At Home in the Abyss

I’m home again, in Greensburg, PA, after an eventful final month in Russia and one week in Poland.

Endings like this, more or less arbitrary cut-off dates for a certain chapter of your life, are something I’ve become used to with the academic calendar running my life for the last 17 years. But this is the first time that the end date hasn’t come coupled with a start date for something new. For the first time in my life, I have nothing in front of me– nothing but a wide expanse of possibility.

In the weeks building up to my departure from Arkhangelsk, that nothingness was terrifying and immobilizing. I spent the endless, pale nights sleeplessly searching for job openings either far above or far below my eligibility for them. The school year was over, and I had no schedule of classes to give me a semblance of structure. Just like the September before I arrived in Russia, I was suspended, waiting for the deadline before the next thing began. In the absence of constructive patterns, I fell into destructive habits and made exactly zero progress towards a job or graduate school or anything at all.

And then I went to Poland, and everything changed. Sitting beside the rushing waters of the Sopot River, I realized (if only momentarily) that life is like the river. I am sitting at one point on the river and to me it seems like a fixed object of noise and light and smell and beauty. But really, the water is hurrying by without rest. Even though to me it seems like my whole life is concentrated on the decisions I make now, really the decisions are secondary and no one point is more important than the others; my life will happen regardless of the decisions I make.

And then, I missed my flight from Warsaw and had to buy another one, and my small pot of buffer money was effectively eliminated. And my beloved car Toby broke down irreparably a few days before my arrival home. And I still don’t have a job.

And somehow this has freed me from the anxiety of feeling I had to produce a next thing before the current one ended. Now there is no current and there is no next. There isn’t anything now. But I feel at ease, serene even, shockingly unterrified by the lack of structure and certainty in my life at the moment. Even though I can already sense the hairline fractures in that serenity, for now, I’m letting myself hang out in this idea: My life has a direction that transcends the academic calendar and the framework of my ambition; I need to just open myself up to the opportunities that will lead me the way I’m meant to go; and certain themes and passions and interests and people and places will continue to pop up in my life regardless of whether I feel them at work there.


Ahh! Oh no! I was so busy writing about culturally enriching experiences I forgot to commemorate the arbitrary timeline marker of one year since I received my Fulbright acceptance letter!

Yes, dear readers, it was one year and one day ago today that my life was changed forever, that I learned I would be moving to Russia for ten months. On April 8, 2011, I wrote in my journal, “I got the Fulbright. I feel like I shouldn’t have to tell you that, because I doubt there will ever be a future me who will have forgotten that this happened. But I suppose there might be a future me who will have forgotten the giddy, emotional euphoria of today.”

What a wise young thing I was! Indeed there have been many days since then that I’ve felt something less than euphoria at being here. Minus two weeks home at Christmas, I’ve been living in Russia for six months and six days, the longest I’ve spent abroad my whole life, and the farthest from home. These signposts, these firsts, are usually how I measure my life, how I remember things. Before or after my first kiss? Before or after my parents’ divorce? Before or after I left for college?

But this time, somehow, the time and distance have slipped away like nothing. The impact started on the first day this time, and has decreased, or normalized, or numbed, or matured, or whatever, every subsequent day since. And euphoria has evolved into an even, reasoned contentment at the general direction of my life.

The Northern Dvina on April 7.

Positive Vibes

Lots of happy things to share with you today!

[1] I have a confession to make. I’d been halfway considering buying a new pair of black boots for some time, something to wear to more formal occasions. I love my brown boots, but they are quite practical. Yesterday, an occasion that called for something fancier arose, and I took the opportunity to justify buying these boots:

And to pay way more for them than I have ever considered paying for footwear in America. Though, when you compare the $200 I paid for my other boots, these were a steal. I just wish I hadn’t waited til this late in the season! There have been great sales on winter shoes since after New Years, but I haven’t taken advantage of them til now. But, I’ve already worn them twice and I like them a lot, so I think I will get my money’s worth out of them. I guess I’ve become the kind of person who wears black leather heeled boots. I can’t quite compete with those Russian girls who wear six-inch stilettos on the ice, but I felt pretty badass today.

[2] My lesson plan was a hit today! It was a kind of last-minute thrown-together lesson on Mass Media, subbing for another professor who is on vacation in Spain. I wanted to talk about the media shifting from TV to the Internet, so I showed them these two clips covering the Occupy Wall Street movement last fall.

The first was coverage by ABC. The second was Dan Brown’s vlog take on it posted on YouTube. His video was particularly good, because in the second half he talks about the media shift from traditional broadcast media to social, participatory media, which was the point I wanted to get them talking about.

It was a group of fourth year students, and they were way more interested in it than I could have hoped for. I think they were surprised that I would bring in something so topical and so contemporary and so relevant to their own lives as the Internet. They were a little overwhelmed by how fast Dan Brown talks at first, but I think they were pleasantly surprised by this distinct variation from the usual language class fare. They even expressed interest in watching more of his videos. So that was unexpectedly gratifying. My fifth years are amazing, but I often feel they’re beyond my being useful to them.

[3] Ratatouille! It was totally worth it to hold out for zucchini to show up in the grocery store again instead of trying to substitute cucumbers, of which there have been an almost pathological abundance for the last month and a half. I made ratatouille tonight, my offering for the international dinner that Łukasz, Liv, Nils, and I are plotting tomorrow. I know, I know, “ratatouille” is French, but like I said to Łukasz, any food can be American. I’m also bringing back Linda Lang-Gun’s Sweet Potatoes for an encore.