You know when you've just found out about some hilarious or delicious or interesting thing, and suddenly you can't get enough of it? I do that all the time. I'll find a blog I like and read through all of the archives in a day. Or I'll get obsessed with some food. Last fall, when I figured out that I like brussels sprouts, I just made 'em made 'em made 'em right through the winter, until it became spring and it no longer seemed right.
Stephen and I are going through an obsessive phase right now with The Office. We used to watch the British version, and thought it was really funny. But eventually I got tired of cringing my way through each episode. They do such a good job of finding and exploiting the awkwardness in every situation that it can be hard to watch. I have to keep reminding myself that it's just a TV show, that these scenes of gut-wrenching social interaction aren't really happening before my eyes.
The American version is much kinder and gentler, in my opinion. The characters are more likable, the awkwardness less edgy. The whole thing is a little more jolly than the British version, if I'm remembering correctly. But it could be that all comparisons have been tainted by our recent marathon of U.S. Office-watching. We watch four episodes a night, sometimes more. Each one is so short that we always want to see just one more, and then another, and so on.
Problem is, it can't last. We're almost done with Season 2, and I don't think Season 3 is out on Netflix yet. We're almost done with Manor House, too. Shoot. Nothing gold can stay.
writing my first grad school paper
reading Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor
watching Manor House
listening to Feist
drinking apple cider
eating pumpkin ravioli
wearing new boots
visiting Great Brook Farm State Park
looking forward to the Mountain Goats concert
Some friends came to visit last weekend, so I got to do things that I forget about until guests are in town: go the Public Garden, Beacon Hill, etc. On Friday, we ate delicious pizza in Beacon Hill and sat next to a family from Houston who told us about the school system in Texas and how much their son admires Einstein. Then we saw the Ether Monument at the Garden ("To Commemorate the Discovery that the Inhaling of Ether Causes Insensibility to Pain - First Proved to the World at the Mass. General Hospital in Boston - October A.D. MDCCCXLVI"), which I'd never noticed before, being too transfixed by the Swan Boats. We also celebrated our friend's birthday with coconut cupcakes, and watched the Red Sox beat the Yankees on Saturday (on TV, not at Fenway). We visited a little board game shop in Harvard Square, where Stephen and I collaborated on solving a 2' x 2' Rush Hour puzzle. We all played 1000 Blank White Cards. It was an amazing weekend.
I remember when I first moved here and someone told me that there wasn't much to do around Boston. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I had just come from a town of less than 5,000 people, and there was plenty to do even there. Surely Boston had something more to offer.
But now I understand what she meant. It's not Boston--there's lots going on in the city. But when you're a resident for a while, you stop seeing a place with visitor's eyes. There are inevitably some places that you never get around to visiting, and those drift to your peripheral vision and eventually leave the realm of possibilities altogether. All you see is that one coffee shop you go to, and your grocery store, your pharmacy, etc.
Case in point: I'm overdue for a visit to the dentist, so yesterday I went to my insurance company's website to locate providers. Turns out there are dozens of dentists within a mile of my apartment. Dozens. Within one mile. As I read through the list, I realized that I had seen some of the names before. Some of those offices are on the route that I walk to work five days a week.
So maybe I need to look up more often.
I find uprooting difficult. This really became apparent when I was an undergrad. During those first few days back at school in the fall or at home in the summer, I would often wake up feeling lost. The context of my life had changed overnight, and suddenly all of the people and landmarks around which I normally structured my day were gone. It was disorienting, but I adjusted after a while.
When I studied in Santa Fe during my junior year, the feeling was much stronger, and lasted for weeks. The landscape had a lot to do with this. I felt as though I had traveled to another planet. The land, the adobe houses, the dust all glowed bright red-brown, brilliant against the deep blue desert sky and scrubby, green-black clumps of junipers. The Sangre de Cristos loomed larger than any mountains I'd ever seen. It was beautiful, but so, so alien. I was used to being tucked between small, forested hills, a blanket of clouds overhead. Maple trees. Apple farms. Snow drifts. The Northeast. I was living with friends from school, but outside of our apartment, everything was unfamiliar.
I had a similar reaction to very different circumstances when we moved to Cambridge last fall. The landscape was not at all foreign. In fact, the move felt like a geographic homecoming, since my family has always vacationed in New England, and the landscape is similar here to that in rural New York.
