Unsurprisingly, my blog backlog has grown since moving. Thus, this blog is…old news, but a day I want to remember nonetheless. Who says blogs have to be timely?
On June 21, 2021, I said goodbye to my home of 9 years, Bloomington, Indiana. I woke up very early thanks to my cat, Fitz, who cried nearly the entire night. The movers and truck arrived at 8 AM, and before I knew it all of my stuff had been loaded up and was on its way to Nashville–not too much longer after that, I–along with my two cats–was on my way, too.
The drive was tough. Emotionally, I was a little wrecked. I was leaving people I loved dearly to live in a new city, for a new job, a new adventure. Yet, even with so much in store in Nashville, on my way out of town, I mostly just felt a deep sense of loss. Not long after we crossed into Kentucky and left Indiana, Mother Nature decided to put on her own show–it rained and rained and rained. The really heavy kind where the only thing is to put on your blinkers and drive 30 mph while 18-wheelers SOMEHOW drive by going full tilt. Low on sleep and emotional resilience, I couldn’t wait to get to Nashville and my new apartment.
The first smile of the drive happened when I rolled into town. In a total cliche move, the clouds parted, the rain stopped, and the sun shone exactly as Nashville’s skyline rolled into view. I grinned. YES, I was saying goodbye to Bloomington and closing a door, shutting the book on that part of my life. The people I would miss, but I know better than most that geographic distance is nothing between true friends.
I had rented my apartment sight unseen, which is always nerve wracking. Everything was as promised. The truck had arrived before we had. My cats were firmly ensconced inside the apartment when the movers showed up (my greatest fear was them getting out). The vise around my chest that I had been holding since I left Bloomington started to loosen a little. With each box and piece of furniture, I began to relax even more.
One of the movers recommended Martin’s BBQ “as the best in town,” so when I went to get my internet kit, we grabbed our dinner. It was good BBQ but I definitely thought Nashville probably has better to offer (it does, can confirm).
Exhausted, finally a little excited for the possibilities Nashville would offer and all of the adventures that I would have, I went to bed. I expected to have a wonderful night’s sleep, but my Fitzwilliam again had different plans. I started my day as I began it, listening to my cat sing me the song of his suffering, tired, grateful, excited, hopeful, sad, and just generally full of emotion.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For those of you who were in Bloomington in 2012-2015, what did I miss? What were your critical Bloomington moments during these years?
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