Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Moving Possibilities -- Some Thoughts on Transition . . .

"Dismantling" is the word I seem to keep using this week. Emptying drawers, sorting their contents into boxes that will be stored, bins that will be carted to the local thrift store as donations, or big green garbage bags destined for the dumpster: even as I recognise that I'm merely moving from one place, situation, and lifestyle to another, the transition feels as if I'm taking apart a life, my life. I know, I know. This dismantling will free space for exciting new possibilities.  There will be new vistas to survey, new rooms to decorate, new friends to make, new streets to run, new schedules to build around new activities. I'm looking forward to getting on with all of that, and I expect to be nestled comfortably with a morning cuppa six or eight months from now in new surroundings, planning a happy day in my urban 'hood.
Garden photos have nothing, really, to do with the subject of my post, but they gave me pleasure in the moment of shutter-clicking, and I thought they'd offer a respite between the words. . . .I also imagining being able to look back and enjoy them here as I reread this post a year or two from now and compare how Future Me feels about This Me. ;-)

As liberating as this move might potentially be, though, my body seems terrified, refusing, in a classic fight-or-flight response, to relax into sleep, waking throughout the night, heart pounding, pulse racing. Even when I do sleep through for a full six hours, as I did last night (and oh, I wish for just one more, seven hours in a row would be such a treat!), I wake to find my shoulders practically cupping my ears, the anatomical challenge having wreaked havoc on my neck.

In fact, when I wrote of tears the other day, interpreting them roughly as a sign of sadness, I suspect they flowed more in an attempt at release. My system keens a warning at being torqued too tightly; the tears are merely a pressure valve cocked open just enough.  So I'm breaking regularly to walk in the garden with my camera, and I'm running and I'm taking reading breaks, and today I'll have lunch with a friend, and I've only one episode left of Happy Valley, which I highly recommend.

But I'm also stopping to process some of what I'm feeling, and I caught a moment yesterday morning that I thought I'd try to capture here. Another way to release rather than holding in the anxiety. . . . And maybe I'll learn something about myself. . .

That moment involved my ripping the pages from a stack of coil-wired notebooks so that the used paper could go into the Paper Recycling Bag without the contaminating wire coils, which I plunked into the Big Black Bag for All Manner of Garbage. Even that moment reveals something about me, something that might make my husband roll his eyes, even as he might admire or, at least, respect my scrupulous triage.  I'm nearly constitutionally incapable of chucking the whole batch into either of those bags, and that incapability means I take much longer processing every item I sort.

Yesterday morning, though, the twenty minutes I took separating paper from wire gave me time to meditate a bit on why I'd hesitated to dispatch the notebooks at all and why I'd finally done so. After all, they represented nearly a year of my life, the year that I studied for my comprehensive exams before embarking on my doctoral dissertation. Summaries of novels, of poems, of literary criticism, of psychoanalytic theory, all written in a hand easily identifiable as my own, even if dating from 17 or 18 years ago.

Some doctoral candidates (perhaps the majority these days), studying their way through the long lists of titles in preparation for field exams, choose to make notes on their computers. As a fast keyboard typist (100+ wpm on electric, 60+ on manual, once upon a time), I might have gone that route, but laptops were still an indulgence at the time, notebooks not yet available, and a prof on my committee pointed out the portability of paper, the flexibility it offered to break up my days of reading and note-taking by moving to the beach occasionally, or to a cafe, or even just to a different room in the house. So I bought a stack of coil-ringed, lined, notebooks, and some indexing tabs, and began writing. There was something pleasingly tangible about seeing the pages fill with the record of my reading and thinking.
I'm so crazy about this clematis, Guernsey Cream. She's a splendidly enthusiastic bloomer, clambering happily up the arbutus tree and  working her way this year across and over the pergola. Her blooms open green, then bleach to the most sumptuous white -- delicious!

In the years since, I've referred regularly to several of the notebooks when preparing lectures, and at some level it's been reassuring to know that I could refresh some of my knowledge about, say, psychoanalytic theory or theories of mourning or the history of elegies. . . Reassuring enough that I wasn't ready to throw the notes out when I emptied my office last year. Since then? Haven't once been tempted to riffle through those pages.  And while I can still envision one or two situations when I might be able to scratch an intellectual itch of frustrated memory -- What was it Lacan said about that? or Didn't Cixous write about this? Where is that brilliant quotation I can only remember three key words of? -- it becomes increasingly obvious those occasions will be few and far between, and if I have to let the itch go unscratched or spend a few hours researching online, well, I'll have enjoyed at least an extra square foot of shelf space in the meantime. . .

