End of an era, end of a blog

Dear All,

I am in the final throws of the dissertation, having just secured my dream job in academia. I will defend on April 15th, graduate on May 15th and be off to Portugal for the summer as of June 22nd. This will be my last post on this blog, though I can’t say that I won’t pick up blogging again at some point in the future. Blogging from Canada might be fun!

Thank you for your readership and pardon the scarcity in posts. You all have been part of the supportive community I have been fortunate to have throughout the Ph.D. I feel very lucky.

With love and keep in touch with me in real life!

Ms.C

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Year Five of the Ph.D.

My how things have changed. Since the nearly three months that have elapsed since my last post, so much has happened. I’ll start with the logistical stuff because that’s easier to approach than matters of the heart. I’ve been in Washington since the 12th of August. To make a very long story short, my apartment was not ready when I got back here so Dad and I lived in two executive suites (aka studio apartments that are furnished and rent out long term) for a period of five days. We lived in them for free and eventually had to house my stuff in them because the UHaul had to go back and so did Dad, so at the end of the day it was just me and a lot of stuff sitting in two random apartments.

Finally, my new kitchen was installed in the new place and I got the keys. The good news of all of this is that they did not charge me a dime for the entirety of August and took off $500 of rent for September. That was a true blessing but honestly, given the insanity of the situation it seemed the minimum they could do. In the end, a couple of friends ended up helping me do an in-building move between the other two places and the new place, which was pretty quick and easy, making taking another 2-3 hours. They also helped me put my furniture together so that I had a bed to sleep on and a table to eat at. The last step in this crazy move was my brother’s visit with wife and baby. They took all the plastic bins with them as well as the moving blankets Dad had to leave given that he was forced to fly back to Ohio because Mom, Sis and kids cancelled their visit here, not wanting to be a part of a multi-day move. When those last items were gone, it felt pretty great. I have been doing some light decorating and organizing since then, putting pictures on the walls, thinking about where things will be housed, fixing and arranging to my heart’s content.

I started teaching this week, which has proven to be a lovely return to the classroom. I have about 24 students, 14 in one section and 10 in the other. I am reminded of how much I enjoy being in contact with students, and how vital it is in an otherwise lonely gig of writing and researching that characterizes the Ph.D. life. In other news, I’ve been chugging along at Chapter Three, which I hope to turn in a bit later than expected, on September 15th. Do not fret, dear friends. That still gives me plenty of time to write Chapter Four before the semester ends and to do my intro and conclusion over the break. I have to have a first final draft to them by Feb. 1st if I’m hoping to defend by April and graduate in May. I have a good feeling about it. The fire lit under my bum is burning bright. I’m ready for another phase in life, one that includes a bit more financial security. Five years is long enough, I dare say.

Having gone through all of the major plot points of the last few weeks here, I arrive at the stuff that is less easy to discuss. A few days now into month five of my separation and honestly, I’m still struggling. Five months after eight years is not long, I know. The daily crying sessions are now weekly, and sometimes late at night when I’m with friends or just peaceful with myself I feel (gasp) happy. But then there are anxious mornings, the random things that remind me of that 25% of my life that is no longer. Even if it was the right decision, which it was, it is still incredibly challenging. It’s a loss for sure, as is every change. The gain coupled with that loss is less clear at times. There are fleeting moments of realizing that gain, but it’s easy to question the benefits of the separation when the hard times sometimes feel worse than the hard ones inside the marriage. I’m not sure if that even makes any sense. With all of this stated, the general sense is that this is in fact the right path. Thank goodness. It will also inevitably get easier, which is great too. Each month feels better, has less rugged edges to it, seems to flow in and out in a more peaceful way. The morning anxiety is lessened to. We’re not jumping out of bed running to the hilltops singing, but a quick shower and a cup of coffee, then getting out of the door quickly can be actions that go a long way. Straggling seems to be the hardest thing at the moment. Action dulls the pain.

Anyway, that is enough for the moment. I wrote this post clearly as a procrastination tactic from my usual gig— err, writing my chapter. It was a good ploy but now duty calls.

With love and fondness,
Miss C

But somehow eight years marched on. With them, we grew up.

