Sunday, December 16, 2012

Angst vor Reflexionen

This blog post was going to have a carefully crafted introduction, but as I was sitting in my dimly-lit plane seat from Vienna to Frankfurt, wedged between a Norwegian woman and her morbidly obese and distinctly smelly husband (approximately 20% of whom was overflowing into my seat in all ways possible), I lost all hope :-). I remember putting my backpack in the luggage compartment, looking down at the seats, and then my jaw dropping to accompany the blank stare on my face. The first (and only) thing that came to my mind was to ask whether they might want to swap places so that they could travel next to each other, but my pretension to innocence did not persuade the poor woman. She declined with such a candid Poker smile that I had no choice but to sigh and squeeze in, thinking to myself that she's good and comforting myself with the fact that I'm likely neither the first nor the last individual whose personal space these two have violated.

Last week saw me through the beginning of a rather strange case of cabin fever. Cambridge is, by all means, one of the best and most productive places I've ever lived in, but you can have too much of a good thing. My final week before the end of lectures in Cambridge was nothing short of a rat race to meet remaining deadlines, an effort which ended up wearing me down far worse than I would feel comfortable to admit. Strangely enough, when I think of deadlines, it's not the work that gets me. I love my work, and once I'm in the right mindset, I usually am efficient. It's what happens after the submission that gives me angst: that feeling that you've put your life on hold and should somehow make up for the week, that feeling of healthy energy that makes you want to go out, buy Christmas lights and treat yourself to some good coffee and honest, involved conversation that makes you lose track of time. It is this energy that pushes you to clean your room at 6:00 o'clock in the morning and that makes papers temporarily reflect off of your cortex.

More often than not, though, your good mood ends up simply being shot down by frustration when you realize that despite all efforts you invest, having yourself a good time is actually made a lot harder than it's supposed to be. Without realizing, a chilling thought sprouts at the back of your mind: "What am I doing? Is this pathetic? Why did I bother?". And then the joy slips into a feeling of acute general unease and you simmer for days in your belief that some sort of injustice is unfolding, and that it's not in your power to change things (or worse yet, other people).

It was in this slightly angry and claustrophobic state that I found myself waiting on the curb for the 797 bus to Heathrow three days ago, at 3:00 o'clock in the morning. I was occasionally jumping up and down in the dark to warm up, but otherwise assumed an inertial pose: raised collar, tucked scarf, headphones pushed deep in my ears, volume maxed on the music, hands in my pockets, eyes looking strictly below the 45 degrees angle so as not to risk being bothered by anyone. Later on that day, stepping down in Vienna was a breath of fresh air. Well, maybe it didn't have to be Vienna in particular, but I realized that I needed to get away.

I was truly happy to meet Stephanie on the first evening and catch up over a beer, and to the sound of a live band, but my joy was neither about the band, nor the beer - it simply had been too long since we'd met and this was a confirmation for me that there are people in your life who don't end up disappearing. When I bought a cup of melange and a baked apple dusted with cinnamon from a street vendor, it wasn't the sweets I was buying: it was really the comfort of cheerful Christmas memories and my grandmother's baking which I grew up with, and the assurance that I can still enjoy these feelings regardless of how old I am. Alas, it wasn't the food which I remember from the meals we had during the conference, but the discussions with Virginia, Dimitar and Prof. Turner, which led to my downloading and reading "Animal Farm" by George Orwell later on that same night - amazing book, by the way; I wish someone had told me to read this as a child.

As I was leaning back in my chair on the way to the airport, I was staring at how the window reflexion of the inside of the train was overlaying (and partly obscuring) the city lights shining through from the other side of the glass, and thinking away in the night. It really is hard to see the beauty of the outside world if you let your inner troubles cover it up with unfounded projections.

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