Monday, October 22, 2012

Third and fourth Drafts of Reality

You have not physically returned to the campus of your alma mater more than a few dozen times since your graduation.  The adverb “physically” earns its keep in this context because, in fact, you’ve returned to it countless times in dreams, reminiscences, and most important of all, each time you set foot on the campus of another university, even the parent university of which your alma mater is a part.

Well before you attended your alma mater, in some cases living next door to or in the same city as other universities, you knew you would attend your alma mater, thus your bias when you say she is fairest, in physical presence and in dream, reverie, or reminiscence, fairer than all the others.  She is a focal point from which associations both painful and pleasant originate.  She has become, as she ought, bigger than life; she has become hardwired to your imagination.

Even now, as you cross the campus of another branch of the University of California and take in its beauty, you are comparing present-day beauty with the beauty of her.  There is no other beauty like that.  You encounter numerous forms of beauty during the course of a day, but none with her pull and compassion.

As chance would have it, you experienced this disconnect for over thirty years, each time you strode across a campus in the same city, the crosstown rival of your alma mater, recalling events from time to time and on other occasions the difference of the “feel” of a campus.

All campuses, all places, in fact, are good places to teach and to learn and to marvel at the glorious extent of the library within, and the almost tangible buzz of power lines on a windy day of the aura of research undertaken on that campus.  That buzz and thrum of the excitement of research and study triggers your imagination.

In that imagination, you are eternally prompted by some deadline, a looming examination for which you are ill prepared, or because of your associations with the campus humor/literary magazine and, later, with the five-times-a-week newspaper, deadlines for copy you were assigned to produce.

Your last physical venture on the campus was with some members of your family with the intent of scattering hands full of the ashes of your older sister in two places of particular focal-point importance to her, a memorial garden and the building housing the department of anthropology.  During that process, you detached yourself from family to approach the student union building, significant then in its differing appearance from the time you knew it.

Your first venture was to the fourth floor, where you stood for a time outside the door to what was once your office at the humor/literary magazine, enjoying the rush of related emotions.  You had no hope of the door being unlocked and, because this was a weekend, of anyone being inside.  You left your prints on the shiny brass knob, then descended a few floors, following signs directing you to the newspaper.  This large, inviting entry was open.  Two young men sat in earnest conversation at a desk outside an editorial office.  They both looked up, made eye contact when they say you.

“May I help you,” one of them asked, adding a respectful and deferential “sir?” to the question.  You were immediately transformed by virtue of that respectful sir from past to present as you have on so many occasions, more or less since you left the alma mater in the normal course of departure.  Without seeking it or thinking about it, you were no longer the informality of your last name or the democratic trope of your first.  Even in the pick-up baseball and football games played with your alma mater chums and, later, your Writers’ Guild chums, where you were addressed informally or at least democratically, you were the sir the younger players called you when they said “throw it over here, sir.”

At times during your tenure in graduate-level teaching, because of its professional-based focus, you’d be called by the democratic first name approach, which was much more to your classroom preference because the topic at hand was professionalism rather than respect of authority.  When, in fact, students were asking you questions, those situations were the equivalent of being asked to throw the ball over here, sir.  The important matter was that the ball was being thrown, and you did not need that microsecond to realize you were sir.

Now, you are once again sent back to those walkways and buildings and malls in Los Angeles, CA 90024.  Someone from those days has made contact, then gone to considerable trouble identifying recent repetitions in some of the themes in these vagrant lines, asking for your reasons.  These questions send you, looking into your repetitions for thematic connections,
caught up not only in the connections but the dissolve of time.

The wisdom of Heraclitus’ vision comes to you through the past.  Not being able to bathe in the same river twice and, by extension, not being able to revisit the same campus twice, or even make the same point twice, yet drawn back by remarkable events.  For similar reasons, you reread things you thought you loved, realizing how important the present is to the past in all things, and how pleased you are to have a present to make the most of you can and how doing so is in a real sense like getting second and third and fourth drafts on reality and connections as well as on story.

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