a man who will hopefully be able to answer a lot of the questions I have (dissertation-related) and who will also put me in touch with other people to interview. (Very hierarchical system here -- must go through proper channels at all times or you'll be ignored.) This is ultra-great. (Yep. Not just "great," but "ultra-great.")
Fourth, I got a lot of research done today. Good research. No piddling around for once. Hurray for me.
Fifth, I spoke with T via Instant Messenger a few hours ago and he said that ST has been asking about me. I'm so glad! I mean, I'm sad that ST misses me, of course, but I'm also very glad that he's realizing that I'm gone. He's been confused the last few days because my car is still in the garage, and so when ST and T get home for the day ST rushes up to my office to see me. I'm not there, and I guess he's finally wondering where I am and when I'll be back. Just 22 more days, ST! That's not too much longer!
I think that ABD Me and I would fare well together on a long car trip, as we have some similiar tastes in music. (A Sting-a-thon?) Song I always put on mix CDs: “Brand New Day,” Sting; “Don’t Stand So Close to Me (’86),” The Police
Song that reminds me of my childhood: Songs from the children’s hymnal Hi, God! (I went to a Catholic elementary school with Wednesday Mass.) John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” also instantly transports me to childhood.
Song that takes me back to junior high (8th-9th grade): “Wild Wild West,” “Loveshack”
Song that takes me back to college: the theme song from “Friends” (back when it was a single); also that dumb song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and anything by Alanis Morrisette or the Dave Matthews Band.
Song that always makes me cry: “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” from the musical My Fair Lady (but as sung by Connie Evingson – “I’ve Grown Accustomed to HIS Face”), “I Don’t Think I Will” by James Bonamy (I had a brief flirtation with country music, and this song stuck with me). I also have a tendency to cry when I hear patriotic songs (don’t even get me started with “America the Beautiful!”) and I often cry when I hear certain church hymns (“On Eagle’s Wings” makes me cry because it was played at my FIL’s funeral, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” and anything having to do with the Virgin Mary. I’ve always felt strongly about the Virgin Mary.)
Song that takes me to my happy place: “Epilogue” by Sting, “No Such Thing” by John Mayer, and absolutely any piece written by George Gershwin. Bing Crosby also never fails to put me in a good mood.
Song I play to get the party started: what party? (Man, I am SO dull.)
First concert attended: I’ve never attended a pop music concert. Honestly. My first concert was actually a production of The Nutcracker.
Last concert attended: Lorie Line’s Christmas concert… in 2002!
Artist I've seen most often in concert: Tchaikovsky! I see The Nutcracker almost every year (I’ve missed the last two years, though. Will try to remedy that in 2005).
First record/CD I bought: Record: Michael Jackson’s Thriller. First CD was Sting’s Nothing Like the Sun, but I bought it after it was already quite old. I was a latecomer to the whole CD thing.
Last record/CD I bought: Jane Monheit, Come Dream With Me
Album I love falling asleep to: Ralph Vaughn Williams, The Lark Ascending
Album I love waking up to: I will not wake up to music. It lulls me right back into my dreams.
Best after-hours album: can’t go wrong with Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald
Best song/album for falling in love: Miles Davis, Miles Davis Plays Classic Ballads; also, “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” as sung by Ella Fitzgerald
Best song/album for breaking up: not sure! I tend not to listen to music when I’m sad.
Guilty pleasure music: I confess that I adore the soundtrack to The Sound of Music (although I haven’t listened to it in ages since I have it on cassette). There’s also a silly Austrian group called Erste Allgemeine Verunsicherung (EAV) – they play really dorky Austrian spoof music and it truly cracks me up. The album is Kann denn Schwachsinn Sünde sein? (A distinct Austrian theme to my guilty pleasures music…!) I also think old German drinking songs are terribly funny.
Today, for example, I was all over European Capital City (ECC) and it cost me less than five dollars. One side of the city to the other, trains, subways, streetcars and busses, no hassles, no waiting, no problems. It is really quite wonderful. It makes me feel so independent -- my friends don't worry about me getting home, even if we part at the opposite end of the city from where I live. I don't have to rely on anyone. If I miss a bus or a subway -- no problem. Another comes along in five minutes or less, all through the night. My only worry is having proper change to pay the fare, since many of the ticket machines do not accept banknotes.
