Getting going today was a lot like being The Little Engine That Could. I did not sleep well last night and woke up feeling very sick. I think perhaps I’m suffering from post nasal drip (also known as--I just learned--Upper Airway Cough Syndrome. I definitely didn’t cough at any point today). I’ve never had good sinuses, and the pollen count in my area has been rather high of late. Whatever the reason, my stomach felt sour. As a result of all of this, I had no desire to get to work as soon as I woke up. Feeling run down as I did, I began thinking that I couldn’t work today. But, as I have been doing, I forced myself to do so.
My approach was to take things slowly. I slept longer than I normally I do. I took care of a few mundane things and read a few news items before beginning my free write about process around 09:00. I wrote unhurriedly. I wrote about how I was feeling physically and mentally. This revealed quite a bit of non-dissertation related stuff that was whirling around in my mind that I needed to process. I then had a simple but tasty breakfast of waffles and an orange. I treated myself to a bath. Little by little, telling myself I couldn’t work today became I think I can work today.
I didn’t feel like being alone with my thoughts, so I called a work buddy who I knew could also use some company. We went to Barnes and Noble. I treated myself to a cup of hot chocolate. Although this doesn’t seem like much, I consider it an indulgence, partly because I rarely buy anything when I am out working (due to being very poor like every graduate student I’ve ever met), partly because I think over $2.00 for a small cup of hot chocolate is rather expensive, and partly because I try to watch the amount of sweets and sugary substances I ingest. I finally got started writing dissertation material around 11:00. I don’t know exactly when it happened, but somewhere during the next two hours, during which time I wrote almost non‑stop, I think I can became I know it can.
I think there is something to be said for the way I got myself to work today. Little indulgences like sleeping in, taking a hot bath, and sipping hot chocolate can be powerful motivators. So can a change of scenery, which is something I purposefully decided would do me some good after processing some of the emotional baggage I was carrying around. A big discovery I made this morning is that I’m a bit nostalgic for the area I grew up in. It’s now autumn, for one thing. Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. I associate it with the place of my birth and the place where I spent the majority of my life. I also think, as someone who enjoys self-inflicted wounds to an extent, that I like the nostalgic sense of loss that autumn seems to bring (which is actually paradoxical, if autumn is a time of harvest and plenty).
I miss autumn all the more keenly since we don’t typically have an autumn season in the deep south. But the weather over the last week or so has been very autumnal, and this has made me remember past autumns from a decade ago before I moved here. I even caught myself imagining myself driving down some of the roads I used to frequent before I left that place behind to begin a new life as a graduate student. But I’m not quite sure what these feelings really mean. I left the place I grew up for a reason. I was not happy with the direction my life had been taking, and, in contrast to autumn, which I’ve said holds a special place for me, I could not abide the crushing winters. During the last few years I lived there, each successive winter seemed to be outdoing the last in terms of misery. And that trend has not changed since I left either, if the status updates of my Facebook friends who still live in the area are any indication.
Beyond this is the cliché idea that you can never back to the way things were. I think that holds true for me. I don’t want to go back in that sense either. On the rare occasions that I have been able to visit the area, I am typically overwhelmed by all the reasons I decided to leave, though, to be fair, I have a good time with the friends I visit. In any case, I haven't visited in years, though this is mostly because I can't afford to visit.
I also think that a place can change after so many years as well. And I don’t simply mean that old haunts are gone and new, strange places have sprung up in their place. Rather, I mean the interests of the people who live in a place and make communities what they are can change. And from what I have read about the area via friends, some of whom write about it for a living, as well as local news, I think in some ways the place has grown a whole lot in the intervening years since I last visited. And I suppose that’s just it. Whether I focus on my perspective or the perspective of those who live there now, I would be a visitor. I suppose what it comes down to, then, is whether I approach being a visitor as a chance to discover things about a place and its people as well as about myself or if I get hung up on a past that no longer is and perhaps never was. I'm not sure I've quite sorted that out yet.