I live in an old house; my room is on the third floor. In the winters the floors are so cold that I dread having to step on them in the mornings. I’ve just discovered that old liquor bottles make excellent hot water bottles, especially the flat green St. Remy’s brandy bottles. I have one tucked in the small of my back, which has been aching from weeks of sitting at my desk marking and spitting out termpapers full of words like “implicate”. This time of year always feels harried to me, a blur of deadlines that make me wonder what the point of taking time off for holidays when the weeks beforehand are a frantic snowballing of sleep-deprived, nutrition starved and over-caffeinated owlish stress, usually culminating in a nervous collapse. I look up, and it seems the end of fall has flown by my window, to a soundtrack of Buke and Gass and J. Tillman, and my friends & roommates have new haircuts and new life-landmarks that drive home how the months have somersaulted by. It’s the peak of winter; after the holidays and New Years, the days thankfully extend again, hours of light stretch out, spring seems like a faint speck of light that our eyes squint to see, that gradually enlarges until the groundhog can look for his shadow.
This year, at least, I’ve cut out many of the bad habits that usually accompany my late night roamings about the house, when everyone’s asleep, such as ramen noodles and cigarettes. Instead, I knit– secret santa and baby shower and birthday gifts, picking up the needles whenever I’m stuck on methodologies and thesis statements. There are some satisfactions that are too small to share and yet are like shining beads to my day, such as being able to drop stitches down to a row where I’ve neglected to M1, and being able to reproduce the extra stitch so it looks exactly like all the others, without having to rip rows back. Or a cup of lemon sorbet accompanied by coffee, with a spoon of cocoa powder in it.
This year, too, I have access to an “office”, affectionately named by the graduate students in my department. In the carrels, under the bright fluorescent lights, there is the consolation of other pairs of eyes and ears, willing to compare the advantages of the various campus libraries, or to commiserate over the required bibliography course, or the endless marking, or countless other indignities. I am amongst kindred here, not just my cohort.
I’ve often been mistaken as a masters’ student in the years I was out of school, and now that I’m in a program it seems some necessity has been met. Though the glamour of being a grad student quickly dulls. Under the relentless workload, it at times feels more like an exercise in time management than one of intellectual rigour. Buried under a stack of midterms, I officially felt like an academic when I found myself puzzling about when I was supposed to have time to do my own research, with so many comma splices to correct? Did I really want five more years of these kinds of lessons in hoop-jumping and meeting of expectations I had no say in setting up? Asked whether I would continue onto my doctorate one lunch time in the graduate lounge, the whole room went quiet.
Quietly, incidentally as the snow that fell all day today, pages of new poems accumulate. Generations of poor but vivid young scholars also shivered in various attics and garrets and rented rooms, their little flames flickering beside hoary windows. But their lights burned onward. And winter, it would end.