"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"

Monday, March 11, 2013


This weekend, the weather has been bizarre. Woke up to bright sun - an hour later, it was blizzarding outside my window - the clouds cleared and it sunny again - I glanced back at the window and saw snow - currently we're back to blue sky. I guess the only constant is that it's cold.

Even the temperature, though, has been swinging back and forth over the last week. After endless snowy, cold, grey weather, the sun came out, and I walked to school without a coat on for the first time in months. Everyone rushed outside to eat their lunch, and sitting inside at our computers felt ridiculous when it was so nice outside (p.s. the high was only 54 degrees, but it felt like 70 to me).

Alas, it was not to last. Now it's snowing again. In March.

That taste of spring, though, reminded me that the semester is almost over. Once again, after winter hibernation, I'm moving into a period of transitions. I'm not particularly good at transitions - I'm a creature of habits and comforts - but I also feel a great attraction to them. I love to look forward to things, whether it's a new book, an upcoming trip, or just breakfast tomorrow morning. The thing is, of course, things usually don't turn out exactly how you imagine them, and whether the reality is better or worse than anticipated, it always takes a bit of adjustment. You go to sleep, already savoring the taste of pancakes, only to wake up and find your milk has gone sour. Maybe you dissolve in a heap of tears, or maybe you end up eating some scrambled eggs that taste just as good. Or maybe someone surprises you with some fresh croissants they just brought back from the bakery, and you decide to postpone pancakes until tomorrow. There's just always that moment of recalibration that's sometimes joyful and sometimes hard.

There's a lot of patience involved in transitions. I've been listening to music on Spotify recently, which is great because I was really missing Pandora. On the radio function, you never know what song is coming next, and in the moment that the last song ends, I always start conjecturing about the next one, and it's usually not what I expect (except that this morning, I was hoping they would play something by A Fine Frenzy, and they miraculously did). Sometimes it'll be one of my favorite bands, and sometimes I'll reach immediately to click the thumbs down button. But sometimes I just don't know if I like the song yet or not, so I just sit there and listen and wait to see how I feel about it. And since the best thing about this radio function is discovering new favorite bands, that minute or two of patience and listening can really pay off.

So here I go transitioning from my last semester of classes into my first summer of truly independent writing work. Yes, I'm writing to a deadline, but the restrictions on the what, how, and why of my dissertation are pretty minimal. For someone who wants to write books, this will be good training in making my way through a big writing project without much outside structure.

I'm not saying that writing a dissertation is like listening to music or eating pancakes, but the fact is that I'll be doing a lot of those latter two things while attempting to do the former, and I like the way the micro mirrors the macro sometimes (often). I will also be living for about 5 more months in a country where the weather changes all the time. Then I'll move back across an ocean and a continent and start looking for a job. So my life will be full of transitions. I guess I better just keep listening and get ready to recalibrate.

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