Backwards with Time

I am sitting aboard Amtrak train 132 en route to New York. I have snagged two seats to myself, and spread all five pieces of my luggage over the row in order to discourage businessmen from sitting next to me. Open in front of me are drafts of a grant I am trying to rewrite, notes in a moleskin in my almost illegible handwriting, a gluten-free chicken salad sandwich, wrapped in foil. The train rocks as I try to reach for the words to bring afterschool literacy alive, or at least inject enough soul into a two-page narrative to warrant $60,000. Sitting on trains always reminds me of other countries, traveling down through the south of Spain or taking the TGV to the Alps in France with Kylie. Lately, I feel haunted by memories.photo 2

We are going to skip the usual apologies for not writing in a while and get right down to life itself, which I hope is all right, since if you are reading this you have hopefully forgiven me my absence. The past two months have been riddled with joy and sadness, a little more of both than usual, as I’ve started a new chapter of my life as a Grant Writer with a capital G (some days I feel my dreams are written in letters of inquiry!), among many other changes. And the truth is, I really have not had it in me to write for myself, to listen to music that was not Radiolab, to throw a large dinner party. Sometimes, in the face of tremendous change, we tend to recede into ourselves, take what is needed for survival, and not let anything else pass. But eventually, I wound up back here. There isn’t much, even the most difficult of changes, that can keep me from writing for very long. So here I am, steaming past the fall foliage on the banks of the Susquahana, trying to find words to say what life itself cannot.

I should clarify and say that my new job is absolutely wonderful, that I love my sassy and fabulous co-workers, and that I get up every day with a smile and board the F train uptown with a cup of Earl Grey tea. I have not quite figured out whether or not I am good at my job, but I think the majority of that may be starting-out jitters, and the secret conviction that I will not be able to master a field in which I have no prior experience. We are located in a residential apartment building on the Upper West side, right across the street from where the Michael J. Fox show is frequently filmed (sometimes I sneak across, and, trying to blend in with the film crew, make myself a cup of iced coffee!). Except for the directors, we are all in our early to mid-twenties, and laugh through the too-often chaotic atmosphere that pervades our tiny workspace. In all of my months of freelancing, I never imagined a paycheck and a daily schedule could feel as good as it does, so I suppose I owe Sam an apology (as well as a nice dinner!) for forcing me to consider it.

20130918_190938So instead of spending my days in cafes, trolling NYFA and Idealist for job prospects, I sit and write narratives and try to brainstorm ways to fund education programs, acquainting myself with different foundations and methods of finding support. My nights, no longer an exercise in physical endurance, spent running up and down restaurant stairs in near-darkness, while the throb of an electronic set beat through my head until hours after sleep, are now spent cooking and seeing friends. Though there are still nights when I wake up at three in the morning to compulsively eat chocolate pumpkins in my sleep, I am no longer stressed about finding a job or where I will be in the next three months, and that is a great relief.

Sundays are still spent at my beloved pancake restaurant, manning the door, smiling and entering numbers into my iPad as mobs of angry brunchers demand the reason behind our three-hour wait. Though I tell people I stick around for the tips, I think there is a deeper reason why I give up one of my two days off to work ten hours behind a hostess stand, a certain pride I take in a job that I know I can do well and with a certain degree of grace. And of course, there is the conviction that I am amassing a body of stories so good that by the time I leave, my first book will basically have written itself (if our owner does not sue me immediately upon its publication!).

But there are of course parts of my new life that cannot be neatly summed up into requisite packets of description, moments and feelings that do not make it into my daily routine. Like the night I went up to Washington Heights to have an Irish supper with Natasha, and we walked down to the edge of the Hudson, where octagonal apartment buildings overlooked the wine-dark expanse of the river. The silent shoreline of New Jersey lay on one side, the West Side Highway on the other. The George Washington bridge sparkled across the expanse, and I could close my eyes and imagine I was anywhere else on earth. There was the weekend Amanda and I went to see the Avett Brothers perform in Philadelphia. We sat under the vast, wooden ceiling of the Mann Center, and listened to Scott and Seth sing “are we growing backwards with time?” on the acoustic harmonica, and sobbed as Amanda held my hand. There was an afternoon when Liz and I walked down to City Hall and sat in the vast tiled courtyard until the sun went down behind the buildings, talking about everything and nothing. There were the rainbow array of exotic peppers at Fairway, the smell of onions roasting in my kitchen, the warmth of my sister’s head against my neck when we snuggled in her bed this morning. Even in the midst of great tumult, I suppose I have learned, there are clear and crystalline moments of beauty, of joy.

