T: Amazing Husband ST: Three-year-old Wonder Prof. G: Advisor I Prof. C: Advisor II Julie: Stylish Sister Rob: Awesome Brother Belle: Our Cat Bill: Grumbling BIL Rita: Uncomplicated SIL SMU: Smallish Midwestern University Doctoral University: where I got my Ph.D.
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Sunday, July 30, 2006
A few thoughts on moving to a new house and new city, written quickly because my computer is currently smack-dab in the middle of the kitchen where there is no privacy (office is still chock-full of unpacked boxes of books; I can barely walk in there):
This house is huge. I was considering posting on Active Academic about how much grueling exercise you get packing up a house and then unpacking it (my muscles are still aching from pulling a king-sized mattress around yesterday), but honestly I think I'm getting my best workout just walking around this house putting stuff away. My former house was about 1800 square feet (excluding the basement); this one is about 2300 (excluding the basement). That extra room makes for longer commutes between kitchen and living room, bedrooms and bathrooms. Add that to the fact that there are a lot more stairs here, and you have one tired professor on your hands.
The yard is amazing. I just ate breakfast in front of the windows looking over the pond, and I saw two fish leap out and then a small water bird (couldn't tell what it was from where I was sitting) swoop down to snatch a fish. The yard is noisy with the sound of songbirds, chipmunks, woodpeckers, and squirrels. I also discovered that we have two apple trees, a sour cherry tree, a pear tree, and a crabtree. Our addition has been ST's famous tomato plant, which made the trip in the front seat of the U-Haul with T on Friday afternoon and is only slightly worse for the wear.
Our cat, Belle, is in heaven here. All of the windows are huge and extend to the floor, and so she's been hanging out on the windowsills admiring the vegetation and stalking the small animals and birds outside. She's found several new hiding places, too, and seems very pleased with her new litter box location (always a plus).
The nearest grocery store to us is really great, something I wasn't expecting. It's fairly large and has a great selection of organic products, and you can even buy bulk products like flax seed, trail mix, and granola. I used to have to go to our cooperative grocery for stuff like that, but no more. In addition, this grocery store has an in-store play area for kids, and so you can leave children there while you shop. There are little TVs all around the store that allow parents to see their kids in the play area. That's pretty cool, although I'm not sure I'd be comfortable leaving ST there on his own. (I'm not sure if the area is supervised, or if the kids are "tagged" so that they can only go home with their parents and not some freaks off the street.)
My furniture, which I completely love and which T and I picked out over the past five years, can make any room look good. Even when the rooms of Pond House were nothing but bare walls, gross carpet, and hideous light fixtures, my furniture makes the rooms look liveable.
I will post pictures of our progress soon (I promise, Lilian!). The dining room is almost complete, as soon as I figure out how to arrange my cookbooks on the wall, and the kitchen will look awesome as soon as our appliances arrive on Tuesday. I may not post until then -- but rest assured, we're BUSY!
Since ST no longer goes to daycare, we're spending a lot of quality time together. (He might say that it's too much quality time, though. No matter what we're doing or how much fun we're having, he always seems to be looking around for another kid to play with, trying to "trade up" from his old mom!) Yesterday we did something he has always wanted to do but we've never had a great reason to do it: ride the city buses. Ever since he could talk he's been wanting to ride the "big blue bus" that goes all around the city, ending at Doctoral University. So that's what we did. We got on the bus in the morning, visited some people at Doctoral University, rode a different bus for about twenty minutes, had lunch at our favorite restaurant, and then hopped on the bus home. ST was in heaven.
ST took the ordinary act of riding the bus and made it the most exciting thing he'd ever done, and in turn made it exciting for me. Each time the bus stopped, he'd step into the aisle to see why we were stopping. "It's OK," he'd announce to me and anyone else who was listening. "It's just a stop sign. No one has to get off." Whenever he'd hear the ding! sound of the stop request, he'd look around and ask, loudly, "Now who is getting off? Is it you? Is it you?" He chatted to the bus driver and to everyone who got on the bus.
