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Archive for the ‘September’ 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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Fall in Harvard: Still the best time of year*

The fall equinox came and went last week and I, sweating in 100-degree Austin, passed it right by. Even after an entire year of thinking about seasonality, this September the change of seasons just wasn’t on my mind.

Where did the time go?

I know where my time went, actually. I lost it somewhere between Gogol, Dostoevsky, Emerson, and Rodó. Gradschool time is a weird kind of time, broken into fragments that have nothing to do with the ordinary 9-5. Class at 5:30pm? Meetings at 7:30am? Rock-climbing breaks in the middle of the day? But it’s also true that gradschool time blends together incomprehensibly. Did I just read for 5 hours straight? Is it true that I haven’t taken a break in three days? What happened to the weekend?

It’s a nice feature of gradschool, these long periods of free time in which to do what pleases you most.

This week, NPR is a featuring a new series about the history of time. The series’ premise: “The baseline crisis we must understand and confront is not one of economics, climate change, resource depletion or alternate-reality Republicans. Below them all is a crisis in time.”

The subject of our enslavement to the clock has come up several times on this blog: see for example A Time Without Time. I used the word enslavement: I obviously have concerns about timeliness. (Probably, if I’m being honest, because I’m always late.) It’s interesting to think about the fact that before the invention of clocks, most people knew it was midday, evening, dawn – and nothing more. What freedom they must have felt then!

No one in ancient Greece ever felt guilty for failing to write a blog post for two entire weeks, for example.

Still, the word “crisis” is a bit much. There was an article in the nytimes this week about Republicans and the apocalypse. Its greatest weakness was its emphasis on Republicans. Religious or not, we are all pretending to live in apocalyptic times, until time itself has become apocalyptic. It’s the other piece of the time crisis: the idea that time is running out.

Freedom from time, in my book, means the opportunity to read all night long. It also means the chance to live without fear of impending doom.

Still, I’m glad someone reminded me of the equinox.

Happy Fall! and for those who celebrate, Shanah Tovah.

Weather:
66 degrees in Somerville and 67 in Austin. (but there’s a high of 101 today).

Mood:
Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Clearly I’m out of bed. But still sleepy.

Anna: 6 out of 10. Early morning-gym run feels good, but the stress of the day does not.

*Photo credit to Kohlin’s lovely flickr account, full of great photos of my (and anna’s!) home town.

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wildfire smoke, early yesterday morning*

There was a haze of smoke over the city this morning as I rode north towards campus. It was late morning and at first I thought it was the kind of haze that comes from intense heat and humidity, but this is austin, it is dry as a bone.

Many of you have heard about the Bastrop Wildfires that have been burning outside of Austin the past few days. As of this morning, 34,000 acres have burned and 577 houses have been destroyed in Bastrop County alone. Because of the damage it’s incurring, this fire is drawing national coverage: but according to Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples, “Damage to this community is reflective of all Texas.  This is the worst burn season ever.”

Information about the fires is spreading slowly across the city. I heard about it early, from people who know people who lost their homes last week. (You can keep track of the fires reliably here.) Then I started getting e-mails from my friends back and east, and I realized the fire was going to be something big. One gentleman in my yoga class said it was a sign of global warming; others implied it might be intended for Rick Perry. Two weeks into my class on the apocalypse, I’m tempted to see signs of impending doom in the slew of natural disasters that have hit us this summer.

The truth, of course, is much smaller and closer to home. For those of us in Texas, the news is full of information about how to get involved, and it was inspiring this morning to see people on the street collecting money for the relief effort. And for everyone else – political and religious views aside, now might be as good a time as any to pray for rain.

Weather:
In texas we’re having a cold snap at 93 degrees. In Somerville, it’s 60.

Mood:
Hannah: 6 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale.

*photocredit to the wildfire blog wildfiretoday.com, which also shows an extraordinary map of the fires. But this photo they pulled from youtube.

