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Archive for the ‘October’ Category

Unlike Hannah, I’m not in grad school, and I’m no more busy than I usually am this time of year. But the past two months have flown by, and though I’ve been enjoying the experiences of the fall, I’ve been less focused on seasonal transitions, and more consumed by larger life changes.

Travel this summer took me to France, Switzerland, China, and India — and scooped me away from  New England for nearly the entire month of July. Adventures were followed by the utterly practical task of moving, almost as soon as I returned home.

I blinked, and summer was over.

But rather than turning to autumnal activities like pumpkin carving and cider drinking, I’ve been focusing on the very real task of painting my apartment, unpacking book boxes, figuring out what’s missing, and what no longer belongs. This is a routine I’ve played out many times now, but each time it becomes a little more complex.

In boarding school, I had less than a car-full of stuff. My Compaq computer was anything but compact, and took up the majority of space in my dad’s car. Furniture was provided by the school, so all I needed was clothing, linens, class supplies, an alarm clock, and a phone. My decorations were iconic French advertisements that I had purchased in Montmartre while feeling oh-so-sophisticated the summer before I first went to Exeter and a smattering of postcards I had collected over the years. Each year I had a new room, a new space to make my own.

College wasn’t much different, until my sophomore year when I decided to move into a “luxury” duplex (think big, boxy, and boring) 2 miles from campus. I painted my room, moved a bunch of furniture from home, and 10 months later, it was time to paint the walls back and move the furnishings out. My stuff sat in storage for the next few years as I lived in tiny collegetown apartments that didn’t leave much room for decoration and always came with a few dusty, scratched pieces of furniture. I would live in one place for 10 months, then another for 2 months, never setting down roots. Those posters from high school came with me wherever I went — whether it was for a year or a few months — and provided a sense of continuity, of familiarity.

By now I’ve lived in the city for almost 3 years, 2.5 of which were spent in my first apartment. Now that I have an apartment I adore, I want to live in a space that reflects who I am now, and not who I was — or wanted to be — when I was 14. And so I’ve started down that unfamiliar path of settling into a more permanent place, enjoying the surprises it often brings, and fondly remembering those other, earlier fall days when I was taking stock of new dorm rooms and unpacking my posters.

Weather:
A beautiful, sunny fall day at 63 degrees in Cambridge. Austin is a summery 84 degrees.

Mood:
Anna
: 7 out of 10. It’s Friday and I’m research history in a beautiful library.

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Bikers in Austin. I am almost this cool.

You are not going to believe what is happening in Austin today. I am sitting in the library by the window, my hands wrapped around a warm cup of coffee, and I am watching the rain drops fall from the trees.

That’s right. It’s been raining for two days now and the world could not be a better place. Life in Austin is looking up.

It’s true that the rain was a bit inconvenient. For example: last night was national “look at the moon night” and when I dragged some new friends over to the lake, we discovered that for the first time in two months, it was cloudy. For the first time in two months, I should say, there was no moon.

And it’s true that I showed up to several important meetings with mud sprayed up my back and my clothes dripping wet, something that used to be standard fare but that hasn’t happened in a long time now. Today was the first opportunity in months for me to perform my “superwoman” transformation, from mud-splattered bicyclist to professional young adult.

(The texans, I should say, were impressed.)

But what the rain lacks in convenience it makes up for in general good will. Biking to campus yesterday, I started thinking that my soul responds to rain just the way a plant does. The grim is washed away, and I can stand up straight again.

I know you’ve been flooded for weeks in New England, and I know that excessive rain leads to mildew and disaffection. But after two months of sun, I’m embracing this chance to curl up in an armchair with a hot beverage and a good book.

Because by next week, it’s sure to be back in the 90s again.

Weather:
70 degrees and cloudy in Austin. 75 degrees and clear in Somerville.

Mood:
Hannah: 8 out of 10. If I wasn’t so overloaded with work I’d probably be jumping with joy.

*Photo credit to rkphoto.com

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We’re nearing the holiday season (who can believe Thanksgiving is only a week away?!), so we invited our colleague, Louisa, to give us another perspective on this time of year. Here’s what she has to say:

I love fall. I love the combination of the weather, my birthday, and the brilliant colors of the leaves. As much as I love it, though, it brings up feelings of sadness, of being out of control, and of anxiety, especially as we move into late fall and early winter. Unlike many people, these feelings don’t come from the dreaded approach of a cold winter. (I competitively cross country skied in high school…) This time of year is a strong personal and emotional hotspot for me, stemming back fourteen years.

That was the fall of 1996. My family was moving from our home in Maryland to Massachusetts. My dad started work in September, so for two months, he lived with my grandparents up here, while my mom stayed home with my sisters and me. As a nine year old, I felt like everything was changing at the same time and I was powerless to stop it. Further adding to this feeling, my grandfather died suddenly at the end of September. We all came to Massachusetts for the funeral, only to immediately go back to Maryland, where our house was half in boxes. Right before Thanksgiving, we moved up here for good. It was a sad time for my family and for me, even though my tenth birthday was thrown into the mix in late October. Rather than feeling like a happy event, my birthday was confusing and disorienting. Was I supposed to feel sad or happy? What would my new life be like?