Pardon me for basically skipping an entire semester of blogging. I wish I could tell you that the return to Washington brought long-lasting joy and that the Swede and I had a lovely return. While we certainly enjoyed our transition back to the States, heck, if you read the last several posts on Brazil this will not come as a surprise, a long bout of unemployment coupled with some of the same issues I mentioned a few posts ago (OK two years ago) reared their ugly heads again in our relationship. This is all a long-winded way to say that after eight years, three continents and many homes together the Swede and I decided to separate in early April.

 

What to say about this separation? For those of you in the universe who know me in real life, you are aware that I am a hopeless romantic. Given this knowledge, you probably know that I am deeply shaken by this. Readers of my blog will also understand that despite a number of issues (cultural and otherwise) I was dedicated to, loved and stayed loyal to the Swede over many years. Despite a sense initial relief following a particularly stormy period, I am also cognizant of this massive loss. It is a huge one. The Swede’s companionship was literally a constant. This is especially true given that we were both students during our last 3.5 years.  We were always together, night and day, year after year. Because of said closeness, when he initially went back to Sweden (yes, that is whence he has returned) I starting chatting to myself a lot. I’m not sure if I was chatting to him, or if I was chatting to me, or to some specter of his presence. But I certainly carried on the conversation, despite his departure.

 

I’m not entirely sure what the future holds for us, a friendship or some variant thereof. But we have filed for legal separation in the state of DC, which feels very official and scary. Thank you to those readers who have seen me through some of the last weeks of his leaving; you know who you are. You were my rock. It’s funny because there is some statistic out there that says something like 80% of Ph.D. relationships end during the tenure of the program. It feels very cliché to see myself as part of that number, and reading online articles on the challenges of finding love within the career web of academia are not particularly good for the morale either. What I like to think about these days is how much we dedicated our lives to one another and saw each other through many trials during our marriage, certainly not in a one-sided manner. I think our separation has less to do with the stress of the program than more complex, longer standing reasons.

 

The point, my dear ones, is that I walk on with a sense of courage and peace despite my ailing heart. I am comforted in knowing that we tried it all and wanted each other so badly for so long. Few relationships could have overcome the challenges ours faced—cultural, economic, geographic, distance related and otherwise. But somehow eight years marched on. With them, we grew up. We loved each other in our broken, human ways. We gave and gave again. So now there is a sense of calm after our series of storms that eases me a bit,  like looking over a sheet of glassy water. I am calmed by the fact that few could have done what we did. And for that I am glad.

Simple needs (or life post Brazil)

Once again an absurd amount of time has elapsed since last blogging, but let’s not get stuck on that. Two months post my last blog and just over a month since leaving Brasília, the Bright of Fools and Brazil in general could not feel more distant. This could also be related to the fact that I am sitting in my in-laws house in the suburbs of Stockholm, finally ending my two year long stint away from Sweden. Honestly, it’s nice to be back. After spending our first three weeks post Brazil in Ohio, we are wrapping up the last three weeks before moving back to DC in Stockholm. As always Sweden serves as such a reflective place for me– a place marked by short days and long nights, a million candles, a hippity-hoppity language I was glad I had not forgotten, and long walks in the woods. I find a type of peace here that is unique to the Northern Lands, a quiet and a tranquility that could not be further removed from the hot and colorful intensity of Brazil. “She journeyed and it was good.”

 

What to say about life right now? I could go on a ramble about how lovely it feels to be back in the Western World, what we will miss from Brazil, where I situate my life as a newly christened 32 year-old in the grander scheme of things. But I won’t. Despite the constant contemplation which is Sweden, the truth is I’d like to write today about the logistics that feel so central to me. To be perfectly frank with you, dear friends, what I feel most presently is a deep desire for  my own place. I miss having my books and my own kitchen, my bed, and my clothes in one place. This living out of a suitcase for six weeks gig is rather draining, as you may imagine. I’m going to be perfectly frank with you. Since I left Brazil I have done little to no dissertating, have read maybe half a book, have put together one singular syllabus for the class I’m teaching next semester and have otherwise been pretty much in a daze of sorts. I feel severely displaced which is both calming in its release from reality, but also a complete and utter killer of motivation. I don’t feel like myself  and thus I haven’t really worked in weeks. Strange, huh?  Is it good, or bad? Not sure. It simply is.