I have a few friends here in ECC, people I met through a small conference held at my home university in 2002. They are coming with their families to Small Midwestern University City in February and will stay until early June. They were asking me tonight about how to get around, which train to take from the airport, how much train fare costs, etc. With great embarrassment I had to break the news that we only have city busses in Small Midwestern University City, and that there was no train from the airport or anywhere else. They wondered how they'd get out of the city on the weekends, or how they'd get even 20 miles north to North Midwestern City. They wondered how they'd even get to my house, in Small Suburb. How awful it felt tell them that they could take the bus as far as the mall, and then I'd have to come and pick them up. How claustrophobic this news must make them feel, since they are used to travelling about their own country with ease and without worrying about car breakdowns, gas, insurance, environmental degradation, etc.
I am a big fan of Europe in general, but the excellent public transportation is surely one of Europe's greatest achievements. Sure, in large American cities you can find a good public transportation system, but -- especially in the expansive Midwest -- it's really hard to get around if you don't have a car. My friends, for example, have only just bought their first car (a tiny Honda) and they are well into their thirties; when they are in Small Midwestern University City this spring they will have to rent a car on the weekends (fortunately, we can lend them a car seat for their young son so they won't have to buy that, too!). It's just too bad that it can't be easier for them.
I am keeping another blog about this trip, a non-anonymous blog my family and certain friends read to keep up with me. It's been nice to keep an online diary, to post photos, etc. My mom, for example, is a huge fan: she knows that I post around 4:00 CST and she waits by the computer to read and look at the pictures. I talked to my parents yesterday and it was so great to answer the questions they had about my journeys without having to explain everything -- they'd read about what I was doing already and so we could have a nice conversation about it.
That's what stinks about anonymous blogging. I have so much that I'd love to share with you all, but it would blow my "cover." There are so many wonderful things I'm experiencing but I only post generic shells here -- it's frustrating. I count many of you -- especially those in my sidebar -- as anonymous e-friends, and one doesn't keep important life events from one's friends. I know you all understand, but it stinks nonetheless.
Now I'm off to read about your lives. It's nice to know that when I come to my temporary home, you are all here waiting with new posts to keep me connected to my "real" world and my "real" home in the U.S. Thank you.
I was already crying a little as soon as I turned the car off in ST’s carers driveway, thinking ahead to the moment when I’d have to hug and kiss him goodbye, knowing that I wouldn’t feel his soft cheeks or see his brilliant blue eyes for four weeks. The moment was as awful as I imagined it would be. His carers took one look at me and started crying themselves and the other kids wanted to know if I was sad or sick. I looked at my adorable little toddler and said, “OK, ST, Mom is going to Europe today and it will be a long trip. Come give me a hug and a big kiss.” He rushed over to me and kissed my lips and forehead and squeezed me tight. I was a basketcase by this point, tears spilling out onto the collar of ST’s shirt. He didn’t let go but instead looked at me, concern on his face. I realized that he’d never seen me cry before. I forced a miserable smile and he grinned back at me and started jumping up and down. “Bye, Mom!” he said, and he bounded off to play with his friends. As I drove away, he was blowing me soft little kisses from the front window. I could see his carers in the background, wiping their eyes.
I got home and sobbed, the kind of crying you do after someone has died or when you’ve just broken up with the love of your life. The hard, physical crying where you’re sad and mad all at once. I screamed in my now empty house because I was angry that I was just so miserable. The house feels big and lonely when ST isn’t in it.
I composed myself after about twenty minutes, my eyes now burning and red. T came home a few minutes later and just hugged me because he knew how terrible I felt. Then we went out for a quick lunch, chatted about his day thus far, and made our way to the airport.