Thanksgiving was equally as confusing. Amidst all the celebration, there was an acute feeling of pain at the loss of my grandfather. And even though I had been traveling to Massachusetts since I was a baby to visit family, I was unprepared to spend the whole winter in New England. I was unfamiliar with the kind of biting cold that comes even as early as Thanksgiving some years. I learned to wear more clothes, to always take a hat and gloves, and to look at snow as a usual occurrence, not some weather anomaly.

I have grown to accept the winter weather now, and the pain of moving and my grandfather’s death has long since abated. But even writing about this time brings back those same feelings of sadness and anxiety.

So during this hotspot, I’ll be paying close attention to my emotional calendar. I promise to post an update about it after the holidays!

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This just in from my favorite science blog: “snot is mostly comprised of mucous secreted by the inflamed tissues of the nose, and dead neutrophils that swarmed in kamikazi-style to gobble up whatever bacteria or virus they could find.”

Sad but true: in the past seven days the temperature has dropped from an appalling seventy degrees to an equally appalling thirty-two. With the temperature drop has come a corresponding drop in physical well-being. I spent the whole weekend sneezing (although it didn’t keep me from loving Halloween) and Anna’s voice has been reduced to a croak. Flu season has begun.

Cold & flu season is exciting because it’s an opportunity to talk about the immune system, which I studied for The Emotional Calendar and which is actually really neat. Kevin – an immunologist, science blogger, and (full disclosure) friend – explains it better than I ever could here: it’s all T-Cells and Macrophages and suicide cells and other cool stuff.

But it’s hard to get excited about immunology when it’s 3 am, your head hurts, and you can’t breathe through your nose. November is the ugliest phase of fall. The leaves are off the trees, the sky is gray, it’s cold out, and everyone is sick. October may be a good month to channel Love Story – in November it’s all about fleeces, the world’s ugliest sweater. And of course there is the heavy anticipation of impending doom – by which I mean the rapid approach of the holiday the season.

November is a good month to stay inside and focus on something small and cozy. Like cellular biology, perhaps?

Weather: cold and cloudy. 43 degrees.

Mood:
Hannah: cold and cloudy but no longer sneezing, thank you. 5 out of 10 on the “I’m so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.
Anna: 7. She already voted and two people want to be her roommate!

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The other day, my roommate made an apple crisp. Eva was celebrating an overabundant apple harvest and my mouth was just starting to water in olfactory anticipation when she walked into the living room.

“Ummmm,” she said, “the stove won’t turn off.”

Cue: a week-long battle with the stove and the gas company. So when I walked into the house one cold evening and smelled burning fuel, I expected the worst. Maybe the oven had finally imploded.

Instead, it turned out that my roommates had decided to make the leap and turn on the heat for the first time this year.

Turning on the heat is a big step. There’s an environmental aspect, of course, and a financial one too: heat is expensive in more ways than one. But for me, the most difficult part is the commitment to winter. Turning on the heat says: there will be no more surprise seventy degree days. Summer’s long over, and Indian Summer is too. Once the heat is on, there’s no denying that – oh god – the cold is here to stay.

(Interestingly, Wikipedia says that Indian Summer can last until mid-November. So maybe there is hope, after all.)

The other thing about turning on the heat is that it tends to bring a bizarre side effect. Every year when the heat goes on, I start to get these intense and realistic dreams. The dreams can linger as long as a month, and I always wake up feeling distraught. In one dream this week, my mother told me to abandon my career in favor of an (imaginary) job in public policy. In another nightmarish sequence, I spent what felt like hours pursuing the perfect pair of gloves in a labyrinthine box store.

Just like in real life, I never did find what I was looking for. And the stove? Sitting, unplugged, in the middle of our kitchen.

Weather: Sunny and just past the foliage peak. 45 degrees.

Mood:
Hannah – 6 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “Jumping for Joy” scale. Really tired of eating microwavable dinners.

Anna – 5 out of 10 for general life stress. Ask her about her erg.

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In my first post, I discussed how October can leave me feeling excited and agitated. I plan, I commit to various activities, and I keep myself wildly busy as the school year begins, even though it’s been years since my life has synched with the academic calendar.

Here’s another confession: I also “nest.”

I realize that “nesting” is a term that seems to be applied only to birds and pregnant women these days—categories into which I certainly don’t fit—but it’s exactly what I find myself doing come autumn.

You know those pumpkin-laden porches I mentioned before? Well, once I see them, I want to fill my own apartment with strange-looking dimpled gourds and squash. Last year, I managed to keep a few pumpkins on my windowsill through January. Magically, they didn’t rot.

I’m not one to seasonally decorate, so this impulse is an aberration of sorts. The coziness of autumnal color schemes, bowls of apples and squash, and the smell of pumpkin pie is too powerful for me to resist!

But artfully arranged displays of oddly-shaped vegetation is only the beginning. This is also the time of year when I “refresh” my apartment. I replace odd things, like bathmats, sheets, and toothbrush holders. I arrive home with bags of scented candles. And I go on mini DIY sprees. Last weekend, were friends to have stopped by, they would have found me wielding two paint brushes, touching up the walls.

So while on the one hand I go out of my way to participate in new things in the fall, I also try to make my home as comfortable as possible. A welcoming place filled with warm cheer. And of course, with seasonal fruit.

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