January 2009 Reflection

January is paper period at Dublin City University. Thus, when Christmas vacation came to an end two weeks ago, I began to dread the prospect of coming back to a mostly empty campus to spend long days in the library reading and even longer nights sequestered at my desk writing. (Imagine the heresy of not wanting to come back to Ireland! I know, I know.)

I got back to Dublin last Wednesday, Jan. 7, and immediately proceeded to do what any self-respecting student does in times of stress — the most unproductive thing possible. In my latest bout with procrastination, I became a peripatetic. Or, at the very least, I began walking a lot, from the mystifyingly circuitous cul-de-sacs around DCU to the overgrown greens of Phoenix Park and over the dried-up canals that criss-cross Dublin’s Docklands. All the while, I began to appreciate what Heidegger called the Alltaglichkeit, or “everydayness,” of a city I (mistakenly) told my parents I was coming “home” to at the end of Christmas break.

And then I went to the library and began work on Eamon de Valera and Jurgen Habermas — two papers that far surpass in overall quality about 90 percent of the work I produced as an over-anxious undergrad at Duke. It’s amazing what a whiff of salty air from the Docklands can do. Of course, I still have one paper left. So I might be writing a very different journal entry come Jan. 27.

Regardless, I’ll echo several Mitchells who penned this January journal entry in the past when I say that it’s incredibly hard to believe that the year is already halfway done. Second semester classes begin Feb. 9. In the meantime, I’ve been writing and “training” for a “Toughguy” (apologies for the quotation marks) competition in Wolverhampton, England, which two other Mitchells and a number of our friends from the Naval Academy are embarking on as a team “January 32” (again with the quotation marks). In addition, another marathon — the May 10 Prague Marathon — lies on the horizon.

I also want to travel more extensively throughout Ireland this semester, to Waterford and Donegal and Sligo and Kilkenny, to name a few spots. I recently sent an e-mail to DCU’s “Surf ’n’ Sail Club,” through which I hope to: (1) learn to surf, thus becoming one of the select few people in the world who can say, “Yeah, I learned to surf in Galway”; and (2) see smaller, off-the-beaten-trail towns on the island’s west coast. All the while, I’m continuing on with my promise to myself to read all the books I should have read in high school and college: Joyce’s Ulysses, de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Huizinga’s Homo Ludens, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, etc.

And finally, I want to continue to enjoy the everydayness of Dublin and, even more than that, my day-to-day experiences with the other Mitchells. There are, I am beginning to realize, only a few times in your life when you can surround yourself, on a regular basis, with a group as dynamic and ambitious — but at the same time down-to-earth — as the current group of Scholars. More than the long days in the library and longer nights in front of the computer screen, I’ll remember, when this crazy, incredible experience is over, the time when I took a break from research in the UCD Archives and had lunch and a coffee and a long conversation with Jose this past December.

For me, this year is about striking a balance. It is, I admit, something I’ve always struggled to do.

On a more practical and slightly less paean-ic level, though, the end of the first semester also brought with it the heady realization that I need to get a job after I turn in my thesis nine months from now, which, given the current economic clime, is anything but easy these days.

And with that note, I’m going for another — particularly long — walk.

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