In case you haven’t heard, North Carolina is experiencing some downright bipolar weather: crazy ice storms, warmth the next day, half-feet of snow that melt because it’s 70 two days later. It’s been crazy. But, as it turns out, the way everything has looked—especially with the ice—has been amazing and surreal, and the images are turning out to be decent writing springboards. Huzzah!
The title of this post was originally going to be a fairly generic, “How My Uni Changed Me” sort of thing, because I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. I’m almost three-quarters of the way through my senior year of undergrad, with spring break (!!!) and graduation (a whole different kind of !!!) looming, and recently I’ve been growing more aware of how much university, and specifically my university, has changed me in just four short years.
When I say “university’s changed me,” I mean this atmosphere, on- and off-campus life, the friend-groups I’ve found because this is the place we all chose, and the opportunities that have been available to me here. It’s all very interconnected, I think, but it all boils down to this. To being here.
The most obvious change, in many ways, has been a hugely expanded worldview. There’s some satirical humor and some profundity in that. For example, when I’m talking to someone at uni or elsewhere, and we may casually mention the transcontinental journeys we’ve taken. Casually. The fact that I, or even anyone I know, can talk about country-jumping casually shows on a superficial, but obvious, level how small the world’s become to me. I know it’s a first-world, privileged thing to say, and I’m so grateful for the crazy opportunities I’ve had and the fact that I’ve been able to work to support them (let’s not forget the six-job summer of 2011), but I am still amazed that I and people I know can casually talk about the mountains we’ve climbed in Southern Italy or the restaurants we loved in Florence, or the fact that I know a girl who recently played with lion cubs. It’s amazing, and it’s made the world seem a much more manageable space for me. All joking about jet-setting aside, it’s also really, really made me less ethnocentric. It’s so neat to think about conversations I’ve had with Italian or Irish men about politics and history, drunk driving laws and wars and what defines success in our cultures. It’s crazy. I don’t think about things the same way anymore, especially in regards to world politics. Studying abroad changed everything. (Note: Sometimes I now refer to university as ‘uni’- just one more superficial thing I picked up from time/people abroad.)
Being at this university has made me think critically about American politics and hot-button issues.I go to a private, liberal-arts uni which, as you might imagine, is largely liberal, but there’s also a very vocal and educated group of conservatives. Talking to people on both ends of the spectrum who really, genuinely know what they’re talking about, makes it hard not to have an opinion. And if you have one, you need to know why. So I’ve had to figure out what issues I care about, what bits I care strongly enough to really vocally support, and when it’s best to say that I’m not really sure yet (which is much of the time, as it turns out).
I’ve gained a number of very dear girl-friends. Growing up, I had several, but more often than not I was spending time with guys, or mixed-groups. Between going to a uni with a 65-35 female/male ratio and figuring out living arrangements, I ended up finding a whole bunch of women I genuinely love being around, of all different personalities and interests. That’s really lucky, I think, and I’m thankful for it and for them,
I’ve grown more flexible. I’m less set in my ways. I was so sure – as it seems some first-years always are – that I had it all figured out when I got here. I knew what I wanted to major and minor in, what I wanted to do after I graduated, and how I was going to get from A to B to Q. That’s all changed (maybe not drastically, but it sure felt drastic at the time). Now I want to go to grad school, write poetry for days, and I honestly am not sure how long it would have taken me to figure those things out without this uni, these amazing professors, the things I’ve gotten to do here. I am so much happier for discovering these things.
Most importantly (and looping back to the study-abroad bit), I fell in love. The circumstances being what they were, I’m inclined to believe in God, the universe, all the fates, the stars aligning – whatever you want to call it. And there are so many variables mixed in there – from where I got to live in London to exactly what environment induces me to want to go anywhere near a club – that I have to attribute it all at least in part to the uni that took me abroad in the first place. I went to this uni and studied abroad with this program and with these people and went to that club and met him.
Now that’s fate, or something like it.
It was taken some time ago.
At first it seems to be
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;
then, as you scan
it, you see in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.
In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.
(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.
I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface.
It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion
but if you look long enough,
you will be able to see me.)
DARK. This is amazing, and Margaret Atwood is amazing, and everyone should read her.
Some days, I believe that I am one of the most joyful people you will ever meet. I am sure that I’m content and happy and always going to be that way, that I’ll keep seeing the world through my own, permanently rose-tinted glasses. I smile at a whole lot of nothing, or little things, or anything. I want everyone to be “always happy and running” (N. Perry reference). That’s most days, honestly, most moments I stop to think about how I am.
There are other days – at least moments – in which life is not that simple. It’s a little darker, or I am more cynical, or I’m feeling particularly antagonistic or bitter towards the people who’ve been sticking their noses where they’ve got no place being. The latter are the mean sort of happy days, cocky almost, when I feel strong and capable of things that are not kind. And of course there are times when I’m just a little down for no discernible reason, when all I want is sleep and days passing without thinking.