photo 3

Writing is one of those media, then, that I suppose must always tell the truth. You can smile to the world, go about your daily life, even hide how you feel from yourself, but your written word, in its purest form, cannever lie. The ability of art to act as an expressive means of communication extends beyond its purpose, beyond its intended scope. Once we sit down and put pen to paper, we lose a degree of control, some measure of our own ability to control the narrative. I have waited so long to write because I have, in many ways, been rather lost. But that is not an excuse, and if I am going to make art, I suppose I may as well make it honest. There are times (especially in our early twenties) which we which we could erase from the record, act chipper, start anew. But in the end, these only make for a fuller story.

I promise to make my next post a little more concrete (maybe even inject some Proust for once!), to tell you some of my restaurant stories, wax poetical about grants (if such a thing can be done!), share a recipe for whole roasted cauliflower. But for the moment, I am going to go back to staring out the window, writing about arts-based literacy, and looking forward to being home again.

Advertisements

Learning to Fail (Love Your Art, Poor as it May Be)

photo 1 (13)Sometimes I feel that if any real literature major sits me down for a cup of coffee, he or she will quickly discover that I am somewhat of a fraud. I have not read Moby Dick or Great Expectations (though I once wrote a paper about the latter after finding it unreadable in a college class and skimming!), nor can I whip through a novel in an afternoon, like Nick, who has read 3500 pages in the past month, nor am I always up to date on the latest New Yorker essay or school of literary criticism. And in a way, this does not trouble me. While at Hamilton, I drank in every bit of theory I could find, but my essays were always analyses of character, relating form and content back to the human essence of each story, again and again. One of my favorite books ever written is Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, a story of the building of Toronto, told through the voices of several emigrants. Somewhere in this beautiful, historic narrative is a line that has stuck with me in the six years since I first read it, with special resonance in the past year: “The first sentence of every novel should be: ‘Trust me, this will take time, but there is order here, very faint, very human.’ Meander if you want to get to town.”

Try as I might to spin my post-collegiate life into a story of self-discovery, replete with the broke glamor of a writer working in a restaurant, applying for jobs in cafes, and drinking whiskey lemonade on fire escapes, I must admit that I have spent much of the past year meandering. I have tried, in over one hundred and three applications, to get various full time jobs, to learn how to budget my weekly groceries, to keep an urban apartment clean and learn to bike across the Manhattan bridge. A great deal of what I have done in this past year has been the slow, tough act of growing up, learning to stand on my own, and, bleak as it may initially sound, learning to fail.

Say what you will about all-girls schools and small liberal arts colleges—I may have grown overly fond of wooded clearings and become slightly stunted in regards to the opposite sex, but for seventeen years of my life, I learned. I learned how to construct a five-paragraph essay and then disregard that entire format. I learned the difference between Neo-Classic and Romantic paintings, the fact that Charlemagne was born on Christmas day in the year 800, how to properly dig an archaeological trench. In the process, I learned to make friends, do the monkey bars and live in my own dorm room, and as elementary school progressed into academia, I grew up, sometimes painfully and with reluctance, sometimes in great leaps and bounds. I may not have gone to Eaton or Harvard, but I owe my education, and my parents for giving it to me, a great deal.

photo 2 (12)In seventeen years of education, however, I never learned to fail as I have in this past year. With a few exceptions, everything we did in school seemed to push us closer to graduation, fill our brains with knowledge, teach us how to make and keep friendships. There was always a sense of forward momentum, and much of our lives in the first years after college are spent trying to regain that sense of control, that seasonal rhythm, the feeling that we were moving steadily in one direction. There was a point in the past year where I declared to my closest friends that I felt as if I was drowning. What I wish I had known to say at the time was that I really felt as if I was treading water, standing in place while I waited for progress to take hold. Jobs and relationships do not come as readily as graduation day, and, as my friend Liz so wisely pointed out recently, real life moves a lot more slowly than we expect it to. This has been, without a doubt, one of the most difficult years of my life. But it has also been one of the most important, and the most wonderful.

