29 April 2017

mix: sunshine escape.

I started assembling this playlist a few days before I went to Jacksonville. As its title suggests, it was meant to be the soundtrack to my temporary respite from the long reign of Ithaca’s winter, and its sound is largely inspired by the sun-drenched, retro stylings of The Knocks’ single “Classic,” but the mix took a bit longer to come together than expected. Perhaps that isn’t the worst outcome, though, as it might finally just be getting warm for good here in upstate New York. Possibly. Maybe.

ambergris caye.
sunshine escape
download

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  1. Foster the People – Coming Of Age
  2. Surfer Blood – Island
  3. The Knocks – Classic (featuring Powers)
  4. Passion Pit – Where The Sky Hangs
  5. Raphael Saadiq – Stone Rollin’
  6. Phoenix – Fences
  7. Local Natives – Airplanes
  8. Broken Social Scene – Stars And Sons
  9. Charli XCX – What I Like
  10. Carly Rae Jepsen – Fever
  11. Belle and Sebastian – The Blues Are Still Blue
  12. Japandroids – True Love And A Free Life Of Free Will

16 April 2017

seasonal migration.

This year, I performed the storied American tradition of fleeing to Florida during my spring break. It was welcome refuge from both the cold, which can have a mercilessly prolonged reign over upstate New York, and the meteorological volatility that tends to characterise springtime around here. And it helped that the boyfriend happened to be doing a rotation in Jacksonville at the time. As the adage goes, don’t look a fortuitous scheduling coincidence in the mouth.

I had been to Florida a number of times before without any sense of having actually seen the state, my previous destinations (Disney World, the Everglades, and Key West) being more like enclaves of interest that exist in spite of the surrounding whole. As I get older, I am finding that domestic travel is making me more cognisant of the wide regional variations otherwise obscured by the American penumbra. This particular corner of Florida – I didn’t know this until I went, but Jacksonville, located in the northeastern corner of the state, is actually its largest city – was as flat and wide as the eye could see, the land regulated by a clockwork of interstate highways. There were RVs, sports cars, and old people abound. It was hot and sunny, consistently so, and, when it did rain, it stormed with such ferocity that I half feared the earth would crumble to bits and dissolve into the ocean. The locals to whom I spoke all seemed a touch friendlier and sociable than I would have expected (e.g., there was a cashier at Trader Joe’s who went out of his way to give us food and sightseeing recommendations after we had finished paying for our groceries that I wondered if he was working on commission for the local tourism bureau). Florida is not of the Deep South is my understanding, but Jacksonville is not far from the border with Georgia and culture is rarely exhibits discontinuities at such boundaries.

Amateur anthropological observations aside, I enjoyed a holiday in the truest sense of the term. I am often guilty of trying to make my travels as edifying as possible, but it must be said that bumming around on beaches, floppy hat and sunglasses in tow, for the better part of two days is quite nice too. I’ve little idea how Jacksonville’s beaches rank relative to others in Florida; as someone whose only recourse while growing up was the Jersey Shore, though, I have no complaints in this regard.

We spent one day on Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, home to genteel old houses and a cute oceanside town. We stayed long enough to catch the sunset because, like, why not be completely trite when on vacation?

amelia island.
amelia island.
lulu's at the thompson's house.
fernandina beach.
fernandina beach.

Somewhat more substantial adventures were had the following day. When scouting around for things to do in Jacksonville, I happened upon the Wikipedia page for the nearby city of St. Augustine and learned that it carries the distinction of being the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement in the continental United States. So, obviously, I added it to our itinerary. Our first stop was St. Augustine Bike Rentals, where we picked up two svelte fixed-gear bikes to get us around for the rest of the day. They proved ideal for navigating the tangle of small streets that thread through St. Augustine’s Old Town, which, with its cobblestone paving and squat, colourful buildings, abounded with historical charm. (The plethora of tourists was less charming – and I acknowledge the hypocrisy of pointing that out – but what is there to be done?)

st. augustine.
popsicle break.

Some landmarks of note that we saw were Flagler College, whose campus is largely centred on a Gilded Age-era hotel –

flagler college.
flagler college.