I brought the stack of notebooks home from my office last June in a snap-lock see-through plastic storage box. When I sorted my home office files, purged the book shelves, cleared out old records a few months ago in preparation for this move, I was tempted to let them go but didn't yet trust my instincts, suspecting a contagion of clearing-out I might later regret. But last week, when I began filling the cardboard box I'd assembled, I didn't automatically pack the notebooks. Nor could I bring myself to throw them out. Instead, I moved them to another room, still in the plastic box, and put off the decision.

Until yesterday morning. When, as I began ripping, I used the time and the physical activity and the sight of those pages and pages covered with handwriting in various shades of ink being torn, used all of that to recognise that what I was letting go of wasn't the pages themselves nor the scholarship they represented nor the teaching they'd supported. What I was really letting go of was any pretense that I was someone who cared deeply about any of those quiddities. . . I engaged wholeheartedly with literature and ideas in my field during my undergraduate, then graduate, years, as a mature student. I was a passionate and committed teacher and managed to maintain research enough to support that teaching and stay current the last decade. But I don't miss that part of my "intellectual life" enough to make room for it in this next move.

The decision, then, has repercussions for my understanding of myself, as I was, as I am now, as I might be. All sorts of elements of that epiphany remain to be parsed, and I won't try to do that today. I offer up the recognition mainly as an example of the kind of work that this move entails. Those notebooks joined a jumble of discarded contents in a big green plastic bag, and they were not the only items that demanded an emotional price be paid.  My shoulders cradle my ears for a reason; my neck verges on spasm with a tension that promises to propel me into new possibilities, if only I can gentle and guide that tension. . .

Hence the flowers, the garden walks, the lunch today with a friend. But also the writing, the attempt to explain. . . The writing that shows me, as I try to round off this post, that the verb I began this post with, "to dismantle," appears in my opening paragraph as a verb with negative connotations. But writing the post, I set down my awareness that I was no longer pretending to a role I've moved out of. I've removed that mantle, uncloaked myself. Dis-mantling. It's a good thing, right? All the cool kids are doing it? Transitions 'r' us. Celebrate the liminal!

Thank you for your patience, if you've made it this far. I do appreciate your company these days.


35 comments:

  1. Thank you for this lovely post — and the tulips, as well. I was just admiring almost that exact combination of soft pink and deep purple in a neighborhood garden (in my very urban world). Giving yourself the time and space to parse out the messages sent by middle-of-the-night wakings, tense shoulders, tears...—this seems admirable to me. I'm at another end of that journey, having just finished my doctoral program (as an older student), and as I catch up on grading, housework, course planning, and also look for work, I'm trying to remind myself to sit in the space of this completion, of at least one phase of this particular—not journey, exactly—well something. All these dashes—a sign of my disjointed thoughts about all of this! Mostly, I wanted to thank you for your your example, for sharing your willingness to dig a little. Be well.

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    1. You're very welcome, Sarah, and thank you! Congratulations on finishing your doc! It's such an achievement, and, as I remember it at least (and I only completed 11 years ago -- I was a very mature student!) a huge relief. For at least a year after, there would be moments when I'd realise all over again that I was done, that I'd defended, that I didn't have to submit to all the things a candidate has to submit to, and I could feel the smile and relaxation spread. Do "sit in the space of this completion" -- it's wise of you to think that; now just make sure you do it! So much pressure to worry about what comes next, but Sit and Savour sometimes as well. . .

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  2. Mater, I do think you are on to something there with your epiphany, I can see myself using your thinking to help me purge further!

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    1. I suspect you've done quite a bit over the years, Patricia, with the many career-related moves your husband has had to make. But if you haven't done it since the kids have left home, there may be room to KondoMar even more! (although I have some serious reservations about that program!)

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  3. Mater- you have such a post-doc following...

    What your very open posting brought to my mind was thoughts of seasons. Time for a change of light, time for the leaves to fall. Not going to extend the analogy to the point of triteness but sometimes that which was once so important can be waved goodbye with barely a pang, life having moved on to a new and satisfying phase.

