After being abroad for a semester, I knew coming back to Baltimore and Hopkins would feel different. While the readjustment has had its emotional weirdness here and there, I’m noticing three new constants that have made the semester outside of class feel fresh: new job, new house, & new(ish) Baltimore. Their idiosyncrasies seep into my weekly routine in ways that offset the academic side of things with a distinct sort of balance. And I’m very, very into it.

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Right before the semester started, I got a part-time job at JHU Press — truly a boon! — helping out in their logistics department, Hopkins Fulfillment Services. I usually spend my shifts filling out orders for professors ordering textbooks to peruse before buying a bunch for a class, but sometimes, I get randomly assigned to help out in other areas of the press, like Project Muse. During today’s shift, I went over to help them shred about 1 million old documents from 1996 onwards, which might sound about as fun as watching grass grow. However! Sometimes, in the midst of a thankless — but essential — clerical task, you find something funky and fun that you want to catalogue for all the world to see. The first picture at the top is from Muse’s first marketing campaign, ALL THE WAY BACK IN ’97. I thought the image was weird but also cool, and kind of humorous for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on. I found a few more things that struck me as semi-entertaining, like these post-it notes from the conference room wall, where they’d clearly had a strategizing meeting about how to one-up their competition at Burger King. It’s small stuff, but my supervisor for the day was really sweet and couldn’t thank me enough for being down to shred paper for 4 hours on a Monday morning: I’m a huge cheesewhiz of a person, but all of these things reminded me how grateful I am to have this gig in the first place. It gives a new layer of non-homeworky structure / productivity to my days. Plus, a laptop from ’97 cradled in the arms of an ancient muse. C’MON.

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 You’re like, “What in heck is that?” It’s a crusty, rustic loaf that I made with my hands, in my oven, in my kitchen, in my beautiful subletted house in Remington. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but living in a real, clean, well-furnished house in a neighborhood with people other than college students that’s on the other side of campus has changed the way I exist as a human at Hopkins this semester. My roommates and I have cheap rent, lots of space to sprawl (in both academically focused and relaxing ways), and plenty of counter / kitchen space to do things like bake three loaves of bread in 2 days (which is something I did this week) or make an Italian dinner and have people over (like my roommate Kira has done approximately 5 times already) OR just grab a snack and chat with the back door open on a freakishly warm February day. Little pieces of the house add character that I’ve missed, especially after living in bland (but clean! but still bland) underclassmen dorms for two years. Case in point: we have a stained glass window in our bathroom. It’s a game-changer & a day-maker. We also have a front & back porch, a midcentury modern couch that looks uncomfortable but is the exact opposite, house plants, and a large wooden dinner table for eating and/or homeworking. It’s probably the most zen place I’ve ever lived, & I’m a happier campus-orbiting student for it. All this from a picture of a bread loaf!

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And finally, Baltimore has shifted & grown & updated some things since I’ve been away, and every time I come across something new, it puts more of a spring in my step than there naturally is (I’m a very fast walker). Over the weekend, my friend Hana and I went to the New America diner, about a 10 minute walk from Peabody campus. It opened during the fall, and judging by how packed it quickly became on the Saturday morning we went, it’s clearly become a Baltimore favorite. Their menu is a treat: they have everything from fried plantains with salt (one of my mom’s favorite dishes) to fresh biscuit breakfast sandwiches to pesto potatoes, which is a smattering of things that don’t sound like they go together — but they do! The diner has a lovely interior with an open kitchen where you can creepily watch people cook (in a good way, if you’re a creep like me) and a big bookshelf with beautiful ceramics and other artisinal knick knacks. Plus their window displays are prime for a casual photo-op. It’s just a slice of Baltimore, but in all its breakfast goodness and sunlit newness, it got me excited to be back all over again.