I felt my heart surge. I thought: I’ve lived this long. Please. A little longer won’t kill me. I wanted to say her name aloud, it would have given me joy to call, because I knew in some small way it was my love that named her. And yet. I couldn’t speak. I was afraid I’d choose the wrong sentence. -Nicole Krauss (The History of Love)

Life has been so busy recently that my retreat into the underground somehow evaded me this past week. There was no respite–no time for the activities that I cherish, the moments that I can’t help but feel belong to me. Instead, the weekend was taken up by a conference that my department was throwing in honor of a faculty member who recently retired.Β  It was the meeting of “modernism’s extended family.” Truth be told, despite my reservations about the affair (who, after all, wants to be at work on the weekend? And especially when one already has work on the weekend?), it was a very nice conference: the papers were interesting, it was a pleasure to see the faces that once roamed these halls and the party that was the culmination of the whole affair was jovial and relaxed. For academia, this combination can be rare.

Although I enjoyed myself, I also couldn’t help but feel that the whole experience was somehow testing me. There were two very enthusiastic first-year graduate students visiting from Stanford and they wanted to know how it felt to be on the verge of filing one’s dissertation. There were former graduate students who wanted to know if I was “on the market” and what my plans were for the future. In addition to the various questions I was asked, there was also the question that I had to ask myself: am I a part of this extended family and, if so, how does one leave a world that provided, in spite of all of its hardships, a comfortable existence? Was I really ready for something new or am I just tired?
Despite my wavering, I stand by earlier convictions. In a way, this all ties into my nostalgia for Japan that I expressed in my previous post. At 22, there was no question about my future. I was going to graduate school and that was that. Despite the warnings from professors and family alike that this path was not paved in gold, I couldn’t have imagined a different path for my twenties. But now, as both my graduate school career and twenties are coming to an end, change seems to make sense. In a way, I feel that I’ve come as far as I can go with this. I long for a new challenge, for a job that doesn’t force me to sit in a chair all day (my own mild case of graphomania/scribomania aside). And perhaps a rough idea of what I want to do, rather than a concrete plan, is the best way to go about taking the next step. As a person, I’ve found that I can be a bit single-minded in my focus, rather than open to multiple opportunities–to the various shapes that my life might take. My thirties might be the best time to play with this idea and to develop a new path.

I think I’ve started to let go of the need for an overarching and totalizing vision. I’ve started to realize that small changes might pave the way for bigger changes. For example, when my mother and aunt were here, they changed the way the table was placed in the dining room. I came home, saw it and immediately wanted to move things back to the way they had been. But a few days and one Ikea kitchen cart later, it suddenly looked right to me. Or perhaps I had simply stopped resisting the need for change.
The room suddenly seemed better suited to entertaining. And we took advantage of this last weekend by having some friends–one of the Greek’s lab mates and his wife–over for dinner. These pictures are from that meal. There was leek bread pudding inspired both by Thomas Keller’s recipe from Ad Hoc at Home (why cut the crust off? Call me lazy, but I see no need to remove the bits that are sure to provide some crunch) and my current leek obsession, the Greek’s favorite toothsome Stout Cake, and pork (not photographed, but dearly remembered). It was a fun evening, with cocktails, wine, conversation and puppy play time (also sadly not photographed)–one that, like this past weekend of the celebration of a career, certainly won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

12 thoughts on “Notes from the Underground: Week 5.5

  1. Oh, I think I'm familiar with this feeling of uncertainty and all its scratchy discomfort. But good for you for embracing the change (at least of the dining room furniture πŸ˜‰ Here's to next steps and having the courage to take them!

    PS That stout cake is gorgeous!

  2. I was wondering what the occasion was–I saw some pictures on fb! I am glad it was a good experience and even more glad that you are still finding your own place, wherever it may be (hopefully that doesn't sound too new-agey, I didn't mean it to!) Also, that bread pudding! I have been wanting to make it forever, and I agree about the crusts–why eliminate the glory of a good crunch? πŸ™‚

  3. I'm also curious; I have a lot of ideas (attending either a pastry chef school or a culinary institute is at the top of my list, but I'll also need to work while doing so and will need to investigate my options), but can't really say how things will turn out. A lot of these things are expensive and grad school (in the humanities at least) is hardly conducive to saving money for such frivolous future endeavors. πŸ™‚

  4. And I hear you on the crisis of faith. If one more student sends me a message telling me he/she wants to get an A in my class, I'm going to die from the non-shock of the announcement.

  5. Scratchy discomfort: this encompasses how I've been feeling quite nicely.

    I think we all have to embrace the change at a certain point, whether in the form of dining room furniture or career paths. After all, if we stopped surprising ourselves and trying new things, wouldn't life be painfully dull?

    P.S. Thank you! I like that it's supposed to imitate a tall mug of beer with foam. πŸ™‚

  6. Yes, the occasion was the celebration of a life/career with the return of many of the honorable grande dame's research children (she was thrilled and most definitely in her element, which was nice to see).

    And, as for new-agey ideas of finding one's place (which isn't new-agey at all), definitely better to sound that way here instead of in a folklore essay! :p

    The bread pudding is definitely worth a few hours in the kitchen on a weekend afternoon. As far as Thomas Keller's recipes go, I think this is definitely one of his more approachable ones (I think his butternut squash soup recipe–delicious though it may be–takes a good day to make…or so says “The NYTimes Cookbook.”).

  7. What a beautiful post! Both the pictures and the prose are so refreshing. The cake on the pretty stand is especially lovely, as are your words that perfectly capture the conference and your other recent gatherings.

  8. Thank you, Moriah! It was definitely a week for self-reflection, although I think I can safely say that I find a good reason to reflect each and every week…I would clearly be lost without words. πŸ™‚

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