– and Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the Lower 48. We didn’t pay to go inside, but cycling around what had been the moat was completely free! It was extremely reminiscent of the forts that I visited in San Juan, Puerto Rico – not a surprise at all, given both cities’ origins in Spain’s colonial enterprises.

castillo de san marcos.
castillo de san marcos.

After a quick coffee and lunch break at The Kookaburra (aside: if you’re going to name your coffee shop after a species of Australian wildlife, why would you ever choose anything that isn’t a quokka?), we crossed over the Bridge of Lions –

bridge of lions.

– and biked for a few miles until we got to Anastasia State Park, where, for a nominal entrance fee, a rather pristine white-sand beach and hours of insouciant lounging, interspersed with jaunts into the waves, awaited. Miraculously, I made it through with only a few, and thankfully discreet, sunburns.

anastasia state park.
anastasia state park.
anastasia state park.
anastasia state park.
anastasia state park.

As the sun began to set, we rode back to Old Town for dinner, locked up our bikes, and sauntered down St. George Street, its main pedestrian thoroughfare.

st. george st.
st. george st.
st. george st.
st. george st.
old city gates.
oldest wooden schoolhouse.

I should note, by way of both disclosure and conclusion, that going to the beach has never been on my list of favourite things to do. I am more liable to find lying facedown on a beach towel as the sun roasts my skin to a delicate shade of scarlet an occasion for panic rather than relaxation, am strongly resistant to being tan (“deathly pale graduate student” being, after all, my #aesthetic), and have always been annoyed by the sand’s unerring ability to find its way into every known crevice of clothing (and some unknown ones too). At the risk of engaging in some unwarranted over-analysis – totally unprecedented in the history of this blog – I might infer that my dislike of the beach stems is just a specific manifestation of a more general aversion to dirt and messiness, to things being out of place. With that having been said, as our seaside excursions wound to an end, my mind and body suffused with the sort of tired contentment that only a day out and about can induce, I thought that I had succeeded after all at setting that prissier side of my personality aside for a time and that bottling up a bit of that sun-kissed, windswept magic to bring back north with me might not be the worst idea.

15 March 2017

a shading of jazz.

Recently, I’ve gradually been working through my blog history and archiving my posts – all 641 of them and counting – to my hard drive. It occurred to me that my ten-year blogging anniversary is this year (September 21, to be precise), making this little space my longest lived blogging endeavour to date, and the impending milestone made me realise how very sad I would be if I were to lose a lot of this writing to the internet’s penchant for impermanence (or, more specifically, to Google’s penchant for killing off their services without much warning). In the course of doing so, I have been able to revisit the sort of things I used to share in this space and realised that I no longer talk about music as much as I did. Which is a shame, because music is great! And I spend the majority of my waking hours listening to it! So, in the spirit of my old music share posts, here’s some of what has captured my aural imagination as of late.

Sometime over the last week, I tumbled down a Bill Evans rabbit hole and haven’t been able to clamber out of it since. I’m not entirely sure how this happened, given that jazz isn’t a genre of music to which I listen with any regularity. I imagine that, as with many a layperson, my acquaintance with the work of Bill Evans began with Kind of Blue, where he provides the piano backing to Miles Davis’s trumpet stylings. (Aside: I was introduced to Kind of Blue by my high school music history teacher, himself a jazz musician. He described it as a jazz album even people who hate jazz love. So, if you haven’t yet, you owe it to yourself to listen through the record at least once before you die, though, afterwards, you may be too full of inchoate emotion to leave the house for a few days. Do not fret, that is perfectly natural.) Every once in a while, I would reach for Evans’s solo album, Alone, but it rarely rose above the status of background music. Then, perhaps a month ago, I had my radio tuned to Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz on the local NPR station (sorry, I’ll try to sound more like the living, walking stereotype of an east coast liberal elitist next time) when I heard the guest, whose name now escapes me, perform a rendition of a piece called “Waltz for Debby” written by none other than Bill Evans:

♪ Bill Evans Trio – Waltz for Debby (Take 2)

Is there such a thing as a delayed-onset earworm? For some reason, it floated to the surface of my consciousness last weekend, and, since then, I’ve been obsessed. Completely obsessed. Like, I-can’t-bring-myself-to-listen-to-anything-else obsessed.