 

Perhaps I needed a break after the intensity which was Brazil. Perhaps two chapters  of the diss. were enough. Perhaps I needn’t be so hard on myself given that I’ve been floating around from sofa bed, to sister’s house, to mattress on the floor, and back to aforementioned sofa bed. Interestingly despite all of the potential material I have to reflect upon, having travelled thousands upon thousands of miles this year and having experienced the world’s contrasts in all their poignancy, what I really miss is sleeping in my own bed. Strange.  It turns out that we are all simple creatures with simple needs. And I need my own sofa, my desk for working and some sense of stability.

 

So this end of the year post will not be one in which I speak of resolutions, or pacts with the devil or the Gods of Academia. I simply send out love and light to the world and thank you for your kinship. I appreciate your company on this journey. My intimate readership provides me a sense of grounding in their mere existence.

 

From a soon-to-be settled and (hopefully) back to normal,

Ms. C

 

 

Life at low-tide

Tomorrow marks the one-month date till we leave our little fishing village in the Northeast corner of Brazil and head back to Brasília, with the Swede flying out the next morning, the 20th of November, 2013. It’s hard to believe that more than two months have passed since my last blog post, and nearly three months since we chose happiness. These months have been spent quietly, writing and translating, gazing out the window and walking down to the little shops in our small town to buy milk, eggs, and bread, all of which they have intermittently. This town is a practice in patience, a place to reflect and contemplate, to sit and think. With all of those activities comes both revelations and a bit of boredom, with our internet proving to be the most intermittent thing of all, here for three hours then gone for three days. Luckily the Viking Hotel across the street has been welcoming to us two blondies, indulging our need for a steady table, chair and a consistent connection.

 

This is all to say that we feel very Western here. I guess we are programmed that way after growing up in Sweden and the United States. Lately a funny thing has been happening, however. We are starting to let the days stretch out like cats in the morning sun. We are getting used to not having what we want when we want it, we have started to enjoy simple pleasures like feeling the sea air on our necks and contemplating on the colors of the ocean from the balcony when the internet had been down for days. We walk more, we talk more, we play cards and spend just a little bit longer cooking up evening meals. Heck, what else is there to do? What I’m trying to say with all of this is that sometimes when we turn our ‘life off’ we end up turning on something else, something purer and more natural. We are forced to connect with unexpected new friends – be they villagers, fishermen, local kids working at the grocery store counter, 70+ year old Swedish vacationers, 80+ Italian retirees, or 50+ American expats who have renounced all that is Western in favor of a gorgeous view, a gusty sea wind and a pretty Brazilian lover. Beyond this hodgepodge of friends and acquaintances we have also been ‘forced’ to connect with each other. To have those needed conversations that Facebook and Gmail frequently hush or avert. Those ones that we save for tomorrow but never engage in. And they are had and cherished.

 

Sprinkled into this peaceful wave at low tide have been visits from an American, a Swede and an Austrian-American. We travelled the coast from Natal to Recife, stopping in a few small cities along the way. I also travelled back to Brasilia for what was probably the most incredible week of my stay here, at which point I shared my research with the other grantees and we all got to speak passionately and in an unbridled way about what we do- so rare in life. Passion is powerful stuff. It sticks to your ribs for a long time and can help you overcome a lot. The other grantees are incredible people- doing research in everything water treatment in the urban streets of Salvador, to NGO’s in Rio, to creative projects comparing African American and Afro-Brazilian art, to a girl from Ohio presenting her work on literary transnationalism in contemporary Brazilian lit :), to a woman measuring the circumference of women’s bellies in the Amazon to determine the health of infants. I was humbled and deeply affected by what I saw and felt in this group of scholars, gaining insight into Brazil, into my own work and a better understanding of regional complexities. Brazil is huge and diverse and is sooooo much more than Rio. Duh.

So 30 little days left here. It feels deeply bitter sweet. More sweet than bitter to be honest. I’m ready. Ready for what is to come, to be reunited with my family, friends and that lovely green Kitchenaid waiting for me in a box at home. I’m ready to set down a little deeper roots, to ponder what I’ve experienced instead of constantly battling the world around me, battling in the best sense of the word but battling nonetheless.

