"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Adventures v. Habits

For someone who's always lived in one place, I seem to be moving around quite a lot recently. First there was starting college (which still feels recent...). In the years since, there's been moving to and from school twice a year. Then I moved to Paris for four or five months. Then I moved home. Then I moved to and from school again.

Every time I move, I go through this funny period of surreality. It feels like I'm not really where I am and not really where I was. I believe it's quite difficult, actually, for the human mind to understand that it's been transported 300 or 3,000 miles, especially if the mode of transport was an airplane, which just makes everything weird and futuristic - like apparating but with several hours of queasiness, cold, and forced seated position.

Thing is, it's during those days of wandering around, not really believing that I am where I am, that I probably am the most present, in the sense of noticing my surroundings. It's not very pleasant adjusting to a new place, but it makes me take notice of the temperature, the smells, the routes I take walking to class, the food I eat, the bed I sleep in. Once I've settled in, all that fades away. I stop having to think about all the little everyday decisions and experiences, and take a lot of things for granted.

But settling in opens up space for other ways of being present. Being present in my mind without constantly assessing where I am and where I'm going next. Noticing something new about a place I've been a million times before. Watching something evolve over time, like a garden or a bird's nest.

It might be different for other people - I'm sure there are some who love that weird space you're in when you've just gotten off the airplane. I, however, am a creature of habit. I love my habits, I love regularity and comfort and not having to improvise my days as I go. I also love traveling and changing things up, but then I want to settle down and let my mind do the wandering.

I've been considering this while picking grad schools to apply to for my master's degree. On the one hand, there are some cities I'd really like to experience in more depth. On the other hand, nothing sounds better than a quiet hamlet where I can spend hours reading and writing, where I can walk everywhere, where I don't have to choose among 50 cafés when I want a cup of tea. Cities are best for people who enjoy novelty, risk-taking, and exploration. Small towns are good for people who want coziness, easy access to nature, and familiarity. At least that's how it seems to me now. And for now I think I'm the latter kind of person. I hope I get in to grad school, so that I can find out if I'm right.

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