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    1. Isn't it interesting how that has happened, Ceri in B. I wonder if it's because those of us who took on the doc a bit later in life get frustrated with the academic world's apparent exclusion of so many things that matter to us on a quotidian basis. . .
      I think there's something to your idea of seasons. Certainly, there are times when it's foolish to ignore harbingers of, and invitations to, change. . . (of course, the darker side of seasons is that, realistically, I'm moving rather too close to Winter, on a linear sketch, rather than a cyclical one, of the Year. . . ;-)

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    2. Winter will come but before then there will be a glorious Autumn after an Indian summer.

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  4. I could identify with this
    I've dismantled my life a couple of times.
    The heart is torn apart.....but than you make lemonade from the lemons life gives you and everything is whole again. And good.
    Dottoressa

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    1. Yes, I suspect many readers will have dismantled their lives, some more drastically than others, and it can "tear apart the heart." Some of you will have made lemonade. I wonder if everything does become whole again, though. I know there are some losses from which one never recovers -- moving house doesn't qualify, at least not on the scale of my move. . .

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  5. When you shed your cloak you stand naked for a bit...scary but good, I think.

    Hang in there!

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    1. Ah, true! And it is scary. But I agree -- in the long run, I think it will be good. Good and bad, maybe, and that's okay. Or even, that's good. . . if that makes sense. Thanks!

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  6. So very thoughtful. Always, so very thoughtful.

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  7. Happy Valley? Now? While you're all angsty? Heh. Well, I suppose it's good for a kind of "at least my life isn't THAT bad" view. I'm very good at moving things from one room to another until I make up my mind. I'm closet-cleaning, I'm a wreck. I'm afraid I'll throw away things I love only because I'm in an odd mood. So I'm watching more murder shows to feel better. Hang in there.

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    1. Yeah, was there ever a more ironic title? Not sure why this tends to be my escape genre of choice, in reading as well. . .

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  8. God, Frances, I'm not sure what is more beautiful: the lovely images from your booming garden or your prose in this post. I hope the dismantling of those notebooks and the walks and the writing help to ease some of the stress and get you a solid seven hours of sleep for at least a few nights.

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    1. Such kind words to wake up to -- after, get this! eight solid hours last night!! I couldn't believe it, and I suspect it had to do with yesterday's physio visit when needles were stuck all over me -- IMS for a tender knee (knotted quads, ITB, etc., torquing all the supporting /surrounding soft tissues of the knee, not the joint itself) and then a 5-minute acupuncture session that could have been illustrated by those cartoon arcing electric sparks -- awesome!). Curious to know about your own comps-prep notebooks, or are your notes all electronic?

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    2. Physio, acupuncture, massage all sound so nice right now.

      I preferred handwriting my notes in seminars and at talks, but I took most of my notes on books read for my comps reading lists on my laptop. What I ended up doing was creating a binder for each of my subfields. My problem now is that I continue to blend systems but in less efficient ways for my note-taking for research projects and for the classes I teach. I need to investigate a few of the note taking software programs out there.

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  9. A move is not just about the stuff, it's about identity and re-assessing one's place in the world. I too wrestled with the career-related books and papers. (A friend still in thick of her career took nearly all the books, and I packed several banker's boxes of work, which remain untouched after 5 years.)

    It really was about clinging to an identity, and also not knowing what the new identity would be.

    Dear ma! May your sleeplessness and anxiety be like a tide, sweeping you out, in preparation to carry you to another beautiful place.

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    1. So true. The not knowing can be seductive, all sorts of possibilities and freedom one imagines when these big moves are still only future dreams, but as we move right into them, it's so tempting to cling to the known.
      Thanks for encouraging, and for reminding me that others have done this and it's not only manageable but will lead to good places.

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  10. I love the double meaning of "dismantling" that you've uncovered (pun intended, of course) here.

    Your post made me think of this post I recently came across by another Canadian blogger:
    http://seenandsaid.blogspot.com/2016/03/the-slow-thaw-and-spring-clean.html
    Maybe you find some resonance there?
    Her formulation of "I have fantasies about getting to a place where every single thing in my apartment has essential and present-tense meaning or utility" is simultaneously so attractive and so scary to me.

    I've been thinking of what I've been doing as "deaccessioning," as if I were some librarian or curator (in the pre-Pinterest sense) of quotidian stuff. So there's a sense of passing along the things that no longer have a place in the Permanent Collection, while also wanting to do right by the objects. (I, too, would devote a whole morning -- and have done -- to ripping the pages of spiral-bound notebooks away from their metal coils.)

