Bloomington: the Early Years, 2012-2015

My years in Bloomington are obviously some of the most significant of my life. I learned so much during this years– stuff about myself, art history, the world, everything really. It will be hard to say goodbye. Or, see ya later, because really, there will always be a next time. Deep breaths. There’s no crying in baseball. My time in Bloomington can be pretty easily divided into 3 distinct parts. The Early Years (2012-2015, comprising coursework and quals); Dissertating (2015-2019, comprising proposal, all sorts of travel, and my mom’s death), and Post-PhD (2019-2021, IAS and Pandemic). I’m going to write a post about all three. Why not?

When I moved to Bloomington in 2012, I had never stepped foot in the state of Indiana. I had some half-baked notions of what I would find–a blend of vague ideas about the US west of the Appalachians and stereotypes from Parks and Rec. Indiana (my part of it anyway) was NOT barren, flat prairie, but rather with rocky rolling hills. Most people do have a weird story about John Cougar Mellencamp (or his kids). Cities and towns do have really ornate courthouses (of COURSE made of Indiana limestone). There ARE a lot of raccoons. To be fair though, I’ve seen more skunk. (I have a long-standing theory that Bloomington *is* Pawnee. Yes, I know Bloomington pops up in the show, and no, that doesn’t matter to my theory.) Anyway. I digress.

It would be impossible for me to formulate a clear narrative of the first few years, so I’m going to hit the highlights. I know I’m missing things–critical important events and people–but at this moment, the things listed below are what categorized my early time in Bloomington.


Starting a Solo Adventure

I moved to Bloomington after what had been a rough couple of years. From 2010 to 2011, I lived with my grandfather while doing my MA and working a few jobs. My family had moved far away, then after my grandfather’s health declined, he moved to Texas to live with my uncle. It was rough, and I felt rather…adrift, but stuck both in terms of geography and situation. I was independent, but not. On a path, but not a certain one. I knew I wanted to go to get my PhD, but it wasn’t a guaranteed outcome. Thankfully, I was accepted to IU and the adventure could begin.

Driving to Indiana with my seeester!

After a summer of fun, concerts with my BFF, visits to quintessential Virginia sites, I packed up all of my stuff, and moved to Indiana with the help of my Dad and siblings. It was mildly terrifying to move to a town and state I’d never been to before, where I did not know a single person, but it was also thrilling to be on this adventure because it was was entirely my own. I was in Bloomington because I chose to go to IU. I was at IU because I chose to study art history. I wasn’t sure it would all work out the way I wanted–with a tenure-track job at a small liberal arts school–but at least I was taking concrete steps to make that happen.

Part of my orientation materials, from the now defunct Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts. (I still have this notebook cover, because I am that person.

It wasn’t easy. The first semester was kind of rough. I was one of 2 PhD students and lived farther way than I had intended (the risk of renting online with a NoVA definition of commute). Everyone else was an MA student and grouped together a little easier because of the classes they took (or so I felt!).My expectations and hopes had to confront reality, and that always requires a little adjustment. I found my feet and my people eventually and it was seriously one of the happiest times in my life.

Loving Bloomington and IU

Bloomington seemed like a perfect little pleasantville, microcosm of a place. After living on the 95 corridor literally my entire life, it was refreshing to have real boundaries to a space (literally, you can tell the moment you leave “town,” still). After the sprawl of northern Virginia/DC, it was charming. An actually ‘main’ street/downtown area, with adjoining campus felt so novel too after George Mason.

The interior of the Rose Well House from my first walk around campus,

CAMPUS itself was gorgeous. Both my undergrad and my MA were entirely different from IU’s. Randolph-Macon was small and quaint, beautiful, but definitely not really that impressive architecturally. Mason had a fine campus and was a huge school, but it was all very 1960s and 1970s (understandably). IU has a much more unified campus that is without a doubt, one of the prettiest in the nation. The landscaping is always great. The trees are always incredible in almost any season.

Kirkwood Hall. Legit favorite door on IU’s campus.

The architecture on campus fueled my excitement for scholarly pursuits. The gothic and romanesque influence *clearly* were meant to inspire Deep Thoughts unlike the boring brutalist stuff at Mason. Even better IU had an amazing museum and attached fine arts library in the same building as the art history department. It was THE LIFE.