This blog started as a way to keep in touch with our academic selves, to grasp and retain those intellectual and literary aspects that the nine-to-five grind was sure to take away from us. It started as a way to connect to one another and to the world of books, but what it has become is a far less erudite, far less directed way for Nora and me to give voice to our experiences, to speak to our beloved readers and each other, to meander on our way to town. It is also the way in which I have come to tell the world when something momentous or wonderful happens, which is part of my aim this week. But before doing so, let me finish my current train of thought.

I began this post two weeks ago, right after having been rejected from a newspaper that I felt was my dream employer. I began it intending to give a resigned but hopeful update on my still-stagnant career path, to urge myself and all of you to hold tight to the things you care about, to love your art, poor as it may be (a line, I must admit, I stole from Alan Alda, who took it from a Roman emperor). One day, I will be a writer, for a newspaper or a magazine, or perhaps an editor of books or journals who spends her spare hours composing narrative essays. I will get there, no matter how many years it takes, what I do during the day, whether or not I have to go to graduate school. Learning to fail has only strengthened my resolve, my determination to go on doing what I love, whether or not it is the profession on my business card.

photo 3 (7)

I made myself this promise, wrote most of this post, and then I went off on vacation to Cape Cod with my family,where, one day on the sand dunes of a beach in West Yarmouth, remarkably and without the stress and drama which every other interview seemed to entail, I got a phone call offering me a job. I am going to start work on Tuesday, as a grant-writer for an arts-education non-profit, a profession that would never have occurred to me even a month ago, but which, after a great deal of thought and advice from those I love, has become something very promising and exciting. Rather than write about art all day long, which is how I initially thought I would spend the next year, I will be organizing and composing persuasive proposals to bring non-traditional , arts-based teaching into the New York Public School system. I have never written a real grant in my life, so hopefully it will be something I can learn to do well! I am, to what was initially my own surprise, nothing short of thrilled. But I thought rather than title and begin this post with I GOT A JOB!!!!!!, which is how I was tempted to do it, I would give credence to my initial post, and try to work in my thoughts on failure with my more recent success, to tie together the good and the bad and thus try to illustrate the turbulence of the last year.

This is all to say, in a rather roundabout, verbose way (but lets be honest, what else have you come to expect from me?), that sometimes the road is winding and full of failure and and deeply wonderful. Sometimes we must resign ourselves to remain happy-free-confused-and-lonely-at-the-same-time, until life works itself out around us. I strive too hard for control, something which I am trying to teach myself to relinquish. Instead, I am deeply and inexpressibly grateful—to Sam for helping me to get this job, to my mother for listening to me moan and helping me to stand, to my dad for always believing I could get there, to Amanda for arepas and nail dates and being patient enough to live in a tiny square room with me for an entire year, to Nora for being my blog buddy, to Nick for too many things to list, and to countless others, including all of you.

So with this in mind, and new paths on the horizon, there isn’t much left to do now but keep meandering, this time with a little more direction, to hold tight to words and one another, and to allow ourselves that moment, at the end of a day when something has finally gone right, to feel an unbridled and unsought rush of pure joy.

Thank you all, as always, for sticking with us.

photo 1 (12)

Those Are Riches, Girls

photoThere’s hardly any getting around it, and those of you who have been following us from the very beginning will have already realized: it has been a year since this blog began, and we have failed to achieve our goal. Since June 4, 2012, Nora and I have not read all six volumes of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. In fact, we have barely completed two. At this rate, it will take us at least three years to do what we were confident we could do in one. Julie Powell we are not. And frankly, that is something that does not really bother me. Though this year marker forces us to take a moment and reflect upon our project, and the progressing state of our lives, it is less a milestone of failure than a sign of the ways in which we have changed. We have not made it yet. But neither are we giving up.