Before we got off the bus for the last time, ST said to the driver, "Thanks, Bus Driver, for the nice ride." The bus driver smiled and said, "Stay in school, buddy!" I thought that was an interesting comment (ST is only three, but people often think he's five because he's very tall), but I just smiled and we went on our way.
Today, we had another real life adventure when we went to the post office. To ST's great excitement there were construction trucks and construction workers in the post office parking lot. "Can we go talk to them? Pleeeease?" ST asked me. After we mailed our package, we walked over to the workers.
"Hi, guys!" ST said cheerfully. "What are you making?" The construction workers responded that they were building an addition to the parking lot. ST thought that this was the most wonderful thing anyone could possibly do. The workers showed him their equipment and let him sit in a skid loader, which was blissful for ST. We stayed for about ten minutes, watching them work, before we had to go. As we left, one of the workers shouted, "Stay in school, little man! Stay in school!"
Ah, if only they knew how much school was going to be a part of ST's life!
After a birthday party for one of ST's friends (a party where ST slipped on the carpet, fell face-down and got a bloody nose and swollen lip, cried for 10 seconds, and was back in the action), T and I decided to take a trip to Home Depot to look at cabinet knobs and pulls, ceiling fans, and light fixtures. We know we will be buying these types of items very soon: we move to Pond House for good this coming Friday, and my parents will meet us there to help us with the work for an entire week.
As I've said before, Pond House is stuck in a 1980s time warp. I sometimes affectionately refer to it as the Who's the Boss house, because to me, that show was quintessentially 80s. The light fixtures are made of brass and tinted brown glass, these hanging monstrosities that should never have existed in the first place. The cabinet hardware is white porcelain with little rosettes painted on it -- definitely not my style. But the most in-your-face noticeable 80s holdout in the place are the wooden switchplates that adorn every outlet (even those behind the stove and refrigerator). I'm sure that, at one point, they were the height of chic decor. To my eyes, however, they are... well, let's just say that they have to go.
Imagine my shock when, as we looked at new switchplates at Home Depot last night, we overheard someone talking about outfitting their house with wooden plate covers, covers of the very type found on every wall in Pond House. Home Depot carries these covers, as does Lowe's (they look exactly like this, but with a slightly lighter stain): they're almost $8.00 EACH! I think I'm sitting on a little gold mine. I'm going to remove all 50+ of these switchplate covers and list them on eBay. I might even list the ugly chandeliers, too! You know the saying that one man's trash is another man's treasure; perhaps one man's 1985 is another man's 2006?
I've had a few melancholy days, and I know why: my last post. Whenever I have a chance to think about those kinds of beautiful times in my life, I look at my current life and think, "What happened?" Mostly, though, I look at T and silently wonder why he isn't more like the men that are featured in some of my favorite memories. In my mind, I am comparing him to them and it's unfair: he doesn't know them, doesn't know how they made me feel, and doesn't know how to act in any other way than what is normal for him.
The last time this type of memory-induced melancholy set in was almost exactly five years ago, when we moved into this house. I was at home sorting through boxes in the garage all by myself, deciding where to put everything in our brand-new house. My parents, who had helped us move in, brought with them some boxes I had stored in their attic, full of childhood drawings, yearbooks, and letters. I made the mistake of reading through the letters, including those from Peter and those from Jim, my best friend from high school. Reading those sweet letters was exhilarating: both Jim and Peter thought I was beautiful and wonderful in every way, and their letters were dripping with compliments, plans, and romance. As I sat, sweaty and dirty on the floor of my garage, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
I am, of course, not the beautiful, smart and all-around fantastic girl portrayed by Peter and Jim in those letters. And I know that Peter and Jim, for all of their excellent qualities, could never have sustained the romance they began in letters over the long-term. I know that, had I ended up with Peter or Jim, I would eventually complain about how there were always dirty clothes on the floor, how someone always smudged the bathroom mirror, or how someone neglected to put away the items he used to make his lunch. I know that they would eventually have seen me in a bad mood, with bad hair, or making a stupid mistake. In short, I understand that the reason these two men are so much a part of what is beautiful about my past is that they were only part of my life for a relatively short time. There was no time for flaws.