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“Hot out today,” the woman at the bus stop said. It was 5 pm. It was 101 degrees. I nodded.

“Hard to believe it’s September,” she said.

That broke my heart a little bit. Because September is my favorite month, and the precursor to my favorite season. September is when the first apples start to ripen on the trees. It’s when the nights turn a little bit crisp and there’s the scent of fall in the air. In September all your notebooks are new, all your pencils are sharp, and your homework is always in on time.

For the last four years, I missed the feeling that you get on the first day of school: the sense that something new and possibly extraordinary is about to begin. As a “young professional” I found it almost impossible to adjust my mental schedule to a lifestyle that disregarded the academic calendar. I thought that once I was back in school, that sense of disorientation would disappear.

I was wrong. As it turns out, going from a 9-5 lifestyle to a 24/7 one isn’t such an easy thing to do. I seem to have picked up some habits in the past four years that I’m not ready to abandon.  Although technically I may be “back” in school, this doesn’t feel like going back at all. It’s not just about my schedule: my relationships with my peers, the pedagogy of my professors, even my homework is different than it’s ever been before. Whatever I’m doing here, it’s something entirely new.

New things in September – that, at least, is a familiar feeling. But at 100 degrees fahrenheit, I don’t think I’ll be getting apples this fall.

Back to the Future. Obviously.*

Weather:
A pleasant 98 degrees at sunset in Austin; 64 degrees and cloudy in cambridge.

Mood:
Hannah: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Feeling pretty peaceful now that it’s cooled down a bit.

*I think the post title works with the content. Or maybe I just really wanted a picture of a flying car.

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In November, Louisa wrote a guest post for Ditch The Umbrella about her Thanksgiving experiences, promising a post-holiday update. Luckily for us, she’s blogged about another fascinating emotional calendar subject: seasonal dissonance. Here goes!

I wrote a post about a month ago about Thanksgiving—an emotional hotspot for me. I’m way overdue for an update, since Christmas is only two weeks away! Happily, Thanksgiving went off without a hitch this year, as it often does. My emotional mind was less charged up, which made for a much more enjoyable dinner for me, and especially my family. We went to my uncle’s house in western Massachusetts and feasted on turkey, squash, stuffing, and cranberry sauce: the whole nine yards. (Squash is my personal favorite.) I felt happy to be with my family and celebrate with them, and although the memory of that Thanksgiving fourteen years ago was still present, I also see how its effect on my emotions diminishes a little bit every year.

But of course, most people’s focus has moved to Christmas. It’s coming soon. I’m excited, and also quite proud of myself for already having most of my shopping done. With Christmas comes the cold weather, though, and this year it seems to be particularly frigid. In the past week, the high temperature has only been about 40° F, and that was last Saturday. The wind has made it especially bad, letting everyone know that winter is here to stay. Of course, if this were February, temperatures in the 40s would seem almost warm (at least in New England). But we have been cursed (or blessed, as most people would say) with some extremely warm days in November. According to weather.com, the high temperature in Concord on Nov. 13 was 65°. It felt more like mid-spring than late fall. That day was followed by 64° on the 17th, 56° on the 22nd, and 62° on the 23rd.

Regardless of how you feel about this type of weather in November, December seems particularly Arctic in comparison. I don’t like warm November days—such weather gives me a strong sense of seasonal dissonance, which happens when your mind is in one season and your body is in another. The calendar says Thanksgiving, but the weather says Memorial Day! This contradiction throws off my sense of stability, it makes me feel out of place, and it makes it far harder for me to get used to the December cold. For my sanity, I’m hoping that it won’t happen again, but the next time we have a really warm winter day—or even a really cold one in June—stop and see how your body and your mind react to the unfamiliar weather.

Weather: Frigid and gray.

Moods:

Anna – 7.5 out of 10 on the “so miserable I can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. She’s energized.

Hannah – 7 out of 10. On the one hand, it’s cold and gray. On the other hand, she is excited to be at the Athenaeum!

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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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