    Surely my own efforts are not as emotionally fraught as yours, since I don't have that added element of moving house and moving into a different phase of life as well. Still, some things are much more difficult to get rid of than they ought to be. I have files full of clippings and such having to do with articles I wrote years ago, and articles I never did actually manage to write years ago. I tell myself that getting rid of old ideas makes room for new ones (and I do believe this, there goes my woo-woo again), and yet bringing myself to actually do it is sometimes a different story....

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    1. Yes, that post is very resonant, and now I've added a new blog to my feed -- thank you!
      Throwing out research files, notes for articles and presentations was tough, although not as tough as tossing old letters or little notes the kids wrote when they were 7 or 8 (Yeah, I'll 'fess up, most of the latter survived this purge and will survive the next as well -- Permanent Collection!).
      I think you're wise to keep editing, culling, with no move in the horizon. I hadn't been able to make time for much over the last 15 years or so -- doing so would have made this much simpler. I do think that getting rid of the old ideas leaves room for the new ones -- I suspect you'll get there!

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  11. In the future many will not have this problem. They will back up their computers regularly and keep all the memories of a career. We are from a time when much was hand written. I can feel your pain as you rip those spirals out but it's a good time to dismantle . I'm sure your new declutterred life will please you when you arrive. But for now keep smelling the roses as they say. Love the Guernsey clematis from our sister isle. B xx

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    1. It's true, Barb, although the digital formats have their limits as well -- I chucked some VHS videos my brother-in-law made, perhaps 20 years ago, transferring old family 8mm movies -- we no longer use a video machine, and hadn't viewed those for at least a decade. Even the CDs compiling years' worth of photographs -- I doubt my next computer will have a CD player. . . But I know young moms who scan the pages their little artists bring home from school and toss the original to maintain a minimalist home environment. Smart if the technology persists in a consistent form. . .
      Now I'm wondering if there's a Jersey-named clematis as well. . . ;-)

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  12. From a fellow word lover, I appreciate what you've done with 'dismantle'. Uncloaking - what a great picture that brings to me of removing something. The word brings to me a feeling of lightness, of casting off something that is no longer necessary as summer approaches, of revealing one's true self, of freedom to move. I'll be thinking about this.
    The lovely tulips in your garden make a beautiful accompaniment to your words.

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    1. Yes, once that frightening moment of public nudity has passed -- (see Georgia, above! ;-)

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  13. When I look up from my desk I can see 5 metres of shelving covered with books about Peruvian history, from pre-colonial times to the end of the 20th century, agrarian reform, peasant movements, indigenous protests etc. etc. Most of these book were written in the 70s, and - to tell the truth - I haven't touched a single one of them for more than 20 years. They represent a very important stage in my life, but I know it's over. It is most unlikely I will ever move back to that subject. In fact, I don't feel very inclined to move back anywhere. I want to use the time left to me to learn and do new things.
    Well, that's what I am saying now while I am still living in my run-down but spacious apartment and looking at my wall of books. I know that within a year or two I will move to a much smaller place and many decisions will have to be taken. And your post helped me understand why I always shudder at the idea of getting rid of those books. It will be the material proof that I stopped (long ago) to be a scholar on the subject of Peruvian Social History. I have known this for a long time, but the books helped me to maintain the illusion.
    Commenting on a comment of yours - I do not wish to put in doubt the wonders done by acupuncture, but could it be possible that you night's sleep was also improved by your own post? That is, by the insights you reached while ripping up your notebooks?

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    1. This is so exactly what I'm talking about, Eleonore. I'm afraid I wasn't quite as brave about my books, but I tried to do some honest culling at this stage. Far too many anthologies are coming along under the pretense that I will finally refresh my acquaintance with Milton, reread Wordsworth's Prelude, spend some time with Yeats. Alas, I suspect I'll be off on my bike somewhere instead, camera and picnic lunch in the basket. . . But the illusion, those books on my shelves. . . sadly, our new home, when we find it, is not likely to be rundown but neither will it be spacious (a tradeoff we would probably be happy to make but which is unlikely in the market). . . .so many of the books will need to go, and before too long. And I may surprise myself by finding that I'm relieved not to bear their reproach any longer rather than bereft that I've lost their false corroboration.
      I do like your observation that my sleep might result as much from my writing as from the acupuncture.