I have been married to T for seven years. He has seen me at my best and at my worst. He is really a fantastic husband in nearly every sense: he helps out a lot around the house, is a very hands-on and active father, ensures that we have what we need and most of what we want, treats me with respect and requires that others do the same, etc. The only thing T is lacking, however, is a sense of romance, and that's what I mourn when I get into these memory-induced funks. T is too practical for romance, and I can be, too. He doesn't believe in buying what he calls "useless" gifts, for example, because he doesn't value them himself. I will never receive jewelry or flowers from T because he hates those things. And for the most part, I don't want those things, either: I don't wear jewelry (and my ears aren't even pierced) and I don't like cut flowers (give me a potted plant any day!). We don't do spontaneous things because we're both planners. No jetting off to Paris for dinner for this couple, that's for sure. Now that we have a young child there's even less of a chance of doing anything spontaneous, less time for romance.
I'm not even sure what I'm craving when I lament this romantic deficit in my life. Maybe just a sweet word from him, an unexpected compliment? (He is good at giving compliments, but they're mostly about my cooking.) A quick kiss out in public? I don't know, but I do know that I'm longing to feel like the girl who received those letters years ago, the girl the letter-writers wanted. And I wonder: is the girl T got still that girl, and is she as easy to love?
At last, a post that is not about 1.) packing; 2.) moving; 3.) saying goodbye to people or places; 4.) anything on my Big To-Do List; or 5.) anything related to academia. This is a post inspired by one of my favorite memories.
As I mentioned before, I'm rereading one of my favorite novels, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. While we were driving home from New Town on Monday evening, I reached one of the passages that always strikes me as beautifully romantic: in this passage, Levin (aristocratic farmer) and Kitty (a princess, and the love of Levin's life) see each other at a dinner party. Months earlier, Levin had asked Kitty to marry him but she refused him because she thought she was going to be asked by the dashing Count Vronsky; that offer of marriage never materialized. Levin still loved Kitty, though, and Kitty realized that she actually did love him back, but Levin was too ashamed to ask her to marry him again after being refused the first time. Anyway, Kitty and Levin sit down together in a moment that is nearly exploding with romantic possibilities and play a game of Secretaire. In this "game," one person writes the first letter of a sentence or phrase, and the other tries to guess what the phrase is. So, "I love you" would be written down as "I l y." It is an intimate game.
Tolstoy recounts the game so beautifully. The passage is one of those that makes your heart flutter when you read it, transporting you back to a time when, perhaps, you felt as caught up in romance as Kitty and Levin did. As I was reading this passage, I remembered one of the most romantic periods of my short life.
When I was 20, I studied abroad in Central Europe for seven months. I lived with a family while I was there, a delightful family who truly made me feel like I belonged there and had always been there. I was invited to family events (e.g., birthday parties, anniversary dinners) and knew the extended family very well. Even though it was a decade ago, I still keep in touch with many members of this family.
In my second month abroad, I met the 19-year old nephew of my host family. His name was Peter, and he was positively dashing. He knew all about poetry, could speak English almost fluently, could waltz and polka effortlessly, knew all of the Alpine trails like the back of his hand, and was enrolled in medical school to be a surgeon. He had dark brown hair and beautiful brown eyes, dressed sharply, and was kind to everyone he met. Everyone in the family always raved about Peter, and they were very excited for me to meet him.
When we met, the attraction was instantaneous and so obvious that my host mother pulled me aside to tell me to be careful with her favorite nephew. Peter and I met at a family dinner, and after dinner we took a long walk through narrow European city streets to get to know each other better. We didn't return until after 3:00am, both chilled to the bone after a frosty February night.
Peter, who was from a small town about two hours away from where my host family lived, decided that night to stay with my host family for a few weeks. He did that because of me, and I loved it. We spent all of our time together: innumerable long walks, operas, plays, movies, lazy dinners. I remember that it was a treat just to be next to him in a chair reading; we would read poems in English and in German, then talk about different novels, then talk about politics... it was fantastic. After a few weeks he built up the courage to kiss me. My goodness.