Life, in all of its wonderful and heartbreaking chaos, has quite simply gotten in the way. Nora has been through two internships, one of which turned into a job, and spent most of her afternoons and nights working for a company she loves, in a career she finds fulfilling. The fact that this meant that most of her days from three to midnight were spent working the night shift at her job only indicated how passionate she felt about the work she was doing, and she remains for me one of the most professionally successful people our age I know.

I have progressed from an unpaid internship to a slew of nearly a hundred job applications, to working two restaurant jobs while writing freelance and interning at a community newspaper. It is hardly the tracked career I hoped I would have when I moved to New York, nor is it especially conducive to having a predictable schedule or a normal social life. I am in a constant state of stress, and rarely have more than $30 to my name. And yet I am happier than I have been in a very long time.

IMG_5870Life, I have found, moves a lot more slowly than we would like it to at times, and far too quickly at others. Nora and I originally thought that reading 80 pages a week would be easy compared to our college workload. And if Proust had turned out to be a little less like quicksand, perhaps we would have succeeded. But instead, we plunged into a literary labyrinth and entered the real world, filled with rent and subway commutes and long starlit nights drinking whiskey lemonade and laughing with the people we love.

And let’s just admit it: this blog was never really about Proust anyway. It may have begun that way—that may have been the impetus for our collaboration, some late-night inspiration wrought by days of sleep-deprivation and too many soy lattes in our Hamilton student-run café. It may have begun as an attempt to keep in touch with some intellectual pursuit we feared we might forget. But it became so much more.

photoThis week, I got up early and, as is my habit, lay in bed until the hour when most people are awake, checking my emails, writing, and watching Netflix. I got a newsletter from my high school and skimmed through it, skimming the requests for money and the class notes and pausing at the section on graduation, which took place this past week. Alongside pictures of the Class of 2013, wearing the floor-length white dresses I graduated in five years ago, were excerpts from the commencement address, which was given by my tenth-grade English teacher, Mary Shoemaker. Mrs. Shoemaker was quirky and full of life, and I remember her love of Keats and quiet encouragement being one of the things that drove me to study literature in college. I clicked on the link to a video of her speech, and was almost immediately brought to tears.

“Gold pales in comparison to the rewards we reap” she told the Class of 2013, reflecting upon her more than thirty years of experience (she is retiring this summer). She told the story of a strange, brilliant girl whom she had helped lead through the trials of middle school and watched blossom into a poet, admired by her peers and celebrated by the school. This was, in an anecdote, the reward of teaching, Mrs. Shoemaker concluded, and then finished by advising the class, in the simplest terms, to pursue their passions, a word which, she admitted, is far too often used in our society.

 To me, in its truest sense, passion is the thing without which your soul shrivels, the thing you must do, no matter what the cost. So if there is one message to my ramblings today, it is this: while you’re still free to do so, before mortgages and bills and babies crowd your landscape, take a run on that not-so-sensible or lucrative path that’s always beckoned. Be a waitress in New York while you try for your big break on Broadway. Starve in a garret while you wait for that publisher to call saying she loves your poetry.

(This is where, finding the speech too close to home, I really started to reach for my tissues!)

In the end, you will not find happiness in what you own, but in who you are. I do not own a Porche, or a Chalet in Switzerland, or six closets full of clothes. But I join in retirement the man I have loved since I was not much older than the girls on this stage. We have three kind and smart and funny children and a glorious daughter-in-law who love us and love one another. And every day—every day—I have loved what I have done, being caught up in the world of thought that is education. I have loved what I’ve taught. I have loved the girls I have taught, and I have loved the people with whom I have taught. Those are riches, girls. Those are riches.

IMG_5886She finished to a standing ovation, smiled, and left the stage. I wiped my eyes, watched it again, and sent it to my college friends. Graduation speeches are so rarely memorable (the one at my college Commencement was truly terrible, so perhaps it will live on a little longer than the dull ones!), and hers was so very poignant and unassuming, that I have spent most of the past week thinking back on it.

