Sunday, June 22, 2014

For I am every dead thing / In whom love wrought new alchemy

Oh, hello blog. I kind of forgot you still existed. I'm not sure why I still write here, or whom I'm writing for, as my posts have become infrequent, semiannual. I think you are kind of dead. Or comatose.  I suppose now that I'm writing today, you are more of a revenant, you are re-begot. I will now dispense with the folly and creepiness of addressing my blog in the second person.

There's something about the space of a barely-anonymous blog, though, that allows me to express myself more freely than I would on other social media. Sometimes it takes longer for me to figure out what I'm saying, or what I really want to say, and sometimes I wouldn't want to say it anywhere else. And there is a burden to be clever and witty on Facebook. I'm almost always editing my Facebook posts to make sure they are appropriately wry, silly, smart. Here, on the other hand, I don't have to be clever. I can be remarkably shallow and just describe my sentiments without trying to impress anyone or to live up to an artificial persona. There are still things I can't (and wouldn't) say here or anywhere. But maybe I can capture a mood instead.

I'm up for tenure and my book is coming out in September. I'm also nine months married and moving into a new house in five days.  All cause for celebration, but I'm full of uncertainty. It is probably impossible for me to feel one thing without also feeling its opposite (I'm Petrarchan that way). I think my life is moving too fast. I haven't had any time to stop and think about how all these changes will affect my life until recently, and they are affecting it in all sorts of wonderful ways but also in confusing ways I hadn't anticipated. Without giving me any time to reflect, life deluded me into thinking it was easy.

I spent a month at one of my favorite archives early this summer. It carried the same accelerated, almost juvenile emotional tumult as summer camp: for the first week I was homesick and miserable, missing my husband and cat, hating the delay of moving into the new house, counting the days, having trouble getting focused in my research and finishing an overdue book review. Then friends arrived, I finished the review, found my footing, embraced the research with delight, became infatuated with the scholarly life again, and began to enjoy temporarily living on my own. I saw old friends, went out every night with new ones, gave a well attended research presentation, and wandered around the neighborhood smelling the gorgeous flowers and admiring the lush, overflowing gardens, serendipitously bumping into friends, falling into sync with one another. Then it was time to leave. I am relieved to be home with the cat waiting for the husband to return and the moving to start, but surprised to feel melancholy too, missing my scholarly paradise where time moved at a different pace and life stood still.

There is probably something Petrarchan about all this. And here I don't mean Petrarchan poetic style (the anatomizing and fragmentation of the unattainable beloved; the oxymorons) but Petrarch's constant state of dislocation. When Petrarch is climbing a mountain in the countryside, he misses the hum of the city. When he's stuck in the clamorous, noisome city, he profoundly misses the peace of country. And all the time he wishes he were living in ancient Rome, conversing with Cicero. He's like a quintessential New Yorker: miserable in his current location, but he wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I wasn't prepared to feel anything at all during my month-long fellowship this summer--other than the satisfaction of getting stuff done--and so when I did it took me by surprise.

I shouldn't have been surprised. I always get attached to this place and the books and people in it (witness this post from three years ago). Archives in summer are magical, atemporal spaces where the burdens of teaching and administrative work and constant deadlines are diminished and postponed, and the other people there get you, your love for obscure Renaissance things, and your unquenchable need to fill your head with bad poems about hair bracelets, or hilarious manuscript miscellanies, or bizarre Renaissance philosophies of matter, or Italian mythological dictionaries for six hours a day, followed, ideally, by carousing, five or six days a week. The fact that it will end and all of us go back to our ordinary lives might explain why we appreciate it so when it is happening. So that sense of timelessness is paradoxically brought on by a keen awareness that the time we have is finite. That sounds terribly trite and naive, but what I'm trying to say is that even when we spend most of our lives dedicated to our work and teaching, it can still feel seductively good to be at a place where everyone is brilliant and automatically understands that field-specific love of scholarship viscerally and scholarly sparks start to fly. It reconstituted me, jolted me awake. It makes returning to an empty small college town and everyday life a bit deflating.

 I am on leave until January, to write as much of my second book as I can. There is more archival work in my near future, but there's something about the summer archive experience that stands apart. Here's to life slowing down a little more, at least enough for me to enjoy its passage, its surprises and maybe even to learn to appreciate its unanticipated frustrations.