Sunday, July 31, 2005

the big gambol

So, things are getting hectic and stressful as my move to Cambridge is only eleven days away. Insomnia, my reliable companion in tumultuous times, rages. All the while, two questions people keep asking me: How do I feel about going to Cambridge? and Do I think I'll come back here when it's done?

Regarding the second, my immediate gut reaction when someone asks me is: come on, how should I know? I suppose there is no harm in admitting that I had once secretly resolved to myself that I was not returning to Madison if I wasn't convinced that I could have certain things about how I mentally approach my job be different from what they've been. But I'm already confident that I could and would. This has been a quite enjoyable past spring and summer, in fact, and, besides, I can tend toward the melodramatic in my secret-little-resolutions-to-myself.

So, contrary to some circulating rumors, I'm not not coming back. Indeed, I'm planning not only on coming back but on meanwhile seeming like I've not entirely gone. Those of you in Madison will not be able to get rid of me so easily.

That said, you don't exactly have to be a demographer or life course theorist to know that things are pretty unsettled for somebody in my basic situation in their mid-thirties. Who knows what is going to happen over the next couple of years? The great thing about having tenure is that I know at least that I will have the option to return here, and, in that regard, it's a spectacularly fortunate option to have with certainty as one embarks on a two-year fellowship. Don't think I don't realize I'm extremely lucky, here.

As for the first question, about how I feel about going to Cambridge, I have many feelings. The closer it gets, the more I don't want to go. And the more excited I am, too. I hope this will be an adventure. I hope it won't suck. I have no idea what will happen. I like that. I am, ultimately, enthusiastic.

More mysteriously (and, yes, I know this is going to sound really weird): Several times in the past few days, when I've thought about leaving this place and heading off to Cambridge, into my mind has come the ending of a novel I read back in my early days of college. I don't really know why exactly the passage comes to mind, but my suspicion is that the way I'm feeling now is sort of like what I felt as I first read this passage fifteen years ago. Or something. Just now, in the throes of insomnia and thinking about it again, I finally went over to the bookshelves and looked it up.

The passage is from Thomas Pynchon's V. (no relation to the cheesy alien-invasion miniseries). The scene takes place in Valletta (Malta), in 1956. One of the novel's two protagonists, the wandering ex-Navy seaman Benny Profane, is talking to a random American tourist, Brenda Wigglesworth, abroad for the first time, who he met in a bar the evening before. They are standing outside another bar, chatting mundanely about what they have done with their lives to that point. Then Brenda says:
"You've done so much more. Boys do."


"You've had all these fabulous experiences. I wish mine would show me something."


"The experience, the experience. Haven't you learned?"

Profane didn't have to think long. "No," he said, "offhand I'd say I haven't learned a goddamn thing."

They were quiet for a while. She said: "Let's take a walk."

Later, out in the street, near the sea steps she inexplicably took his hand and began to run. The buildings in this part of Valletta, eleven years after war's end, had not been rebuilt. The street, however, was level and clear. Hand in hand with Brenda whom he'd met yesterday, Profane ran down the street. Presenly, sudden and in silence, all illumination in Valletta, houselight and streetlight, was extinguished. Profane and Brenda continued to run through the abruptly absolute night, momentum alone carrying them toward the edge of Malta, and the Mediterranean beyond.
Again, I don't know what this is supposed to signify. But it keeps coming back to mind. I had thought maybe it was that I felt some kind of identification with Profane, but, reading it again now, I think if anything it might be that I identify with Brenda.


dorotha said...

ugh. this is just like how you like eternal sunshine of the spotless mind so much. free-spirited girls (or what the girl represents to you about you) rescuing you from the stodgy, dead parts of your self.

Anonymous said...

I liked reading your 'gambol'. We in Cambridge are lucky you're coming here (I'm also someone who likes 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'. I didn't see much 'rescuing from' in it — but a reality, beautifully realized).

jeremy said...

I wonder whatever happened to that anonymous commenter who complained that Dorotha was always defending me when she would comment.

Anon 4:26: Thanks! I do think Clementine could be viewed as rescuing Joel twice in ESotSM: when she plucks him from the periphery of a party and starts dating him in the first place, and then when she manages to successfully squirrel herself away in his brain so that they meet again. Of course, she also drives him to go hire someone to damage his brain, so she's not an unproblematic rescuer.

lago said...

