18 Again


I’m back from a swing through Connecticut, which took me to Yale on Thursday, and back to my alma mater, Wesleyan University, on Friday.

The reading at Yale University’s Sterling library was a good and interesting event for me. Instead of my standard readings (usually stuff from SNoT or ILTY), I read a new and experimental story entitled “Six Graves for Seven Writers,” which is set at the graves of six writers whom I have visited, including Melville, Dickens, Poe, Thurber, and Radclyffe Hall. The piece went over fairly well, although I learned that it’s not exactly an easy sell to a crowd– unlike, say, the thing i did in Seattle for the Richard Hugo house last month. It’s a tremendous gift to be able to “road test” new work–the Marx brothers used to do this, back in the days of vaudeville– and I heard all sorts of new things in the Yale piece that will help me as I go about revision, and possibily performing it again.

On Friday I got up and drove up to Wesleyan, where I was to see some old, dear friends, and also to serve as a guest at a dinner honoring the writer Edward P. Jones, whose “The Known World” won the Pultizer a few years back. There were lots of other writers and friends of the college there, and it was an honor to be part of the occasion.

But the thing I wanted to write about was the experience of being back on campus– I graduated 1980, and did indeed love it at Wes. It was there that I was first encouraged by both faculty and other students to try to be creative, to consider maybe being a writer in this life. I still think of Wesleyan as a magical, odd, haunted, quirky place, full of eccentrics and geniuses and characters. I don’t know of any other college like it in the world; I know that getting to go there, when I went there, was one of the great gifts, and turning points of my life.

Given all that, it was also a tremendously hard place to leave. IT’s also true that when I think back of my Wesleyan days, I also think of how haunted I was then, as a young person– trying so hard to “become” my magical creative boy self, but always held back by my secret self, by my knowledge that the thing I really needed to invent was my own self–and I knew that that invention could never be, or so I was convinced back then.

So when I go back to Wesleyan–which I do every four years or so– I often encounter the ghost of my younger self, and that leaves me melancholy, feeling sorry for the weight I carried, feeling sad about all the lost time.

But this time it was different. I don’t know why. But mostly, i felt grateful and happy to be there. IT was a beautiful day– people everywhere, kids on the hill playing frisbee. As I first walked onto campus, i ran smack into a group of a dozen young women–were they dance majors?–all cavorting and chasing each other and doing somersaults and cartwheels. They were like a dance of spring joy, and all I could do was smile and watch them, and be glad. I kept that feeling the whole afternoon. I was glad to have come so far, glad to be back, glad for all the gifts of life. Above all, I did not want to be 20 again. I was glad I made it to 50 and that I have lived this life– and look, here we all still are, dancing the dance of spring.

IN the morning I woke up and went to a diner breakfast with my friend and by noon on Saturday was heading back to maine, and home, and my family.

‘This dream is short, but happy.”

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2 Comments

  1. Amanda
    Posted April 20, 2009 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    I’m curious. How did you end the “Six Graves for Seven Writers” piece?

  2. Jennifer Finney Boylan
    Posted April 21, 2009 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    new ending: the last dead writer is: me. A very short scene in which my boys and spouse pour my ashes into a stream. Dark humor, strangely touching.

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