 

On that note, my dears, I wanted to thank you for reading. I have noticed that many of you have been much less active on your blogs, that one of you stopped blogging all together. I fully understand both decisions- heck it was me who last posted two months ago. With that said, I’d like to thank you for your readership. This blog will go all the way until this journey has come to a close and I am Dr.C. It will be as intermittent and sparse as life allows but continues to be something I cherish.

 

Affectionately,

Ms.C

Retroactive peacefulness…

Good morning, friends.

 

Firstly, I’d like to thank you for following me, my tiny readership, on this Ph.D. journey. It’s been a bumpy ride, most of which I don’t get a chance to elaborate on in these posts because they end up happening on average less than once a month. But I appreciate your random comments and emails. This blog, unlike my last, is really meant as a communication (venting), and documentation space more than a public display. My last blog got hits in the triple digits; I published it on FB, sent links to friends and family, got lots of comments, etc. Given the nature of academia, this one is a word of mouth blog and has maybe a readership of 10. I’m kind of okay with that. I started it in the fall of 2010 and will likely end it in the spring of 2015, when I finish this journey. Maybe I’ll go more ‘public’ thereafter when I have a ‘real’ (non-student life) again. Maybe I’ll document future children, or a new house, or a new city. I’m not sure yet. But for now, I like things the way they are. I can share and be private at the same time, if that makes any sense.

 

As the numbers reflect, I’m entering into the fourth year of the doctorate this fall. At the town of G their semester starts later this month. These last three years have tested me in so many ways- intellectually, emotionally, financially. While one does a Ph.D. it turns out that people’s lives roll on as always- babies are born, houses are bought and sold, moves around the country (and world) are made. Although I deeply enjoy what I do (which is basically get paid a meager stipend to research literature and teach), as I transition into my early thirties and am STILL a grad student, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard. For the last two(ish) years, the Swede has also been wrapping up a degree along side me, living also on stipends and scholarships. We’ve been very fortunate to have supportive families and have been very creative with money, but let’s face it; it’s been a challenge on us and our marriage. We stuck it out and he’ll be done this December (can I get a holla!!!! Graduation party in January? Hell yeah!) and will be back working the same month. I’ll be done at the very latest 18 months later in May of 2015. Yes, these milestones are on the horizon and we have to think long term, but I’m also turning 32 this December and there are times in which I look in the mirror and think, ‘will this ever end?’

 

Our move to Brasília was by far the most challenging thing we’ve done as a married couple and also the hardest thing I’ve done since the Ph.D. started. The city was expensive, hard to navigate, isolating… did I mention expensive? Uniting our stipends and money helped matters a bit, but throw in a touch of travel to surrounding areas, the coast and a conference in Buenos Aires and we had exhausted all of our funds by the time we got back to Brasília from Uruguay. There are few things in life worse than being broke in a foreign country. Maybe being in danger and broke? No, we were never in danger or even close to it. Luckily I’m getting paid here in August a pretty substantial chunk of change, and he gets a payment in September, then I get my last one in October. This is all to say, yes, it’s under control. But what really helps is the fact that we now pay $325 a month for a house literally 3 blocks from the beach. Yes. $325 dollars. All of the sudden our budget has loosened up significantly. It feels good to be able to breathe easy now for a while…(exhale).

 

To complicate matters, leaving Brasília was also challenging. My advisor there was cold (indicating lack of approval), we were afraid to offend people and there was a certain amount of gossip that arose amongst the student population after I left. Nothing like two foreigners departing your city to create a buzz and some bitterness. I’ve realized one thing about gossip. You should never be privy to it. No matter how curious you may be, never ask. It doesn’t do you any good and tends to linger around in your head, even after you are a non-existent topic. For that matter, I’ve also come to learn throughout the years that participating in gossip is also for the birds. People always remember those who steer away from participating in gossip and have the courage and dignity to desist. Gossip is like a huge snowball; it often starts small but then spirals out of control quickly when generated in groups. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2014 will be to not participate in gossip (or try my darndest to be aware of when I may be letting it creep in).

