Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I finished recasing a book this morning at work.

It was bound in 1890 and has been telling time on its body ever since. The leather covers had separated from the spine; the end papers had split away from the text block; and a fine dust was crumbled through the white tissue paper in which it had been wrapped.

I began the project nearly a month ago with breaking. A month ago, I finished tearing the cover boards from the text block and carved away the last threads of leather that held the covers to the spine.

It wasn't until the book lay scattered in pieces across my worktable that I was able to begin the mending. I measured a new length of linen super and wrapped it around the text block; I pasted in a fresh inner liner; I reattached the covers and molded a new cloth spine to the covers and the end papers.

Somehow, in the end, it all held together. No more split seams or broken hinges. Just tight, smooth binding and carefully pasted-down tabs and edges and titles. Not quite the same as it must have been in 1890 but still importantly whole.


I know that books are not people. But sometimes, like today, I wish life could be just as easy as mending; that I could pick up the pieces of the broken lives that surround me and put them back together with just as much facility as I am able to recase a book. But the tools I use on my books aren't delicate enough for hearts, and even if they were, I wouldn't be certain of the right way to use them. For now, the most I can do is put down my tools, give up my attempts at surgery, and let care and love be the binding and do the mending that I can't.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Meantiming and middling

I know I'm supposed to be studying. The Word document is open and so are the books. I've already finished my first cup of tea. But then I read this and had to pass it along. I've been reading Lore's blog for a few years now, and somehow she manages--every time--to say things that resonate; things that make me say, "Yes. Really. That's exactly how it is." Every time.

Read it all.

But if you don't, at least read this:

He said, "We can't let this happen, Lor." And I knew he didn't mean phone-tag or months of not talking followed by a rush to fit the stuff of life into a half-hour. He meant, we can't let time and distance be the undoing of good things. We can savor and reunite and laugh best with those people, but we can't let the middling and meantiming fall.
That's why I like it here. In Potsdam. At home. It may not look like much to the naked eye. But it is. Meantiming and middling is the stuff of life and I'm not on my way anywhere except heaven. Eternity is written on my heart and I'm, somehow, touching it from this small place.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


She woke me up at 4.58am, a full two minutes before I had set my alarm. I could hear her running up the stairs, heard her throw open the door and switch on the light, and then I heard her say, "Allison! Have you ever thought about what happens once Dasein understands its own Being-in-the-World? Don't you think that then it would be able to skeptical of the World and its own Being-in?"

I rolled over in bed, pulling the comforter over my head to protect my eyes from the light. "I have no idea," I said. "My alarm hasn't gone off yet."


Yesterday we met again for the first time after our whirlwind weekend of philosophy conferencing. She found me in front of the library.

"How are you?" I wanted to know.

And her face was pale and startled. "I'm not well at all. I've been reading Heidegger on the third floor of the library. And, Allison, we are Being-toward-Death. We are nothing; purposeless."

I tried to convince her that this is simply not the case, and then we parted, I to my work, she to her lunch.


Later, recounting the story to someone else, I was told: "It's good to know someone just as passionate about philosophy as you, isn't it?"

"Just as passionate?" I asked. "Or more?"

My philosophizing doesn't begin until after coffee.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Walking through spring

A Sunday Afternoon

I left the fluorescent-lit halls of the natural science building at 8.30 yesterday evening. After three and a half hours of working on homework assignments, labs, project abstracts, and project narratives, the cool gloaming that met me out of doors was a relief. The air around me was dim, troubled only by the relaxed stirring of the tree branches that laced above my head, and the sidewalks of the university were still. I walked past the tennis courts. The green courts stretched softly under glowing light. Like the sidewalks, they were still. Only two tennis players were left, and they had abandoned a clutch of balls to sit on a bench beside the court, talking quietly.

I didn't get to walk through spring with my university last year, and now that I'm back, going through it this year, I realize how much I missed it. I missed the sudden flurry of sundresses, white skin turning brown, the indecisiveness of the weather. Germany seems like more than a year away, and although I sometimes wish I were back in Tuebingen, lunching beside the river or walking to school in the morning, I'm glad to be here too, watching spring blossom into lazy summer.

