Dancing My Dissertation

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    Dancing My Dissertation

    This last week I began the final Dissertation Smackdown, the last days of vacation I take to try to finish up the dissertation. When I have to spent extended periods of time writing, my body needs some role to play while my mind is doing most of the heavy lifting. Often my body gets involved through pacing, walking out the ideas when they get particularly troublesome. But the last few days, I’ve found myself dancing rather than pacing, doing a little dissertation gig each time I feel the urge to get up. Sometimes I dance to jazz (Dave Brubeck Radio on Pandora) or more electronic stuff like the Quantic Soul Orchestra. Whatever the style, it’s helped keep me from going crazy after a day of wrangling with the same intransigent ideas.  

    So yesterday it seemed like a sign when NPR interviewed someone who created a dance competition for PhD’s called “Dance Your PhD.” I’m not sure I have time at the moment to begin choreographing my routine, but somehow it’s nice to know there might be another creative outlet for this project after it begins gathering dust in the library. 

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    Bright Leaves through a Window: A Better View

    Four years ago I posted an entry with this photo in response to the election:


    That morning I was trying to focus on anything bright as a dark frame seemed to close in around me; this morning it feels like we’ve stepped outside into something brighter. My eyes are still adjusting, but it’s quite a sight to behold so far.


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    Who is My Neighbor?

    This past week I’ve been reflecting on how my sense of place has changed now that a neighbor has been shot and killed across the street from where I live.

    While I was away last weekend, Garibaldis Pena, 27, was gunned down as he put a car seat into his sister’s car. It appears to have been a gang-related incident police think might be tied to other killings early this year in JP and Roxbury.

    It still seems surreal that this happened so nearby since I wasn’t here as it took place, to hear the three gunshots, to hear the screams of his mother as she emerged from the house, to hear the police cars and ambulances turn down the street, to see the mourners gather on the sidewalks around the house to light candles and weep together. Now things are back to normal, with little sign that anything happened.  

    Mauricio, a Boston cop in my condo association, was on duty and was one of the first on the scene. He has a long history in the neighborhood and says this kind of incident is extremely rare. But this happens every day in other parts of the city, he said, a reminder to me that my experience of urban life quite different from many of my fellow Bostonians just a mile or two away. Our physical proximity might be relatively near, but in terms of social proximity we are usually worlds apart.

    While this killing is disturbing, it doesn’t make me feel less safe or make me second guess my choice to live here. It does, however, make me more sensitive to the complexity of urban life and how easy it can be to exist in my narrow perspective without much awareness of the many other layers of experience going on around me, even in the same places. And it reminds me that I have a lot to learn about where I am and what it means to know my neighbors. 

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    Savoring Fall

    Many autumns just slip by, with only moments of awareness, a few accidental fleeting changes to soak it in and enjoy the particular pleasures of the season. This particularly unfortunate in New England, where the fall presentation is done so expertly.

    I expected I would be even less attentive to fall this time around, given the push to get my dissertation done by Christmas break. But by mid-October I had taken my second dissercation week off from work and was able to hand in a full draft to my committee. We immediately left town for a very enjoyable weekend camping with friends in the White Mountains, where the view from Mt. Lafayette provided a fantastic vantage point for the whole spectacle. 


    There was enough time between this trip and the first dissertation feedback that we could slip in another trip last weekend, this time to the Finger Lakes region of upstate NY. The main reason to go was to finally visit Andrew at Cornell and meet up with Ken and Irene. It was great to see everyone, and it was even better that we were able to explore the waterfalls of Watkin’s Glen with enough fall foliage and sunlight to make the gorges even more stunning. 

    Now the final dissertation sprint has begun, but I’m thankful that won’t have to mortgage all of autumn to pay for what I hope will be a great Christmas present–for myself and for everyone else who will be glad when it’s done. 


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