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Archive for the ‘Transitions’ Category

John Constable: cloud study.

On June 12, 1824, John Constable sketched, in oils, squall clouds over Brighton beach. On June 13, 1871, Gerard Manley Hopkins saw a red rack of clouds floating away. On June 12, 1869, John Muir noted Cumuli rising to the eastward over the Merced River. “How well they harmonize with the upswelling rocks beneath them!”

The writer Annie Dillard locates something sacred in the human history of clouds, and it was with that in mind that I went back into the DTU archives to see what clouds I observed a year ago today.

As it turns out, far from contemplating clouds, on November 15, 2010 Anna and I were talking about food. Apple strudel, pumpkin pie, and while I’m on the topic let me say that caramelized butternut squash is now officially my new favorite snack.

As Anna mentioned in her post earlier today, after a little more than a year of tracking our emotional calendars, it’s time for this phase of the project to end. Anna, the more practical member of the team, wrote about ways DTU has changed her lifestyle. I have to confess that just this morning, after hearing predictions of heavy thunderstorms and flooding across Austin, I hopped on my bike and rode to campus – just like I would have last year. Lesson emphatically not learned.

Or maybe my morning bike ride perfectly reflects my DTU experience. It’s true that this project has documented the whole range of my emotional experience, from a wild post-book-writing trip to Ipswich to the anxious (and endless) anticipation of spring. But mostly, when I think about DTU, I am struck with a feeling of delight. I think about maple syrup-making and early crocuses, ridiculous chanukah songs and really, really good food.

As we come round to winter again, it seems like DTU has permanently embedded itself into my seasonal experience, giving emphasis to all its most delightful aspects. Now the arrival of hot summer weather will remind of the time that Anna and I gave up chocolate. Thanksgiving, on top of being about family and food, will be about Anna’s ridiculous proposal that we live-blog the whole thing. January snowstorms will come hand-in-hand with the requisite Dorchester.

It might not be as sacred as the contemplation of clouds. But when those clouds turn to rain, I’ll ditch my umbrella and take out my bike. As they say, it’s been a good ride.

Thanks for reading.

Weather: 63 degrees and lovely in Austin tonight.

Mood: 7 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. Bittersweet.

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A full year has come and gone since Hannah and I started Ditch the Umbrella. In that time we’ve reflected, mulled, and written about our emotional calendars, and, hopefully, gained a deeper understanding of what boosts our moods and where our emotional hotspots lurk. But now that we’ve completed a full seasonal cycle, we’ve completed our original mission, and so we will be concluding our little experiment. This will be my last blog post, and Hannah’s final reflection will be coming soon.

I, at least, have made changes to the way I live because of these little revelations: last winter, my worst season by far, I had such a bad case of cabin fever that I resorted to a frenetic and uncoordinated evening playing my roommate’s DDR (Dance Dance Revolution). This year, in an effort to prevent bad dancing, I’ve joined a gym so I can have an outlet for my energy when the days are short, the nights frigid, and the sidewalks nearly unwalkable.

The DDR incident, as I’ve come to think of it, taught me that I need to find ways to enjoy the winter sun, even if my face becomes an icicle. So this year, I plan on returning to cross country skiing, and may even try some winter hiking. (But only if I can start a snowball fight somewhere along the way.)

And I’ve started cooking, and cooking seasonally — enjoying fruits and vegetables when they’re naturally fresh (though I’ll still eat winter tomatoes, even if they’re nothing like the tomatoes Hannah rushed back to the States for) — and synching myself with the cycles of New England in that way.

But most importantly, I’m aware of my hotspots. Of the energy I feel in the fall that propels me to go-go-go, and to have an adventure. Of my weather obsession, which I no doubt inherited from the women in my family. Of my need to travel in the summer, or feel like I’m missing out on something. Of the amount of sleep I need to feel well rested and ready to go, especially when the hours of daylight are limited. Of the joy the holidays bring me with their carols, gingerbread, pine, and good cheer. Of the frustration I feel in the middle of winter, when I just can’t think about slipping on ice yet again. And of the things I can do to make the most of these experiences, and to revel in the joys each year brings.

Thanks for reading.

Late afternoon on the rails, Peru

Weather: Cloudy and unseasonably warm. Over 60 degrees in Cambridge.

Mood:

Anna: 6 out of 10. Energized, but slightly sad to be saying goodbye to DTU. A bit nostalgic.

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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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“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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There is a sign around the corner from my new house that says, “We were created. Evolution is a lie.”

Texas Longhorns

austin!

It is over 100 degrees in Austin today and I am hiding inside with the curtains down because my blood’s too thick for this kind of weather. (“Take an aspirin,” my roommate advises, “if you want your blood to thin faster.”) To think I used to believe thick blood was a metaphorical statement!

I arrived in Austin on Monday and drove back to the apartment with my new roommate. On the ride home Amy, who is from New York, told me about Austin. “You’re going to experience some culture shock,” she warned as we drove past a Cowboy Boot store and a trailer park which doubles as a restaurant. “It’s like being in a different country.”