If I knew anything at all about jazz theory or history, this would be where I explicate, in my admittedly amateurish way, the brilliance of Bill Evans, but the truth is that I am approaching his music in almost a complete vacuum of intellectual preconceptions. In some ways, this is a bit frustrating: I suspect that, as with any art worth its salt, one’s appreciation of jazz is strictly increasing in the amount that one knows about it. In another way, however, it has proved quite liberating. Instead of book learning, I must rely on music intuition. There is less thinking and more feeling.

What is it that Bill Evans’s music makes me feel? His brand of jazz runs cool in temperament. It is unruffled, contemplative, lyrical, and just a touch melancholy at the edges. It is suffused with a fundamental innocence. “Waltz for Debby,” after all, was written for his niece. In that sense, it reminds me of Ravel’s “Ma mère l’Oye” (“Mother Goose”), an orchestral suite that was originally written as a piano duet for two children that shares the same earnestness and lack of pretension.

♪ Maurice Ravel – Ma mère l’Oye: Laideronnette, impératrice des pagodes
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra with Yannick Nézét-Séguin, conductor

That, I think, gets to another reason that Bill Evans’s music has attached itself so firmly to my heart. For me, it is impossible to not hear, lurking behind the jazz inflections, a classicism that hearkens back to the piano works of the French Impressionist composers in particular. I imagine that must make Bill Evans an easier sell to me than other jazz musicians because I feel like he and I speak the same language, if rather different dialects thereof. Indeed, I find myself wanting to try playing some of his pieces on the piano, and I haven’t had the urge to personally try my hand at jazz since high school (I was convinced for about a month that it would be a good idea to expand my musical boundaries a bit, only to discover that my classically trained brain just couldn’t handle the rhythm and syncopation). Take, for instance, this other piece of his:

♪ Bill Evans Trio – Some Other Time

The double bass plucking out a broken perfect fifth in the very first bar of music – one could hardly find a simpler gesture, yet its supreme unhurriedness frames everything to follow. This made me think of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédies”, which, in spite of their ubiquitous presence on compilations of Relaxing Classical Music™, really are beautiful in their compactness and simplicity.

♪ Erik Satie – Gymnopédie No. 3
Pascal Roge, piano

And there are a few chromatic runs in the piano part that trace out a whole-tone scale, of which Claude Debussy, among other composers, made extensive use.

♪ Claude Debussy – Preludes, Livre I: Voiles
Pascal Roge, piano

And, in a twist that I am sure is far from coincidental, “Some Other Time” shares almost the exact same beginning as “Flamenco Sketches” from Kind of Blue.

♪ Miles Davis – Flamenco Sketches

I wonder if maybe the time of year has something to do with it too, caught as we are in the fitful transition between winter and spring (though, given recent meteorological events, there is no question as to who has the upper hand there). There is a yearning for warmth and the angled sunlight of longer days, but, until then, I will have to be content with dreaming of it.

2 March 2017

nesting update & introducing BARToC.

Now that I’ve been living in this apartment for almost seven months and survived most of an Ithaca winter (albeit an unusually warm one), it seems like a good time to provide a quick update on goings on at Chez Malin. Although not too much has changed from my original setup, I have made a few improvements at the margin, along with one very big addition that I am excited to introduce!

First, in my bedroom, I rearranged my reading nook. As enamoured as I was with it, it did have a few problems. Because the rocking chair was set into the corner of the room and slightly behind the bookshelf, something I did in order to make the reading nook as compact as possible, I often felt boxed in when I sat there – not really the feeling I want to have when in search of a relaxed state of mind. The ottoman-cum-sidetable was on my left-hand side, which, as a right-handed person, made reaching over for whatever hot beverage I would be nursing at the time a tad awkward.

new reading nook.

Here is a shot of the reading nook in its current form from exactly the same angle. Having tested it out thoroughly, I can confidently say that the two problems described above have now been fixed! There have also been a number of new tweaks to the space. I framed some prints that I cut out of a 2016 Rifle Paper Co. calendar and hung them next to my antique Washington, DC map. I have placed on the ottoman a portable bluetooth speaker that had been languishing, unused, in my home office. These days, I use it primarily to listen to podcasts while I do chores (any other Friends of the Pod out there?!) and WQXR while winding down at night. Within arm’s reach of the rocking chair is a mint green and white-striped fabric bin. Deemed my “basket of fun,” it holds a “Cuddly Bunny” Pillow Pet, a pair of fuzzy socks, a hot water bottle, and a cupcake-bearing Pusheen plushie that my sister gave me for my last birthday – basically, all the things I could ever need to make my reading time that much cosier.

basket of fun.