Jeremy, I tend to think of you as Malta, if that helps.

jeremy said...

If it was a chocolate malta with extra malta, I would know that it was supposed to be me.

Anonymous said...

Is it sad that I am profoundly disappointed that the passage was NOT from "V: The Miniseries?"

And don't worry about all those life course theorists and their "off-time" this and "on-time" that (Elder). What really matters is how the developmental impact of this succession of life events interacts with your historical time and place, your individual human agency (that is, an individual's ability to construct his/her own life course within the constraints of social and historical context), and the lives of others in your social networks. (Sorry, the prelim is tomorrow).
-Jessie J.

Anonymous said...

I think what's coolest is that it didn't necessarily matter what experiences Profane and Brenda brought to the moment because both were experiencing novel terrain for the first time. At that level, they are equal.

The parallels to life are uncanny, and I'm sure it's common to identify with Profane at some points (having some experience, in some respects, but feeling it's still grossly inadequate/what it all means), and with Brenda at other times (having the impression that everyone else has "lived more," and actively seeking out varied experiences to compensate for feeling inadequate, in some respects). It's liberating when we own up to our own Profanes and allow the Brenda aspects of ourselves to guide us at some moments. ~jlp

mcd said...

i sure like jlp's comment.

i'm wondering if this jlp is my elevator jlp.

Anonymous said...

JF @ 4:33:
Yes. But when it comes to that film, I experienced 'non-linearly' — as it kept wringing out the concrete over and over, an amazingly distilled, poignant end-product — loss and completeness. It's haunting. The actors embodied so many facets and kept the complexities alive.

As you pack, think what awaits you: a great selection of cinemas nearby!!! At the Square, at Harvard, at the MFA, at Fresh Pond, Arlington, Brookline, Boston, West Newton etc. etc. Films and movies — the heights and the Pitts.
Anon 4:26

Anonymous said...

martine: I had just written jlp (whom I know) that hers was the wisest of the wise comments. I'm with you there.

Athena said...

Hi, found this via Wired Temples (, I'm from Malta and living in Cambridge, talk about coincidence!:) Anyway have a safe journey and be prepared for extremely English weather, grey, ugly and well... grey :)

Anonymous said...

"me"=brenda, "I"=profane - they are both you - inextricably intertwined. the better question is why are you losing sleep over this? you are right, the next two years will be an adventure. Good or bad? that's up to you. get some sleep bud, things will be well.

Anonymous said...

When you get here and want to talk films and dreams, avoid the chain coffee places: Hopefully, Cafe Pomplona (12 Bow Street) will be open. It's a must visit. Down on Brattle Street, across from the Radcliffe Yard, there's the house of Longfellow's 'village smithy'. You can get some coffee etc, and very good pastries or sandwiches, salads. Sit at an outdoor table or upstairs in the old house. Talk, talk, talk.
Speaking of Longfellow, his mansion's just a block away. They have lovely outdoor music some Sundays in the summer. Free!!! (I think. Though I live nearby, I'm generally out of town on Sundays). Do check it out!
Also on Brattle St., check out the Casablanca (not expensive for lunch or afternoons in the bar). I LOVE the murals, especially the ones in the bar. Refer to the place as 'The Casa B'. Front area is very popular with professorial types at lunch.
As for our fabulous weather, the old saw applies here: if you don't like it, wait a minute.

jeremy said...

Jessie J.: Good luck with your prelim! The scary thing about finding oneself "off-time", however, is that you never know quite when that is going to start feeling like "out of time."

Athena: Fun! But, wrong Cambridge though. I'm just going to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Both places have decent universities, I hear.

Anonymous said...

[sooner or later the guy's going to need new clothes]
Cantabrigians never pay full price for clothes — or anything else, if they can help it. Filene's Basement men's department (Downtown Crossing only) still a great place for guys to stock up — you'll see the best and the brightest there, buying suits, sweaters — you name it..
Harvard Coop (not pronounced co-op) membership gets you a member's rebate at end of year, so sign up (and they do have sales there, too).
When you need a tux and don't own one: Max Keezer! Rent or buy a used one. It's a tradition.
(But do get any nieces or nephews — if you're lucky enough to have 'em, a bear with Harvard shirt, even if you pay full price.)