Monday, August 21, 2006

Plans

A chill wind blows across the backyard. A few blocks away, the first school zone lights of the fall are flashing. My wife, up early this morning, is already on her way to work with a cake to celebrate an employee's birthday.

The weekend, already, is gone. Not surprisingly, I accomplished far less than I'd planned. At least the lawn is well-coiffed. Ward 6 Review, in some respects, is functioning smoothly, and I managed to get enough sleep over the past two days. Now, I am simply waiting for fall to finally arrive, so that I can shut off the air conditioner, watch the leaves turn, and spend weekend afternoons snuggled on the sofa as the sounds of football mingle with the soft breath of naptime dreams.

With the onset of fall, my mind inevitably turns back to college, to graduate school, and to the career path I'd once imagined for myself. Life has its own peculiar momentum.

Near the end of my tenure as an undergraduate, I got the letter on which I had pinned all my post-graduation plans—acceptance to an MFA program in a state that was never touched by winter, with a fellowship. I'm not sure what would have become of me without that letter. Naturally, I went to a bar to celebrate.

Everywhere around me, other English majors were sending out resume after resume, nervously plotting the first few steps of their professional lives. Some would send out hundreds of resumes with nary a response. Others would pack their belongings and return home for a few months of free rent while trying to sort out the shape their future would take. For me, it was merely a question of waiting.

Over the summer, I stayed on at the chemistry journal where I'd done intern work and waited for August to arrive, feeling a near desperate pressure to leave Pittsburgh as soon as possible. On the first of August, I boarded a Greyhound bus bound for Miami and what I must have imagined was the first step in a long and illustrious academic career.

Perhaps, someday, that bus ride will feel like that first step I'd imagined it to be. Perhaps not.

Now, I can remember the shock of seeing palm trees for the first time—the way their utterly foreign outlines stood crisp against a clear blue subtropical sky. As long as I lived in Florida, that slightest feeling of unease never left me. I was always, I suppose, a bit of an interloper in South Florida. I never really belonged there—not even on that final day when my parents arrived in their Ford F150 to haul me and boxes full of books back to Texas.

What went wrong? How could I have gone, in the course of two years, from a brash undergraduate ready to take on the world to a sulking fool with an MFA and no discernable job prospects?

And what's changed, over the ensuing eight years, to make me feel again like a young poet that can—in the limited way that poetry offers—conquer the world once again?

Now, I'm sitting outside, writing this for the handful of people I know will read this message and the thousands I believe will someday see it. I am not, as I once would have, writing for critics or for posterity or for some distant abstraction like truth. I doubt, sometimes, whether or not I'd be capable of making that statement if those long ago plans—concocted while sitting in that bar, slightly drunk, showing off my acceptance letter to anyone who cared to look—had come to fruition.

I could, I suppose, be on a tenure track somewhere, contemplating the upcoming deluge of new students with the fall semester. I could be sitting in a backyard somewhere, just as I am now, contemplating my own thoughts as they appear on the notebook in front of me, but would there be puppies in that yard? And would they be as filthy as mine are now, having rolled around in the dirt as they played on and on in endless combat?

2 Comments:

Anonymous Karen said...

Hi, there is something ordered about your blog that makes one feel ordered reading it; perhaps even makes one feel an at-home-ness in some parameters if not others -- an ironic concept perhaps for some stray person from the internet!

I think it's the little consistencies; you start off with an observation of nature and the dogs often, it comes to be something the reader can count on.

Yet the meaning of this post to me is that you didn't necessarily have much control over how you reacted to Florida, grad school, the psychological renewal after getting away from Florida, if I'm reading it right.

I saw a cartoon, two scarecrows standing in a field, and one is asking the other, "English major?"

I wonder if we English majors had greater expectations of control over our lives because of being introspective about ourselves and about life, and therefore the randomness comes as a shock?!, even after reading Frost et al?! Are we the ones who should know about randomness or is it the other way around, is it the engineers...

thanks for this newest post, impetus to thoughts, maybe not the thoughts you had in mind but we each take what we get from it, Karen

12:12 PM  
Blogger Les said...

Karen:

You raise some interesting points that I, frankly, hadn't thought of....

I don't think, personally, that English majors are alone in that dastardly drive to order the world, however. I think that's one of the few universals we can confidently rely on.....all of us, using the tools at our disposal, try to order the world as best we can. Therein lies the problem, I suppose.

So many logical constructs, and so many of them in perpetual conflict....

8:48 AM  

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