May 5, 2017 (Friday)

by Yule Heibel on May 4, 2018

One of the problems (utterly self-created) with restricting my journaling to Morning Pages – the three-page limit – is that there’s so much I leave out. And I might spend half a page (of the three)  or even more on relative banalities to “rev” myself up, as it were, so that cuts into the available space even more.

But I’ve written about the benefits of the limit, of this peculiar restraint (constraint?), too. So I’m not about to jettison it. I could write at night again, but then it would – could – become too onerous, and my resentment might affect the Morning Pages. I have written online (Evernote), but these days I find I’m also playing with different kinds of muscle memory – handwriting vs typing, e.g. Journaling is being wired most effectively as the former – I don’t yet feel ready to make the activity ambitechnical.

Anyway… yesterday evening could have used a good journaling session, I suppose. In the afternoon I had driven to Cambridge for that movie and lecture. Very glad I did. The event started at 4pm, I was slightly early even after walking around town a bit first. The film: Judith Wechsler’s Svetlana Boym. The Inaugural Lecture, “The Politics of the Off-Modern in the Art Form Elsewhere,” by Andreas Huyssen (on Doris Salcedo, William Kentridge, Nalini Malani), all very interesting stuff, all also very dry in that timid, “safe,” Harvard kind of way.

As the Center for European Studies’ lower level auditorium wasn’t anticipated to be large enough, the event was at the much larger Fong Auditorium in Boylston.

I had a “shock” seeing R.K. get up to introduce the event. K. and I were grad students together – he and D.P. were pals, and we were all three in T.J.C.’s cubism seminar. I never liked – or more importantly: trusted – him because there’s something about his personality which just rubs me the wrong way. Imagine Voldemort as a Hogwarts student who, with all his lizard-y qualities intact, does not grow up to be Voldemort, but instead becomes an art history professor. As I watched him retake his seat, I could observe the back of his head, the close-cropped steel gray hair, and the sallow skin at the back of his neck that wrinkled like his concerned forehead – but only in very taut, tense and tight folds. He reminded me of a reptile.

I saw an old prof of mine, H.Z., for whom I had taught many years ago. I don’t think he recognized me. I saw E.L.-B., who looks old.

They all look so old now.

Wechsler introduced her film, which was a series of montaged interviews, photos, voice-overs, and film clips, nothing much of great note – except its subject, Boym. She must have been such a remarkable figure – and we were in the same physical spaces, but never met. She was ~2-1/2 to 3 years younger than me (depending on month of her birth). I felt like there were a lot of parallels between us, in certain respects and in certain experiences – and in certain accomplishments.

That sounds like bragging, but I too got “remarkable” graduate student papers published in peer-reviewed journals while still a student, for example. Published a book, published more articles subsequently, was invited to speak at symposia. And I too am an immigrant – twice over. Where we differ: her, only child with a loving, sane set of parents. Me, not so much. Her, an excellent, supportive education, with no drug- and alcohol-related gaps. Me, not so much: a multitude of elementary, middle, and high schools, constant moving, no one at home caring about my education or what would come after, lots of skipping school, doing drugs. Her, an early marriage (because he promised escape from the Soviet Union), then divorce and independence, fierce independence. Me, not so much: early marriage, but fidelity (and dependence). Her, multi-talented, fiercely inquisitive, very energetic. Me, same, I think.

Heterodox, unorthodox, etc.


Her, cancer diagnosis followed rapidly by death, but surrounded by many friends (and family, albeit no children). Me, healthy, older, but with a terribly circumscribed social life, no family nearby – albeit, two children.

If I could reconnect to that energy I used to have, the energy before I spilled it all into domesticity and children, and pour it into real work again, I could reconnect to my old life. Not at Harvard – I don’t want them, really, they’re all so timid these days. But reconnect to an intellectual life.

Boym went to Boston University; Harvard was her grad school. I had a huge offer (President’s Scholarship) from Boston University for grad school, which I turned down in favor of going to Harvard. And Boym kept her first husband’s name. (Didn’t take her second’s, though.) I never had a second, but neither did I take the first’s. She was very beautiful and photogenic when quite young. Less so as she hit her Harvard career and late forties, early fifties.

Was it the illness already, or does Harvard just make everyone look old before their time?

Svetlana Boym: Exile and Imagination Promo from Erika O’Conor on Vimeo.


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