Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pumpkin Spice

I caved.  I bought my first 2014 Pumpkin Spice Latte this morning.  I woke up early this morning for church.  The morning felt crisp and cool and exactly like every perfect fall morning ever.  I actually needed a jacket.  It made me want to become a morning person.  Well, more of a morning person.  I already like mornings best, but I like when my mornings start with a cup of tea around 8:30, rather than a brisk walk shortly after sunrise.  Except, this morning made me want to start out with those brisk walks shortly after sunrise.  I started picturing myself in Missouri in the autumn (Missouri autumns really are stunning), and how lovely it might be if I could make a kind of freelance writing business or a successful etsy shop.  I might wake up, grab a tea or a coffee, then go for a hike around the Runge Center or on the Katy Trail.  Then I could grab some of those amazing home-made chips at Lutz's BBQ if I were in Jefferson City, or some Shakespeare's Pizza in Columbia.  And housing costs would be so low compared to here that I might actually be able to afford a place to live...and I could spend my afternoon working diligently on my writing projects or my etsy shop items.  It was such a nice fantasy.  Mostly I want a place to live that I can call my very own, with lots of sunshine, and a tiny yard or a balcony where I can grow a few plants...

Anyway, I went to church, and after church as I walked back to my apartment, I passed Starbuck's.  And the weather was just perfect for a Pumpkin Spice Latte.  So, I stopped in.  And what wonderful goodness it was indeed.  Not quite the perfection that accompanies a Peppermint Mocha as Christmas draws near, but pretty close.  And with this cool, autumnal day--and many more cool, autumnal days in the five-day forecast--I think I can safely say that fall is arriving in Virginia.

P.S.-- I heard it was supposed to snow here at the end of October.  SNOW.  In OCTOBER.  I think we're in for a much colder winter than I would like to even imagine.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Beginning a Thesis

I have started a Thesis Log, separately from this blog (and just for me).  My professor for my thesis research methods seminar recommended writing for 25 minutes a day-- and by writing she also meant reading/thinking/note-taking.  But I like the idea of writing and reflecting on my reading for (at least) 25 minutes a day.  I'm approaching it a bit like The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, so my Thesis Log includes bits and pieces of my life, too, and personal thoughts and reflections.  I'm hoping that, like Lizzie, I may be able to look back over my Log and discover how my thoughts were shaped, what it is that I enjoy about what I'm doing, and that these discoveries will help me both with my writing and with my future career goals.  I loved getting the backstory on Lizzie's thesis-- why the videos were relevant to a thesis topic and not just a girl with a camera-- and even though my thesis has nothing to do with video blogging, I think writing about it for 25 minutes a day will help my ideas.  At the very least, it might make good reading material for me once this whole thing is over.

As of right now, I've been doing the reading/thinking/note-taking recommended, but I still feel a bit panicky over it all.  I am trying to remind myself that when I started out my history masters I still hadn't read the book that would end up informing the 'thesis' part of it.  I didn't really think about the stakes of a thesis then: I just knew that I had to compare two things (it was a comparative history degree).  I found a colonial American theater company and knew a bit about London theatricals, and thought, "Well, this seems perfect!  I can just compare what shows they put on and their staging.  Done!  And they all speak English!  No need for a translator!"  And, at the time, that seemed like enough-- as if a thesis were nothing more than a glorified research paper.  Of course, over the ensuing year and a half I learned quite a lot-- both about 18th-century theater and the purpose of graduate school-- and perhaps I just got lucky that I found a way to say something new in the field.  My thesis chunk that I turned in at the beginning of my second semester (comparable to the one I will have to turn in at the end of this semester) certainly didn't say anything new at all.  But I worked with it, and found my angle.

The thing is, it's easy now to look back and see exactly what I wanted to say in my history thesis, and it's hard for me-- in this program-- not to feel like I'm behind because I can't find the 'intervention' that I want to make in the first week or so.  I mean, I've read a biography and a book of poetry and the (long) introductions to two critical editions, why don't I have an angle?  See, when I say it like that it seems pretty silly to expect to have a grandiose plan at this point.  I have a topic.  I am interested in female Romantic writers.  I am focusing on Mary Robinson and Anna Laetitia Barbauld at this point, letting their works wash over me, and seeing where I might take them.  Maybe I'll find someone else entirely-- a few new names have cropped up in the last few days of reading.  And I need to know that that's okay.  That my history thesis didn't come to me fully-formed.  That I hadn't even read The Marketplace of Revolution when I discovered the Hallams and the London Company of Comedians. 

So, the point of the Log is, then, to provide me with a map, so that I can see where I've been and, perhaps, to point me towards where I'm going.  Here's the journey!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Last First Day of Classes...?

I've made the claim to have attended my last first day of classes at least once before now, so I'm hesitant to say so again with certainty.  But, at least for the foreseeable future, yesterday was my last first day of classes!  Last first day of classes that I'm taking, and not teaching, anyway.  See?  Very little may be said with confidence when it comes to last first days of classes.

