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Part of an ongoing series of posts highlighting primary source material from my first semester at Simmons during the fall of 2007.

From: Anna
To: Janet
Date: Wed, Oct 24, 2007 at 2:51 PM
Subject: Mid-week touchstone 

Dear Mum, 

I’m sitting at the Mass Historical Society desk for the afternoon. Being here reminds me of all those hours I spent in middle school doing “homework” in the Holland Museum lobby, waiting for tourists to appear :).

This is my second full day at the MHS. This morning, I was photocopying papers, I turn to the next paper, and what do I see? A letter from M. Cary Thomas — turn of the century woman scholar, educated at Johns Hopkins, founder of Bryn Mawr college — written in her own hand when she was president of Bryn Mawr! Oh. My. God. It’s so surreal just to find something like that, and know once she was holding it, and then find myself putting it on the photocopier!

at the front desk of the MHS (October 2008)

It’s strange and not at all comfortable (given my personality) to be a novice at this job. I have certain skills to draw on, of course, but there is so much to learn in terms of the conventions of an archives versus a bookstore or library or museum. Particularly, there is so much more need to monitor the documents, since they are moving around the building — rather than in stable exhibits — and are one-of-a-kind, extremely rare items. So I am learning new procedures as well as the usual learning of everyone’s names, and where the bathrooms are located, and how to use the email system, etc.

I am enjoying it, although it’s been a rough few days physically, which puts a damper on my mood. While usually my cycle isn’t particularly taxing, it can be a bad combination if I’m already weary (which is just the general state of things this fall . . . I know it will be got through, but annoying while it lasts). Headaches, which lead to Excedrin which leads to insomnia, etc. Yesterday, I intentionally drank coffee like a fiend in the afternoon to keep myself going through my book review assignment (more below), so today I’m feeling rather hung over (and it’s a long day, with class this evening from 6-9). Whine whine whine. 

I wrote this book review, which for some unknown reason (or reasons) I’ve been dragging my heels about for three weeks and absolutely panicked about finishing. I think it became a convenient locus for my anxieties. For a few days, I couldn’t even think about the project without panicking and/or falling asleep (which is my physical defense mechanism–I literally can’t stay awake). And then, it came down to last night, when I was pretty willing to just blurt on paper and print it out to turn in. I didn’t even really proof it. Oh, well. Not my finest scholarly hour, but I sort of feel like I can afford to have an off-semester as I’m getting adjusted. I can’t imagine (my own hubris, I know) that an “off” semester will be anything worse than “B” work. And I know my history class — where I put my best energy — will be a clear “A” (again, hubris) so I’m not too anxious in terms of keeping my scholarships. 

I was thinking last night (haha) that my approach to academic projects is something like the five stages of grief: (1) I have totally unrealistic self-expectations about what I can get done and what I want to get done (denial); (2) when it becomes clear that I’m not going to get my ideal project done, I start resenting the project and the professor, and castigating myself for the unrealistic expectations (anger); (3) I debate internally with myself over what sort of project that’s less-than-ideal I can get done, and maybe argue with the professor about altering the assignment (bargaining); (4) if none of these approaches work, it’s time to start despairing about the entire educational system and wondering what I’m doing there, and imagining I will never complete the assignment and probably drop out of school (depression); (5) finally, when I get tired of feeling crummy and/or it gets down to the wire, I finally give up on the ideal project altogether and just patch something together (acceptance). 

The book I had to review was actually quite interesting, so I’m not entirely clear why I got hung up about it. It was on the history of passports, and there’s lots to say about the history of identity papers, and how they relate to actual persons, and how they connect persons to governments. Part of my problem was no doubt lack of FOCUS, which is usually provided for smaller assignments by class discussion and course readings–but in this case the assignment was poorly written and I just got off on a muddled foot.

I think, in general, it’s been like pulling teeth intellectually to focus on abstract intellectual ideas right now, with so many external changes going on. I’ve never been good at focusing in the best circumstances, which for me means an utterly non-distracting environment (why I can’t study in libraries, ironically enough, since they’re not spaces I can take for granted and ignore). Well, right now, my whole world is a distracting environment! So I feel lucky when I manage to have a more or less coherent thought that’s defined enough to put into a short response paper :).

I had coffee with Hanna Monday night — her initiative!! — which was really good, I think, and have “dates” scheduled with both her and G for next week. I realized that, even though I treasure the alone-time, I can get too wrapped up in my own self-critical monologues re: my graduate work, etc., when I spend every moment I’m not in class or at work by myself. It’s easy for me to forget that fellow students can actually bolster my mood and energize me (as well as reminding me how unrealistic my expectations for my own work might be :)!) since 90% of the time, they aren’t very helpful. But a few well-chosen comrades can make a difference. 

Happily, my own well-chosen comrades (H and G) are going to be in the same history class next semester, and have convinced me to be in it as well . . . so hopefully the collaborative energy will be exponentially enhanced :). G is also taking oral history, which I will be doing as well, so I’m looking forward very much to the spring. I’ll probably panic when the time comes, and go through the predictable cycle (see above) anyway, but right now I can idealize things to my hearts content! 

I really hope you and Dad are able to make a trip to Boston in the spring. I’m already haphazardly collecting little things to do . . . eg the Wednesday morning art tour at the MHS, which I was given privately today, and very much enjoyed; and a visit to the Brookline Booksmith, my favorite independent bookstore so far . . . apart of course, from showing you my own spaces, and the museums and lovely parks that abound. Hm, and places to eat! I walked past a pub this afternoon called “The Foggy Goggle” which I think is just begging to be tried! 

I was asking Dad about filling my levothyroxin prescription online; I may at some point soon ask if you could pick up a refill at Model Drug (where my current prescription is), unless it seems easy to get a new prescription from Krayshak’s office. Dad says it shouldn’t be difficult to send it out here. And I’d reimburse you, of course. 

North Hall, Simmons Residential Campus

Tonight is the first game of the world series, so the neighborhood is going to be bustling! Since I’m on foot, I don’t anticipate much trouble, and I live just far enough away that the noise doesn’t wake me up (living on the res campus, I think, insulates me from the street just enough).

That’s about all the news around here . . . I’m going to sign off and see if I can catch up on a couple of other emails before the end of my shift,