I’m writing these lines sitting at St. John’s airport. I’m headed for Frankfurt, Germany again, after the first leg of the trip was cancelled due to fog and high winds yesterday. Luckily, I didn’t have any pressing appointments and could simply defer the voyage for one day. While I was never affected by a flight cancellation before, delays to or from St. John’s due to bad weather are not uncommon. Located on an island in the North Atlantic and moreover close to the Grand Banks where the Gulf and Labrador Currents meet, the provincial capital is subject to frequent dense fog and weather difficult to forecast. Yet, even if all goes smoothly, the trip to and from Europe is a long one. With no direct transatlantic connection, it usually takes me almost a full day (and night) from door to door.
I have taken to going to Germany for the winter since I finished my classes and do my studies largely on my own schedule. Rather than escape the Newfoundland weather though, I want to be with my parents. They are both in their eighties now, and I want to enjoy them while I have them. Christmas is genuine family time, and with my own, my mom’s, and my dad’s birthday coming up in January, February, and April, respectively, I usually stay until all the festivities are over. I am then leaving a German spring in full bloom to find Newfoundland still in the grip of winter. That doesn’t mean I don’t long to come back. I do; I long for my friends and colleagues, the libraries (still holding treasures that aren’t available digitally), the natural beauty, and cultural riches. And so, I embark on the lengthy return voyage to St. John’s.
Today, I leave a grey Newfoundland winter day behind and expect to find similar conditions at my destination. Besides the family reunion, I also have two exhibitions in Europe coming up: a solo show in Duisburg in January and a group show in Vienna in March. It’s important to me to keep up my life as an artist during the years of being a doctoral student. Indeed, my supervisors have encouraged me to integrate my art into my dissertation, and that’s exactly what I had originally intended to do. Yet, over the last four years, I have both necessarily and happily committed much of my brain and creativity to explore new intellectual horizons, with only occasional artistic output accompanying my studies. So, with my nose in the books, I try to maintain a minimum public presence as an artist as well as the central connections within my artistic network.
Naturally, I also try to maintain friendships on both sides of the Atlantic. This may appear straightforward in times of Zoom and Skype, but I feel that remote contact is only a weak substitute for real-life exchange. Still, an online chat is better than nothing, and I try to make up for my absence with more attention and time when I’m around. This doesn’t always work out though, as shared experiences can’t be scheduled. As a result, some friendships have suffered since I commute between continents, while others have not fully developed to begin with.
It takes efforts to sustain a life on two continents and build a career that combines artistic and academic interests and skills. Together with doing my studies in Memorial’s Interdisciplinary Ph.D. program, which offers amazing opportunities but is naturally not assigned to a specific department or faculty, I sometimes feel like falling between the cracks. Indeed, earlier this year, I learned that the interdisciplinary character of my program was among the reasons for not receiving a specific grant. Although my doctoral project falls entirely within the range of Humanities and Social Sciences, projects by applicants belonging to a specific HSS department were prioritized. Defying the related frustration took me another effort.
More often than feeling like being caught between two (or more) stools, though, I conceive all this as a special quality, as the luxury of having it all: Europe and Newfoundland, art and academy, and all the disciplines that prove relevant for my research project. After all, the whole scenario is self-chosen, and, to me, the efforts to sustain it are more than worthwhile. Having good friends, if not in record-breaking numbers, with different cultural backgrounds is highly rewarding; and the richness of research across disciplines makes up for the occasional disadvantages I am facing in a world still widely relying on explicit categorizing. Nonetheless, I certainly hope that interdisciplinarity will eventually become more than the catchphrase as which it often appears today, and I’ll try to contribute to the process.
PS: My trip to Europe went smoothly that day, and I am finalizing this post at my other home in Saabrücken, Germany.
~ Rona ~