Another cosy addition to my room has been this butterfly chair from Target, nicknamed “Floof.” It fills this otherwise dead corner of the room nicely, and, when I prop my feet up on my desk chair, I have myself a ridiculously comfortable place to watch movies/TV/sports on whatever mobile device I happen to have on hand. (It was from this spot that I watched the Federer-Nadal 2017 Australian Open final on replay, the ultimate act of consecration.)

floof.

The most challenging room to deal with has been the study room, especially as the temperature outside started falling. Beyond the fact that the walls are not well insulated, it features a door that leads to an outside porch area that does not seal very well, plus three extremely drafty windows. With judicious placement of towels and the use of copious amounts of packing tape to seal up the windows and doors, I’ve at least managed to ensure that the study is just about the same temperature as the rest of the apartment. Any lingering chill can be mostly dealt with by layering on a vest and throwing a fleece blanket over my legs. Conveniently, I keep both items – along with more fuzzy socks – in a fabric bin right next to my office chair.

basket of cosy.

The study houses the newest member of my lineup of personal computing devices: a brand new, custom-built desktop! As I mentioned in my New Year’s resolutions post, my objective was to have a machine more powerful than my laptop to handle the computational burdens of my research. The tech geeks among you can read more about the build here. In the tradition of supercomputers with funky names, I was extremely keen on baptising my PC with a nifty moniker. I thought that “MAHLER” would be appropriate given my love for classical music and dear old Gustav’s penchant for composing beastly symphonies but couldn’t think of a suitable phrase for which “MAHLER” could serve as an acronym. Eventually, I turned to his Hungarian almost-contemporary, Béla Bartók, for inspiration. The “k” became a “c,” then “BARTOK” became “BARToC,” short for “Big Academic Research Ten-Core Computer.”

BARToC.

On a more practical note, the switch from using a laptop to a desktop computer as my primary machine of choice required me to redesign my workspace (my laptop now stays put in my departmental office, and both are bound by the magical powers of Dropbox). Although I had initially wanted to have a dual-monitor setup at home, the one large monitor I already had on hand has proved to be more than sufficient. My desk, as a result, feels far less cluttered and more spacious than it did before, and I want to believe that has had a salutary effect on my work productivity.

Another positive productivity shock, I hope: while upgrading to BARToC, I treated myself to this mechanical keyboard with the Cherry MX Blue switches. Typing on it is an absolute pleasure. As someone who types with a rather heavy touch, I appreciate the higher activation force, and the clicky sounds are literally all I have ever wanted out of my keyboarding experience. These switches, however, are definitely the sort of thing I can likely only get away with because I live on my own, as I could see the sounds being rather irritating to other people. Being a hermit must have its benefits, after all!

27 February 2017

on the interview trail.

Having made some progress in finally getting my blog up to speed, I will now hop in the time machine and go back to winter break, when I had the pleasure of being a plus one on the medical residency interview trail. For those who are unfamiliar with it – I mean, perhaps this is widespread knowledge among some of you, but I personally couldn’t tell Step 1 from PGY1 until I started dating a med student – here is a quick primer. From an initial pool of applicants, the most promising ones are selected for an interview. This is a process that entails travel at one’s own expense to a potentially far-flung city (and possibly at last minute’s notice), a dinner with the other interviewees and some current interns and residents, requisite information sessions and tours of the hospital, and, naturally, interviews with select members of the faculty. In form, these interviews are not dissimilar to flyouts on the academic job market, but their purposes are rather different. Whereas the latter, at least in economics, are all about the presentation of the job market paper, residency interviews are less interested in academic qualifications, research experiences, or anything else that could be read off a CV and personal statement and instead place more emphasis on characteristics like sociability and collegiality. After all, I was told, when you are working 80+ hours a week and, like, actual people’s lives are literally in your hands, the last thing you want to deal with is a sociopathic coworker. (If I were in a snarky mood, I might quasi-seriously remark that the academic job market in fact selects for sociopathy.)

