Dwelling between encounters

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Smooth and slimy rocks in the Melendiz stream that flows through the Ilhara Valley.

“What’s with the bum knee?,” a friend commented on my online photo. In it, I was getting ready to wade across the Melendiz, a once-river (now stream) that rushes and trickles through the Ihlara Valley in Turkey. On my back was a pack holding a camera that cost more than my rent and around my knee was a cheap elastic brace, holding my joints in place after an imprudently awkward crawl through a Byzantine tunnel in the tufa. Why is it that at home, I’m afraid to go to the gym three hours after a brunch mimosa—“what if I misuse the equipment or drop something?!”— but on the road I implicitly trust myself to not fall down a mountain or anger a stray cow? Fieldwork is a refreshing time out from the fear of potential ailments and injuries. It’s not sustainable, but neither is garden-variety urban anxiety.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the time in between those glorious adventures. Which experience is closer to “real life”? They say good actors are best judged by the moments they’re on-screen but not talking–reacting, assimilating, living in the scene but not dominating it. What about researchers who leave the ancient sites behind to sit at a laptop, half-buried under a pile of books during the colder months?

The problem with coming home from a trip and readjusting is that I lose that narrator’s voice in my head; I lose the lens of discovery for seeing the world, and I lose the stories that are so intimately etched into my mind now. They will all fade. They are already fading. I feel like The Doctor’s companions once they’re back to their old jobs. I know a few secrets of Byzantium—what it’s like to sit beneath a sixth-century ceiling cross and ponder both eternity and my ineffective bug repellant; what some of those now-damaged frescoes must have meant to monks who climbed the rock-cut stairs into rock-cut cells to sleep and pray; how chilly the rushing stream is that bisects the Ilhara Valley, and how slippery the mossy rocks are at the bottom of it.

When we were kids, every time my grandparents would park the Oldsmobile under the flat-roofed garage in the driveway, they’d drawl, “home again, home again, jiggedy jig,” as if we’d been on a long voyage, even if we’d just popped over to S & S cafeteria for supper. The phrase had a peppiness to it, and their tone always seemed lighter for being back where we started. I’m going to take a cue from their homing pigeon ways and revel in the familiarity of home and fluffy pillows and drinkable tap water. Even though the rigors of formal education can make a person feel pretty cooped up, I’m going to focus on lining my little Brooklyn nest with trinkets of sunny days and small-town evenings, totems to conjure up the stories I need to finish my dissertation.

As you may have noticed, this site has a new name. I think of variants of this blog as multiple volumes of a story that are still unraveling. In the past I’ve tried to write dispatches from the road or tell stories about recent efforts to visit art or historical places. I envision the next few entries as loosely-themed essays about the experiences we create for ourselves and the times in between that are filled with remembered and imagined adventures.