To say that I was in love with him is a vast understatement. I was in awe of him. I adored him. And I can safely say that he adored me. He thought I was pretty, loved that we could talk about anything and in two different languages, and loved that I broke all of the stereotypes about American women he'd been taught. When he eventually had to return home, we both cried. We were miserable. He sent me a letter or postcard every day, letters and postcards I've kept all these years because they are too beautiful to throw away. Letters and postcards I've never shared with T because they are only mine.
During my sixth month in Europe, we were again at a family function, but this time in his hometown. By this time we'd had thousands of adventures together and could finish each other's sentences, no matter the language. One night, the family (host family plus grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins) settled in to watch a special program on television, something they rarely did. Peter and I sat together to watch the program, too, at the very back of the room. Peter had a pencil and a piece of paper on his lap.
"Do you know this game?" he asked me. "Secretaire?"
I didn't know it, and didn't remember it from Anna Karenina. He explained it to me and I was intrigued. I remember how the game progressed just as if I had the sheet of paper in front of me now (I still have the paper somewhere, perhaps tucked in with his letters).
D n g b t A, he wrote in his clear block letters. I knew what that was. I didn't have to say it out loud. "Do not go back to America." I responded with Y k I m. "You know I must."
B I l y, he wrote again. I k, I responded. I w t m y, he scribbled quickly. A I y, I wrote. W y m m? he asked, writing faster than I could think. ("But I love you." "I know." "I want to marry you." "And I you." "Would you marry me?") I remember that I could feel my heart beating in my throat, and that I didn't know how to respond. I t I w, I wrote. ("I think I would.")
Thinking about this moment brings tears to my eyes because it was so lovely, so romantic. Here we were, two people madly in love in the shadow of the Alps, surrounded by family members who loved us both but who had no idea what we were "talking" about in the corner. I wasn't sure if I should take this written proposal as an actual one; in the days that followed, however, Peter assured me of his intentions, saying that I had to find a way to stay in Europe for a few more years while he finished school. We didn't tell anyone about anything. I didn't know what to do. I was only 2o years old -- was I ready for marriage? And a marriage that would require that I live abroad for the rest of my life?
I pondered the entire situation for several weeks, right up until the week my visa expired. After a tearful goodbye to the family who had virtually adopted me, I boarded a plane and returned to the United States. Sitting on that plane, I honestly thought my heart was shattering into a million pieces. I didn't know where I belonged.
As I think back on that time of my life, I cannot remember how Peter and I lost contact. He is the only member of that family I have no connections with today, and no one speaks to me about him. A few months after I returned to the U.S. and started my final year of college, I met T. T is nothing like Peter at all, aside from the fact that T is also very handsome and intelligent. I often feel like I was meant for T all of my life, but that God granted me the extraordinary romance of Peter just for me to keep in my memory, sweet and perfect for the rest of my life. And that is why as I read the Secretaire passage in Anna Karenina and blushed and smiled as the memories of Peter flooded my brain, I could in the next moment reach over and squeeze my husband's hand as he drove our little family safely home.
Yesterday, while T was interviewing in Quaint Town a few miles north of New Town, ST and I stopped by Smallish Midwestern University and my future department. None of the other faculty members were there; the place was inhabited only by administrative assistants.
Amy, the cheerful assistant for my new department, was happy to see me. "Oh, I was hoping you'd stop in today!" she said, recalling that we were moving in to our new house that weekend. We had a nice chat and I introduced her to ST.
She showed me my office and asked me if I wanted different bookcases, where the new computer and laser printer should be set up, if I wanted blinds back on the windows. Suddenly, a few faces popped in the door. "These are the admins from the departments down the hall," Amy said to me with a smile. To them, she said, "This is our new faculty member, Professor Me."
