Had a nice breakfast; leftover nan and chicken makhni (tandoori chicken cooked in a sauce). Showered and washed my hair (a project, always), got dressed. I think part of my good mood is that I'm wearing a red dress today! It's not a particularly shocking red dress -- just a long straight sleeveless slip dress, slit up both sides to my knee. It's a dark red with black patterning, so it's really quite subdued. And toned down even more by black combat boots. But y'know -- the dress is still red. And I'll tell you a secret -- my underclothes are fire engine red. Not that anyone can see them. But I know. :-)
I should rush off to class; I think I'm going to walk in this morning. So I'll talk to you later, dears.
5:00 p.m. I'm on the plane to Chicago. Spent two hours reading stories by Alice Munro, from Love of a Good Woman; they're good, but dense. I'm about halfway through the book -- I feel like I need to pause for air. Breathe a little. The world those people live in...it's claustrophobic. It reminds me of what it often felt like when I was growing up; a feeling of silences and secrets and things not spoken -- and I don't know now whether any of that was real, was there, or whether it was wholly imagined. I was a very imaginative child.
I had a long talk with my mother last night; it's left me unsettled. Conversations with her often do that -- she lives in such a different world, her assumptions are so different, that it's like talking to an alien. And when she says that everyone knows something (something that seems utterly ridiculous to me), I have to remind myself that it's probably true, that everyone she knows, everyone in the world she lives in does know what she knows, and it's true for them. Just as for the most part, my friends and I live in the same world, and we take so many things for granted that are totally alien to her.
Travel can be tiring and exhausting and all sorts of nuisance, and I can understand why people don't enjoy actually travelling (even if they enjoy being someplace new and exciting). But I love the space of the journey -- the momentary feeling of being cast loose from the earth, sent aloft into another world; it makes me contemplative, introspective.
Each type of travel has its own flavor too. Planes are good for clouds and sunrises and sunsets and discipline and small enclosed spaces which drive you mad one moment and set you free the next They're good for feeling very very far away from anywhere else. I don't really feel like I'm in America when I'm in a plane -- I'm in another country entirely, where all the old rules are cast away, and where I can pause and look at my American life and see if I'm happy with where it is.
Trains are good for the shaking of the car, the regular rhythm, the small train noises; they have the country speeding by outside, and you are in a tunnel of time, punctuated by brief stops, unknown names of towns you will never visit where fathers wait to meet their daughters, where lovers say goodbye. They are good for pacing up and down, for losing yourself in the wobbling green of hillsides, for sleeping in the shaking car as you might have in a cradle or rocking chair.
Ships have the sea. Nothing can really compare to that.
I admit to having little good to say about buses -- but still, it's delightful to be travelling, going to and fro, leaving the familiar for something new (or leaving the unbearably alien to return to someplace a little like home again).
It will be good to be in Hyde Park again. I'll be seeing an old professor of mine tomorrow; he taught me Shakespeare a decade ago. I wonder if he will have changed; if he looks the same, if he still flirts with his students. The campus changes -- they've taken away the tennis courts from the front of the math building, and there are countless other changes that I don't even notice. There's a door in the Reynolds Club that no longer opens -- I used to walk through it every single day.
But it changes slowly enough; enough stays the same from visit to visit -- it still feels like I'm coming home. I know I romanticise Chicago, and the University of Chicago even more. It's hard to pin down the bad times -- well, bad times that were actually school-related, rather than love-related.
I definitely had some confused romantic times back then (big surprise, I know). My first boyfriend -- I met him O-week (orientation week); he was living on my floor in the dorm. He was a physics major, and when I started calculus that fall, he helped me study. We first kissed over a calculus textbook in the lounge (yes, that same lounge that shows up in "Minal in Winter"...) -- and we never did settle who kissed whom first.
It was really pretty idyllic for three months, in a way that I don't think any relationship has been since then. It was the newness of it -- the feeling that not only was I in love, but being in love, and having him be in love, was such an amazing wonderful tremendous thing that it just overrode everything else. I flunked calculus, and aside from worrying about what my parents would think, I don't think I really cared. (Caring would come later; flunking that calculus class has irked me ever since. At some point I'm going to have to go back and take it and pass it, just to get the humiliation out of my system).