In the last year, I have not finished Proust. I have not gotten a full-time job, nor have I fallen in love, bought a car, or completed any of the other life milestones by which we mark success. But I have kept reading, writing, and laughing. I have found this blog a wonderful outlet for a creative type of reflection which I cannot express anywhere else. And I have become closer to Nora, whom I consider a very dear friend, and without whom I would have a hard time imagining my life here.

IMG_5826And every day when I board the bus to the newspaper, every night when I return home from work at midnight, my feet sore and my stomach far too full of strawberry-rhubarb lemonade and sugar bacon, every time I sit on the floor of my shower, hugging my knees and wondering when life is finally going to sort itself out, I remember that I am a writer. I am being paid, however little, to do what I love, for the first time in my life, and any professional success I may have had as a banker or lawyer pales in comparison. I may not have a West Village townhouse, or even, for that matter, a salary. But instead I have a worn down, light-filled apartment inhabited by bugs and dust and dreams. I have a computer with a cracked screen, 97 job applications, and a host of stories I now write for a newspaper that puts my name in print. Though I have yet to find romance, I have a family that loves me and friends who make me laugh and hug me when I cry, and once came ten miles in the rain just to make sure I was okay. And I have words, so very many words, tumbling over each other and clogging my thoughts and only sometimes emerging in a comprehensive whole. But when they fit together, it is as magical as anything that exists on this earth.

And those, I promise you, are riches enough.

Book Three, and Time to Mess Up the Pattern

First things first: I have finally finished Within a Budding Grove, and, leaving a lovestruck Marcel pining after Albertine in a cold Balbec hotel room, moved on to The Guermantes Way. We are still terribly behind, but this, my dear readers, is what you call progress (though I must say that Nora, who just got a full-time job and is being awesome and kick-ass round-the-clock, deserves a little more applause than does my reading of seventy pages!). We carry on, Marcel. Just you watch us.

This spring has been the coldest I can remember, including the four winters I spent in upstate New York. After a relatively mild winter, March came bearing down like the lion my mother always claimed it was, and we have had snow every few days for the last several weeks. The days are longer now, and I sometimes get out of bed at seven and pull up my blinds to the most dazzling shade of blue. It is sometimes so sunny that I forget it is still thirty-five degrees, and go outside to a bitter cold reminder.

DSC04497Today I decided to wear a dress. For the first time since October, I wanted to feel unconstrained by corduroys and zippers, and layered
thick tights and a thermal shirt under a blue cotton dress I inherited from Elizabeth, as I boarded the F train to Brooklyn. Nick and Sam and I went to see the El Anatsui retrospective, a show about a contemporary Ghanaian artist who makes shimmering, fluid, mosaic-like walls of rippling metal out of African liquor caps. After a stunning show at the Venice Biannale six years ago, he has been gaining popularity, and I went to write about the exhibit for Hyperallergic, an online magazine based in Brooklyn. We wandered from room to room and then out through Park Slope and across Prospect Park, where the trees were thinking about budding.

Five years ago, I wrote a letter to myself upon the occasion of my high school graduation. We were promised that these would be mailed to us the spring of our first year out of college—our five-year reunion. I have been thinking a lot about that letter lately, mostly pondering what could possibly be inside, as I have absolutely no memory of what I wrote. What could eighteen-year-old Maeve have to say? Did she wish me luck in college, tell me to be brave and take risks, urge me not to forget those wonderful and terrible years when she felt so lost and so loved? And what, more importantly (and more frightening),
would she think of me now, living in Manhattan (a city I never pondered moving to until the summer I lived here and fell in love on the second day), working as a hostess, applying to almost a hundred jobs from coffee-shop tables and library desks? Would she be shocked, that Maeve who had never been kissed, whose parents were married, who drove through the summer nights with her three best friends, blasting Brand New and soaking up the hot summer air and wondering what alcohol felt like when it touched your throat? Would she think I have grown up, become jaded, succeeded or failed?