Professor. I have wanted to be called "Professor" since I was in 11th grade. Sometimes, as a teaching assistant, some of my students would call me Professor but it didn't have the same effect because I knew I wasn't actually a professor. Some of my non-academic friends have called me "Professor" for years because they knew that was my goal, but even then it didn't feel as good as it felt yesterday, when I'd actually earned it.
Later in my visit, I told Amy that I was behind in getting copies made for e-reserves at the library. "Oh, just give the stuff to me," she said with a smile. "I'll do it." I apologized and said that I didn't mean to give her more work. She laughed and said, "You have a Ph.D. so you don't have to make copies. Just let me know what you need done, and I'll do it." How refreshing, and how strange for me! This is the beginning of something entirely new.
Note: I hear your requests from the previous post for pictures of the Ugliest Bathroom in History, and I will post them at some point. I think I'm going to start with pictures of the kitchen/dining/living areas, though, to show you transformation. We're not going to tackle the Ugliest Bathroom in History for a few months because it will be the most expensive to do. Don't worry -- the transformations will be well-documented here, so much so that you'll be sick of them!
The first part of our move to New Town is complete.
We loaded our 24ft. U-Haul Friday night, and then awoke at 5:00am on Saturday to make the five hour trip to New Town. The drive was uneventful and even fun, since there was no traffic and the scenery between where we live and New Town is really quite lovely: lots of rolling hills, some dramatic cliffs, and lots of little rivers and lakes. We arrived in New Town at around 11:00am, and soon after my Former Boss and my brother Rob arrived to help us unload. The unloading was surprisingly easy: Pond House has so many sets of doors leading outside that we didn't have to contort ourselves to get items in the house. If the rest of the move (the end of the month) goes as smoothly as this move did, we'll be very happy.
Pond House is lovely, although now that we're able to take a really good look at it we can see that there's lots of maintenance and cleaning to be done. There are cobwebs everywhere, the house is in bad need of a powerwashing, the screens and windows all need to be scrubbed. We had forgotten just how ugly the bathrooms in the house are, and how badly we need to replace light fixtures throughout the house. In short, we have A LOT of work to do when we are in the house for good (July 28), and I'm thankful that my parents have agreed to spend a week there with us when we move in.
Despite the work that must be done, however, we're still so glad that we are buying this house. My favorite room of the house, the dining room, is still as lovely as ever, and my dining room table looks fantastic in it. And the living room, massive as it is (it's 27' x 20') accomodates my sparse furnishings rather well. Almost all of our furniture is Mission style, which means it's big, heavy, dark cherry colored, and has clean lines. Pond House's contemporary styling seems to complement our furnishings in a way I did not anticipate. Now I cannot wait to get in there and paint, change the light fixtures, pull out some of the extraneous cabinetry in the kitchen, and get my new appliances delivered. The main floor of the house will come together quickly, I think, once we really move in.
The upper floor will take some more time. It is truly... well... ugly. The rooms are all wonderfully-sized, but there's the mauve carpet and the hideous ceiling fans to contend with. But slowly, slowly the bedrooms will be transformed, the Ugliest Bathroom in History will be polished to a gem, and we'll be proud of the work we've done. I think it will be difficult for me to be patient as we get this work done; I'm used to living in a house that has nearly everything just the way I want it, and I'm moving into a house where only about 20% of the place is the way I want it. But, T and I can both see the potential, and we just need to work diligently to help the house reach that potential.
Now, T is at the first of his interviews, with three more very intense interviews all day tomorrow. ST is watching the Mets-Cubs game on TV (baseball is one of the few programs he will sit down and watch without a peep). We will return to Doctoral University City tomorrow night, and then pack up the remainder of our house there in preparation for Phase Two of the move in late July. With any luck, things will continue to fall into place.
Our house is a complete and total disaster area. For a neat freak like me, this is a tough pill to swallow: boxes everywhere, disassembled bedframes lining the walls, furniture swaddled in blankets to protect surfaces, half-packed boxes of things I don't use but cannot bear to part with (e.g., what do you do with mostly-unused but ancient notebooks? I save them, and then forget about them and buy new ones), trash bags full of things to donate or things to take to the dump... it's really all too much. I don't function well in disorder.
