November 13, 2019 · Navelgazing


I am leaving Vassar this month. Home, to the Tampa Bay I've bounced around for so many years and to the Gulf of Mexico which molded me, raised me, and finally sent me out into the world, perhaps not quite as polished as a pearl but just as salty nonetheless.

The conditions sending me home are some I think I should talk about someday, when my position is a little less precarious and I am a little more cushioned from stigma. Suffice it to say that I am going home to spend a year with my family, to play with my nieces and nephews and spend long evenings speaking with my sisters and to point out constellations with my father.

The next step: I am applying to PhD programs for next fall. It is something that has nestled inside the back of my mind for years, kindled briefly by my grad school advisor who told me I should continue on. While recovering from a broken leg, I spent my medical leave reading, Nazli Choucri's Cyberpolitics in International Relations, Nicolas Suzor's Lawless, Shoshana Zuboff's The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Henry Farrell's The Political Economy of the Internet. The more I read the more I feel this restlessness and nagging feeling that the thing I want to read isn't being said, that I can begin to form the questions I have about our future by reading between the lines but the questions, much less the answers, aren't articulated in the text in front of me.

So, I'll spend the next five years trying to write them down.

Ultimately everything is about my family and especially the children. My despair for the future was born just out of undergrad, when I researched and wrote for a cybersecurity news digest. Hope turned into discomfort turned into fear turned into anger turned into resolve.

I think, often, about the future my nieces and nephews will inherit. When overwhelmed, I have a vision in my mind of my sister's father's property, lying on a hammock with a small child crawling over me, careless, warm. That's the picture of paradise that comforts me when stress or weather (or stressful weather) seem too much to bear. But even stronger than the desire to return to that space is the desire to protect it, and I don't really think I have the power to protect anything, but anxiety moves me forward in pressing to make sure the questions I want to ask about the future get asked.

Anyway. This was supposed to be a post about Vassar. I often joke that the pace of life here is monastic, complete with the chime of chapel bells on the hour. I've felt held and sheltered here even as I've been challenged to step outside of my comfort zone and take the lead and make hard decisions. I run into colleagues at a happy hour down the street, and colleagues turn into friends. The number of people who showed up to help me out when I broke my leg overwhelms me with gratitude and a bit of awe; word travels quickly here, and when it does not involve work, word even turns into action.

I've loved every season here, even winter! Taking a walk down to the cemetery after the first snow; walking home from friends' houses in the middle of winter and taking a moment to feel the great terrible stillness and quiet of the world, muffled in black and white; walking home with gusts of wind sending swirls of leaves around my feet and remembering the Jewish truism that angels walk you home from shul. I'm returning temporarily to Tannhauser's Venusburg, a paradise that delights temporarily, but ultimately fails to satisfy the human soul's need for change, even the annual death of winter, to feel alive.

-- I say this because I find the parallel to be poetic and it is a sentiment I shared for years living in Florida, but simultaneously I appreciate the subtle changes in the Floridian seasons that one accustomed to the extremes of the northeast might not pick up: leaves still move on the trees in spring-summer, everything is still and heavy with heat and water in dead-summer, and you can smell the salt breeze from the Gulf in fall-summer.

More than anything I look forward to being on the water again.

star longs for a moon