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Who’s Counting Anymore: A Reflection

December 31, 2012

Almost exactly one year ago, my husband and I moved from Seattle to Wisconsin. We planned it nearly to the minute: he would pick me up on University Ave, where I would walk after helping proctor a final exam, and we would drive east on 90. That’s it. My emotions were electric as I strolled the stairs in the lecture hall, watching students desperately fill one blue book page after another. I was impatient, introspective, full of anticipation and, if I stilled my thoughts for a moment, very sad. I missed my dear friends, and we hadn’t yet left.

The exam-taking ended early, and I walked slowly to a dim coffee shop, where I (for once) very easily put aside the constant threat of our limited, and most likely diminishing, income and ordered a latte and a croissant. I sat on a stool and waited for our over-packed car to arrive and thought of nothing. The dry, buttery flakes stuck to my wind-burned lips as I watched the rain out the window. The espresso was bitter, and comforting.

We live in Evanston now. It’s easy to say that we moved here from Chicago for my spouse’s job. But like anything,  that’s not entirely true: we also admitted defeat. After much reflection, I now believe there’s something absolutely tremendous about moving on. I didn’t think I was “moving on” when I climbed into our exploding blue car that day in Seattle. I still don’t. But after a white-hot summer in Chicago, a summer of fireworks shot off in our alley at night, of heart-breaking headlines every Monday morning, of toxic neighbors and so much concrete, we left. Now, we live on the second floor of a rambling old house.

It’s beautiful.

In the afternoon, I walk our pup six blocks to the beach. He pulls on the leash as we near it, and if I say, “Ok! Let’s run,” he lunges forward and we careen along the jagged sidewalks and across meticulously-landscaped lawns until we reach the sand. And then he’s off-leash and we zigzag and bolt toward the water and make long slow circles and chase one another and sometimes he yelps in great bursts, he’s so happy. On the day he saw gulls for the first time, he ran full-speed along the water’s edge, a tiny black blur against the pale greens and blues and grays of the horizon. The only other person on the beach, a woman moving slowly and carefully through a yoga sequence, straightened up, hands on hips, and watched him.

The old men I talk with at another dog beach call Walden “fearless.” And one man, when he forgets the dog’s name, shouts in a gruff voice, “Hey, Baby! Get over here, Baby!”


This whole little web-log started with some lines I pasted to my Oprah vision board (yes, I have one) last December. It’s Tennyson:

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

It’s just one verse of a really beautiful poem, one that speaks of grief and frustration and gratitude and anxiety- emotions I might draw on to characterize this small year of my life. For despite our colorful flat and close proximity to the beach, some days it is still very hard for me to muster up a positive counter-point to the tedious, unrecognized, and often tenuous realities of my (and I imagine most other PhD students’) present. I still don’t have very many friends. I still haven’t made much progress on my dissertation. I still don’t know how to demand more, or something different, of myself, to not feel insufficient all the time, to not feel emotionally immobile.


One afternoon before the weather changed and the snow came, I walked the dog to the beach. It was a cool day and the sun was low. I was tired and distracted and didn’t want to run, so we watched the slow waves crawl up the sand and slip away. We listened to spare dry leaves flip and crackle in otherwise empty branches. We walked along the dirt trail, then turned west to go home.

And rather than tug on his leash (for Walden never wants to leave the water), I simply picked him up and walked slowly below the massive stone wall of one of the neighborhood’s massive stone homes. And rather than resist, he curled up against my chest and rested his chin on my shoulder. And for about a minute, I was no longer a woman in jeans and a sweatshirt with a puppy and a million anxieties and must-do’s, but a little girl cradling a little dog on a breezy afternoon, safe and free.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

“Ring Out, Wild Bells,” Lord Alfred Tennyson, 1850


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