isn’t all good, isn’t all bad

“…altogether too much of life is mood.”
—Renata Adler, Speedboat

People I am trying to be right now: a daughter who will come home soon, a cousin who will stay indefinitely, a motivated researcher, a wayward creative, an Africa scholar, an American, involved, everywhere, solid & aware, close & close-by.

You could say I’ve hit a bit of a dry spell. After trudging through difficult, emotional June and then flying wildly through out of control, truant July, I feel stagnant in Western Europe. I’m between projects (except not really because I am ABSOLUTELY supposed to be writing a paper right now), minimally creative, paralyzingly indecisive, journaling nonsense every day as a means to get my writing hand moving without actually having to think.

It seems that at some point I lost track of the Steinbeckian appreciation of The Everyday that I’ve tried so hard to cultivate in myself. I feel like I’ve gotten boring, which isn’t true. What is true is that I’ve slowed down and am living a more regular day-to-day, and those things are not equivalent. Yet somehow I find myself seeking thrill in small and bizarre ways: jumping the Métro turnstile. Mixed drinks before noon. Accepting proffered cigarettes. Inquiries emailed to tattooists across Europe. The concern in confiding this strange boredom is that it will affect the people around me, will make them believe that they are somehow the source of my boredom, or at least that they can’t adequately alleviate it. Not so. There’s just a level that seems to be missing in myself and it’s fantasy and I need to get over it. In short, it truly is me, not them. And the reality is that it will probably pass. I am, as we all are, adjusting.

IMG_1512IMG_1623IMG_1628IMG_1639IMG_1643IMG_1663IMG_1676IMG_1677A week after arriving in Paris, I spent a little over two weeks outside of Paris, first up north at Férrières, then to Geneva for a long weekend, then, spontaneously, Cluj-Napoca, and back into Geneva for a second weekend. Four days in Romania confirmed my long-running suspicion that I would be completely taken with the former Eastern Bloc (now accepting reading suggestions to fill the chasmic gaps in my USSR historical knowledge), as well as sated some of my pent-up Mountain Need, suppressed when inclement weather kept us from hiking my first weekend in Geneva. And for crying out loud, I spent four days in Cluj and its environs and had to actively search for ways to get rid of the 60 USD I withdrew in the airport. Romania is serious budget travel.

Romania was: CouchSurfing, fruits foraging, architecture, canyons, cliffs, unsuccessful hitchhiking, romance language confusion, mountain bike, haunted forest.

IMG_1909 IMG_1920 IMG_1934 IMG_1975 IMG_1978 IMG_2004 IMG_2024 IMG_2036 IMG_2038 IMG_2042 IMG_2066 IMG_2089IMG_2115 IMG_2122 IMG_2129 IMG_2154 IMG_2212 IMG_2273

Switzerland was: daily swims, public concerts at sunrise, falafel, Hope College gossip hour, fog, rainy camping, cowbells, lakeside lunch hours.


As for when I’m leaving The World and returning to My World, aka Middle America: no idea. My feelings on returning and homesickness are vast and complex, but it basically boils down to this: during those nine months of research, it was easy to be away. But as soon as I vacated my Ngaoundéré apartment longing for home, presumably having grown and calcified, secretly, over the duration of my grant, flooded in. Then I hiked a huge mountain, intermittently sprawled and danced on a white sand beach, and got better. Now, not exactly a resident, not exactly a backpacker, my feelings on staying vs. going change every hour, on the hour. I want to go see Norway, but I also want to see my ophthalmologist. I would sell a kidney for a Sweetwater’s donut, but might do the same for even a glimpse inside Bar Luce. I want to hug my family, but I also want to see every single person I know in Europe, each on separate occasions and in their respective countries of residence.

I read that you moved to North Carolina for a while but returned to Eau Claire. How come?
The way the water tastes. The way the spring thaws and smells. The fact that it gets so cold in the winter. I was homesick.
a brief interview with Justin Vernon, Outside magazine, August 2015

Just finished: The Corrections, Speedboat
Currently reading: The Virgin Suicides, The Master and Margarita, In Our Time
Next up: Bluets, A Confederacy of Dunces, Africa In Chaos


2 responses to “isn’t all good, isn’t all bad

  1. Gretchen,
    You seem lost, but have been found.
    Swirling thoughts needing to find a place to rest.
    A tidal wave of life pouring over you.

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