As a plus one, I was invited to join the dinners, an experience that proved to be rather edifying even beyond the fact that I got some pretty good free food out of it. On each occasion, I was one of only a few people present who had no background in medicine whatsoever. More often than not, my fellow outsiders were residents’ very young children, who were not there of their own volition, and I couldn’t very well huddle in a corner and commiserate with them. I spent the first dinner, after the generic social pleasantries were behind us, mostly staring pleasantly at some point off in the vaguely defined distance as snippets of medical jargon whizzed just beyond the reach of my comprehension. For all of the progress that I have made over the last year and a half to navigate the ways of the wonderful world of medical education, when plopped in the middle of it, I was still a stranger in a strange land.

This initial bewilderment underscores my primary motivation for accompanying the boyfriend on these interviews whenever possible. To pursue a graduate degree of any sort is to undergo an almost comically absurd degree of specialisation. While incentives are such that attaining that degree of specialisation is inseparable from one’s own academic and professional success, it does make talking across disciplines a bit tricky – especially in a case like mine, for I had spent my entire life running as far away as I could from med school (sorry, parents). It was a matter of first-order importance to me, though, to break down that barrier as much as I could. The kind of mutual respect and understanding that I want in a relationship demanded as much, and immersion is the only surefire way to pick up an unfamiliar language. These interviews seemed like the best way to achieve this, since I can’t very well follow him onto the hospital floor (“Hey, honey, why are you sticking that horrifying looking needle into that poor man’s gut?”). Fortunately, the dinners did get easier with each iteration, and, soon, I too could nod knowingly when someone around me said “pulm crit care.”

A secondary motivation was the chance to go on succession of road trips. When his schedule permitted it, we were able to do some sightseeing together. Meanwhile, I got very good at scouting out coffee shops, lunch spots, and places to work near academic medical centres when he was at his interviews. As my #econgradstudentlife is rather stationary (like a well-behaved AR(1) series – God, I’m so hilarious), it was a pleasure to lead, if only for a little while, the life of an itinerant scholar. What follows is a documentation of where the interview trail ended up taking me.

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Charlottesville, VA

Yes, I ended up back in Cville for the second time in two months. Getting there was a story unto itself: I took a Greyhound bus from Ithaca to Philly, where I met the boyfriend and his car. We went from there to Virginia but not first without making a detour to WaWa. A PSA to all the haters and losers: it is the Greatest Motherfucking Place on This Entire Goddamn Planet. I had the pleasure of ordering hoagies for the two of us: my first since I tragically lost my Pennsylvania residence and his first ever. A momentous day, truly.

reunited with wawa.

We happened to catch Praise when we were in town, and the three of us met for a nice lunch at Hamiltons’ at First and Main on the Downtown Mall. There is a very special frisson of joy that I get when I have the opportunity to introduce two important people from different spheres of my life to each other. Of course, the irony here is that the three of us were all studying at Oxford at the same time, but, somehow, their paths failed to cross back then. Following lunch was a stop – and a return visit for me – to the Pie Chest. I weep to look upon this pie’s beauty anew.

the pie chest.

As it had been raining the last time I was on the Downtown Mall, it was nice to see it under fair weather conditions.

downtown mall.

UVA’s campus was as charming and stately as I remembered, and, after dinner that evening, we were able to catch the Rotunda all decked out for the holiday season.

uva.
uva.
christmastime in cville.

With the boyfriend off at his interview the next day, I shamelessly parked myself in Grit Coffee for an entire morning. I had intentions to get work done but ended up engrossed in J.K. Rowling’s Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling instead. Alas.

grit coffee.
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Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh and I have a long history. My aunt lived there for many years, so a stretch of my childhood is littered with memories of twice-yearly drives from one edge of the state of Pennsylvania to the other. My most recent trip to the city occurred back in early 2007, when I flew there for a scholarship interview with the University of Pittsburgh. That trip would also prove memorable for an entirely different reason: while waiting for my return flight to Philly at the airport, I completed my first ever novel, which I had started the previous November.

The boyfriend’s Priceline skills had scored us a room with a view at the Sheraton Pittsburgh Hotel at Station Square. I only mention this because (1) this view, seriously, and (2) the rest of our accommodations were quite budget-conscious, to put it euphemistically, and eminently forgettable.

pittsburgh at night.