My carrel, number 4, my favorite number, right under that weird painting with SPQR. It felt pre-ordained. RIP FAL.
Perfect atmosphere for some thinking. RIP FAL.
The foyer of the IU Art Museum (now the Eskenazi Museum of Art).
Paired busts of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus and his wife Julia Domna in their old arrangement at the IUAM.

Meeting So Many of “My” People

This one is it. Really, what made Bloomington was the people. In the first 2 years in Bloomington, I met more people who would become absolutely critical humans to my life. There are so many. Almost all art historians. I don’t take pictures of people (ugh) so I don’t have much to share here. All I have to say is I feel very lucky. I had opera buddies. Ice cream buddies. Art museum buddies (duh). Movie night buddies. Game night buddies. ALL SORTS OF BUDDIES.

There’s my friend L who I have been lucky enough to visit several times abroad and visit some really cool places. The first person to welcome me to IU, and who I would literally walk over the coals for.

Then there’s S&J who had become quick friends during our orientation, but then quickly welcomed me into their little group when it was clear I needed a friend. I spent literally so many wonderful moments with these two; they’ll always be my badass humans.

Year 2 brought three incredible humans, E, H, and K. I was so pleased to have found so many great people in Year 1, imagine my surprise when year 2 brought just as many amazing people.

Seriously, yo, when I count my blessings, it’s insane to think of how many of these blessings were introduced to me in this short window of time. In the art history department of IU, in Bloomington, Indiana of all places, no less!

The way it works in Bloomington though is that most everyone leaves. I’ve had to watch people I really care about move on to new and exciting things. What’s crazy to me is that I’ve managed to stay in touch with many who have moved away, some even thousands of miles away across the globe. But they leave and you stay. It’s hard watching them leave and not knowing when it will be your turn.

Ah, my desk in the grad office. Since I don’t have pictures of people (really), I’ll let this stand in for the place where I got to know so many people that I care about. RIP Grad office (yes, I was on facebook, hahahaha).

Discovering Drag Queens

In the grad office up there, one of my dearest amies introduced me to this little show called “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” You may have heard of it. This may sound random, but I have so many great memories connected to this show. I feel like it drew together many things I loved, provided some excellent stress relief, and much-needed inspiration, for some really difficult moments that would unfold over the next couple years.

Plus, I got to experience the much-beloved and unique, Uncle Elizabeth’s, which hosted drag shows in Bloomington before it folded.

I don’t have great images for the drag shows at Uncle E’s, but they were nothing but pure wonderful adrenaline.

Adopting Livia

In 2013, I finally got what I had wanted for so very long. A little baby kitty cat of my own. It was not an impulse decision, but it was still nerve wracking. I’d never owned an animal of my own before. It was a big responsibility. But oy! It was near instantaneous love. I went to the shelter wanting to get a male black and white cat, that I would name Gus. I left with a girl, grey and white that I named Livia. None of the boy kittens struck my fancy–there weren’t many. My friend L scooped up a girl baby and handed her to me. The first girl was too freaked out. L then scooped up 2nd girl baby, named “Eartha Kitt” and I didn’t put her down again until it was time to take her home. She was my baby. She loves me more than anyone else on earth and is my sweet perfect baby angel, even though she is a born crank, as evidenced by the picture below.

The curmudgeon is strong with this one. Livia, May 2013.

For those of you who were in Bloomington in 2012-2015, what did I miss? What were your critical Bloomington moments during these years?

Surgery Detour

In April, I had my last supervised weight loss appointment. I completed 6 months of ‘supervised weight loss’ losing 60 pounds since I started the program in October. I passed the program with flying colors. After completing the program, the next steps are insurance approval, then scheduling the surgery, then surgery. However, LIFE happened.

Left: April 2021 compared to (right) July 2020 at my heaviest. Difference of 60 lbs.

In short, I got a new job! One that requires me to move to a new city! Get new insurance! Switch doctors! This move is great for me both personally and professionally, but it does require me to revise my timeline for surgery for a bit, while I settle into a whole lotta new. Instead of having surgery in June/July, I will be moving.

