It's been a long ten days and a tiring ten days and a very demoralizing ten days since I last posted. I spent them preparing what was (hopefully) my last ever exam and staring at my phone and my computer in horror as more and more news came out of the US. It's hard to get through the day without breaking into tears multiple times at this point, and it breaks my heart to think this is what things have come to in so little time.
I don't say "what the country has come to" because no. The country hasn't come to this. The country has stood up and resisted and done everything to make its voice heard. I'm not ashamed of my country and I'm not ashamed of being American. This isn't what we are, and I have faith in the people. Half the time I cry when reading the news is because of the good I see as people resist. I'm greatly demoralized by everything, but I know we won't passively sit by and let this happen.
I don't have much to say now. It's hard to think about other things, even if it's greatly important to do so because doing so is taking care of yourself at this point. They want us to feel demoralized and overwhelmed because that makes us weaker and gives them an advantage. So I will just say this – take care of yourselves. Take the time you need, put down your phones and hug your loved ones, pick up some escapist fiction. Recharge. We need to fight this, but we need to take care of ourselves. It's easy to think nothing else matters right now, but they /do/ matter and they /will/ fuel us to keep going.
I have a little confession to make. I hate working in libraries. I keep thinking I never work at the library because I need my coffee and am more comfortable either at my home desk or my work desk or at a coffee shop... and while that's partly it, it isn't all. Every time I *do* go to the library, it ends badly.
I committed to a study afternoon with Rory yesterday and when she suggested we go to the Art and Architecture library, I agreed. It's the prettiest library in town, has huge tables, and is rarely packed. But then we got there and sat down to work and I couldn't do it. Granted, yesterday was January 20, so I was already raging on the inside for obvious political reasons, but all the feelings of unease I tend to feel at libraries descended upon me at the same time. It's just so quiet in libraries that I can't cope. I love quiet, but I hate unnatural, imposed silence. It makes me hyper aware of every single thing not only around me but that I do myself... and as a result, my brain can't actually focus on anything else. It's a lot like sensory overload... but out of silence instead of excess noise or light. Thank you, anxiety, for messing things up in every direction.
So I left the library after an hour yesterday, and I don't think I'll be back anytime soon. Still though, it made me think... how common is this amongst academics? We're supposed to love libraries (and I do! I love everything about them until I need to sit down and be productive in them) and live at the library and all that jazz, but we're also a hyper-anxious group of people! I got a message almost as soon as I posted a few of these thoughts on tumblr yesterday, expressing the same feelings, and so I've decided to post this here, too.
Who else feels the same?
I'm too angry to accomplish much of anything today, but here's a shot from one of my favorite streets in Geneva.
Back from Paris and now from Neuchâtel, this week's been all about reading. In A's office, at a coffee shop/breakfast diner in Lausanne, in A's family's living room, in my office, at my desk...
I picked up Zadie Smith's latest novel, Swing Time, right before getting on the train to Paris and I've slowly been making my way through it for the past ten days. I'd say I don't want to put it down, but I also want to read it in small bits so as to appreciate it as much as possible. Anchored in honest realism, it's as enlightening as it is enchanting. I still have a bit less than two hundred pages to go, but I already don't want it to end.
Otherwise, it's been back to Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales for me. I've decided to work on The Wife of Bath for my upcoming oral exam (my last ever exam if things go well!), so I've been making my way through all the criticism I've picked out. I've done a lot of medieval literature over my grad school years, but this is the first time I'm not taking the medievalism from a text and running towards the modern... so I have to admit that I'm somewhat terrified.
We'll see how things go...
How beautiful is the Neuchâtel castle? It looms over the city, and you can see it with perfect clarity as your train pulls in or out of the train station. It's one of my favorite views, and I've been waiting to catch it in the snow. It does not disappoint...
I've been in Neuchâtel since getting back from Paris, here to see Orphée aux Enfers at the opera with A's mom (a truly beautiful performance) and to spend some time with his family and friends. It's been a lovely experience. I'm growing to like the city more and more, and this snowy visit may have finally, truly won me over.
I take a lot of trains these days, but one of my favorite journeys is the one from Geneva to Paris. I never get sick of scenery, so if I'm on a car, train, or plane, I'm almost always glued to the window. Watching the world go by is endlessly fascinating, and I love seeing all that it has to offer while sitting back in a comfy chair.