522720_4598879213153_1931367867_nThis week I learned that I did not get what I thought might be my dream job, an intensive internship at a major newspaper, and for a good two hours, I stared at my computer screen and wondered how to do this thing that seems to want to evade me. I wondered, for the very first time in my life, if I am meant to be a writer, when no one but me seems to want to hire me to do so. And then I started to think about eighteen-year-old Maeve, who may have been naive and a little quixotic, but who had no doubt how hard this would be. And I thought of something Nick had said to me that morning, as I stressed about hearing from HR. “If anyone can do this, you can.”

So I got out my computer, and began to write. I googled small newspapers and New York Times articles. I went through the entire masthead of the Brooklyn Paper and wrote to every editor. I wrote to Frank Bruni, my favorite Times columnist, and asked him for advice. The next morning, he wrote me back, wishing me luck. I put on my purple button-down and went to the public library and printed out my clips and went into the offices of the Brooklyn Paper and told them I wanted to learn. I called different editorial departments and finally spoke to a man at a series of small neighborhood newspapers in downtown Manhattan. And as of Monday, April 1st, I will be interning there, fact-checking and copy-editing and doing all of the little gritty things that I need to learn. And, best news yet: they cannot pay me much (I will, in fact, have to get another part-time job), but they are going to let me write. I called my mom, and she told me I should do it.

580684_4598882573237_105522053_nI don’t know if it’s spring finally coming and the sunshine, or that red-headed stubbornness that I always seem to forget until I really
need it, or having the most wonderful people on Earth around me to support me in what is sometimes an impossible time, but I feel as
if things are changing. And as someone who does not do well at all with change, this is a remarkably wonderful thing. Liz texted me on Tuesday,  when I told her my new plan, “as a wise teacher once said, sometimes in order to wake up, you have to mess up the pattern.” So this is my attempt. It is not ideal; it will hardly be glamorous. But the thought of going in to a real newspaper office twice a week makes me smile. It will be a new experience, and I am very ready for that.

So there you have it, eighteen-year-old Maeve. Your life is still very much a work in progress. You have by no means figured it out, but
you are having a blast along the way. Some of your very best friends, you don’t even know yet. Some of your favorite places you haven’t even seen. But get excited, and be proud of what you will do, and don’t stop even when it gets really hard.

Oh, and one more thing. One day you are going to try to read a really really long book, and then regret it for a while and then plunge back in and then hate it again. But don’t give up.

 

DSC04485

How to Have a Bad Weekend

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 2.17.15 AM

I just had one of those weekends. One of those weekends that started on a high, swan-dived into wretchedness, and ended on confusing.

You may have heard, if you live in New York or check Instagram, that it was snowing on Friday. I was walking toward the train after a spinning class as the snow started to fall down, and I was sweaty but hopped up on endorphins and taken with how beautiful the city looked dusted with snow. I bought some groceries on my way home and didn’t feel guilty about eating brie.

I went out for dinner and drinks with my best friend and her boyfriend, and the boyfriend generously bought all of our dinners, and as we tramped back through the snow towards our homes we got into a spontaneous snowball fight. It’s fair to say I lost the snowball fight, but as I walked home, full of guacamole and margaritas that someone else had bought me, I thought about how much I love my best friend, how happy I was that she and her boyfriend are so in love with each other, how lucky I am to have a home in this city, how when both of us move from our parents apartments in SoHo to our own apartments in Brooklyn we’ll still be neighbors and we’ll find a new local Mexican place that serves relatively cheap food and strong margaritas.

Fast-forward 24 hours. I am standing on a street corner on the Lower East Side, convulsing with sobs and very cold because the bar of which I have just been unceremoniously thrown out is holding my coat hostage. In retrospect, of course, the crying was obviously unnecessary and melodramatic. Though I will say that the coat thing was not my fault. The tears were a direct result of being told that no, I could not have my coat back because no, that wasn’t my ticket, get out of line. Nor do I think you–yes, you, bouncers–should tell a patron to leave your bar just because she is crying, albeit loudly. Everyone has bad days (right?).

We have all been that girl. You have felt misunderstood and mistreated and probably wanted to cry about it. Which is what I did.