Tulips in the morning light (Monmouth, OR)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tuesday afternoon

Because there isn't much to do in this small university town on a Tuesday afternoon, we meet over pitchers of porter in a corner of the local pub. We wander there after class, exchanging the minutiae of the day's lectures and discussions and school- or work-related tasks for the pages of our current book. Right now it's Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra; we have high hopes of making a dent in Kierkegaard's Sickness Unto Death before the end of the term.

The important thing, though, is not how much we accomplish but the way in which we accomplish it. Right now the accomplishing is pitch-perfect: two or three or four of us meeting each week, discussing a section or two of the text, laughing, arguing, and finally parting--still in good spirits--to make our way home to families and dinner tables.

Why didn't I discover this sooner? How did I manage to go three years without discovering that, yes, there are a few other students here who like talking philosophy as much as, or even more than, I do?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy (almost) Easter

May Day hike to Hohenentringen (Germany)

I can't remember how I celebrated Easter last year. I know that I was busy--packing, probably, running last-minute errands, getting ready to leave the country, my school, my home. But I don't actually remember Easter morning: the service, or the meal I know we must have shared, or the multi-colored eggs nestled in the Easter basket.

This year, I spent the day before Easter cleaning and finishing projects, which seems somehow appropriate. I emptied my closet and drawers of old and unwanted clothes, vacuumed my car, scrubbed the bathroom; I finished pulling together the final scholarship applications of the school year and realized, not without gratification, that it was that last time I would ever have to write those particular essays.

And then, with home and scholarship in order, I embarked on something new. I looked up GRE test times and locations; I opened a blank Word file and began to fill it; I typed in the names of graduate schools, application deadlines, web addresses. Because suddenly, with the last scholarship application of the year tucked neatly inside its manila envelope, graduation didn't seem so far away, and neither did graduate school. I'm not sure yet where I'll be headed next year, but I know that it's probably somewhere far away.

And it doesn't hurt to start early.

So, Happy (almost) Easter. May it be for you, as it has been for me, a moment of new beginnings, a turning point and fresh start, just as it was so many thousands of years ago.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Falling into friendship

The first days of this new term have found me caught in the liminal space of shifting routines. Months ago I wrote about catching laughter on the third floor of Hamersly Library; I wrote about the creation of a new and serendipitous pattern for my days, about dinners and study hours, sorrows and joys, all shared equally among kindred spirits. But even as we laughed and bonded, we knew that we were living a dream, weaving a world whose contours were destined to change.

I celebrated my 21st birthday with pink champagne and the bitter dregs of looming farewells. "You knew this would come," he told us when the presents and cake were over and sorrow beckoned. And of course we had. We'd known all along. It was only that we hadn't felt it yet.

The next day we all drove quietly to the airport. At the Lufthansa flight desk, we weighed and repacked and finally checked in the bags. At the food court, we shared plates of orange chicken and exchanged awkward glances across the table. Lacking words, we walked together to security.

There was a hugging and a pulling away; the grabbing of a bag, the adjusting of straps on a backpack; there was a, "Well, I'll just get in line now." And so we watched as he joined the line, showed his passport, went through the mundane motions of an airport security check, walked away from us on the other side. We watched him look back at us and waved when he did. It was a goodbye said over and over, with each turn of the head, and every flash of a smile.

I am almost always the one to leave and so I know: It's easier to leave than to be left behind. It's easier to go than stay--and more often than not, it's more exciting too. Being left means living between the raw and torn edges of routines for awhile. It means bearing with emptiness until a new ordinary begins to hem our days and weeks.

But the new ordinary does appear, eventually. And I've found that while old routines blessedly fade, relationships don't have to. Two terms ago I fell deeply into friendship; I found a care and love so strong they hurt. But it will take more than a few ragged edges to make me loosen my grip. After all, how can I gainsay pain when it comes with so much joy?