By the end of the day, however, this house should be mostly empty. The U-Haul truck is arriving at around 3:30pm, and then we'll start the long process of loading our life into the back of a dusty truck. We will leave early tomorrow morning for Midwestern State, and hope to be in New Town by 3:00pm Saturday. My brother will meet us at Pond House, along with my former boss*, and we'll unload late Saturday afternoon. Then we have a few days to spend in New Town while T interviews: he has four interviews scheduled! Keep your fingers crossed for him.
I might blog again tonight, and there is a slight chance I'll blog from New Town this weekend. If not, you'll hear from me again on Tuesday. Wish us luck!
* I worked at a Barnes and Noble all through undergrad in Home State. I knew my boss there was from Midwestern State; he was one of my very good friends. As it turns out, he now lives just 30 minutes from New Town, so we'll see him often. That's excellent for us, and especially for T, since my former boss is also a runner and knows all the trails in the area.
My favorite radio program these days is Tom Ashbrook's On Point. Today, part of the program was dedicated to the widening gender gap in higher education: on the average, more women (60%) than men (40%) are in college, and women are doing better than men in college. It was a fascinating show, and I encourage anyone interested to listen to it here. (I only caught portions of it, as I was in and out of the car all morning; I will listen to the entire program as I pack this afternoon.)
Most interesting to me was combining this show with what we already know about women in academia: by and large, it's difficult for a woman to secure tenure while also respecting her biological clock and raising a family. If universities are turning out more and better educated women, this presumably means that more women will land tenure-track jobs in the future. And when that happens, how will the process of tenure change? Will it change at all?
This program was also interesting to me as the mother of a son. The program's experts noted that males still outnumber females at some Big Ten universities, mostly because of their emphasis on athletics and the wide array of "practical" majors they offer (e.g., engineering, business). The program also noted, however, that males just might not be mature enough for college when they enter at age 18 or 19; males reach maturation at around age 25. As I ponder whether or not to hold ST back a year from kindergarten because of the differences in maturity between girls and boys, I wonder how long this maturity "delay" will really affect him.
Listen to the program. I'd enjoy hearing what other academics think.
Me: Sure. [Proceed to tell delightful story of little boy and his mom going to eat ice cream, but not enough to spoil their dinner.]
ST: OK, Mom. Now I will tell you a story.
Me: I'm listening.
ST: Once upon a time, there were two tiny tigers. And then a T. Rex came and scared them away. The T. Rex wanted to fight King Kong until he saw a special surprise.
Me: What was the special surprise?
ST: The special surprise was... two tiny, tiny apples! And the T. Rex couldn't see them. But the little boy did!
Me: And what was the little boy's name?
ST: His name was... BlueBoy. [Laughs hysterically, thinking he is very clever.] And then BlueBoy ate the apples. But then a crocodile came and ate Blueboy, and then the T. Rex ate the crocodile. [Dramatic pause.]
Me: And that's how the story ends?
ST: No. That's not the end. Then the monster trucks came, and they jumped over the T. Rex.
Me: And that's the end?
ST: No. That's not the end. The monster trucks ran out of gas. And so they stopped, and the T. Rex stepped on them.
Me: And that's the end?
ST: No. That's not the end. You have to wait until tomorrow for the end.
The suspense is killing me! (And if it doesn't, that T. Rex just might.)
My Dad once described his life as being "slathered" with blessings. When he said that, I laughed out loud because it's just such a funny use of the word "slathered." You slather butter on bread or mortar on bricks, but slathering blessings on someone struck me as terribly funny. But then again, the word conveys a ridiculous quantity, an overwhelming quantity of whatever is being slathered. And so I suppose if one is being slathered with blessings, that's a very good thing.
This weekend, I was slathered with friendship.