But mostly it is good, and I am happy. And I think that this is strange, as we writer-folk tend to get this rap for being rather morose, a bit prone to bitter liquids and harsh cigarettes. And I hope that I can still write, that I can be clear and true and say things worth saying, in spite of this weird emotional up-tick so different from, well, nearly all of the people who said wonderful, memorable things that were worth saying.
Along those lines…so I was at this English conference this weekend, in the lovely city of Savannah, GA. It was nerd-ish and great and exactly the kind of thing I like. Anyway, there were lots of smart people there, who’ve been doing the writer-thing far longer than I have, who are doing the publishing thing a lot more frequently than I am, and who have some pretty insightful things to say along those lines. The crux of the matter is this: apparently it’s pretty standard for literary journals to want your previously unpublished work and, by that, they mean published nowhere, not even a personal blog that doesn’t so much as turn a profit.
So I’m at a bit of a crossroads. Because I am doing this thing, this actively-trying-to-be-a-writer thing, and publishing/pursuing publication is a necessary evil- at least, it’s the part that helps ensure that there’s food in the fridge, that the fridge in fact works because the electric has been paid. And since next year I’ll be in grad school, it follows that I will be doing those things, and seeking publications. It follows, unfortunately, that for the time being I think I’ll need to stop throwing the new things up here, at least until after they find homes elsewhere.
I’ll still be using this blog; I rather like it, and I like writing in this way. It’s a nice breather from poetics on some days, and on others it’s a help in muddling through the mess between my ears. So I’ll still be here, doing this, throwing up the poetry I love from other, wonderfully talented poets. And – cross your fingers for me – as my own things go out into the world, you’ll see them here, too!
Of all the things that I remember,
clearest are those cream teacups
we saw in the museum, the words
of Arab women on them, talking
about arranged marriages.
They were in a corner painted garish
red– to stand out against the pale, perhaps–
the teacups halved and jutting
from the wall at intervals. You knelt
with the camera I’d lent you, and for a while I stared
at your intensity, how you focused.
But you stayed in that corner and I wandered
off. Soon after you found me
in a showcase of local pottery, ceramics
hand-thrown, dyed and glazed by practiced hands.
When we left you were still talking
about those teacups, how they said some people felt
sheltered in tradition, or trapped
by what had always been meant for comfort.
That’s what stays with me, those teacups
and how you carefully photographed each one.
They were so much smaller than the two mugs I poured
each morning: your black tea with milk, my coffee
with cream and half a spoonful of sugar.
When I used to kiss you, you said I left
on your mouth the taste of pennies
and you grimaced, though it was your good
Italian grounds that swirled and stained
my white mug dark.
Drafts on drafts on drafts. The end still needs work, another push, I think, some clarity so that the connection I’m seeing is more fully fleshed out on the page. In general, I think I just really like writing about people whose relationships are just a little bit off; they love each other, but there’s also something wrong that’s really hard to put your finger on. I like that, I think, mostly because it all loops back to my philosophy on how love is more choice than butterfly feeling, or that perhaps it’s both but that doesn’t mean your world is without flaws. I don’t know. Maybe I just like talking about fucked up relationships.
Also, any thoughts on the potential new title?
Is there a center in all of this,
or only field peas in flower, or just
our meadow peas in flower? Yes,
all of it, and they, as they must
be, are only ours, and you
are only mine, and, of course, ours
as well, which is the same as mine
for now, while we are undevoured,
which will not last and will not last
because it seems it will until
the evening ends exactly as
it ended here tonight – still,
with light in the trees and storms somewhere
out towards Prospect – which is to say
forever. But stay with me like peas
in the meadow, which is to say always.
I am such a Perry fangirl. But this poem – it’s beautiful. It’s not one of my absolute N. Perry favorites because I think it is a little, tiny bit indulgent and sweet. But..it’s indulgent and sweet in the right way, I think, a way that’s working for him.
Side note: Marie Howe, one of my other favorite poets, chose Perry’s Nine Acres as winner for the APR/Honickman Book Prize.
We saw the Italian graffiti from the back
of his motorcycle: tu storia sempre
sara parte de la mia. He pushed
the visor of his helmet up to point it out
and translate: “The story of you is now a part of me.”
And now that story is a part of me – a small piece,
a shared identity. It was my first time
on two wheels like that, swerving around cars and up
onto the sidewalk, my shaking arms a vise
around him, my hands clenched tight
in the pockets of his jacket.
It’s not the thought of dying I was scared of,
but the wet smear on the pavement, the sound of breaking
bones, the bits of torn-off skin– the idea that shifting
my weight could change our course, lay us
down on concrete. That night we sped back
to his apartment after a three-course meal
and good red wine. The wind we made battered us
more than before, but I loosened my grip
and for the second time looked somewhere other
than his shoulder. The headlights of cars
made short funnels through the darkness. If I wanted
I could have struck the mirrors off their sides.
It wasn’t until he swung me off the seat and walked
the bike into its garage that we realized
one of the saddlebags was open, that I lost
my purse and all my things off the back.
I’m not quite satisfied with the end, I think, but it’s better than before. Marginally.