I know I’ve gushed before about how wonderful T is, and I’m not going to stop now because every day I am reminded just how selfless and fantastic this man truly is. When I am with him, I can feel how strong our relationship is. It’s strange, but it’s palpable. It’s easy familiarity with a dash of romance. It’s about knowing when to talk and when to remain silent, about knowing that I like extra pickles on my sandwich only when the meat is turkey, about realizing which songs on the radio make me feel sad and quickly turning the station, about making me feel like I deserve this great life that I have. T stopped curbside at the airport and helped me unload my things (for a month away, I think I did pretty well: one garment bag, one small rolling bag, a purse, and my computer case). Then, because he knows that I refuse to tip someone to help me carry my bags (I have this incurable Midwestern do-it-yourself attitude sometimes), he helped me load them onto my shoulders and then laughed at the ridiculous sight I made. Then he hugged me tight and said, “It’s not a very long time, hon. We’ll be just fine.” He smiled gently at me and kissed me, and then we parted. I cried only a little this time. T makes me feel brave.
The flights were uneventful, the connections easy. The long trans-Atlantic flight was overcrowded and I was seated next to a man who brought two HUGE carry-ons, neither of which fit comfortably in the overhead bins and neither of which he wished to check. Instead, he shoved one of them under his seat and the other was wedged uncomfortably in front of me (I only had my purse). I swear that man had his entire life with him in those bags, and he kept loading and unloading them during the duration of the flight. As I tried in vain to sleep he shuffled away, eating his nuts and slurping down endless sports drinks.
We arrived in Europe without incident, and I made my way through the airport with relative ease. One hour later, I was in my final destination. I was met at the airport by the nice woman I’m staying with this month (Frau W), and we packed my bags into her car and took a tour around the city before heading to her house.
Capital City is not at all as I imagined it. I thought it would be hectic, congested, and unwelcoming, a mass of concrete official buildings. It is not like that at all. Instead, it is positively charming and although it is very large it feels small and cozy. Trees line the main streets. Most of all, however, it is quiet. Almost disturbingly quiet. It does not feel at all like Chicago, for example, where there is constant chatter, music in the streets, and hundreds of honking car horns. No, Capital City is not at all loud – its peace is shattered only by the occasional police siren.
Perhaps the best moment was when I saw the place where I’ll work this month, a historical building I’d read about and a building whose image is the wallpaper on my computer’s desktop. It took my breath away. It was like seeing a celebrity for me, seeing something that, for me at least, had previously only existed on paper. It was quite thrilling, in a geeky sort of way. Frau W laughed a little when I gasped in awe at the sight of it.
Frau W is a sweet woman in her sixties who looks like she is in her forties. She has been incredibly gracious with me thus far, welcoming me into her small home near the city center. The house itself is actually in what she calls a “village,” where there are four small condo-type houses in four free-standing buildings. The buildings are surrounded by giant birch trees and grass, and each condo has a little garden – very unusual in this big city. Again, I was struck by the quietness of the place. Utterly quiet – I could hear the children next door talking to their mother.
The house has two floors and a small cellar. On the main floor is a narrow foyer, a pretty living area, and a small kitchen. Up a spiral staircase are two bedrooms and a bathroom. Everything is small but efficient, which is in stark contrast to my open-plan house with vaulted ceilings and large rooms where you hardly realize that you’re wasting space. My room is nicely appointed with a comfortable bed, a desk, two wardrobes, a chair, and a small television. It is perfect for me.
I napped for four hours after we got to the house. When I awoke, I had dinner with Frau W and we looked at pictures of the Midwest, of T and ST on my computer. Then Frau W showed me baby pictures of her son, who is now 25. After that, we went to meet her son and a close family friend at a local café, where we watched a soccer tournament and chatted for a few hours. The evening was quite nice, and since I had a long nap I was not that tired.
I miss T and ST terribly. I did have a chance to email T this afternoon on Frau W’s computer. She does have a wireless router but does not know the access code, and so her son is going to set up the connection for me tomorrow. That will be nice, because then I can read blogs, do research, send email, and have some connections to my home even when I’m almost 5,000 miles and seven time zones away.
Now I have a wireless internet connection, and it is GREAT. I will update again later!