We had some friends in the area, but the whole community I'd been a part of at college was gone. I went to work, I came home. My co-workers were friendly, but I still felt lost. And loss. It took a long time to get over the feeling. Months. Finally, I think I realized that I wasn't busy enough. I had shied away from commitments since moving in because I thought that what I wanted was extended, guilt-free leisure time. No homework hanging over my head. No evening meetings to go to. Unencumbered weekends. The dream that every college student dreams during finals week.
But sometime in the spring, I finally realized that all of that free time left me feeling empty. I needed commitments, I needed to be a part of more things. So I began new projects at work, and started taking yoga. Then I applied for grad school. Classes began last week. I'm busy now. Things are rushed, and the weekends are no longer entirely my own. I have papers to write, and sometimes it's overwhelming.
But all in all, I feel so much better. The more I do, the more connected I feel, like I'm rooting myself. Busy can mean happy. It's not just stress. It's thriving.
I'm sitting in the kitchen with the windows open, doing homework. (No, really. I am. Okay, I'm not reading this very second, but I will. In a minute.) The world outside looks beautiful--all bright sun reflecting off the dark green leaves on the honey locust and sugar maple in the yard. In the big brick apartment building across the street, someone is playing the trumpet. Some days, as we walk to the corner, we can also hear a pianist practicing there. There used to be a violinist living on the first floor of our building, too, but I think she moved out. Too bad; it was a nice to listen to while waiting for the elevator.
It's still technically summer, and it really feels it around here. So humid outside, and that flat, pressing buzz of cicadas hovering over the sidewalks. Just last night it felt like fall. I like this, the ever-changing weather. Some days we eat ice cream, other days we drink tea. It's time to start thinking about new, more serious things, like seminars and writing assignments and budget meetings, but I'm still caught up in the sensory joys of summer, and I think everyone else is, too. No one wants to sit inside all day.
On Labor Day, we took the ferry out to the Harbor Islands. What is it about islands that so capture our collective imagination? People love to go to islands. I guess it's the idea of being in a self-contained world, away from the everyday. Stephen and I looked out from the ferry at the many islands in the harbor and tried to choose one to live on. I think we settled on Great Brewster. Yes, I know this is impossible. But we would have a house built next to the hill, and some sheep, and a dog. And when people came to visit, they'd cross the harbor on a boat. We'd sit up on the hill and watch the sun set over the city.
I don't know where I've been for the past year, but somehow I managed not to visit the Boston Public Library until yesterday. That place is so nice! We went to see an exhibit of miniature books, which I was feeling a little skeptical about because the publicity poster showed an old, musty-looking book, and I was convinced that we'd be looking at a bunch of little Bibles. I was so wrong. The was a huge variety of books, from the complete works of Shakespeare in books smaller than a deck of cards, to a stamp-sized version of Edward Gorey's The Eclectic Abecedarium. The smallest book there was 0.9 mm square. Tiny!
In the next room over, there was an exhibit of posters from WWII, with slogans like, "America Needs Your Scrap Rubber," and "Save Waste Fats for Explosives". I was struck by how much the message of what constitutes patriotic consumerism has changed over time. These days (moreso right after 9/11, I think), buying a Hummer and eating a Big Mac means that we're not "letting the terrorists win". The posters we saw yesterday, by contrast, extolled the virtues of growing veggies in your Victory Garden (saving manufactured food for the troops) and traveling as slowly and as little as necessary (to reduce wear on rubber tires and to free up space on trains). What once was defined as patriotic would be considered decidedly less-so now; the values espoused in those old posters sound more like arguments for the modern-day environmental movement. Weird how values flip around like that.
Then we went out to the courtyard, which felt spectacular in the late afternoon sun with a cool September breeze blowing around. There were dozens of people sitting there reading the newspaper or typing on laptops. It looked like a great place to do schoolwork. I don't know if I'll ever make it out there to do work for grad school, but I'd like to. There were kids running around the fountain, but the scene was surprisingly quiet, cocooned as it was from the noise and bustle of Copley Square outside.
The BPL wasn't the only fantastic building we saw this weekend. On Friday, I went on a tour of MIT with Stephen and his brother. It was interesting to hear about the various pranks ("hacks") that students have pulled over the years, the history of the buildings, etc., but the whole point of the trip for me was to see Stata. We spent a good half hour there after the tour ended, running up and down the staircases and through the serpentine corridors, seeking out all of the little nooks and deciding where we'd like to have our offices. Creatively designed buildings like that really spark my imagination. I never want to be an architect--it's just not the kind of problem that I like to solve--but I love to be in well-designed spaces. It's unfortunate that interesting buildings are so rare. How often do we even notice the spaces we're in?