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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Struggling for Structure

I feel like I've gathered many puzzle pieces and I'm still not certain how they fit together.  I think I've found all of the corner pieces, but there's no box to refer to, so I don't know which corner is which.  Maybe I'm putting it together upside down?  I've spent hours today reading, typing, reading, referring to old notes, taking new notes, re-reading some poems, thinking some more, going over my last thesis to get ideas of structure, thinking again, and so on.  I'm hoping that if I just sit here a bit longer letting everything percolate a beautiful and clear structure will present itself to me.  I feel like it's there, I see how these things all fit, but I can't quite write it yet.  Not in a thesis-acceptable way.

I've spent the past two days in Williamsburg.  I've always worked well in Williamsburg.  I feel like the city jams my thinking, clouding it with traffic and anxiety, but here I feel like I have so much space and freedom and oh so many trees.  When I need to take a break or think more deeply, I can simply take a walk down my favorite street in the world.  There's a ready supply of sticky toffee pudding, vanilla cokes, my favorite Mexican place, fast food, and a 24-hour Wawa with their extra-caffeinated mocha machine-- perfect for when I want to write late into the night (I've found that, unfortunately for me, I do my best writing at 3:00 AM).  And at night here, I can actually see the stars; given my thesis topic this time the stars really help me to put it all into perspective.  

All I need is that picture to refer to, and I know I'll be able to put this puzzle together.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Puzzle

It's just gone 4:00, and already the light has become the deep yellow of the setting sun and outside the shadows have grown long and I'm ready to light my lamps.  Last night it smelled like winter, sharp like burning wood and something undefinable, but cold.  I have ten days left before my self-imposed 'start to write by' deadline for my thesis.  I have thoughts, ideas, and notes.  I think, in fact, I might have the tiniest spark of a real argument, a good one, that fits with current scholarship.  Regardless, I'm falling in love with my subject, and each poem is beginning to stir within me, and the words are beautiful and full.  I want to memorize these poems, but I'm not sure if that will help with my 'thinking' about them 'critically,' but I like hearing the words on my lips and I want them on my heart.  I like the idea of words written on my heart, and it recalls the idea of the surface upon which the words are/were actually written, and that's what I want to write about.  The surfaces they appear on, the surfaces they reference, these everyday things that-- in some cases literally-- balloon into larger cultural references, movements, and ideas.  I want to hold a marble with a poem upon it.  I want to find out every green umbrella under which lovers could press close together.  I want to try turtle soup and I want to blow bubbles like hot air balloons as the stars whirl overhead.  I want to write figures on a slate.  I want to understand how the physical world we live in directs our thoughts and makes meaning in ways so subtle that we might not actually understand that it is our very materiality that instructs our thoughts.  I also want to acquire the proper vocabulary to explain myself, and I want to figure out to synthesize all of this into distinct chapters with pieces of arguments.  The past two major papers that I've written have, to some extent, felt like pulling teeth because I've noticed how constructed they are, how I am weaving out of the air and into so many pixels and processors a kind of overall order, and it has scared me to see myself constructing in this way, and sometimes all I want is a tangible product at the end.  It felt like putting together a puzzle wrong, as if I've mixed too many boxes together or forced things to fit that almost do but don't quite.  So I'm hoping that by taking the time to find all of the pieces, or at least most of them, I can build my borders, and fill in the middle, and if at the end I'm still missing bits I can go and find them out, and I hope that sooner than seems possible I will have made something beautiful, and at least in this metaphor I can hold my thoughts like puzzle pieces in my hand.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Thoughts for Early November

This weekend Zan and I drove to the Shenandoah Valley to attend a wedding.  A really lovely wedding, with vows that got me to tear up, and a ring ceremony that invoked Frodo and Samwise.  The cake topper featured a silhouette of Jack Skellington and Sally, and the bouquets were red roses mixed with paper flowers made from pages of Shakespeare's plays.  The whole evening felt very relaxing, like a house party with good food and friends that I don't see very often.

The drive away from D.C. always feels like breathing a giant sigh of relief.  Out past the clog of office buildings, tiny cramped streets, metro stops and then the strip-malls at the very outer edges... the world breaks open into fields and streams and farmhouses scattered in the valleys.  Mountains rise up on either side, and stretch into the distance and at the farthest prospect look blue.  At this time of the year the drive becomes a sunburst of reds, oranges, and browns-- the mountains and hills like an autumnal bouquet, and the few trees that turn bright yellow stand out like Queen Anne's Lace or sprigs of Baby's Breath.  I thought a lot on the drive, about my thesis, my life.  I've been struggling to find meaning, because it often feels that everything is so meaningless.  Part of the problem with the thesis is that it doesn't feel like meaningful production to me, right now.  Things that feel meaningful are material: cooking, growing food.  Sewing.  Painting.  Giving gifts to people going through hard times.  That's what I want to do.  My job feels meaningful, too, because processing collections for future use feels like helping people (academics, students, other Special Collections users); it feels like growing the base of human knowledge.  The thesis, I suppose, should feel like growing human knowledge-- but right now, it doesn't.  It feels too amorphous and self-indulgent.  But then, thinking of the poems that I'm actually working with, they seem important in some way.  They resonate inside of me after I read them, but I'm not sure how to form my thoughts into something coherent, or academic, or new.  I don't know how to write about poetry intelligently; at least, my writing doesn't feel intelligent to me.  I've read a few secondary sources that make me 'oo' and 'ah' and fall more deeply in love with the poems, but then I feel that they've been explicated, and I don't know why I should write on them anymore.  I feel unable to add to the conversation at this point.  But I need to need to write twenty pages soon.  Then forty more.  I need to feel capable.

We drove back to D.C., the beginning of the drive feeling like anything is possible, the end again cramped with high rises and office buildings.  And now it's time to write.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Night Before Halloween

Tonight I completed my Halloween movie list.  I watched The Addams Family.  It's been a fun October of watching movies, and other than once again not getting any actual horror movies watched, I've had some great experiences: a fantastic Halloweentown party, a Practical Magic night with my best friend when I needed it the most, finally watching my favorite childhood film-- Sleepy Hollow-- with Zan (and feeling surprised by how much I still have memorized), pizza and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, introducing Hocus Pocus to my British friend who somehow made it into her 20s without seeing it, whilst eating buttery popcorn and lots of Halloween candy.  Then tonight, a quiet evening alone with homemade chili and The Addams Family.  In movie terms, it's been an excellent October; in friends terms, too, what with Emily's amazing wedding at the beginning of the month, a mid-month visit with Kay, and a party tomorrow evening with my grad cohort.  Also, I never wrote about it here, but I got to meet one of my heroes this month-- M. Lindsay Bierman, the former editor of Southern Living!  We talked for about seven minutes one-on-one, and he was wonderful and gracious.  I got to tell him how much his editor's welcomes meant to me each month for the past couple of years, and that even though his new job sounds awesome, I miss him at SL.  It was really cool.  We even took a selfie together!  So, I guess despite a lot of thesis-related anxiety which I'm actively working to fix, it's been a pretty good October overall.  And I have plans to build a gingerbread haunted house with Zan tomorrow after work!