What I was trying to say was that I couldn't really imagine the end of love. I was just blissful. So that when he came to me after Christmas and told me that it was over, I don't think I really took it in. It took months to convince myself that it was really true, that it had actually happened. And even though I've loved since then, and loved a lot more seriously than I did back then (I'm not sure I really knew him at all), none of those have had that same joy-in-ignorance, that same feeling that this would just have to go on forever.
Even if you manage to stay in love and stay together until the day you die -- eventually, one of you will die. It will end. I had no sense of that at eighteen.
Where was I? Right -- confused relationships. So there was that one, and a few more -- don't worry; I'm not going to inflict my entire dating history on you right now. (What's with the sighs of relief?! It's not *that* long...) I can remember those from Chicago -- what's harder to remember is what there was about the school that I didn't like.
Looking back, it all seems like a golden haze. An idyllic ivory tower time, when nothing mattered but reading the Great Books, staying up all night talking about them, etc. And I know that there were things to complain about -- boring teachers, neglected students, classes that shouldn't have been allowed... it just doesn't feel relevant. The spirit of the academy lives in Hyde Park. It suffuses every depressing grey gothic building (except maybe the Business School, which doesn't deserve such a lovely building, let me tell you!). I dunno -- I just felt like I was part of the great academic endeavour while I was there, even if I was a lowly undergraduate.
It's odd being a Ph.D. student. I was talking about this to Kevin last night -- somehow I guess I thought it would be like my experience at Mills. So far, it's not at all. It's hard to put into words why, though -- it's just that the feel is different.
Kev's a hard-core academic, y'know. He thinks of Master's programs as places where people go to play around -- that they're not actually good for much of anything. (Don't quote me on this -- I could certainly be misinterpreting what he says). I can't speak to MA's in other fields, but I think he's missing the point re: MFA's in writing.
The MFA in writing is meant to do a few things. One -- it gives you a place to develop your writing, in the company of colleagues and instructors. Mills did a decent job of that. Two -- it prepares you for what will most likely be your day job, teaching composition. Mills did an excellent job of that; the composition theory course I took there was really excellent, and the department went out of its way to find teaching opportunities for its students. Ummm...that's basically what an MFA in writing does -- and I think that's a good thing. They serve a purpose, teach something useful and worthwhile, give writers space to explore their work. All good, and I'm quite sure that most of the people in my department would not have been happy doing a Ph.D. in writing. They were very talented writers -- but the doctorate is just a really different thing.
I'm still figuring out what a doctorate is, to be honest. I imagine I will be for a while. But one clear and obvious change -- you're training not just to be a writer, but to be an academic. And as a result, the professors treat you differently. They know that you're going to be joining their ranks (if all goes well); they're interested in seeing what you'll be bringing to the field. You'll be their colleague pretty soon -- and with luck, you'll be a good colleague, someone whose work they'll respect. Kevin says that at the top schools, that effect is much stronger, since they can be pretty sure that you'll be joining their ranks. I think he's right, and it's very interesting to watch.
Heartening too; the department so far has been extremely supportive of my ideas, my projects. The professors have been great! And that creates marvelous positive feedback -- I want to prove their faith in me justified; I want to satisfy their expectations and surpass them -- because I know that if I do, they'll be thrilled for me. That is a pure delight.
It's just a little bit like having wonderful parents.
I'm on the train now, approaching downtown, so I'd best put this away. I'll be getting out there and taking a cab the rest of the way to Hyde Park; Kev will be at home with dinner waiting for me (or he might take me out somewhere -- we'll see). I'm a little tired, but happy. I can't say my life in America is perfect -- but it's really very good indeed, better than I think I could have imagined for myself a decade ago, when I was a lowly undergraduate in Chicago. So perhaps that wasn't the Golden Age after all -- perhaps this is. In either case, I'm grateful.