For the first few days of travel, I woke crisply at 3 a.m., which would be six a.m. at home, and I struggled to get back to sleep, muttering to myself and finally conceding that horizontal is “rest” enough. I’m glad to shift this fifth morning, midway through my travels, when I wake at six a.m., ready for a dawn that won’t emerge for another hour, at least.
Each morning Anna, one of the new administrative assistants for the MFA program, rises at dawn too, and I hear her walk down the hall. Like me she is enthusiastic and like me her walk is heavy and unselfconscious on these long cold hallways. She will haul a cappuccino maker down to the dining hall and start taking orders as soon as she gets set up—she tells me she quit working at Starbucks six months ago and she misses it, she loves making people happy with good coffee.
By seven-twenty, Vic will be arriving from up the hill, in his blue down vest, carrying his thermal coffee mug, waiting for breakfast to be served. Each day classmates arrive later and later for meals, but Vic is like clockwork, ready. I am not as consistent but I like knowing he will be there. Most meals I arrive at the buffet fifteen minutes after the official start time, or later, depending, so it’s a treat to eat with just one or two people. I need to gage whether I can linger over breakfast: here, too, are the flickering florescent overhead lights that tip off my headaches. I can find a way around the headaches by sitting near the window, or by just leaving the room with my food on a warm plate.
We will see sky today, actual open sky. I would run outside to view the stars (it’s been so long!) or celebrate the blue (long!) but I’m already freezing right here by my window. I wrap in blankets and the pashmina shawl, throw my dorm door open to the warmth of the hallway. I should’ve shown my classmates how to work the thermostat, since I am so forgetful, but then… I am so forgetful. Perhaps today.
Each morning a meditative prayer service is offered, shared between our two literary chaplains who seek sermons in Flannery O’Connor (!), who marvel daily that Flannery is a good read for Lent, for being dust and coming from dust. While it’s not in any way mandatory, who could imagine missing Luci Shaw’s sermon? Or Dave’s, either. Today is the first day I wonder about skipping it, since I’m getting tired—but I won’t skip it. Tomorrow is a full “day off” of classes, and I’ll find more open time then, to be alone.
Yesterday I learned The Weather Law of the Northwest: when the sun breaks through, you throw boots on and run outside. I’m reminded of the ways my family haunts the window at home on days of mix and sun, hoping to be the first to spot a rainbow. The Olympic Range is on the horizon, I hear—so far I only see glimpses and then the shroud closes over again. One little stretch opened yesterday morning, stark in the pink sunrise. I grabbed coffee and stared for half an hour with Dan (I knew he’d be there, too, at the water’s edge, the contemplative who is city trapped for most of the year.) Another stretch of sun during the day, I ran down the gravel path to see if the mountains were visible, only to find twenty other students standing and gawking just like me. The wind whipped through our coats or I’m sure we’d be standing there, still. The same bitter damp wind blew all night, while the thermostat was set far too low.
What else? I selected a piece and read aloud from my work yesterday. It went remarkably well—I stammered over a few words, but very few, and one of my classmates said my voice “went all Southern” and I know what he means, how I slow into Hoosier when I’m concentrating. I knew I’d enjoy reading, and usually I sweat profusely but I did fine, and hearing my classmates read is a great, great joy. Kevin read an amazing, touching, hilarious piece on Lincoln. Allison read about learning to live with her mother. I can’t wait for more.
Afternoon found me torn between those glimpses of sun and napping (waking at unfortunate times is leaving me tired, all this people time is making me exhausted), so I welcomed the cloud cover as a sign to nap.
I’m afraid all of this reads as sleepily as a too-early morning before the caffeine sources are properly available. (I could go downstairs and fill my French press, but I’ve become terribly spoiled by Anna. Still she’s not stirring yet. And I might.)
We ended last evening with another jaw-dropping heart-rending reading by David James Duncan. Because you can’t hear him in the flesh, I will try to say how he “is.” He is both incredibly lightfooted, prone to shoulder-shaking red-faced laughter that shakes his tall lanky frame, and prone also, more than anyone I’ve ever witnessed, to pause long, pause startling while reading his material, and it’s clear that while he was reading a prayer from The Upsinads in his writing (I may not be spelling it right) that he is praying it while he reads, and his heart is rent open. His tenderness to his own written material means he is near tears, near shaking, leg braced against the podium to keep him from flying through the air I think. As a writer, Duncan is fearless, and he reads fearlessly also, reading about anguish, sex, spiritual fervor, humor, deepest humility and wonder. This man is my favorite living author, and I can hardly believe I’m saying this, but he’s more than I expected. It’s a joy to be here for his visit. Today is his last day with us. I think he may be teaching my Creative NonFiction class this morning, after the worship service.
The sky is only now white, just now opening to blue, and I wonder if it will seem like a thousand shades of blue, like all the days so far have meant a thousand shades of green—and I would say gray, too, but the green is more prominent. My feet are warming up and Anna is nowhere in sight yet. Vic will arrive on the doorstep below, with his vest and his mug, in about fifteen minutes.
A friend wrote to say, drink every drop of this and I assured him that I am, for myself and for everyone who can’t be here. Thanks for all of your support and enthusiasm for my writing life—the residency is going well, and I’m eager to find what the day will hold. Looks like I better plan for my own coffee needs, and a shower, and a sunrise, my first in five days.
And there is Vic, earlier than usual.