So far, I’ve found it difficult to get a handle on just what kind of country I’m living in. Austin is home to Whole Foods and Rick Perry; the Texas Longhorns and South by Southwest. The UT campus features a confederate statue and a Gutenberg bible. And did I mention it’s over 100 degrees outside?

My roommate told me that Austin is great because everyone’s happy all the time. “It’s not like the northeast,” she said. “People don’t do cynicism.” This is scary to me, and I asked if she thought it was because Austin is always sunny. She says she thinks it’s because Texas has hardly any history, and its economy has always been great.

As for the heat, Amy says that summer in Texas is like winter in Boston. You stay inside all day long, and you suffer from all the accompanying madness. I didn’t believe that until I got up at seven this morning to go for a bike ride and discovered it was already 80 degrees.

Of course, the super-hot weather has some perks. In my new backyard is a vegetable garden. Right now, it’s totally dead. But by November, just as winter starts to set in back east, I’ll be looking forward to a second harvest. That’s something to be optimistic about.

Weather:
Austin: 93 degrees and sunny, with a high of 105
Somerville: 82 degrees and sunny, with a high of  82.

Moods:
Hannah: 8 out of 10 on the “can’t get out of bed” to “jumping for joy” scale. excited to be in a new place.

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100 Percent Hot*

It’s pouring rain outside of my window and I finally feel like I’ve come home.

I was in Europe for two months. Two months always goes faster than you think it will: I could swear it was only a few weeks ago that I packed up my bags and walked through security at Logan Airport. But when I left the blossoms had just come out on the trees and it was still cold enough to wear sweaters in the morning.

Apparently a lot changed in my absence, because on Wednesday I stepped out of the airconditioning and found myself in the middle of a heat wave. The temperature peaked at 98 this week, according to my household thermometer. (That’s 36 in celsius!) For the last two days all I’ve done is sit on the couch in a stupor, reading Gary Shteyngart or staring off into space. I don’t know whether it was the heat wave or the jet lag that did me in, but I’ve hardly been able to move, never mind speak in complete sentences or write coherent statements. The Emotional Calendar has all kinds of tips for managing jet leg, but I was too hot and tired to do any of them. “I should have stayed in Barcelona,” I moaned several times a day.

Then this morning I woke up at 5:30 (that’s 11:30 Barcelona time!), just in time to hear the first drops of rain against the windows. Minutes later we were in the midst of a full-fledged thunder storm. Lightning flashed, water poured in through the wide-open windows (I took a break from writing this to run around shutting them) and the temperature dropped to 70 degrees. Finally, I’m glad to be home.

Weather: 70 degrees and raining
Mood:
Hannah: 8 out of 10.
Anna: in Beijing!

*Image courtesy of weather.com

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Although for me summer began as soon as I could ditch my coat and sweater every morning, it’s official start is today, the summer solstice. Many people mark the year’s “longest” day — the day when we in the Northern hemisphere experience the lengthiest period of sunlight all year — but my favorite celebratory ritual is a fictional account from I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (best known for The Hundred and One Dalmatians).

On the morning of Midsummer Day, the narrator, Cassandra, closets herself in the attic of her family’s crumbling castle and reflects on the rites she and her sister, Rose, traditionally perform each June 21:

“Yesterday I instantly remembered that it was Midsummer Eve, my very favorite day, and lay awake looking forward to it and planning my rites on the mound. They seemed all the more valuable because I wondered if it might not be my last year for them — I didn’t feel as if it would, but Rose outgrew them when she was about my age. And I agree with her that it would be dreadful to perform them just as an affected pose; they were a bit peculiar last year when Topaz [her freewheeling stepmother] kindly assisted me and went very pagan. The nicest times of all were when Rose and I were young enough to feel rather frightened.”

In this year of transition, Cassandra is celebrating Midsummer without her sister, and so she gathers wild flowers, braids campion and bluebells into a garland, and weaves roses into her hair alone. Then, as the church bells ring nine times, she piles twigs on top of logs and ceremoniously lights them on fire with a taper. Only when “the whole world [seems] filled with hissing and crackling and roaring,” does Cassandra carry out the ritual and dance and leap around the sacred fire — but this Midsummer she’s joined by an unexpected guest.

Midsummer bonfire in Mäntsälä, Finland. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

I’ve never marked the start of summer in quite the same way, but I like the idea of pausing to reflect on the seasonal transition. I have, however, been to a Swedish Midsummer party with garlands and cake and a feast. Maybe next time I’ll suggest a bonfire.

Weather: Gorgeous, sun-filled day with a temperature around 80 degrees. Currently, a lovely summer night.

Moods:

Anna – 7.5 out of 10. Summer has returned and with it, my energy!

Hannah – Perhaps hiking over sacred mounds or enjoying a roaring campfire. I’m imagining the possibilities…

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