I. More meditations on the “abroad” & acclimations to the non-norm.
I had been looking forward to marking this blog’s first birthday, which actually occurred almost a week ago now. I thought I would go back to that first post and find several of the resolutions I thought I remembered posting, and perhaps make this post an update on how well I accomplished, or did not accomplish, the goals I set for myself a year ago. Imagine my surprise as I read that first post and found no talk of resolutions, apart from my vague, fear-filled hopes that my time abroad would not be so painful to me that I would regret it. After searching through several pages of this blog, I found the post I thought I had remembered posting in January. I had posted it in May.
This is telling –– in many ways, if feels as though 2018 was two different years: the “year” I was in Amsterdam and the “year” I was home. It’s hard to believe that a third of my 2018 occurred overseas, that it’s been less than a year since I went abroad. My mind (like many others’) has a habit of making situations temporarily “natural” and “bearable,” even if I look back afterward and think that I could not have conceptualized myself going through it. The situations I’m referring to aren’t even “bad” ones, per se: when I sit at my desk now, I struggle to imagine waking up, walking through a city whose signs were all in Dutch to the office where I had classes, making coffee for our student cohort, etc.
While I was there, this process became so natural that half the time, I would wake up, dress, walk to the building, and be mid-way through the coffee ritual before my mind awoke to what I was doing. I grew accustomed to listening to morning news podcasts (such as The Daily, which releases at 6:00am EST) at lunchtime. I got used to my professors’ accents, their speaking to each other in a language of which I only understood snippets. This became normal. In many ways, I could not imagine being home. Then, within a day of being back home, I could not imagine being “there”. As it turned out, my doing well (however that’s measured!) abroad didn’t have as much to do with some verbal commitment to it, it had more to do with my ability to homeify / normalize a once-different environment.
With that in mind, I understand my unconscious reasoning for saying little about resolutions in the traditional sense. My time abroad necessarily took place “outside” normal life, not only in a physical way (being outside the borders of the territory that calls me its citizen) but also in a temporal and emotional way: my communication with loved ones back home lessened, I was literally “in a different time” than the life I had had; and, at least at first, it was necessary to abandon some things I took for granted (staying up late, more than a few pages of pleasure-reading per night) because I was using every spoon and more to lull my brain into the homeifying process. I needed to maintain a perfect sense of control, as if I were lowering myself into a hot pool, refusing the pull of gravity into its steaming waters, instead letting myself inch-by-inch. Acclimation. That’s the word.
II. (Get[ting] through this year) if it kills me.
This year is different from the last, as I first suggested in that post from May. I made it just five days before returning home, with the understanding that now I was moving back into a body of water whose temperature precisely matched my body’s; water I could not feel. Here I laid out my “resolutions”, not just for the year but for the next several years, or even for my whole life. I will list them now:
- publish or be in the process of publishing a small, complete “something” (chapbook, short novel, etc.) by the time I graduate from Mount Holyoke.
- not speak erroneously, for the sake of speaking, in class
- & acclimate to the “waters” of silence.
- resist the forces that compel me to try to commodify everything I wrote.
How did I do?
- I have made immense progress on my primary, large writing project. I have done this by employing a technique that never seems to fail me when it comes to writing, studying, reading something long or dense, etc: doing a little bit every day. Even a sentence, even a page; sometimes far more. The complete book (or completed reading challenge, or whatever else) will become in time if one works every day. There is a sense of comfort in this.
- Will it be “out” by the time I graduate? I hope so, but I think a more important goal here is that I remain relentless and do my best writing and revising work every single day, no matter what.
- This resolution was a curious one, because I’ve simultaneously fulfilled it and not fulfilled it. I have trained myself to sit in silence when I have nothing valuable to say; to attempt to read the room and figure out when I have spoken too much and to give seconds of pause for others to gather their own thoughts.* But in no small part due to a class I took last semester, on writing & re-remembering (re-visioning**) painful memories as a mode of confrontation and reclamation, I’ve revealed more of myself to people on a personal level. I can’t say I’m happy with how the latter turned out, although this process of revealing-self was helpful in the quality of work I produced in the class. All that said, I strongly prefer being private and self-contained with the most personal element of my life.
- If anything, this last one has gotten worse, and will likely continue to get worse as I publish more things. However, I’ve also begun saving the poems, stories, etc. that will likely never see the light of day, and accept that as a way in which I process the things I experience, and not just a means to getting more recognition as a “writer.” This is the “resolution” I fulfilled the least in the last several months, and the one that most needs to roll over into this year.
This May, after it’s truly been a whole year since I made my last resolutions post, I may (ha) post a similar one in which I outline my 2019 resolutions. It’s a bit of a strange time to post them, but given that the yoga equipment Target sets out for the first two weeks of the year promptly returns to its back-of-store shelves after two weeks, I take comfort in the fact that no one, not even our corporate overlords, take January resolutions seriously.
*and many arguments (including those made by Margaret Price in her book Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life) suggest that the classroom structure of rapid question-and-answer produces a participatory environment wherein students of very specific abilities thrive, while creating a positive feedback loop in which disabled students cannot participate, therefore cannot ask questions when needed, therefore fall behind on material, therefore cannot participate…etc. I tend to agree)
** I owe this idea to Adrienne Rich, as she discusses in When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision (1972) [x] in particular here:
“Re-vision –– the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old
text from a new critical direction-is for us more than a chapter in cultural history:
it is an act of survival. Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are
drenched we cannot know ourselves.”