It began on Friday, when we decided to have an impromptu party on our cul-de-sac. I was a little worried that no one would be able to come, since everyone literally had about half an hour's notice. But I should have known better: I live in the greatest neighborhood EVER. Nearly everyone came out, hauled their grills out onto their driveways and brought coolers full of beer, sodas, and juice boxes for the kids. I made a cake, there were bags and bags of chips, and everyone had something to grill: bratwursts, hamburgers, bacon-wrapped turkey breasts. Between my house and my neighbor's house there is a large, shady area of lawn, and we set up a dozen lawn chairs there plus a few blankets for the babies. It was incredibly fun, for the adults and the children. We counted fifteen children, ranging in ages from 5 months to 11 years. Most of the kids, ST included, were running like maniacs around the cul-de-sac, playing tag and riding bikes, screaming back and forth to each other. (We had blocked the cul-de-sac off with one of our cars so the kids could play safely in the street.) All of my good friends were there, including Ben and Corinne, who used to live on our cul-de-sac before they moved a block away. We were all up and laughing until around 11:30pm, when the kids literally started collapsing from fatigue around us.
T and I spent most of Saturday packing up the house, disassembling furniture like bed frames and emptying drawers. That night, the seven members of our monthly supper club came over for our final meeting, and the theme was "Grill It!" Everyone, including the couple in charge of the salad and the couple in charge of dessert, had to use only the grill to prepare their food. We made potato and Polska Kielbasa kabobs as the main course, and everyone again sat outside on the lawn to chat and reminisce about the three years we've been meeting as a supper club. It was a lovely ending to our participation in a group that has provided us with so much good food and good conversation.
Tonight, Sunday night, T and I were invited to Prof. G.'s house for supper, along with Prof. C. and his wife. It was such a lovely time, and I'm very proud of myself for not tearing up even once at the thought of not seeing Profs. G. and C. on a regular basis anymore. We had a delightful meal and even more delightful conversation. The best part about it, though, was that there were three distinct generations present at the table, and we were all having so much fun learning each other's perspectives on various things. The evening ended with a lovely photograph of me with my dissertation advisors, and me giving them each a card. I had to do something for them, and so I put into words just how much they have meant to me and how much I appreciate how they've expertly guided me through graduate school. "In these cards I've written all the things I want to tell you but will cry if I tell you in person," I said. And it's true.
Now I'm in my messy house again, feeling very blessed indeed. Slathered, even.
Every family has a certain smell, and that smell permeates everything the family owns. My grandma's apartment always smells like boiling potatoes. Corinne and Ben's house smells like a lovely mixture of dill and vanilla. My parents' house smells like summer wind, even in the winter. Our house usually smells like clean laundry, even when the place is a mess.
Today, our house doesn't smell like us.
Today marked the beginning of a large transformation: the neighbors who are buying our house started moving things into our now-empty basement, filling the storage area and the playroom with neatly packed and labelled boxes, plastic crates of toys and shoes, and clear bins of Christmas decorations. All of our things that used to be in the basement are now piled into our family room. None of our things are gone from this house yet -- that doesn't happen until this coming Saturday, which is Phase I of our move to Pond House -- but our scent seems to have vanished altogether. I ran a few errands this afternoon and when I returned I noticed that the place did not smell like laundry detergent, but cinnamon. That is not our smell. That is their smell.
At first, it took me by surprise. I started to feel sad about it, but as I looked around I realized that as soon as I packed up the linen closet, boxed up some of my cake pans, and filled the holes in the walls where my crown moulding ledges once hung, the house became a little less mine. The special things about this place that made it uniquely ours are packed in a box or shoved unattractively against a wall, awaiting placement in a moving truck. But in the basement, wrapped securely in bubble wrap and tucked in stacked boxes, a new identity for this house waits, and the smell of cinnamon is announcing its arrival.
I hope that, by this time next week, Pond House is starting to smell like clean laundry.
In her incarnation as La Lecturess, Flavia blogged about the effect a classroom and other campus spaces have on learning and our perceptions of what "higher education" is and should be. I was thinking about her post as I wandered through my building at Doctoral University this weekend with ST. (We were at a festival near the campus this weekend, and ST wanted to use the "big boy potty" in my building instead of the disgusting porta-potties at the festival. Can't say I blamed him.) Like Lecturess, I snapped some photos to share.