I think one of the things I connect to most in Proust is the flexibility and equal weight given to the range of emotions a single person can experience. He gives us pages upon pages of one emotion, and he makes it a unique emotion, one that has never been felt before and will never be felt again. And then, even though pages have elapsed, only a moment of “time” has actually passed, but in that moment enough has changed to give rise to a completely new emotion. And frequently that emotion is one that calls attention to one of our uglier “defects:”

In the human race, the frequency of the virtues that are identical in us all is not more wonderful than the multiplicity of the defects that are peculiar to each one of us.

What makes a good night go bad? Surely it can’t just be when a woman working the coat check refuses to give us back our coat on a brisk winter night. To really inspire waterworks, there has to be something else going on beneath the surface. I’m sure it was a confluence of “things,” but I feel like I’m not doing Proust nor this blog, any favors, by not giving equal weight to all my emotions. He would not, in his blog, write only about the moments that made him happy, the moments that gave him hope. He would not write a sanitized blog that precluded the mention of the fact that he was drunk on a Saturday night because someone he was related to or a potential employer might read it. And while I’m not aspiring to write the blog a 21st century Proust himself would write, I am trying to give an honest portrayal of what it means to be a 21st century 22-year-old reading Proust and resonating with what Proust has to say.

“The weekend” is a kind of Platonic ideal of a passage of time, a refuge to which we look forward, something we romanticize and fetishize the way Proust does the country girls he meets on vacation in Balbec. But sometimes our weekends do manage to live up to what we hope they will be. Sometimes those two days off from work are exactly what we need them to be. Sometimes they’re more.

And sometimes they’re far less. Sometimes they make you yearn for the banality of your work week. Sometimes you are at the place in your life and your search for stability that a middle aged woman telling you to get out of her face and the thought of a walk home without a coat is enough to make you sob. And even when you’re crying, and you know you shouldn’t be, you feel like you might as well give into the enormity of the weeping. Because even if you shouldn’t be crying, you are, and it feels better than it felt before you were crying and better than you will feel after you’re done.

Image via HBO Girls

Two powerful suspicions

20120826-173529.jpg

The first was that (at a time when, every day, I regarded myself as standing upon the threshold of a life which was still intact and would not enter upon its course until the following morning) my existence had already begun, and that, furthermore, what was yet to follow would not differ to any extent from what had gone before.
Within a Budding Grove 74

Proust has summed up the entirety of post-grad life pretty well above me, and I’m not sure there’s too much need for me to flesh out my feelings beyond quoting him. Be that as it may, I have not yet given Within a Budding Grove the literary treatment it deserves, and so I’m going to do while I think about my future: post-college, post-D.C. life.

I think I prefer this second volume to the first, though my preference may be a result of how applicable I am finding Marcel’s stunted adolescence to my own life. I have almost as much anxiety as does our obsessive narrator, except, instead of young girls, I am preoccupied with the implications of moving back into my parents’ home and moving from one internship to another instead of into a full-time job. An intern is a Proustian protagonist: doing as much observing as she does working, and in between the worlds of the student and the professional.

I also find that as Marcel has grown in this book, and begun to find his initial fantasies lackluster when realized, the prose itself has become more involving. Perhaps I’m stalled in Vol. 2 because it takes more effort to wade through the levels of irony Proust employs on a sentence-by-sentence level.

If Swann’s Way was a preamble, Budding Grove, at least in the context of Marcel’s “suspicions,” is the realization that preambles are nothing more than the earlier parts of the present; that perhaps there is no thrilling and sudden change to which we can look forward, that our lives will go on in tandem with time. Most of the changes Proust has experienced thus far have been disappointments. Seeing his idol perform was a letdown. His emotions towards Gilberte are much the same as they were at the end of the last book (all-consuming obsession), and every moment of sexual advance seems to be paired with a conversely unpleasant feeling.

I spent a lot of the past couple of weeks unsure about what I was supposed to be doing, unsure about where I would be come next Tuesday. I finally committed to a future reality: I am moving back to New York, taking up residence in my childhood home, and beginning a great new internship at a company completely different from the one where I currently work. I will miss living in a new city; I am giving up some plans of independence that I had clung to. I am leaving my new favorite coffee shops, book shops, farmers markets, monuments, museums, my hilarious and wise older roommate, and most importantly my friends.

