Tuesday, March 06, 2007

That Thomas Wolfe plaque.

Greetings! As Jarrett would say, rumors of my blog death have been exaggerated. It has just taken me a little while to process a few things about my recent trip to the southern part of heaven.

Here is something Ian Williams said about his own trip, which, stars being aligned, coincided with my own:
Almost without fail, Tessa and I have journeyed to Chapel Hill every year to teach one of Dr. Peter Kaufman's classes at UNC. And without fail, it's always a fantastic trip, getting to dip our toes in the undergraduate experience once more and meeting a cadre of cool kids. I use the word "kids" self-consciously, because every time I step onto campus, time stops and I am eighteen years old again, wondering what Jon, Chip and Bud are doing for dinner. In essence, I don't feel that different from them, even though they were born in 1987 and I have a toddler who keeps yelling "Daddo has ears!" (emphasis mine)

I agree with some of this. I admit it: I spent a good bit of my time there sitting on my favorite couch in Davis Library (NCMarcus: Davis says hi back) doing the work I needed to do for my own classes. I even took a nap there, even though I was facing out the window and I knew that some 2000s version of my 1990s self would walk by and laugh at me. And I ate or tried to eat at all my fav places, wondered at the transformation of Chez Lenoir, tried to track down a couple of old profs, dropped way too much money at the Bull's Head, wandered around Fortress Greenlaw, ate a sandwich in the Pit, etc. etc.

And don't get me wrong: it was seriously cool to give a talk at my own alma mater about the subject of my own undergraduate honors thesis in front of professors and new students.

But I cannot agree with what Ian said in the bolded part of his message. In large part, I think this is because in the years since I left UNC I developed a new relationship to college campuses, such that without even realizing it I made the nostalgic return that I really desired impossible. You see, because I spend most of my days on college campuses, grading papers, trying to get the youth of America to think for itself, navigating jaywalking people on cellphones--because of all this, when I looked around the Pit, I saw not latter-day versions of myself, but instead I saw ......... my students.

I felt as if I had entered some kind of liminal zone, where I could not really identify with the faculty there, even though they could now be my colleagues, and I could not really identify with the students, because (apart from the distinct lack--thanks be--of orange) they could be the sleepy faces looking back at me at 9:30 a.m. Here I was, looking for the big reconnection, only to find . . . I'm not sure what, but not that. It was not until I took a 6-a.m. walk around familiar territory (Winston, Spencer, Grimes, the rose garden around the planetarium), while most everyone else was still snoozing, that I could reclaim the campus as my own.

So what does it mean to require a post-rapture landscape for such a feeling?

And it was not until I returned home and was narrating the trip to a friend and burst into absolutely unexpected and overwhelming tears that I realized the biggest gap in the whole thing. How can you go back to something when one of the biggest somethings about the thing is not there? You know, I noticed this visit that there is a new commemorative Thomas Wolfe plaque on campus: I suppose he was right.

3 comments:

Joe said...

> What time do you swim in
> the evenings? I am curious
> because I experience a
> similar thing sometimes,
> except that I fall asleep ok
> then wake up about an
> hour later.

I swim from 9 to 10 and I go to bed between 11 and 1:15. Sometimes I do the "wake up and hour later" thing too. And for some reason on the wake up an hour later nights, and I often feel frisky. No joke. Bizarre stuff...

Spence said...

hey, thanks for the masters info in Atlanta...I actually was able to find all those teams online and have been emailing with the Rainbow Trout guy... it's one of the most enticing parts about me moving there actually!!! What's your email address? Shoot it to me when you get a second... ;)

NCMarcus said...

Your conclusion brought tears to my eyes. I haven't been to Chapel Hill since Dr. K passed away. Last time I went I ran into him at the grocery store. Each time I think of Chapel Hill I think of that chance meeting with that wonderful man who had just stepped out to get a forgotten ingredient for some fabulous dish he was preparing.