I don't have photos from the institution where I received my (nearly completely useless to me) first Master's degree and so I can't compare that place with Doctoral University. University of Capital City, where I earned an M.A., is a private school that is just completing a series of major campus improvements, improvements that were already well underway as T and I were leaving Western State. New buildings seemed to be going up every week, and nearly every old building has had some sort of facelift. Indeed, I used to work in two buildings on that campus and they no longer exist -- they have been replaced with fancy, state-of-the-art classroom buildings and dormitories that should grace the pages of Architectural Digest. Like Lecturess' description of her INRU, University of Capital City has redesigned its campus to look as though the new buildings are in fact decades old, with lovely hardwood mouldings, stained glass, reclaimed brick facades, and carved, heavy wooden doors. When I attended that university (only 7 years ago), however, my program was housed in a very 1970s concrete structure with ugly gray metal doors, small windows, and a white stucco facade. All of that has been replaced.
One of the (innumerable) things I love about Doctoral University is that the place has always felt solid to me. The old buildings of campus are still old and, although they've been renovated to incorporate new technologies, they still look much like they did when they were built. They are huge stone structures with columns and elaborate carvings, and there are marble columns and iron stair-railings inside. The new buildings -- and they are many -- look new. They are covered in glass and metal, and the sunlight glints off of them so that you can't help but notice their newness. They smell sterile and feel unnaturally cool, and you can hear the high-pitched buzz of computers and televisions everywhere you walk. I like that, as you stroll through campus, the buildings tell a story about the time they were built. This is a huge contrast to University of Capital City, where even the new buildings are designed to look like they've existed for hundreds of years.
I never taught at University of Capital City, but I worked there during the time I was a student, first part-time and then full-time to support T through school. I could never feel attached to that place because it always felt like it was temporary. The school always seemed like it was striving to be something better than it was, something with more history than it had. I felt like the campus was always trying to reinvent itself and to make up an illustrious past that it could use to market itself to prospective students. Even now, when I receive my glossy alumni magazine, I catch myself smirking as I read about the "old days" at University of Capital City and look at the photographs of the old-looking new buildings.
By contrast, Doctoral University has always been real for me. I've loved the place since my first year here, even before I grew to love the community it is in and the people in my program. Doctoral University has never been about flashiness (although it certain does have its flashy points) and pomp; rather, it has always been about research, teaching, education. The photos in its brochures are of people, not buildings: people working in a chemistry lab, people sitting in a classroom, people at a community event. Doctoral University has always been about real life for me. And as I prepare to leave it, that's exactly what it has prepared me for.
* If you happen to know where Doctoral University is by these photos, please don't reveal it. I will take these photos down tomorrow, I think. [Photos Removed]
A few months ago I posted about the tension I was feeling, that knot in my stomach that wouldn't go away, the throbbing in my mind that grew stronger and louder as I contemplated all that I needed to accomplish before we moved to Midwestern State. When I'm really, really stressed, I stop breathing normally -- it's like my lungs won't fully inflate, and my breathing is shallow and uneven.
For the past week, I've never felt better. I'm breathing like a real, live person again, and it feels heavenly. I'm sleeping! I'm eating well! I'm taking walks without feeling like I should be doing something "productive!" I'm playing with ST and really concentrating on him, listening to his stories and funny phrases (newest phrase: instead of "chill out," ST says "chill yourself down!"). I went to Mass on Sunday and didn't pray about anything academic. I attended a music festival this weekend with my family and didn't once think about my dissertation. When I sit down at my desk these days, I don't have the sense of dread that I will have to stay planted here until another page is churned out. I am thinking about things I want to think about, instead of dwelling on things I have to think about.
Everyone told me that life changes after the dissertation defense is successfully concluded, and they were right. It is a different world.
Today I am especially wishing for the dawning of a new day for Ragey and ABDmom. Give 'em all you've got, ladies, and then? Breathe.