This month will almost certainly be the busiest of Michael's and my year. While most of the scheduled events and activities were ones that I was involved in for my dissertation work and/or teaching, they necessarily involve additional care and organization from Michael, particularly given my being away from home for nearly two full weeks. He also had to end that time with a 4.5 hour flight with Jonathan from Seattle to Minneapolis, followed by a couple more days traveling with him. All in all, everything has gone off without a hitch. We are currently in our last day of "vacation" in Duluth, and I am struggling to feel relaxed and with whether this is just par for the course traveling with a very discombobulated toddler or whether it is because I struggle to keep an open mind and flexible attitude, even in circumstances that clearly require those things.
For the first week of my trip, I was in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, participating in a dissertation/article writing institute with 28 other participants from across the world and across the disciplines. We came from 6 countries and many more states, though many fun and more "local" connections were also discovered. I myself met a Professor from Whitman College in Walla Walla who had been at a conference hosted by the University of Washington just two months ago, and in which I also participated. The common thread that we all shared coming into this institute was a shared interest in the "field" of Animal Studies, or, within this specific context, Human-Animal Studies. For those of you not as well-versed in the academic world or academic categorizations like these two terms, we all work with some form of ethics and concern for animals, with varying degrees of political, social, and cultural implications that those words are able to encompass depending on their context. Our work ranged from social scientists researching the impact of our attitudes towards FRACKing on animals to those doing fieldwork in slaughterhouses in Israel to visual artists who spend much of their lives working with and living near a small cow farm, fully integrating these animals into their work, and many many scholarly projects inbetween and beyond. Each day, we spent three hours in the morning workshopping three individual projects, and in the afternoon usually had one or two plenary speakers (=lectures from various points in the field). There were several activities including a visit to a goat dairy farm 20 minutes outside of Urbana-Champaign, begun several years ago by two retired professors who had dreamed of living a different kind of life for decades. In many ways, it was a lower level of what many of us might dream of as our professional (or personal) "utopia". On the other hand, we were all exhausted and drained by the schedule and the subject matter that, by and large, is relentless in its ability to maintain a constant baseline of hopelessness and sadness into all discussions. Having said that, one does tend to find strength in numbers, and even though we weren't fighting a war or waging an active protest for social justice - the kind of place you might expect to find the term, as opposed to a week of writing workshops - and so we also found ourselves experiencing many moments of renewed strength and energy for the journey. Most of us, I believe, assume that the various journeys upon which we have each embarked for each project will likely last our lifetimes, and perhaps beyond. We established relationships that we all hope to continue and had conversations that revealed layers in our work and others' that we hadn't ever considered. I'm sure that we all feel we've come away with what many of us were referring to as a great "toolbox" for moving each of our projects forward, and that is something that you can't put a price on.
The day after the conference wrapped up, I headed back up to Chicago to spend a few days in my favorite city in the States. One of my housemates from the years I spent there still lives in the same house, and I was lucky enough to be able to stay there, in the neighborhood with which I remain surprisingly familiar. It was really fun to reconnect with a few of the faces and places with whom and in which I spent so much time. However, I found myself in a constant state of unrest and indecisiveness. With only two full days in town, things went fast. On Monday, I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and received tickets on the field at Wrigley to see Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor live. It was a concert I never would have dreamed I'd get to attend, let alone with that good of seats. Really an amazing experience. I spend a day shopping, something that I have needed to do for various reasons for several months but have just not had the time to. Chicago is a fun city to shop in. I met up with a friend who I met as she finished her M.A. in the program I attended at UIC, and who is now an Assistant Professor and Director of French Studies at Depaul University after completing her PhD in 2016. It is both frightening and encouraging to visit with those who have walked the path we are on and are succeeding - these days, it seems that too often I have the experience of meeting those who are struggling to find a job in the field they worked so hard to train for.
During these first two legs of my trip, I missed Michael and Jonathan terribly. I only Facetimed with them once, and wasn't able to talk much on the phone with them since Jonathan gets upset when he can't hold the phone, but also isn't really talking much yet, himself. It was good in that it reminded me how special he is and how deeply rooted together the three of us are. The toddler stage is probably my favorite and the hardest thus far, and Jonathan is full in the "terrible twos", albeit a bit before the age of 2. We were all reunited on Wednesday in Duluth, Minnesota, where we will attend Jonathan's godfather's wedding later this afternoon.
The past few days, we have been welcomed into our friend's home. He is one of 9 kids, and several of them are married with kids. It has been a happy madhouse, and so different from the houses we grew up in and have been around in an area where 2 or 3 kids is much more common than the number of families over 5 we have encountered in our short time here in Minnesota. So it has been fun to watch Jonathan interact with the kids, who range from 4 months to 6 years old, and to get to know the family ourselves as they have welcomed us in as an extended addition to their sweet home. The challenge has been the hotel. Of course, we are all three in one room, and it's a very spacious room! But Jonathan is off in timezone and mind, following our reunion and being immersed suddenly in so many new faces and places. We have all struggled to get any sleep. Last night, Michael was fortunate to get to spend several hours with the guys and the groom as they gave him marital advice and enjoyed time together. Unfortunately, it meant a very late (or early, as it were) return to the room and that I was up worried when his phone had died and he was no longer responding to my texts. All in all, today I have not been a positive person and I have been wishing I was at the Halverson house instead of stuck here trying to pack my suitcase that seems to, strangely, have shrunk since my departure on July 8th. We'll have to leave tonight after the wedding, so I am pushing back anxiety about Jonathan having a class 5 meltdown and getting any sleep whatsoever.
Monday, my former French roommate and her boyfriend arrive at our home for 5 days of Seattle visiting, so the month isn't over, yet! Prayers are greatly appreciated...!