The reading was by Rae Armantrout. I know that I not in the writing world anymore because I did not know who she was. I had never read anything by her. The description online said that she had won a pulitzer. Later, I heard my friend's eyes grow wide over the phone when I told her who it was. "Oh! She's really big right now!"
For the first time, I did not recognize any of the graduate students. All of the ones that I had recognized either through passing along Burrow's hallways or through Poet Friend had graduated. Even Poet Friend has entered a different season.
The reading was forgettable. Rae Armantrout seemed bored or ironically skeptical of readings. She read page after page. I can remember none of it.
I did know a professor. I just typed that other sentence and wrote "my professor". When does a professor stop being in the possessive? She directed a year long writing project, the one where I said I wanted to look at the intersection of faith and art but really wanted to know if God was still good after my parent's marriage had fallen apart. She had helped me with language and clarity and structure and speaking in an uncensored voice. Her directorship had been no small gift.
At first, I felt too strangely shy. I was all the way to the rotating door exit in Paterno Library before I realized how absurd it was that I didn't say hi. I went back and interrupted a conversation with someone in order to say hello, the distance of several rows between us.
Me: "Hi! So good to see you!" Prof:"Yes! Good to see you! How are you?" Me:"I'm doing well and you?" Prof:"Yes I am well. (pause) You look very happy, that is good to see!" Me: "(pause) Yes, I am happy."
And there was nothing left to say.
I walked home, feeling alien. But alien can be comfortable if you know that is what you are. I didn't know. I was in a space I had once felt comfortable and familiar, with lots of small conversations to hold and thoughts to have about a reading by an author whose work I had just read in class. What do I do? How do I re-enter spaces that were once comfortable and be a stranger? It is worse than not knowing anyone.
Things change. But the places that used to fit me/ cannot hold the things I've learned / And those roads were closed off to me / while my back was turned. -Sara Groves
I don't want to be absent from the creative writing world forever. But I now see that re-entering it means Not Being Here. It means starting somewhere new. For now, I can still go to readings. And I can still think with gratitude on the people and places that I carry with me, even when I cannot return to them as I once was. Not anymore.