Of course, a higher percentage of my dearest friends live in New York City, not to mention 18 years of memories that come with their own coffee shops, book shops and monuments.

In D.C., at times I experienced the (perhaps childish) sentiment that my life was “beginning.” Being surrounded by different things gave me what might have been an illusion of momentum. My fear of going back to New York was that this momentum would cease when confronted with familiar landmarks and faces. I was afraid of moving backwards, but the truth is that I am not going back to the city I grew up in, and I’ll probably have to get used to New York all over again.

The second suspicion, which was really no more than a variant of the first, was that I was not situated outside of Time, but was subject to its laws, just like those characters in novels who, for that reason, used to plunge me into such gloom

Over the next few days, our undergraduate counterparts will be returning to our college for another year of rituals and all-nighters of studying or drinking, separately or concurrently. One of the best parts about college is that it’s four years where one actually is situated outside of Time. Things stay pretty much consistent whether you’re a freshman or a senior. Having graduated, we are acclimating to what it feels like when Time actually starts moving forward–or when it doesn’t, even when we expected it to. There aren’t markers like the first day of class or Spring break, there isn’t the refreshing cycle of shedding one semester and taking up a new one.

But, if my existence has already begun to move forward, it will continue to do so, even in the absence of a new semester or city. And, while I remain unsure exactly how I am getting home next weekend, I am excited to be reunited, along with many many other people and places, Miss Maeve and the greatest city in the world.

Awake is the New Sleep

20120611-005142.jpg

“For a long time I would go to bed early,” begins Marcel, Proust’s narrator, and thus embarks on his 4,200-page epic, a narrative that is about to become a permanent fixture of my daily life.

It is both a quiet, inauspicious beginning and one weighted with deep importance. I have been told, both by Peter our beloved Comp. Lit. Advisor (whose general advice on Proust will appear in a later post), and in various introductions and guides to the novel, that these first few pages are enormously significant in the book’s trajectory. As simple and even dull as they seem, people say, read them over and over, for you will come back in several months or a year, and realize that, in some ways, the entire narrative is encapsulated in these introductory paragraphs.

These scenes where a childhood Marcel tosses and turns, recalling his inability to go to sleep (an insomnia which persists throughout the rest of his life), have a certain circular quality to them. He recollects this restlessness, the sounds outside his window and the glow of the candle beside his bed, the desperation to have his mother come upstairs and kiss him goodnight.

It seemed to me that I myself was the immediate subject of my book: a church, a quartet, the rivalry between François I and Charles V.

In my own way, these first few pages seem to contain a self-reflective element, to echo back a restlessness I myself cannot shake. At this particular point in my life, I am in a suspended state of sorts, waiting out my time at home until I can move to New York in a little over two weeks and start my job. College is over, real life (in a way) has not yet begun. And so I find myself drifting between these two worlds, dreaming of my freshly-painted apartment and missing my Hamilton single, sipping endless cups of iced coffee and listening to Ben Lee and Regina Spektor and trying with all of my might to enjoy being home, when I itch to get in my car and drive up I-95, yearn for the hum of the city and the morning slant of light on fire escapes as I walk down the long avenues. I wake in the night, unsure of where I am, and if I go to bed early, like Marcel, it is in the hope that the next day will come sooner than the last.

Suspension, waiting, memory all seem central to this narrative which I have only begun to explore. The extraordinary thing about Proust, as Nora and I recently discussed, is the fact that we both feel as if we know a great deal about In Search of Lost Time already, and yet neither of us really knows the plot. Certain elements—the daunting length of the narrative, the question of its autobiographical nature (the main character and the author share a name), the immortal Madeline which Marcel eats as an adult, and is immediately and vividly transported back to a moment in his childhood—are a part of our literary education. Yet, unlike so many canonical works (The Great Gatsby, Gone With the Wind, Of Mice and Men), the plot of In Search of Lost Time has not become widely known, and so we do not feel as if we have read the novel already. It is fresh, new, waiting to be discovered in a way few great works still are, and I am eager to see where the next year will take us, eager to climb out of bed, throw wide my curtains, and plunge into the bright and unknown dawn.

Until then, I can only keep reading.