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.
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.