A and I left for Paris earlier this week, and the window gazing was exceptional this time around. It's been extremely cold lately, so for one of the first times, I got to see my favorite bits of landscape covered in snow! It was beautiful. Snow makes the flatest, not-in-the-least-dramatic landscapes chillingly beautiful, so how could it not with the pre-Alps?
Lots of Paris photos to come soon...
Emily Dickinson (314)
I rarely turn to poetry for comfort or catharsis, but there's something about Emily Dickinson that's always just spoken to me. Her words tend to wash over me, rhythmically communicating easily understood feelings of darkness and isolation and coming to me at times when I struggle with my own emotions.
"'Hope' is the thing with feathers" comes to me frequently enough. It's one of her most famous works and that it's my favorite is maybe cliché... but I can't say I care when it brings me so much calm. Hope is the thing that comforts me, calms me, and promises me better days ahead. Hope is a little flat in Lausanne or Neuchâtel or Fribourg, full of warmth and cuddles and lots of good food. Hope is a little office with stacks of often-read books and baby toys and coffee cups. Hope is the force that guides me and keeps me from sinking back into darkness and despair.
"Hope" is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
The first week of the year so far has mostly consisted of me sitting in a favorite coffee shop and facing my fears. I've been struggling with essay writing the last year –– a result of (emotionally) dealing with feedback to my first mediocre essay. My burnout's hardly been a secret, and my Sylvia Plath essay tailspin hardly has either. I managed to push through it when working on my co-written article with Amy over the summer/autumn, but I feel like much of the ease I felt there had to do with finding myself in a safe environment. I was writing about something I found truly fascinating /and/ writing with someone I liked sharing my ideas with who I also knew would meet them with respect.
I felt a bit of that writing this week, too. I picked a topic I found very interesting but hadn't gone into before but was still in a time period I was comfortable working with –– the 19th century. It was an interesting experience. I slowly did my readings for it in December, calmly taking note of things I wanted to use... and then I sat down and wrote this week. It was reassuring to write and realize that I'm well-versed and knowledgeable when it comes not only to 19th century literature, but to the social and cultural events and behaviors of the time. I was finding myself applying pages of previous knowledge to analysis at a time, and that was almost mind-boggling. What do you mean I know things? What do you mean this is usable and valid? So often with academia, we're throwing ourselves into the unknown and engaging with difficult material that we can forget that we do already know a lot. And so often with Imposter Syndrome, we think the things we already know don't really count. But they really do.
Awakened knowledge aside, I went about writing a bit differently this time, not producing an outline (something I /always/ tell my students to do) and just writing as things came to mind. I didn't even write chronologically, editing instead as I re-read and adding to and moving things around. It felt a bit disorganized, but that disorganization was the only thing I really stressed about. The writing came naturally, and while I don't know if my paper came out okay, I do at least know that I'm not afraid to write anymore.
If anything, I realized how much I missed writing argumentatively. It's something I used to enjoy immensely, that gave me a rush, and made me feel like I was on top of the world... and I began to feel that again. Here's to hoping that's something that fully comes back as I take on my thesis!
A and I rang in the new year with my mom last night, drinking champagne and watching Holiday, the 1939 Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant film (after having watched Singing in the Rain). I love to watch that film on New Year's Eve, so I was excited to share the little tradition with A (we rang in last year at his place, watching the Downton Abbey finale). The film was even better than I remembered, and we were all happy with it. Now to introduce him to Bringing Up Baby...
Today, we started the day by making pancakes for my mom and my grandma. Then I baked chocolate crinkle cookies with my grandma. Then A and I tried to catch up on New Girl. Then I helped with dinner. Then I finally gave in and agreed to watch Star Wars with A. I've been to see The Force Awakens and Rogue One because I didn't want to stay home while the squad went to see them without me (really, I wanted to be able to understand their pop culture references through the year), but I had never seen the original trilogy or the prequels. That's changed now, and I have to say I enjoyed A New Hope. Old Olivia wants me to be bitter about it because Star Wars was one of those things that I was proud not to have seen and was determined not to see it, but mostly I'm relieved because I know it's something I'm going to have to put up with, so better I enjoy it, no?
Add in a few walks with Dodo, and this was a perfectly cozy first day of the year. More, please.
Hello & Welcome!
I'm Olivia, a twenty-six year old grad student studying in Switzerland. This is where I share my thoughts on the academic journey, culture, travels, baking, and my daily life abroad. Read More.