A few weeks ago, I stood near the counter at Clyde's Cafe, an eatery on the campus of Susquehanna University, where I'd just ordered a chicken quesadilla. A girl approached me from behind and asked, "Are you on line?" That got me thinking about my blog. What a loaded question. Am I online? "I used to be," I almost said aloud.
Let me tell you briefly what it's like to fall off the face of the earth. It began as the scariest moment of my life, even more frightening than my unpleasant experience inside the Touch Tunnel at the Liberty Science Center as a kid. One afternoon in September, I was walking alone on campus when suddenly gravity seemed reversed and my body flipped, like a somersault that just stopped halfway through. My stomach demanded an explanation, and I threw up in my mouth more than a little. I came to rest in a headstand position, and then I lifted off the ground. While the ground was still in reach, I tried to grab on to something, but there was only smooth pavement beneath (or above) me. From then on it didn't really feel like falling at all actually. It was more like drifting at a leisurely pace, and I found it quite pleasant once I was accustomed to being upside down. Some young women stopped to gawk at me, and I tucked my t-shirt into my pants. "Call for help?" I shouted to them, but they hardly moved. I got a nice view of the whole campus, and I saw that the construction of the new science building is coming along nicely. As I floated higher, I saw the entirety of Selinsgrove, the podunk capital of the world which I have come to know and love, with its antique stores and working post office. It wasn't long before I was looking at the whole state of Pennsylvania. I first noticed I was in orbit when the smell of New Jersey wafted into my nostrils. As time went on, I scanned every corner of the globe, figuratively speaking since the world is spherical.
My flight was only temporary, of course, and upon my return I had a lot of catch-up work to do in order to pass all of my classes. Now the school year is over, so I can set those academic matters aside and wait for the GPA to come in. Finally I have the chance to rejoin you all in this lovely world which I fondly call "series of tubes." Of course, I chose to attend Susquehanna University for the creative writing major, a program which has certainly earned its reputation. My first semester brought me to Introduction to Fiction, which was the subject of my last entry on this blog in late September. That's embarrassing, but I've gotten over it. Blogging is a good habit, and like any good habit it's easy to stop doing it. The bad habits are always the hardest to quit. Blogging, on the other hand, is just something I can set aside for a few days, then not come back to for a little while, until all of a sudden that little while has become several months. It's been known to happen. Also, the whole falling off the earth thing didn't help. Let's not forget that. Anyway, I was talking about Intro to Fiction. That course shook my confidence in more ways than one. Like all writing classes at the university, it is workshop-based, and I maintain that being workshopped is a singular experience that you may not fully understand if you haven't been through it. In the same twenty minutes or thereabouts, you might get a huge boost for your ego and a shattering blow to your self-esteem. That was an "and" statement, not an "or." It's typical to get both. The workshop class is an environment that welcomes sugarcoating and brutal honesty alike, and each can bring a guest. Also the affair is not catered. Wait, what is this metaphor supposed to mean?
At the end of a creative writing course, each student must create, print, and bind a portfolio consisting of the semester's work. For Intro to Fiction, that meant including the final drafts of two short stories. When I say "final drafts," I don't really mean final at all. Nothing is final in this type of work. There's always room for improvement, and there's always some important reason why you need to redraft that story again. And again. So "final draft" is only final for the purposes of the course. Really it's the latest draft. I look back on that portfolio now, and I can't say I'm satisfied. I think I was already disappointed with it when I first made it. It's a small bundle of less than twenty-five pages. I did the best I could with the two stories therein, but there was no sense of pride in a job well done in the end. Intro to Fiction taught me a lot, but it didn't make me feel like a writer. I remember the first time I really felt that my professor and I were on two different wavelengths. For the last class of the semester, he took all his first-year students to the used book store in town, where he promised to buy us each two books. "Now you can choose the books yourselves, but I need to approve of them first," he said. I picked out maybe five, and he approved of one. As he looked through the pile I'd picked out, he stopped at Voltaire's Candide. I saw it performed at my high school once and thought I might like to read it. "Candide?" he said. "Oh, for Christ's sake!" I put it back on the shelf, and that's all I care to say about that experience. I could go on about my feelings, but I don't want to say anything I might regret. Gone are the days of spilling every funny story about high school teachers and peers. I have a scholarship, which I'd like to keep, to a great university, where I'd like to stay.
That about sums up my feelings about my first semester as a creative writing major. I haven't even mentioned the spring semester yet. I intend to get to that in my next entry. I'll write to you again soon, assuming that gravity doesn't have other plans. I have so much more to say.