On January

I must be suffering from seasonal affective disorder. So seem to assume most of the supportive friends who have counselled me through the last gruelling, demoralizing week, encouraging me to invest in a sun-lamp and assuring me that before too long the days will get longer and the daffodils will bloom. It’s true that a burst of sunshine this morning made the ninth insomniac night in a row a little less abjectly miserable; it’s true that my soul always stirs to life with the coming of the green. But it’s hard not to shake the feeling that there’s a greater gulf than a sun-lamp separating me from happiness and health.

Facebook informs me that it’s reading period in Princeton, a time when there was snow on the ground and no classes to distract from reading and writing in the library or to tear me away from long lunches and dinners, a time that even in thesis year I remember fondly. A year ago, I was starting the third chapter of my thesis at my desk in the History Graduate Study Room, struggling to find the right words to describe clearly the ways in which Symonds’ writing about sexuality is representative of a particular 19th-century epistemological moment that combined affective reading of texts with data-driven scientific empiricism (think Freud). Throughout the winter months, my advisor sent me comments on my attempts, and I only slowly came to grasp the connections he was helping me to make between the different disciplines and interpretive methods with which Symonds engaged, and what they had to do with a wider historical context. This winter, my main extracurricular project has been to turn all that thinking into a real, grown-up article, and today as I sift through my supervisor’s comments on a draft I think back to doing exactly the same thing a year ago: formatting in brackets and all-caps my comments on sections I need to revise; placing at the top of the document in italics my supervisor’s general comments about how to make the thrust of my argument clearer. It reminds me—once more—of the gulf that separates this life from undergrad. I feel immeasurably older, now—and certainly more tired. I feel world-weary; I feel as if I’m spinning my wheels; I feel as if it should not be taking this long to rewrite and rewrite the same sentences about Victorian epistemologies.

I consciously try to give this blog a very Whiggish, it-gets-better thrust: in part because everything I’ve learned since I up and moved thousands of miles away for undergrad has made more things seem possible, make me seem better and more human, helped me to understand what I need to do to lead a good life; and in part because I hope that writing about leaving home and finding new homes in far-flung places can be of some use to folks in earlier stages of their lives who don’t know that such things are possible, or how to go about summoning the courage and the self-confidence to make them possible. Dear reader, it does get better, I do believe it does, and has—but sometimes it is January and life is a pit out of which you’re scrabbling to drag yourself, clutching haplessly at dusty clods of earth that just fall from the sides of the pit instead of providing you with a handhold. The moral lesson here (because there is always a moral lesson!) is that January does come once a year. It’s inevitable, and it’s okay. It doesn’t mean that you’ve failed; all the self-care and hard work in the world can’t prevent January coming. But thanks to, y’know, Persephone, or someone, soon it will be March, and the daffodils will bloom. And she also gives us—as she has today—one morning of sunlight out of a week of grey, to remind us that someday our hibernating souls will come alive again.

Differences—eternal differences, planted by God in a single family, so that there may always be colour; sorrow perhaps, but colour in the daily grey.

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One thought on “On January

  1. Anthony Grafton

    I still sift through my own supervisor’s comments, in memory–though he died in the 1980s, and never read the projects to which I apply them. Progress can be overrated. Long dead, Eric is still a wonderful adviser, if a bit on the sharply critical side.

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