No parking, Keene, NH

These are the in-between days here in New Hampshire. Having tasted spring, we’re aching for May; as I type these lines, however, it is drizzly and cold, some sort of semi-frozen precipitation pattering on window panes. Last night, it snowed; this morning, the sky was spitting drops the consistency of a convenience-store Icee, a mix that comes down wet and turns to slush upon contact. Tomorrow night, we’re supposed to get a storm with some 6 inches of accumulating snow: winter, revisited.

In the midst of this in-between weather, mired in the poignant pause between winter and spring, I’m in my own in-between phase. I’m yearning ever-so-earnestly for my dissertation to be done and the next chapter of my life to begin, but in the meantime I’m stuck here in not-until-April land. In fact, that phrase “in the meantime” pretty much describes my life right now as I juggle work, school, and writing under the looming boulder of that yet-to-be-completed dissertation: once the diss is done, I can have a life again, but in the meantime… As I navigate my daily life in a semi-haze alternating between joyous glee (“I’m almost done!”) and niggling self-doubt (“I’m almost done–then what?”), I wonder about the exact nature of this particular milestone. When the Looming Boulder of my dissertation is removed, what next? Will the completion of my degree be like the rolling of a stone from a metaphorical tomb, a New Lori rising from its cavernous depths? Or is the diss merely a capstone, the removal of which will bring about an entirely unforeseen avalanche of other, hitherto ignored obligations?

Parking in rear, Keene, NH

I remember the first time I heard Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” I was a sophomore in college and had gotten serious about “becoming educated.” None of my family had gone to college, and no one in my entirely un-bookish family listened to classical music. Feeling uncouth and uneducated, I’d gone to our college bookstore and raided the bargain music bins, buying any and every cassette tape I could find by those classical composers I’d heard of but never heard: Bach, Mozart, Brahms. I went back to my dorm room and listened to each one from beginning to end, somehow believing that Culture and Sophistication could be delivered to my working class soul via headphones.

When I heard the first sad, slow notes of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata,” I started weep, silent tears rolling down my face as I sat at my desk, face turned toward the wall so my roommates wouldn’t see. Part of me felt the same sorrow that Willa Cather’s Thea Kronberg felt when she first heard Beethoven: I couldn’t believe that for 19 years, I’d lived my life not knowing such beauty existed. What a waste those years had been, lived in a world of fast food restaurants, discount strip-malls, and disposable, utterly forgettable pop music.

A larger part of me wept, though, not because I hadn’t heard Beethoven before; a larger part of me wept because of the pure poignant beauty of those sad, slow notes. It wasn’t the notes themselves that pierced my heart with bittersweet longing: it was the pauses between the notes. Listening to the “Moonlight Sonata” for the first time, I felt (and have continued to feel) that my soul itself hung quivering in the space between the notes, yearning for the next delicate touch of finger to key. Each note simultaneously satisfied and hearkened, hinting with heart-breaking coyness toward the next yet-to-be-fulfilled touch. The pace of sad, slow notes brought my heart time and time again to the brink of expectation and desire, both breaking and sustaining it. My very being, it seemed, existed not in that teary-eyed, headphone-wearing body as it sat in a dingy dorm-room in Toledo, Ohio; instead, my very being floated somewhere outside myself in that painful, heart-breaking reach between the earth with its mundane toil and the heavens with their alluring but not-quite-touchable moon.

In between, Keene, NH

This is the space between where we all dwell, feet on earth and hearts caught amongst stars.

I’ve often wondered why I, the daughter of a truck-driver, am pursuing a doctorate in the first place. Why all this toil and trauma to become Something I Am Not? Like bell hooks, I wonder how my educated self fits together with my down-home self, and like Richard Rodriguez, I have many times pulled a dusty book from a shelf only to lament these hours I spend poring over books no one reads in order to write a book that no one will read. Wouldn’t it have been easier, I’ve often thought, to have stayed in Columbus, Ohio rather than venturing to Toledo then to Malden then to Beacon Hill then to Cambridge then to Randolph then to Hillsboro then to Keene? Wouldn’t it have been easier, I’ve often thought, to have married some boring Ohio boy and then settled into a quietly anonymous life of babies and beer cans, my days punctuated only by the litany of mindlessly savored television programs?

It would have been easier indeed, but having taken that next step toward something more, I cannot return: I crossed that Rubicon, chose and swallowed the red pill. Like Caliban, I’ve acquired a new tongue only to curse in it: no longer a mere animal, I crave the attention only humanity can provide. Having seen the moon, mere darkness will no longer suffice: the merest glimpse of heaven shows earth to be purely provisional. The taste of spring is cruel because it hearkens to far-off joys, pleasures savored only in memory or anticipation. But given the choice between a taste of heaven and the bliss of ignorance, I know which I’d chose (and which I’ve chosen) time and time again. In the meantime, trapped here in time, I will always reach across the breach between the now and the not yet.