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  14. There was a phase of life when all those intellectual trappings were comforting and validating, but I agree, we move beyond it. But those spiral bound pads can be hard to rip. There's a knack. You have forewarned me about the physical reaction to come when I go through the stage you're at just now.
    Your Guernsey Cream is sublime (mine still in green bud. I never did get that shot I promised). Going back to your previous post, I see you getting on with Monty Don. Presenter of BBC Gardener's World. Writes gardening books that read as novels. Open about his history of depression. Much given to shabby linen shirts and French bleu de travail jackets. Radiates enthusiasm for growing things. At the start of a new season of GW a female journalist admitted that like the rest of the nation's women she was realising "the erotic potential of Monty Don." If you weren't in packing mode I would send you a copy of his "Jewel Garden".

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    1. Somehow, when you say "we move beyond it,"I feel even more positive about throwing the notebooks out. Better even that "letting them go." There's a thrust, a forward momentum there that I hope I can take advantage of -- thank you!
      And I think that's so generous of you, to think of sending me a book, one that sounds perfect for me -- perhaps I'll enjoy armchair gardening just as well as having my own, and I won't have dirty nails nor aching joints! ;-)

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  15. Oh, I have a definite parallel to this. My husband and I carted our field exam preparation and dissertation sources and notes around for years. The boxes were stalwarts in our attics in at least three homes. The last time we moved we "accidentally" left them in a corner of the attic for the new owners to find. We thought it really was accidental, but when the new owners called us about the boxes somehow we did not need or want them. I find the same thing with old class notes -- I never use them (even when I should), but it's hard to let that work go too. Not sure why....all the hard work? A picture of my thoughts at the time? My goal this summer is to clean out my university office so we will see.
    I also find it hard to sleep during life changing events especially ones that bring up intense memories, and then the more I worry about sleep the less I sleep. Give yourself time.
    Lynn

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    1. That's a great story, and really a lovely way to let go . . . incrementally. By the time you realised they were missing, and you could calculate the effort required to retrieve them, their current worth to you became crystal clear. Better than the hems and haws I had to do in my own home, deliberating over the top of a garbage bing. . . Such a good job to clean up the office at work ahead of time. I left mine too late, and ended up bringing stuff home to think about when much could have been foisted on others on campus.
      Yes, that worry=lost-sleep=more worry=even more lost sleep, horrid cycle. I have alternated the last four nights, with two good nights balancing the two bad. . . Tonight's the test, and I'd love to know I've put sleepless behind me. We shall see. . .

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  16. Beautiful photos, framing and casting light on beautiful, yes beautiful words. As I read about the dismembering of notebooks, I recalled myself doing that same thing, and a flood of emotion followed, memory resurrected.

    I too had notebooks, still do write on paper when I want to study or remember something. I realized when I let go of those pages that yes, I was letting go of a part of myself that was no longer important, but even more, it was not the paper and the imprint of words on that paper that I needed to save. It seems to me that the process of writing, of melding my thoughts with the actions of my hands and the ink on the pages forms neural connections that typing can never duplicate. Those notebooks are still a part of my neural pathways, my memories, my way of thinking, myself. The important parts of yourself that those notebooks helped you discover are still there, but I think you are finding your path.

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    1. I think you're onto something very significant here, Mardel -- I do believe (and I think there's science to back us up) that the kinaesthetic part of writing brings words, ideas, knowledges into our bodies and, thus, our brains, even our minds beyond and throughout those brains. At some point, my neurological impulses that directed my inscribing fingers must have been inscribed, however ephemerally, however bio-chemically, in me. I might not be able to turn to those pages anymore, but they have left their mark somehow. And now, as Linda says, above, I'm moving beyond them. . . Again, thanks, I do love thinking through this stuff with all of you!

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  17. We have just put our house on the market with much mumbling and fudging about "dipping a toe in the water" " testing the market" and other ways of making us feel we are just playing at it. I am a person who thrives on change and I suspect that I am the driver of this although I have tried very hard indeed to give my husband the space to make his own feelings clear. He is a strong personality and has not taken any opportunity to say no, which he would do I believe, so I am stoppping thinking about that and just going with it. But the business of getting rid of things will be very hard for him. I am a chucker. He is a hoarder. He keeps going out to the workshop for a sort out and coming in for the bathroom...

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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