 

But what wasn’t as challenging was coming here. It’s been such a blissful arrival. The air here is sea air, we have a HOUSE for the first time in seven-year stint together. We have sunshine, space and peace. I’m getting my work done in peace, recently met a Brazilian author for a two hour interview in a city nearby, we have a pool right outside our house which we share with two other people and we are in a safe, “gated community” (as much as I dislike that term- pile on the cheese). Everything is cheap here, the food, the public transport (which is close and frequent, albeit crowded). People are nicer here, more peaceful and joke with us. We like that. I have a long-term friend close by who has helped us a great deal. Our last four months will be spent in a way that our first five never could be. In peace. With Brazil, with ourselves, with the journey we are on together. I informed my advisors at the town of g (of course there was a little fear about the reactions to the move from them) and the first comment was, “sounds great!” Yep, it is pretty much just that. Great. Maybe all those years of fighting for every inch, for every dime, for every moment of solitude during the Ph.D., are being paid back to me retroactively here in Paraíba, one walk on the beach at a time.

 

So this is all to say the obvious. If you have a choice, CHOOSE happy. Everything else will fall in line, people will forget about you as yesterday’s gossip, your heart will thank you for it a thousand times over. Be rational, be calculative, weigh your risks and don’t be impulsive. But if the risks are low and you have a choice, don’t choose status-quo, don’t choose fear, CHOOSE happy. No one else will do it for you.

 

With a sprinkle of happiness thrown your way,

Miss C

An ode to the big red organ whispering sweet nothings to you daily…

Ten days ago we left for Argentina. We left having made a big decision about our future in Brazil, that after five months we’d put in the good fight and that when we returned we’d spend the final part of the grant in a coastal city where I have a friend I met many moons ago in Germany. Part of me felt a bit defeated- had I really let Brasília get to me? Had I really let it win? When I arrived here I was utterly determined to spend all of my nine months in what I knew would be a strange capital, dedicated to the university, to the research group, to my advisor, at all costs. I had won a prestigious grant to spend time here and here I should stay put. Like one of the cement buildings this place is so known for. Steadfast. Determined. Then five months past and despite my best efforts, things kept being difficult. I made a handful of friends at university, but only one true friend. I audited a course. I took a Portuguese class. I went to conferences. I met expats. Something about this place just wasn’t working. On Mondays I had the  class I audited and during the other 6 days of the week, I usually spent at least 5 of them working solitarily. By myself. The Swede worked in one area of the apartment, and I worked in the other. This set-up did produce a pretty nice first chapter, submitted and now being revised, hell, I’ve even made a dent in the second– but I kept thinking… did I fly half-way across the world and give up a solid and structured life for this? To sit by myself for 5 days a week? You see, I’m generally very social and in my nearly 32 years have never found it so difficult to meet people, maintain contact with said people and eventually arrive at some sort of friendship. What was I doing so terribly wrong? Was it Brasília? Was it Brazil? Was it me? In the end, I stopped questioning myself and started listening to myself. To that big red organ that provides a compass for us and beats intensely in our chest to remind us that we are alive. It turns out that I am very much alive and that this place was making me feel otherwise.

So tomorrow friends, we make the move. My advisor here ‘understands’ and more importantly the Bright of Fulls has wholeheartedly approved the transition. I’m scared and filled with trepidation but the thought of staying here another 4 months in the only thing worse than those fears. So our bags are packed and we are off yet again, on this, the final journey of these 9 months, with less than four to go.

To end this post on a more chipper note, our trip was absolutely lovely and absolutely what the doctor ordered. It was filled with gorgeous food, people, architecture, culture, conversations, oh, did I mention the people? I realized that no matter how hard I try my Portuguese will never compete with my Spanish.  I guess a 17-year love affair can never be topped by a fling. So, if I learned one solitary lesson on the shores of Montevideo or in the coffee shops of Buenos Aires, beyond that I need people in my life, it is that I want to be a Spanish Professor who dabbles in Portuguese, and not the other way around. I’d love to teach a few intro language courses in Port, maybe a Brazilian lit course or two, but beyond that, I’m just fine thanks. So it turns out that in life sometimes you have to choose your health over your career, learn how to keep it simple and never mess with a good thing.

In friendship,

Ms. C