The day started a bit rough, for no discernible reason, but ended on a very nice note.  For months now, we thesis-writers have been panicking a bit about our first day of thesis class.  Our professor asked us to speak on our topic for 5-7 minutes, and few of us felt prepared to do so.  The day before yesterday Cara and I had lunch together to prep what we might say.  The lunch made me feel less panicky, but not entirely settled.  So, yesterday I woke up, drank my tea, and read a few 'beads' in Eat Pray Love (it's good practice for me to have a book from which I read a small amount per day and really reflect on what I've read, especially this book with its religious and self-knowledge themes).  After an early lunch, I caught the bus to campus.  I worked on booking flights for a wedding I'm attending next month, then stood up too quickly and hit my side hard on a handrail.  It really hurt.  I plunged into a dark mood.  To try to cheer up, I purchased a clementine flavored soda and a Snickers bar, then dedicated the remaining hour or so until class to reading Heavens to Betsy.  I've needed this sojourn to Deep Valley.

Then class started, and I absolutely love our professor.  She's warm and friendly and guided us through our initial presentations with ease.  I even ceased to feel nervous!  After class, I briefly discussed with her an idea I've been having for a new direction, and wondered if she thought it too late to switch things up a bit.  The talk made me feel an inkling more excited about my thesis and definitely put me in a better mood.  Then I checked my e-mail, and I got the job at the library!  I'm thrilled!!!  I really, really think this might just be the start of something good.  And thus the day ended with a pint with some friends from my program, and the prospect of good things to come!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Quiet in the Noisy Swirl

My life this past week turned into a noisy swirl.  I led an ordered life during the summer: in June, I read during the day and attended class in the evening.  In July, I spent carefree days in Williamsburg, reading in the mornings, watching movies during the afternoons, and visiting friends in the evenings.  In August, I spent a lovely week at the beach, finishing a book for my thesis, completing a Rosetta Stone unit, and starting on a cross-stitch sampler.  Then it all changed, and suddenly the noise came back to my head, telling me to read more and do more and that I'm not enough.

This week, I had meetings to go to, appointments to attend, interviews, and events to plan.  Suddenly the rapidly approaching change of seasons started to agitate me; how will I withstand the cold of another winter?  Why are we drinking pumpkin spice lattes in August?  Then I begin to have anxiety about how will I ever learn Spanish and have all these hours been for nothing, because I can't even read children's books without stumbling over at least a few words, and why am I not perfectly fluent yet, and will I ever be? (My perfectionism won't let me appreciate my small accomplishments as I learn more and more words.)  Mostly, I began to panic again about my thesis project and the seeming impossibility of it, and dread that seeps into my bones when I try to imagine writing another thesis.  I know this dread is of the moment, and will dissipate as I read and formulate ideas (better-- will turn into joy! I do love the eighteenth century) but that doesn't stop it from feeling awful now.

So on Wednesday I decided to try to quiet my mind.  I walked up the hill listening to my Frankenstein audiobook, feeling productive (I am loving audiobooks).  I stepped inside the Bayou Bakery, where zydeco music is always playing and the smell of chicory coffee and beignets fills the air.  I ordered a glass of sweet tea and a slice of freshly made blackberry-almond coffee cake, still warm from the oven.  One gooey bite of warm blackberry dispelled most of my worry.  I opened my new book, the one I really didn't need to buy at the beach, but that I felt I needed to buy at the beach, and I began to read.  Then I stopped, because this book is too good and I don't want it to ever end, plus I needed another bite of that warm crunchy coffee-cake top.  With a bit of blackberry, too.  Then I read a bit more, and I think some odd sixth-sense must have led me to this book, or maybe this book-- like the house it's about-- is magic and it knew that I needed it and it placed itself on the shelf just so, that my eye might catch its bright cover.  I'm only twenty-two pages in, but already I think this may be a book I read again and again, like Eat Pray Love or The Alchemist.  I feel comfortable in its pages, even though I'm still new to it.

Then I finished my tea and coffee cake, and I walked further up the hill, listening to Frankenstein, and I bought a pair of crop jeans and I used up the last of a Barnes and Noble gift card on a Spanish children's book full of illustrations and some words I understand and lots of words I don't understand, but have faith that I will learn.  Then I walked home in the warm-but-not-too-warm evening sunshine, and I cleaned up the apartment a bit, which helped my mood considerably.  The noisy swirl inside my head felt calmer; my mind felt clearer.  And even now, as anxiety again tugs at the corners of my thoughts, whispering horrible things about my academic preparedness and the state of my thesis research, I try to remember that my adviser told me not to harden my thoughts, and that I'm on track, and that I have two books ILLed that should arrive at the library anyday, and in the meantime I'm just a short walk from sweet tea and just a few pages from a magical house full of hope.