There’s a point where you think you’re awake, but you’re not. Your body is under your control, you voice is calm and unslurried, but then you find yourself distanced in the middle of a sentence and you don’t know how you got there, you don’t know how to find your way out, and oh look is that a prairie dog?
Prairie dogs are not dogs, but they apparently have something to do with the prairie. I expected them to be larger, but they seem only slightly larger than squirrels, if that.
If that, then I wonder what it was I was doing here? What are conferences, but a chance to meet people, make new friends, buy books you didn’t know existed, and eat food that you didn’t cook, wouldn’t cook, could never cook without years of practice.
I practiced piano intermittently. I took piano for two years in college, but went to the practice rooms maybe, at most, once a week. My memory was good enough that I improved each week, though I don’t think the professor was fooled. The keys slowly came together in my mind, but it wasn’t enough.
Conferences never seem to give you enough time. Also, they seem to give you too much time in too small a package. A summer’s worth of experience in just a few days, a week, two weeks at most. Mentally, you’re exhausted. Physically, you’re drained. Emotionally, you’re keyed up to the perfect pitch, and you know one more turn of the tuning knob and you’ll break, the snapped steel singing.
On the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, you can feel the cars shake the foundations of what’s supporting you oh so high above the rocks and the (comparative) trickle of water. Hundreds, no, thousands of people have carved their initials into the bridge’s metal railings. RJ + CM 1972. Apparently, people come from hundreds of thousands of miles away to visit the bridge and make their mark. People also travel that distance to use the bridge for suicide.
There were times in my life when I felt the urge towards self-destruction, and most of the time these urges originated from no source I could name. I would be driving down a two-lane road late at night and a car would be coming the other way and it would be so easy, so easy just to twist the steering wheel a little to the left. Or I’d be sitting on a wall or a bridge overlooking a great height, great enough to cause serious damage, and it only takes a slight push of the hands to push the body overboard.
I have a fear of dark water, water I can’t see through, that could be hiding anything. At Sewanee there’s a reservoir that attendees often go to, if you have a car, if you know the way. Last year someone had both the car and directions and we went. The lake was a deep green, but not with the luminescence of jade, but the light-eating shade of algae. There is a floating wooden platform in the middle of the reservoir, and we swam out to meet it. My swim there was desperate, my arms pumping, my heart an alarm bell, my vision blurred. On the platform, my body calmed, but I dreaded going back to shore.
By the time a conference ends, I’m already living in nostalgia. The date for departure was foreordained. No matter how close you get to someone in just a few days, the distance will tear you apart again, relegating the shared experiences to a memory that grows ever more romantic as the days, then months, then years pass. I’ll go back, as I do to AWP every year, trying to recapture the feelings, but things will never be as they were. But that never stops me from trying.