Friday, November 1, 2013

California Research Adventure: Days 40-43

I'm back!!!

Back in California, that is. Last time I was in the state was in early August—about three months ago—when I wrapped up my research at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Since then I have traveled to Cincinnati, to Hawaiʻi, to Arizona (most recently), and now I am back in the great Golden State.

I'm in Berkeley, conducting research for one month at the Bancroft Library at the University of California. I've been here before, in August 2012, over one year ago, on Days 1-3 of my first California Research Adventure.

All this travel! Last night I was laying in my bed at the Berkeley YMCA—my abode for  the next four weeks—and calculating in my head how much time I have spent away from New York City this year. Just in 2013, I traveled to Hawaiʻi twice for a total of six weeks. And by the end of this journey I will have traveled to California twice for a total of eight weeks. Add to that one week spent in Boston in March at a conference, one week in Ithaca at a workshop in May, one week in Cincinnati at a wedding this past August, and one week in Tucson at a conference last month. Add it all up and I have been away from NYC for 18 weeks in 2013. That is officially over 1/3 of the entire year. Yuk. :(

So what? Well, it's been hard, to say the least. Being away for four months is not impossible. In college I traveled to China for four months, and I got quite homesick, but I did it, and I was the better for it. If I had gone on just one 4-month trip this year as well, perhaps such a trip would have been equally tolerable. But what is most hard this time around is constantly unpacking and repacking my bag, getting on and off of planes, and never being home with the people I love for long enough to really feel "home."

Overall, I am happy for all this adventuring, but if I could erase this year and do it differently, I certainly would. It is one thing to strive to write the greatest dissertation possible, but should that one narrow life goal trump everything else that matters so much?

My task now, besides research at the Bancroft Library, is to feel at "home" as much as I can. To find myself. To be here now. As I've become lost in the mess that is school and work and career and life amid all this travel this year. My goal, now, is to decouple myself from my work. To do my research and all my writing, yes, but not let that work define me. Frankly, the goal of this month—and I can think of no better place than Berkeley in which to pursue it—is to fall back in love with life.

The Berkeley YMCA. My home for November 2013.

My room on the third floor of the Y. I did not request two beds, but they gave me two anyway, which just means more space for my brain (and my heart) to breathe. I also have two desks, a large closet with dresser, a mini-fridge, and a few mirrors. What a place! I leave my window open day and night, because the weather in Berkeley is just perfect.

A room with a view. I look out upon Berkeley City Hall and a patch of park that at different times of day is home to joggers, strollers, homeless people, street kids. I like people-watching, especially because I have lived for the past four years in an apartment in NYC without a good view of anything.

Allow me to say a few more words about my humble abode at the YMCA. The Village People were right when they said that it is fun to stay at the YMCA. Besides having such a great, large room all to myself, there are also flaws to this space that actually are perks. For example, while the administration here says that I should have wi-fi in my room, I really don't. Except once in a rare while. (Hence I am typing this post in the Y's common area.) I was initially upset to discover that I had no internet access in my room, but over the past few days I have come to accept it. It means that when the sun goes down I can't watch movies online; I can't listen to the radio online; I can't download new podcasts; I can't read the New York Times online. Et cetera. Which is all a good thing. I could go on forever enumerating all the things that I normally do to waste time (i.e. relax.... maybe?) when I am at home in NYC, but the point is that, it is nice to not be able to do those things!

Before 2009 I never owned a laptop computer, so all I have to do is think back to those days to imagine how to really enjoy a space, and a moment of time, without the internet! It means that I read by sunlight, and sure I use the electric light here once in a while, too. I have more time for reading, so I have been picking up all the free newspapers—dailies and weeklies—around Berkeley. Yes, newspapers! Not online, but print newspapers. I pick them up and read them back in my room in the evening. It also means that I have been going to sleep around 8pm or 9pm every night, which feels great. And today I went to a hardware store in Berkeley and bought a small AM/FM radio. Yes, a radio! Not "streaming" radio, but a real old-fashioned device with an antenna that picks up the local radio stations. After plugging my new radio in, I immediately found a great jazz station to listen to. Now tell me, why again did we all make this decision in the 2010s to be connected to the internet every second of every day of our lives?

Of course, I don't spend all my time in my room. That's the other nice thing about not having internet: I have no incentive to just sit around inside all day. It means that I have been waking up at 6am every morning—without an alarm, mind you—and I practice a short, fifteen-minute sitting meditation at 6am. Then I throw some water in my face, put my tights on, and walk a few blocks in the dark to the local yoga studio, Yoga to the People, which, amazingly, offers all its classes by donation. They have a great 7am class every weekday morning. One of my biggest problems with yoga is that it is often so expensive. In New York City it is often $15-20 per class. I understand that yoga teachers are laborers and need to be paid a fair wage, but I am also concerned for all those, like myself, who are too poor to afford yoga as consumers, even though we may be the ones that most need access to it (for dealing with the stress and anxiety of being poor, etc.). I won't say how much I donate each time at Yoga to the People, but let's just say that their donation policy makes me feel welcome, and makes me feel part of the community rather than feeling like I don't belong, which is how I often feel at many yoga studios in Manhattan.

Also, I get breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day somewhere around town. I am trying to find cheap, healthy food all around the city and on campus. And hopefully I don't get too bored of these options by the end of the month.

Finally, I also spend much of each day on the university campus. I am only a short fifteen-minute walk from the Bancroft Library. I go there from 10am to 5pm each day to do my research. When I am on break, I wander around campus and take in the sights. Below are some photos of other parts of the main library, the Doe Library, at Berkeley, very close to the Bancroft Library.

A reading room in the Doe Library at UC-Berkeley. Why don't we have this at SUNY?? Just goes to show you the difference between one state school and another. Not all public universities are made the same.

Another reading room at the Doe Library at UC-Berkeley

Well, it's Friday. And the weekend is upon us. I will have four weekends in Berkeley, and here is my plan for those weekends:
Weekend 1: Explore Oakland and San Francisco, by public transit
Weekend 2: Explore the coast north of San Francisco, by rental car
Weekend 3: Explore the Monterey area, also by rental car
Weekend 4: not sure yet...

I look forward to posting photographs and thoughts on the history of these places. My California Research Adventure continues!

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