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.