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Archive for the ‘Fall’ 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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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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“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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This is an exercise in mindfulness.

Bring your awareness to your mouth. Take pleasure in the sensation of rubbing your tongue against your teeth and the roof of your mouth. Swallow. This should feel good.

Now, take a clean glass. Spit into it. Now, drink your own spit.

Repulsive, isn’t it?

This exercise comes from Ellen Langer’s seminal book Mindfulness, one of the first to bring the concept of mindfulness into Western medical lexicon. I love it because no matter how many times I try, I can’t help but be totally grossed out. I know that rationally, there is no reason to dislike saliva. But I cannot break my constructed hatred of spit. It’s disgusting.

Langer’s point is that every day, we take thousands of actions that are not rational. Some of them, like not drinking our own spit, are fairly innocent. Others are more troubling: the ones that impact the way we act around disabled people, for example, or the elderly. (One of Langer’s  most laudable impacts has been in teaching nurses and families to recognize the difference between physical disability and mental disability.)

Mindfulness can also be helpful in improving the way we treat ourselves, especially at times when we are feeling particularly out of control. Anna is lucky in that she has totally overcome all of her Thanksgiving anxieties. But for the rest of us, this time of year is overloaded with emotional, cultural, and environmental stressors. There are childhood memories. Family expectations. Cultural pressures. The smell of snow on the wind.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed on Thanksgiving. It’s also easy to act on all of those anxieties without knowing why. To get angry at the turkey. To break down over the cranberry sauce. To lash out at an innocent great aunt or overly energetic toddler. All of which means, less time to enjoy a delicious dinner in the company of the people we love most.

Which is what Thanksgiving, at its best, can be about.

This holiday season, I’m going to try to be a little more mindful about where my emotions are coming from. And I’m going to hope that increased awareness will improve my ability to act, instead of just reacting.

But I’m still not drinking spit from a glass.

Wishing everyone a happy thanksgiving, with love from DTU.

Weather: 36 degrees, a bit overcast, and beautiful

Moods:

Hannah: 7 out of 10. Excited to go running this afternoon.

Anna: 7.5, and thrilled to have a few days to relax.

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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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The other day Anna and I were talking about how our “food calendar” changes over time. I had noticed a sudden desire for baked foods and carbohydrates. In the summer, Anna recalled, all we wanted to eat was salad. “Remember how in July I didn’t even want to eat chocolate?” she asked.

That stopped us both short.

But it’s true that, as winter approaches, my food associations change. I am the kind of person who can be almost religious about my eating habits. I recently went to eat WooDaddy Waffles at Moynihan’s Irish Pub in Worcester and it took some real mental gymnastics to accept the idea of a Falafel Waffle or a waffle pizza. (Good thing I did – they were delicious.) It’s not that I’m not adventurous. But I take real comfort in foods that are perfectly suited to the time of day or the time of year. Apple pies in October. Strawberries in July.

And one of the best things about the approach of winter is that the end of the fall is perfectly aligned with the most delicious kind of baked goods. I don’t know if it’s some sort of innate preparation for hibernation, or whether it’s a cultural association with Thanksgiving dinners and the dearth of fresh vegetables. But it’s true that, if I happen to being slipping into a late-fall depression, all it takes is a mug of hot apple cider and a slice of pumpkin bread to get me on my feet again. Or a cranberry muffin. Slice of pumpkin pie. Hazelnut-chocolate torte. Apple strudel.

(Yes, donations are welcome.)

Anyway, this week I indulged my cravings by baking a whole bunch of new things, the best of which was this ridiculously delicious yeasted pumpkin bread. The recipe made enough to last me a couple of weeks. I’m hoping there will be some left to boost up my spirit when the first snow arrives.

Weather: 52 degrees and cloudy

Mood:

Hannah: 5, I’m feeling a bit under the weather.

Anna: 7, she has some fun, engaging projects at work today.

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