Monday, February 27, 2006

The presence of place

I think I carry around a piece, a picture, a feeling of every place I've lived. They become a part of me and a part of the places I move to. People are always a component of that feeling and there are people I carry with me too.

This place and its people have been a large part of my life. Walking around, I remember how happy I was here. Here, I felt supported and appreciated. I remember studying for master's exams in the coffee shop. I was pregnant and had to settle for decaf coffee and water while my friends drank beer and espresso (such is the nature of exams). I remember how we assigned ourselves to a period of literature. I took medieval and renaissance. I made it my goal to connect everything to Gawain and the Green Night. I remember laughing over Tom Jones and being frustrated by Gravity's Rainbow. I remember barbecues with my friends Sally and Doug and their kids. Yesterday, I walked the same route I used to take to and from work every day. I can remember breathing in the fresh air, admiring people's quirky gardens and wondering when the abandoned gas station had its heyday. Walking past the park I used to live next to, I remember taking my kids there, watching my daughter's first trip down a slide, watching my son play catch with my husband. I remember birthday parties here. I remember being able to come here just to get out of the house and sitting on a bench to read while Geeky Boy played in the sandbox. In the house we lived in, once owned by the football coach, we had friends over to play games, to drink wine and beer, to talk about politics and work. In the back yard, a grassy slope into the woods, we put up our first swingset. In the street in front of our house, Geeky Boy rode a bike and a skateboard for the first time.

In school, I felt successful. I had a cohort of friends who were serious about the work, but also able to let their hair down once in a while. We shared our triumphs and our difficulties with our research and our teaching. Much of what I know about teaching and much of what inspires me about teaching comes from this place, especially from my current advisor and the atmosphere he created for us as graduate students. He taught us well. He taught us to take teaching seriously and to consider carefully how we approach what we do in the classroom. My favorite phrase that he uses is "guardedly optimistic" and I think there are so many ways in which I approach my work according to that phrase. It's good to be optimistic, but one must always be aware that there are pitfalls in everything. Having lunch with him and then coffee with another committe member yesterday reminded me of what I like so much about the faculty here. They push you, but in a supportive way. They ask pointed questions, but only so that you can think about where to go next and the best way to present your ideas. It's not a test; it's a conversation.

Though I am happy where I am now and have developed the kind of support I had here, I see now why leaving here was so hard on me. It really felt like home. I felt embedded and invested here in a way that I hadn't felt at any other place. Now I feel comfortable carrying the image and feeling of this place with me. It is a connection I will always have.