In a crowded theater my body moves with the music. I brush my hair out of my face, my fingers laced through it at the nape of my neck. In that moment I can feel your breath on my skin and it is like nothing I remember.
I am 17 and on the dance floor, two weeks from graduation. My best friend is there. Such a fateful night. We danced to that Whitetown song and sparkly confetti rained down from the ceiling. We were so young. I found glitter in my bed for a week, and every time smiled a secret smile.
In the dark of midwinter we stand outside the coffeeshop under a streetlamp, too close and yet too far apart. Laughter plays in my eyes, laughter and anticipation. I who have always been one to make moments am to shy to claim this one, and so it passes, and another, and another beyond it. I want your hands on my face, your hands at my waist, your hand on the back of my neck. In that half light, the moment unclaimed, I exhale and you get in your car and something I didn’t know dwelled within me shattered.
I am 19. Somewhere between Christmas and the turning of the year we sit in the hallway of my apartment, me in a dress, you all in black, both of us smoking cigarettes and shivering from the cold. You find a blanket – no, a towel – to cover my bare legs and we talk deep into the night about music, art, poetry, death, life, love. Somewhere in the watches of the night you look at me, eyes full on me, and say “I want to learn from you.”
You slept on my couch that night, and in the morning left with a stack of my books. Five years later I walked through an airport and heard your voice and something inside me seized up tight.
Eight friends sitting around a table. Eight wine glasses raised to freedom. A hot kitchen, a table laden with food, laughter and seriousness. Hearts and minds were elsewhere with distant loves, pressing worries, ringing cellphones, and unfinished work – but for a few hours we were family. My family here is ever-changing, but sitting around that table felt like being home again.
Things I have learned about grad school:
- Grad school is a profoundly lonely endeavor unless you’re in a track with a bunch of people doing the same thing.
- Going to extra lectures is fantastic especially when it allows you to expand your thinking in new directions – except when this means expanding the scope of research you’re already trying to narrow.
- Sometimes you’ll have a spontaneous conversation that ameliorates, if only briefly, your academic frustrations and lonelinesses.
- Sometimes you’ll get to meet very controversial and important figures in your discipline before you’ve had your morning coffee.
- Sometimes you’ll get to take courses from nationally recognized researchers doing really important work in your field.
- Sometimes you’ll sit in class on a Friday morning and feel your chest well up with pride and excitement about the field you’re studying (even if it’s not where you will end up professionally).
- And sometimes you’ll come home after a long day of lectures, work, class, the library, and more work and be so exhausted you can hardly function.
All of these have happened and/or occurred to me this week.
I’m distracted tonight. I keep trying to focus on the paper I’m researching and writing, but after an hour or so at the computer my eyes start glazing over and I just want to crawl into bed. I’m getting there, though – not really anything written, but a lot of things thought about, and a lot of notes taken, and a lot of sources found. Really I don’t need to sweat it – but I have really enjoyed this course and would like to write a paper worthy of everything the course has made me think about and reconsider.
That said, I really wish we could restart the semester right now and revisit many of our readings over the last three months. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. My friends who teach have often talked about classes that just didn’t click – and then classes where the students just got into the rhythm of discussion and everything was wonderful. At the beginning of the semester, the mix of grads and undergrads was jarring, no one really knew what to expect, and the instructor seemed tentative though knowledgeable about the subject matter. Now that the semester is almost over, we’ve hit the ground running – the majority of the class is comfortable in discussion – students will challenge other students’ assertions or ask for another student’s perspective in an area where he or she is knowledgeable – and, perhaps most impressively, we’re comfortable enough with the subject matter and with the professor to speak frankly about the readings, letting him know at the end of each discussion section which we feel was useful, and which goes into the ‘suck pile’. It’s been fun to watch the class grow, and to hear the vocabulary change. I’m almost sad to see this one end.
On an entirely unrelated note, this weekend I’m going to sign a lease on a gorgeous little apartment owned by a friend of mine. I am beyond delighted and relieved, and I hope it will work out well for all involved. Before I move, however, there must be much merriment in my current apartment. I’m thinking a no beer allowed cocktail party in May. I’m thinking some sort of brunch on the porch in June. I’m thinking an “I’m moving!” party in late July (sangria?). I’m thinking many friends, much laughter, and hot nights in the shade. Do come. It’d be so much nicer with you here.