Fortunately, I knew this was a possibility at my last appointment and discussed that option with my surgeon. The timing to switch was really perfect. I completed the strictest pre-surgery requirements (as required by most insurances), and the results of that were good for a period of 2 years. So basically, all I need to do once I get settled is find a surgeon I like, have them contact my previous office, and schedule my surgery.

Until then, I’m in a holding pattern. The goal is to continue my weight loss and stick to the food plan. So far so good! I haven’t lost a lot in the past month, but it follows the basic trend of the previous few months of slow and steady forward movement. I suspect that there will be hard moments, particularly as it becomes less and less convenient to cook as I move, but I am hoping that the process of moving won’t be too disruptive to my overall trajectory.

General feels right now: I feel GREAT. Losing 60+ lbs does wonders for your energy levels. I can move and be flexible again in ways I hadn’t realized had diminished. At my heaviest, I felt so uncomfortable in my skin, but in a way that is constant so you can’t really articulate exactly what that discomfort is. The absence of that discomfort is WONDERFUL. Clothes either fit better or are now too big. I move with greater ease and comfort and power. I do not get winded nearly as often. I *feel* so much better. The number on the scale right now is just one single metric of many.

My passport photo taken in early 2015, nowhere near my heaviest (this was pre-mom’s death and dissertating!) and May 2021 65 lbs down.

A new kind of adventure in 2021

2020. Unlike most years, I’m not really interested in doing much ruminating on 2020. It was a rollercoaster, one I don’t care to ride ever again. While I totally get that many of the problems we faced in 2020 aren’t magically gone, I am super ready to take reset that a new year offers (even if it’s only a placebo).

2021 will hold a pretty big adventure for me, one that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and now I’m at a place (read: not a grad student) to do it. If all goes to plan, I will be having gastric bypass surgery in 2021.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go public with this info. There are stigma associated with bariatric surgery. There’s a belief among some that it’s “cheating” or for people that don’t have the willpower to lose weight “correctly.” There are others that believe that weight-loss surgery is fatphobic and irreparably alters a healthy body for no reason, putting thinness ahead of health. Neither of these things are true.* To do my part in breaking down that stigma, I’ve decided to be open about what I’m doing to people in my orbit.

I am doing this surgery because I have always been obese, for as long as I can remember. I am not doing the surgery to lose weight, but rather to keep it off. I also am hoping to stave off type 2 diabetes and high-blood pressure, for which I am particularly high risk owing to family history.

I am doing the surgery because I wonder every day how my life would be different right now if my mom had had the surgical intervention. Would she have died at the age of 59 from a pulmonary embolism (a pretty direct consequence of being obese)? Would she have been happier? Would she have been able to do things with us in the last few years of her life? It is true that skinny does not equal healthy, while it is similarly true that morbid obesity (the worst term) is a deadly state.

I don’t want to wonder those questions about me. I am taking a proactive stance, and trying to prolong my current health for as long as possible. That’s the primary reason why I’m doing this.

It would be wrong for me to say that I am not looking forward to no longer sticking out like a sore thumb. To no longer see people’s eyes rolling when they see that their seat on the airplane is next to mine. To little kids, well-meaning dears who really don’t know better, asking if there’s a baby in my belly. To seeing people’s eyes look you up and down and know that they’re forming some assessment of your interior worth because of the exterior of your body.

Right now, I’m in the pre-op stage, which is dictated by my insurance. In order to qualify for them to cover the surgery, I have to have 6 consecutive months of weigh-ins where I either lose or maintain my weight, pass a series of medical pre-checks, and take several classes. My surgeon requested that I lose 20-25 pounds before surgery and I was put on a diet that’s called a “liver reduction diet” that reduces my carb intake in order to make my liver as small as possible for the surgery.

In the past 2 months, I’ve lost 25 pounds and I feel great. I’m proud of the steps I’ve taken for my health. I’m excited to see where 2021 takes me with this process. I’ve always felt like I was in a war with food, but in the past 2 months, I’ve felt so in control.

I do have concerns, questions, and anxieties about the risks this process entails, but that is for another post and another day. Today, I am excited about possibilities.

My stats as of January 1, 2021

*I do think the approach to bariatric surgery can vary highly. If your surgeon and practice don’t put health first and privilege the goal weight over the rest, I’d find a new surgeon.