02 November 2011

Welcome home

The immigration official in the US says this to you when you return: Welcome home. Thanks, I always say, the same series of thoughts chasing me as I leave to pick up my bag.

The trip to New York was a complete, unmitigated success, from beginning to end, with the small exception of my health. Each meeting I had was full of rich, careful, deep discussions about the things most important to me, and people I respect a great deal were incredibly generous to me with their time and resources. The audiences for my presentations were engaged and thoughtful, asking great questions. I couldn't have asked for better people to meet and talk with.

The success, I should say, was not expected. I ran into this trip playing the ultimate confidence man. I booked my flight before anything was confirmed. All the meetings and presentations were ones that I initiated. It was far too much of my research budget. It wasn't focused enough on my current research. It was at the wrong time, it turned out... A litany of problems.

But all of those problems seemed to fall away, little by little. The conversations stayed on my current work and how it will relate to my future work. Most importantly for me, I saw a path that would lead me out of Applied Linguistics and into (an empirical, rigorous, research-driven brand of) Religious Studies, potentially at a high-level university or college in the States. I remembered that I love the liberal arts college and would be very happily at home in the East Coast of the US, working at a smallish 4 year private institution that placed a heavy emphasis on staff research. To make this happen (I was told and I agree wholeheartedly with), I would need to find a department that values textual analysis and sees a need to incorporate empirical research into their curriculum. I could teach core classes on religion without any problem and then teach classes on New Atheism and Evangelicalism as my specialties, all from an applied linguistic/social sciences perspective. That is, the texts shaping the communities and the communities shaping the texts, seen in analysis of the reading of the text within the community. This is essentially the kind of research I have been wanting to do. And the Religious Studies departments value books over articles, another thing I am much more keen on. Articles are okay, but I would rather be putting out a book every two years than three or five articles. The creative writer in me.

So, my three to five year plan gets a little clearer. I think I will be more and more eager to try and make the Religious Studies angle work because of how interesting it is to me, and how many more options it gives to me.

I liked what I saw of the East Coast. Public transit is much better than the Midwest. Things are closer together. The buildings are older. I don't know--I could see my family living there.

Friends, B & L, took me in for the weekend in Philly and let me relax, let go of all my responsibilities for about 48 hours. It was amazing. I didn't know what to say. B and I were at a market on Saturday afternoon: I was sipping coffee and waiting for B's number to be called by the Amish cheese seller that he was trying to buy honey from. There was nothing for me to do. No one to care for, nothing to worry about. I just stood there, freed. We went to a Bike expo, Trader Joe's, two parties, a church service, the whole time talking about all the things that friends need to catch up on after not being together for two years. When you can answer the question, how are you doing honestly and carefully over several hours stroll through Manhattan. I felt as though I was being carried the whole time.

I said that this was a success provided you didn't consider my health. I didn't sleep the whole time I was in the States and I had a very, very difficult time eating. When I was around other people, I ate well and carefully, but when I was alone, I obsessed about it constantly, like I was trying with all my might to avoid some imaginary past version of myself who I don't think actually ever existed. Ultimately, I did okay--it was just harder than it needed to be.

And the sleep. The hostel was nice enough (cheap), but I was unable to rest well there. When I got to the hotel on Thursday, I did okay, but I was paranoid that I would miss my cab in the morning at 6:15 (the wake-up call, predictably, wasn't made). We were caught in the rain/snow on Saturday, and by the time I got onto the plane on Sunday night, I was shivering horribly, complicated by my ears being unable to adjust to the pressure. I slept and slept upon getting back to MK, switching out bedsheets and t-shirts as I soaked them in sweat.

I woke up this morning feeling just as bad, but willed myself to work as I needed to prepare for my classes tomorrow. The shower and new clothes, followed by lots of cold, flu, and pain drugs, snapped me out of it and I am feeling about 85% now.

In spite of my sickness, I found out today that the metaphor association I am a member of accepted (most of) my application to cover the cost of the flights, so I have still only used half of my research budget. Not sure what I will do with the rest, but it's nice to still have.

I came home to my family, too. My little world that I always feel I abandon when I leave. You get the sense that things are a bit different when Dada isn't around. I'm back now and normalcy resumes. Dada doesn't put up with crying; Dada wants you to put away your toys now, not later.

What lies ahead is anyone's guess. I'm happy to have had the experience, and see, if only for a moment, another reality. Another potential reality.