The interview dinner was at a vaguely hipster-ish Mexican restaurant downtown. We strolled by the public ice skating rink by PPG Place afterwards and were momentarily tempted to partake in such recreation as well.

ppg place ice rink.
ppg place ice rink.

Another city, another coffee shop: this time, Crazy Mocha. Located near UPitt’s Oakland campus, I suspect that it would have been quite bustling had the semester not already ended. As it was, I found it a bit lacking in atmosphere. For lunch, some Yelp stalking convinced me to check out the nearby Red Oak Café. It was thronged with locals on their own lunch break, many of whom I suspect were employees of the nearby hospitals (the scrubs kind of gave it away). When travelling alone, I have often found it comforting to sink into the surrounding din of anonymous conversations.

red oak cafe.

After I grew tired of sitting still, I pulled out my trusty camera and started wandering in the general direction of UPitt and Carnegie Mellon. UPitt’s Cathedral of Learning is the only landmark that I recall from my last visit – hardly surprising, given how disproportionately large it is relative to the surrounding buildings.

cathedral of learning.
forbes ave.
carnegie museums of pittsburgh.
carnegie library of pittsburgh.

After the boyfriend’s interview ended, we strolled around the inside of the Cathedral of Learning for a bit –

cathedral of learning.
cathedral of learning.

– then we drove to the neighbourhood of Mt. Washington, which offers a scenic outlook over the entire city and the rivers that bound it.

mt. washington scenic outlook.
mt. washington scenic outlook.
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Boston, MA

This interview necessitated a very early alarm and a harrowing drive through rush-hour traffic; I am still giving thanks to whatever higher powers may exist for having survived that. One positive consequence of getting a head start on the day, though, was the ability to walk through Boston Public Garden and down Commonwealth Avenue while both were still reasonably deserted – I, the lone tourist in a sea of commuters shuffling off to work in the cold. It felt like I had the run of the place, which was a rare privilege indeed.

boston public garden.
commonwealth avenue.
newbury street.

I enjoyed a reading breakfast at the Newbury Street location of Thinking Cup. As befits a coffee shop with such a name, the walls were adorned with framed musical instruments and old newspaper clippings could be found underneath the glass overlays at the tables. I had recently finished acquiring all of Kazuo Ishiguro’s books and had brought along his first novel, A Pale View of Hills, for this trip.

thinking cup.

And where else would I work but the eternally splendid Boston Public Library?

boston public library.
boston public library.

I would be joined by Katherine in a few hours’ time, and, after one last attempt at getting some work done, we walked over to the recently opened Eataly, located in the Prudential Center. I ate the pasta too quickly to take pictures of it.

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New Haven, CT

From Boston, we drove straight to New Haven, which would be my final stop on the interview trail. I had been here last in 2006 when I was visiting colleges during my junior year of high school and Yale was on the itinerary. Four years later, I found myself chatting with some British students at Oxford and being asked about how the Yale’s residential college system compared to the Oxbridge model. With a slightly contemptuous wrinkle of the nose, I explained to them that, on paper, they might look similar, but, whereas most Oxbridge colleges are the result of organic development over the centuries, Yale’s colleges were simply grafted on after the fact and named after rich men who never tired of seeing their names etched into the side of a building. Easy enough to levy so dismissive a judgement from the perch of the oldest university in the English-speaking world, but, having spent the last three and a half years of my life imprisoned in the aesthetic desert known as Cornell, I almost cried to find myself surrounded by all of this.

yale university.
yale university.
yale university.

After fuelling up at the aptly named Blue State Coffee – good coffee but utilitarian decor and not particularly worth photographing – I worked out of the Sterling Memorial Library for the remainder of that day. The library’s main hall could have passed for some Gothic cathedral, and the reading room where I passed most of my time, with its wood rafter ceiling, green leather-backed armchairs pressed flush against long tables, and filigreed scrollwork above the doorways, could not have pressed more of my buttons.

sterling memorial library.
sterling memorial library.

I’m so sorry, Yale. I was young and foolish, and I take it all back now, I swear.

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A postscript: the boyfriend calculated that, between the start and end of interview season, he had logged 4,500 miles on his car. I was present for 2,400 of those miles.