Friday, August 28, 2015

The Art of Losing

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
So many things seem filled with the intent
To be lost that their loss is no disaster…

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
Some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

-- Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”

I’ve never been good at leaving things behind. People, places, pieces of paper with hastily scribbled story notes, ugly plastic Gandalf statues with long-faded sentimental value… Pushing stuff out of my life has never been easy for me.

I don't think they'll all fit in my suitcase...
For that reason, I’m very thankful to have over a month at home on PEI to sort through my boxes of stuff and choose what comes to Scotland, what stays behind in semi-permanent storage, and what heads off to the local thrift store or garbage dump. Some of the choices are easy. Many aren’t. It’s a time-consuming process, and I’m glad I haven’t had to rush myself at all.

I’ve discovered that giving something away isn’t nearly as hard as throwing it out. It’s not the thing itself I’m attached to, but the idea of the thing being valuable. I’d give you my favourite dress if I knew you’d appreciate it more than I do (for the record, you won’t, so don’t bother asking). During the decluttering process, nothing makes me happier than giving stuff away to a good home: my kettle to my brother’s new apartment, my jewellery to an adorable six year old, my seldom-worn dresses to a good friend. It’s so easy to part with something when I know the new owner will use it more than I did.

Uhaul truck for taking my stuff (and Nana's old couches)
back from Ontario
Giving something to a thrift shop is harder. Yes, I’m happy to support a charity, but by the very nature of thrift shops, everything I donate will be sold for a fraction of what it’s worth. I don’t mind too much if they sell an old sweater for a dollar or two, but what about the hand-woven Romanian purse that they price like a cheap Wal-Mart knockoff? Or the expensive Perplexus game I only played a few times? Or the authentic Royal Shakespeare Company poster from David Tennant’s Richard II? There’s no way a thrift store would price these anywhere near their real value.

Thinking about the thrift store issue made me realize that my difficulty with giving stuff up isn’t just part of my sentimental nature—it’s also related to my somewhat excessive drive to save money. None of the objects I just listed have any practical value to me anymore. Anything the thrift store gets for them is a gain. Yet, because I (or someone else, in the case of gifts) paid good money for these objects, I feel like throwing them out or underselling them is wasting money.

I grew up in a money saving household. “Upcycling” wasn’t really a term back then, but we did it anyways: toilet paper rolls became beanie baby castles, old (hopefully sanitized) toothbrushes became sink scrubbers, threadbare sheets were woven into rugs… Before throwing anything out, you thought carefully about whether it could be used to make something else, and the answer was often yes.

Turning my collection of seaglass into a necklace
It was, in many ways, a great way to grow up. We saved a lot of stuff from going to the dump and we saved a lot of money. The downside is that it’s hard to break the habit when throwing things out becomes essential. Getting rid of something and saying, “I’ll buy a new one if necessary” is foreign to me.

I need to practice letting go (cue Disney music). Sentimental attachment hasn’t been as much of a problem this time; I’ve managed to throw out a lot of stuff that no longer means anything to me. Now, I need to tackle my money-saving heart. I need to convince myself that being frugal doesn’t mean being a packrat, that when something has no practical value in my life I should let it go without obsessing over its value in dollars and cents. I need to stop worrying about wasting money and start allowing my life to be a little clearer.

 It’s time to lighten my suitcase and flood the thrift store.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

-21 Days: Three Weeks and Counting

In three weeks, I'll be back in St. Andrews. 

I leave Halifax on the 7th and arrive in Glasgow early on the 8th, meaning that by mid afternoon I'll be installed once again in St. Andrews. I'm hoping the jet-lag won't be too severe, as I'm arriving in the middle of Freshers' week and I'll already have missed a number of events, so I'd rather not miss more. It'll be so exciting to do Freshers' week again, this time going to events to see old friends, rather than standing awkwardly at a dozen different 'give it a go' sessions. 

This year will be different. I don't even know how different yet, but I do know that I can't count on it to be all that much like my exchange year. 

For starters, I'm a legit student this time. As in, an honest-to-goodness staying-for-three-years and earning-a-degree student. This isn't a year out, where courses transfer as pass/fail. This time, academics need to be top priority.

On top of that, I'm a legit PhD student. I won't be an undergrad moaning about 9:00am lectures, or madly scrambling to finish a reading, or pretending I'm intelligent because I took a quick look at secondary sources. I'll be heading in to my office every morning setting my own schedule, studiously reading everything I can find in my area, and hopefully contributing articles of my own. My MA gave me a taste of real scholarship, but next year will crank that up a notch.

Most importantly, I'm a legit PhD student at St. Andrews. As in, the third oldest university in the English-speaking world. One of the top universities in the world. 600 years old. The alma matter of royalty. An institute of learning that was already well established by the time Shakespeare wrote the plays I study. Last year, I had the privilege of temporarily belonging to that world-- the next three years will tie me forever to the name of St. Andrews. 

To be honest... I'm terrified. Excited, yes. Exhilarated, that too. But, more than anything, I can't believe my dream is coming true, and I'm both excited and scared for what that means. Getting my PhD from St. Andrews will be both the hardest and the best thing I've ever done. And it all starts in three weeks.