Last day in Morningside Heights

June 13, 2008
I'm leaving New York tomorrow, unfortunately. Don't get me wrong--I'm looking forward to spending the next two weeks in Rhode Island. But at the same time, I already feel nostalgic for the year that is coming to an end tomorrow.
When I received the Harriman fellowship last year, I originally told them that I could only do it for one semester. I'd already received the NEH-ARIT fellowship for seven months in Turkey, and decided to spend one semester in New York and then the second semester in Istanbul.
Fortunately, smarter people than I got wind of my plans and advised me to defer my Turkey research until this summer and spend the entire year at Columbia. The folks at ARIT were kind enough to agree, and so I arrived in Morningside Heights last September with a full ten months in New York ahead of me.
I can't say that it feels like I have really been living in New York since then--it feels more like I've lived in Morningside Heights, which is where Columbia is located. I didn't really go downtown that much, or have a very wild nightlife. Mostly I worked, or went to the gym, or biked, or walked around my neighborhood, or traveled, but I never felt like I was living a very "New York" lifestyle. On those occasions when I did go downtown, I always felt like that was the "real" New York, while Morningside Heights (sometimes called "Boringside Heights") was just Columbia.
So, other than the places I could walk to (Morningside Heights, Upper West Side, and Harlem), I didn't hang out much in New York. But nevertheless, I grew attached to my neighborhood, to the doormen and janitors in my building, to everyone I met at Columbia. I especially loved riding my bike through Central Park, and it was also pretty cool that the Columbia gym had a sauna.
Mostly, I really liked my job. The Harriman Institute basically let its postdocs (there were four of us this year--three in the Russia-Islam project) do what we wanted. We all had a set of nominal tasks, but mostly we were allowed to further our own research in whatever way we wanted. For me, this was a much appreciated gift. I was given a cubicle to work in, which I appreciated, but I mostly worked at home because my housemate (a postdoc in biology) stayed at the lab all day and until three o'clock every morning.
So, I was able to get a lot done this year. I gave a number of talks--two at Columbia, a couple in Japan, one in New Orleans, another in Istanbul, as well as a couple of others I can't remember right now, and also did a lot of other fun things. Mostly, I talked about various parts of my work to different people at different times. This helped me a lot when trying to figure out what to do with my dissertation. Hopefully during the upcoming year I'll be able to get a lot of these plans down on paper, and make some inroads into doing what I want to do with it.
When I was in graduate school, I always thought that life would never get easier. While grad school usually doesn't pay much, it does give you plenty of time. This year at Columbia, however, has been even better. Never mind the generous salary, the amount of time I was given to work entirely upon my own research was fabulous. The work that I was asked to do was also stimulating, and involved making the acquaintance of lots of amazing people. All in all, it's been a super year.
So now, my travels begin. Two weeks in Rhody, followed by a trip to Castle Park, followed by Istanbul, then Russia, then Georgia, then Russia again, then Turkey, then the US, then Turkey again, then the US again, then Turkey again, then Russia--all by next Summer, and that's not including vacations.
So, it's saddening to leave New York, and I must admit at my age I'm getting tired of living on the road. But you have to do what you have to do, and I'm sure the next year will be enjoyable and educational.
For now, though, even though the weather has been not just sticky, but adhesive, and my apartment couldn't be louder if I lived in the middle of a racetrack, I'm really going to miss this place.

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